THE MORNING AFTER
India needs to be prepared for the external and internal repercussions of its decision to ‘dilute’ Article 370
Many things changed with a stroke of the president’s pen on August 5, not only in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) but in India as well. The die is cast, the Rubicon has been crossed and there is no going back, even if the legality of the government’s moves altering the status of J&K is successfully challenged in courts. The legal process will take time, but the facts on the ground will continue to change and the fait accompli will become its own justification. What we need to focus on is the fallout from the momentous decisions taken on August 5, both domestic and external, and formulate appropriate and carefully thought-through responses.
One, the evisceration of Article 370 was held necessary because it upheld a special status for Jammu and Kashmir, which allowed the perpetuation of laws discriminating against non-J&K Indian citizens, such as the inability to buy and own property, and sanctioned retrograde social practices such as depriving women of the state from enjoyment of equal rights. But the driver of Article 370 is no different from Article 371, which confers the same special status on northeastern states. To argue that 370 could be changed because it was meant to be ‘temporary’ while 371 is a ‘special’ provision, which cannot be similarly altered, is disingenuous. Predictably, concerns have been expressed by northeastern states on this count and if these mount, then the recent improvement in the security environment in the Northeast may come under pressure.
Two, the Modi government has justified the downgrading of the truncated state of J&K into a Union territory (UT) on security grounds. This opens up a dangerous precedent that may strike at the very root of Indian federalism. It is conceivable that in future, a central government determination of a
breakdown of law and order may be used to impose governor’s rule in a state and, using the same procedure as applied in respect of J&K, reduce it to a UT on security grounds. Even the threat of such action will constrain the autonomy of states irrespective of the current constitutional provisions.
Three, the prime minister, in his address to the nation, held out a message of reconciliation to the people of J&K and promised a fresh compact—accept the new political dispensation, abjure confrontation with the Indian state and enjoy a generous development dividend. The unspoken threat is that rejection of this compact will bring the full coercive might of the state to impose peace and order irrespective of the people’s sentiments. One hopes that a renewed hearts-and-minds campaign will succeed, but it would be prudent to anticipate its possible rejection. How far will the Indian state be ready to go to enforce its will on an unwilling and sullen population? What is the threshold beyond which the use of force negates the democratic character of the Indian state?
The Modi government must reflect on these possible consequences that flow from the August 5 decisions and ensure that they do not trigger renewed fissiparous tendencies whose salience lies hidden behind the prevailing celebratory mood.
There will be external consequences despite our assertion that these decisions were the internal affair of India. These have to be handled with skilful diplomacy and efficient security arrangements.
It is only to be expected that Pakistan will do all it can to frustrate Indian efforts to restore peace and tranquility in J&K. It will seek to have its name removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), pointing to the various (cosmetic) measures that it has taken recently to rein in the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as well as the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It may be helped in this by the US, which believes Pakistan can help extricate it from Afghanistan. China, which will be chairing the FATF shortly, will certainly lend powerful support. If Pakistan succeeds, then it can resume cross-border terrorism against India with renewed vigour. Therefore, one immediate and urgent task for Indian diplomacy is to mobilise international opinion to have Pakistan declared an offender under the FATF rules. Even if this does not
The driver of Art. 370 is the same as for Art. 371, which confers the same special status on NE states. To say one was ‘temporary’ and the other ‘special’ is disingenuous
succeed, it is imperative that Pakistan stays on the grey list.
If an Afghan peace is concluded and the Taliban becomes an influential component of a ruling dispensation in Kabul, Pakistan will resume the establishment of terrorist training and launch pads targeting India on its territory as in the past. This will have the advantage of deniability. We need a strategy to forestall this. This may require working out measures to destabilise a future and possibly hostile Taliban regime. A latter-day Ahmad Shah Masood may have to be found.
Pakistan will be dissuaded from terrorist activity against India only if we harden our own security arrangements and impose enough pain on Islamabad by exploiting its vulnerabilities. As the Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terrorist attacks revealed, there are major security gaps on our side that remain unaddressed. Some relate to governance issues, such as the smuggling of drugs and contraband across our borders, which terrorists are able to exploit.
We must assert more strongly and consistently our claim on Gilgit and Baltistan. Why not invite and give prominence to dissidents and activists from these areas? After all, they are technically our own citizens. There appears to be continued hesitation in highlighting Pakistan’s barbaric behaviour in Balochistan. Without building countervailing pressure points against Pakistan, there will be little incentive for a change in the strategic calculus in Islamabad.
International reaction on developments in J&K has so far been muted. This must not lead to complacency. The sooner the situation in the Valley returns to relative calm and the heavy security presence is thinned out, the less the risk of external meddling and re-hyphenating India and Pakistan. Renewed and widespread violence in the Valley and heavy-handed pacification will turn the international spotlight back again on a troubled region and diminish India’s standing. ■
Without building countervailing pressure points against Pakistan, Islamabad will have little incentive to change its calculus vis-a-vis India