Kashmir: a civilizational dispute?

The Nation

Kashmir: a civilizational dispute?

Javid Husain

August 06, 2019

President Trump’s willingness to mediate the Kashmir dispute, expressed in his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on 22 July, has stirred a lot of excitement in Pakistan while eliciting a forceful negative reaction from the Indian government. Contrary to the claim made by Trump that Prime Minister Modi had asked him to mediate or arbitrate the Kashmir dispute, the statement issued by the Indian External Affairs Ministry immediately thereafter reiterated the well-known Indian position against any third-party involvement in the Kashmir dispute. The Indian External Affairs Minister also told US Secretary of State Pompeo on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Bangkok on 2 August that any discussion on Kashmir would be between India and Pakistan only. Therefore, the offer made by Trump was in fact stillborn.

However, speculation continues about the origin and the purpose of Trump’s offer. A statement issued by the State Department on 31 July clarified that Washington considered Kashmir as a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India, and it would be prepared to assist the two countries in the commencement of a constructive dialogue as “Pakistan takes steps that build confidence in its own efforts to counter terrorism”, thus, welcoming obliquely the recent arrest of Hafiz Saeed. Trump himself told the media on 2 August that he would be prepared to intervene if both sides wanted it. Therefore, we are basically back to square one. Even in the unlikely event of the materialization of the US mediation, we must be on our guard since the US, because of its rapidly growing strategic partnership with India, cannot be considered a neutral party between Pakistan and India. There is a high degree of risk that Trump would tilt in favour of India on the Kashmir dispute as it has done in the case of Palestine by tilting in favour of Israel.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Imran Khan’s achievements in his visit to Washington were fundamentally transactional in nature: Pakistan’s assistance in facilitating US military withdrawal from Afghanistan through a peace settlement in return for limited US assistance here and there which will be carefully calibrated to keep Pakistan on a tight leash. A strategic shift in Pakistan-US relations would require the weakening of Pakistan-China strategic cooperation and moving Pakistan into the Indo-US orbit. This would be a disaster of monumental proportions for Pakistan as it would not only result in the acceptance of the Indian hegemony in South Asia but also a settlement of the Kashmir dispute virtually on the Indian terms.

Trump’s offer also needs to be considered against the background of the reignition of the Kashmiris’ indigenous freedom struggle in the wake of Burhan Wani’s martyrdom at the hands of the Indian forces on 8 July, 2016. India has let loose a reign of terror in IOK to suppress the struggle of the people of Kashmir for the exercise of their right of self-determination as enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. The heavy casualties caused by the Indian forces through indiscriminate firing on innocent civilians in IOK have been widely reported by the world media and the UN exposing the ugly face of the Indian occupation of the territory. Unfortunately, however, India shows no sign of putting an end to its atrocities against the Kashmiri people.

On the contrary, there are media reports that New Delhi has sent 35000 additional Indian troops to add to the already massive Indian military presence in IOK to overcome the insurgency in the territory. There are also reports that the Indian government is contemplating changes in articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution which respectively provide for Kashmir’s autonomy and prohibit the settlement of non-Kashmiris in IOK. The obvious purpose is to bring IOK under the greater control of the Indian government and change its demographic character by encouraging non-Kashmiris to settle in the territory. The dispatch of the additional Indian troops to IOK may be designed to counter the likely resistance to the planned changes in the Indian constitution.

Besides the Indian intransigence, which has historically blocked the search for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, several new factors have made the situation even more worrisome and ominous. The first and foremost is the tidal wave of Hindu extremism or Hindutva which is currently sweeping across India resulting in frequent acts of Hindu bigotry against the minorities, particularly the Indian Muslims who have been the targets of mob attacks by Hindu fanatics. This is not entirely surprising considering the close links of the Modi-led BJP with RSS, a Hindu militant organization. Modi’s re-election as PM with an increased majority in Lok Sabha highlights the gravity of the situation against the background of his own ignominious role in the massacre of the Muslims in Gujrat in 2002. The rise of Hindu extremism in India will make the search for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute even more difficult than in the past. In fact, it has the potential of turning Kashmir into a civilizational dispute at the fault-line of Islamic and Hindu civilizations as predicted by Professor Huntington in his widely acclaimed book, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”.

Secondly, a Hindu India would pursue even more zealously than otherwise the goal of establishing its hegemony in South Asia in accordance with the teachings contained in Kautilya’s Arthashastra written around 300 B.C. for the benefit of Chandragupta Maurya. According to Kautilya, contiguous states existed in a state of latent and permanent hostility. He recommended that a wise ruler should squeeze and defeat neighbouring states by choosing his allies from neighbours’ neighbours and by employing subversion and terrorism to destabilize and subjugate them. This is precisely what India has been doing in its dealings with Pakistan as the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav clearly shows.

Thirdly, the Modi-led Indian government has adopted a muscular style of diplomacy in its dealings with Pakistan and a hardline approach in its handling of Kashmir, leading to frequent incidents of Indian shelling across the LOC and the loss of lives of innocent civilians, in addition to the use of massive force to quell the uprising in IOK. According to the latest reports, Indian forces have used even cluster munitions across LOC in violation of international humanitarian law. Finally, India has succeeded in achieving far higher GDP growth rates per annum (6-7%) than those registered by Pakistan over the past decade or so. If this trend continues, Pakistan will be in a much weaker position to resist Indian hostile moves.

In this power-driven world, the ultimate guarantor of Pakistan’s security and economic well-being and its success in offering effective diplomatic, moral and political support to the Kashmiri cause would be its own strength combined with the power of its friends and allies in the face of the enduring threat posed by a rapidly rising India. Pakistan should, therefore, strengthen its political stability and democratic institutions, accelerate its GDP growth rate to over 9% per annum, maintain a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armed forces and armaments, and adopt pro-active rather than reactive foreign policy. Unfortunately, Pakistan is far away from these goals currently. Political instability and economic weakness constitute its Achilles’ heel. Those renegade elements, who have caused the current political and economic mess in the country, may have unwittingly fallen into the trap laid out by India and other enemies of Pakistan.

Since this article was written, India, taking advantage of Pakistan’s weak moment politically and economically, has ended J&K’s special status by scrapping articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. It is time for political forces and national institutions in Pakistan to forge a united front to face the Indian hostile moves.