Saber rattling helps no one in Kashmir
Kashmir is one of the legacies of British colonialism. When the English left, the subcontinent was divided along religious lines. It was a treacherous, violent and ugly process, and the wounds are still far from being healed.
Nowhere can this be felt more than in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu Kashmir, and the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both territories have overwhelmingly Muslim populations and the two countries have fought three wars over the territory since partition in 1947.
India and Pakistan have never had had an easy relationship, let alone a cordial one. Tensions are often so pronounced that one could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The disputed status of Kashmir has all too often been at the heart of their mutual grievances. It has also fueled violence and terrorism. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the process. Adding Indian and Pakistani forces, the two Kashmirs may well be the most heavily armed territories on earth.
Jammu and Kashmir had special autonomous status under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the Instrument of Accession by which the princely state became part of India, granting the territory the right to its own constitution, flag and self determination of sorts.
In early August, Article 370 was revoked by presidential order and a resolution in both houses of the Indian Parliament, and with it went all the special privileges granted under the Instrument of Accession. Before Parliament’s decision, the Indian government sent 45,000 troops into the territory. Later, all communications — landlines, internet, mobile telephones — were blocked, and a curfew imposed. More than 400 politicians were arrested. Indian Kashmir was under siege, occupied by the Indian army. The Indian author Arundathi Roy wrote that silence (imposed on Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian government) was the loudest sound at this particular stage of the conflict.
India calls itself the world’s largest democracy, not without some pride. However, the protection of minorities is an important element of functioning democracies, as is adherence to constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan protested vehemently, and said he could not preclude using force, if the situation persisted.
In revoking Article 370, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi essentially made good on a campaign promise two months after having been re-elected, which may make matters even worse.
India calls itself the world’s largest democracy, not without some pride. However, the protection of minorities is an important element of functioning democracies, as is adherence to constitutionally guaranteed rights. We should not forget that India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, and is projected to overtake Indonesia by 2060. In that context alone its Muslim population will watch what happens in Jammu and Kashmir. Overlaying the tensions between Pakistan and India is the fact that both countries possess impressive nuclear arsenals, which is enough to frighten observers.
The UN Security Council discussed the conflict in a closed session last Friday. China is thought to have sided with Pakistan, which makes sense given the important status the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has in Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road project. It also demarcates the fault lines between India and China, who are old rivals as well as the world’s most populous countries.
We can only hope that cooler heads prevail. Saber rattling is not helpful from any side. Good neighborly relations are never easy. If the neighbors are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and have not yet been able to shake off the trauma of history, matters become really tricky, to put it mildly.
- Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources