India revoked the special status of State of Jammu & Kashmir, on 5 August 2019, granted under the Indian Constitution Article 35A and 370. This blatant act of the Indian government is in direct conflict with the UNSC resolutions and accession accord signed between India and the then ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh. The UNSC resolutions classify the region to be a disputed one whereas the accession accord unequivocally regards Kashmir to be an autonomous region beyond the powers of Union of India to make any changes to its status and shape. The BJP-led Indian regime decided after a possible evaluation of measures to crush the freedom movement and annex the Kashmir State as part of the Indian Union. Many believe, by undoing the status, the BJP wishes to alter the demographic contours to turn a Muslim majority state into a Hindu state. Current and historical narratives of the BJP and RSS converge on several aspects of Hindutva-driven policies, and revocation of Articles 35A and 370 reflect precisely the same. The BJP-RSS bond as per assessment would not limit its Hindutva expansionist ideology to Kashmir alone. Subsequent events might even be harsher and graver than what had happened to Kashmir.
Though Pakistan may disagree with what India’s ‘fascist’ government has done to Kashmir and project its contempt for the ‘unconstitutional steps’ undertaken, talking of war and bringing into debate the use of nuclear weapons to resolve Kashmir issue is a dangerous thought. Wars do not solve problems; on the contrary, they create even more. Responding to India’s unjust, controversial and contradictory Kashmir steps needs a careful, thoughtful and extended plan. The incumbent Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi thought of the idea of revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir 28 years ago. Riding on the extreme Hindutva ideology, methodically aligning the masses and media with his radical doctrine, under the garbs of democracy, the BJP became a party with an absolute majority in both Houses of the Indian Parliament. What made it possible for the BJP to transform their unthinkable hypothesis into reality was one thinkable ideal: persistent clarity. They knew what they wanted and did what was required to revoke the inhibition in the path of the annexation of Kashmir.
Now Pakistan faces the test of its history. This would be the second occasion since 1971’s breakup of East Pakistan when Pakistanis feel tortured and truncated. Resolution of Kashmir issue, considered as the unfinished agenda of partition as claimed by Pakistan appears to be a bleak possibility. The recent event adds to Pakistan’s historical horror when India forcefully took control of Junagadh and Hyderabad in 1948, even though these two states openly chose to become part of Pakistan.
“It does not mean”, Pakistan would believe, “the end of struggle or support for the State that should have more rightfully become part of Pakistan in legal, geographical, religious and cultural contexts”. What can Pakistan do now then? Still a lot, it can be said. Making India abandon Kashmir, either to claim its independence or become part of Pakistan, requires a long term plan. It is necessary to have an economic and military strength to steadily work towards this objective. Pakistan must acknowledge that the ‘loss’ of Kashmir is the consequence of its disjointed, piecemeal and confused Kashmir policy. Pakistan’s strategic direction on Kashmir was never truly clear or forceful until it was way too late. Failures of Op Gibraltar, 1965, and Kargil Plan, 1999, were indicators that the military solution to Kashmir wasn’t imaginable. Pursuance of settling Kashmir through ‘other means’ didn’t work either.
Some emotions run deep, and a wide grandiosity is exhibited to reclaim Kashmir. These sentiments will not yield anything significant, let alone keeping Pakistan focused on rightly framing and following a pragmatic Kashmir policy. What Pakistan needs is a strategic restraint and a high level of political maturity at this point in time. Steering clear of an irrational, unreasonable and unpredictable behaviour is highly desirable. Pakistan cannot afford to push the region into turmoil by making a catastrophic choice. The argument that Pakistan must do what India has done would entrap Pakistan into a ‘choice reduction paradox’, forcing it to lose the higher moral ground to fight its case for Kashmir rightfully.
Crafting a Kashmir policy on the contours that is genuinely according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people, in sync with UNSCR resolutions, and in line with human rights ideals, is the first job that Pakistan needs to do. The next is to ensure this policy transcends the political governments and sustains until the time the Kashmir issue is resolved.
Pakistan must steadily build its national power to emerge as a trustworthy, reliable and influential player in the region. A state that can be engaged in rules-based partnerships and strategic collaborations; and not a state that is considered as a burden or is only approached for convenience-based bonding (e.g., US-Pak relations in the 1970s, 80s and 2000s). Pakistan may need to work on strengthening its institutions that run the state and are independent of individuals.
It is only through systematic planning, rational behaviour and prudent choices can Pakistan turn its strength on Kashmir. Until Pakistan’s own house remains chaotic, uncertain and vulnerable and navigates the turbulence without a course, its voice on Kashmir would remain weak, distorted and incomprehensible.