On August 5, by revoking the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by Article 370, India scored a major victory against cross-border terrorism as well as separatism in the Valley. Hailed by many as a constitutional coup, the move paves the way to for the full integration of J&K into the Union of India. This should have happened way back in 1947, after the signing of the instrument of accession on October 26. However, better late than never. Even if turning the former state into two union territories is unprecedented in the history of independent India, national interest as well as the good of the people of the region, is paramount.
Ladakh, which is also a separate Union Territory, will now have a much better chance to protect its unique religious and cultural heritage. The fragile Himalayan ecology of one of India’s most beautiful, rugged, and inaccessible parts must be preserved by regulating the pace and quantum of both development and access to the region. What is more the overt and covert Islamisation of the largely Buddhist area will also be checked. In a few more decades, the entire state, not just the Valley, faced the very real danger of not just being alienated, but lost to India, both culturally and politically. That most Indians understood this instinctively and emotionally even if not intellectually or rationally, is evident in the overwhelming public support for the government surgical strike on Article 370.
But what we might have perhaps failed fully to grasp is that though the constitutional battle has been won, the war over Kashmir is still being waged, but on other fronts. We have very carefully to monitor as well as manage the global narrative on Kashmir. This has been stacked, by and large, against India in the past. Both in the media and only marginally less so in international multilateral or bilateral fora, the United Nations (UN) being the key example of the former, as the United States is of the latter. Luckily, Pakistan has not made much headway in either so far. After getting US President Trump to offer to mediate, Pakistan’s Imran Khan had to eat humble pie after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi got Trump to retract. While US meddling, given their own troubles in Afghanistan, cannot be ruled out, India has managed to make its position loud and clear.
As to the UN, it has several platforms where Pakistan is likely to mount its Kashmir offensive. The latest skirmish, at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), is only one instance. India came out on top. On Tuesday, Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, denounced Pakistan’s “state sponsored terrorism” and underscored India’s right to revoke J&K’s special status. Highlighting Pakistan’s shoddy and shameful human rights record, she sarcastically questioned our neighbour right to point fingers at us when “trampling upon them [human rights] at will in their own country.” She accused Pakistan’s of pushing a “malicious political agenda under the garb of human rights.”
Projecting India as a law-abiding, sovereign power, Singh said, “These decisions were taken by our Parliament after a full debate that was televised and enjoyed widespread support. We wish to reiterate that this sovereign decision, like other legislations passed by Parliament, is entirely internal to India. No country can accept interference in its internal affairs, certainly not India.” On Wednesday, first secretary to India’s permanent mission at the UNHRC, Geneva, Vimarsh Aryan, followed up by exposing “Pakistan’s hysterical statements with false, fabricated narratives aimed to politicise and polarize this forum.” Himself from J&K, Aryan excoriated Pakistan for being “the epicentre of global terrorism,” encouraging violence by calling for jihad in J&K and elsewhere.
In addition to trying to foment trouble in the Valley and mounting international pressure on India, Pakistan will also encourage its friends and proxies in foreign media houses to push its case. The leading newspapers and TV channels, not to mention national broadcasters, have often fallen for its victimhood narratives. In India, too, the last vestiges of Lutyens Delhi will also scream day in and day out that things are not normal in Kashmir. But when were they normal, we might ask them. Normalcy is only now returning to the region with the anomalous 370 and 35A being altered. Both India and the world need to accept the new normal in Kashmir. For this the narrative and diplomatic war must supplement the battle-ready formations on the border and the internal law and order machinery in the new Union Territory. Coming back to the UNHRC, let’s be fully prepared for Imran Khan’s tirade on 27th September.