Woodrow Wilson Center expert says: India’s sudden Kashmir move could backfire badly

Highway Ban in Kashmir

Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center, has warned that Indian Prime Minister Narenra Modi’s sudden move in Kashmir could backfire badly.

“Sure enough, on Aug. 5, India announced that it plans to revoke Article 370, a constitutional clause dating back to 1949 that gives Jammu and Kashmir its special autonomous status. The scale of this move cannot be overstated. Abrogating Article 370 represents a major tipping point for an already fraught dispute—and it could easily backfire on India,” according to Kugelam.

Writing in the Foreign Affairs, Kugelam argued that the Kashmir problem has not been solved by removing the Article 370 but “on the contrary, it’s just gotten a lot more complicated—and potentially a lot more destabilizing”.

“The repeal of Article 370 is fraught with risk. “India is unilaterally altering the territorial status of a highly disputed territory that is, per square mile, the most militarized place in the world. Something has to give, and New Delhi understands this—which is why it implemented a draconian lockdown before the announcement,” Kugelam said adding:

“For many Kashmiris, Article 370 had more symbolic than practical meaning, given that the longstanding and repressive presence of Indian security forces had undercut the notion of autonomy. Many Kashmiris face daily restrictions on their freedom of expression and movement, along with the constant risk of rough treatment from security personnel. Still, for many Kashmiri Muslims, the dominant group in Jammu and Kashmir and the victims of what they regard as an Indian occupation, the revocation of Article 370 is a nightmare scenario, because it brings them closer to an Indian state that they despise. Most of them want to be free of Indian rule.”

In Kugelam’s view it’s easy to understand New Delhi’s decision to remove Kashmir’s autonomous status.

“Two recent developments probably pushed the government to act now. The first was U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate the Kashmir dispute. The second is a rapidly progressing Afghanistan peace process, facilitated to an extent by Islamabad, which could lead to an eventual political settlement that gives the Taliban a prominent role in government. Each of these developments strengthens Pakistan’s hand. Making a dramatic move on Kashmir enables New Delhi to push back against Islamabad. It also sends a strong message to Washington about New Delhi’s utter lack of interest in external mediation.

Kugelman also cited domestic reasons for Modi’s move: “Domestic politics are also at play. A big-bang, early term move from the newly reelected BJP is sure to attract strong support from its rank and file, and such backing can blunt potential disillusionment and unhappiness down the road if the government struggles to ease India’s growing jobs crisis. Indeed, it may not be a coincidence that the party, during its previous term, stepped up its Hindu nationalist policies—another surefire way to attract support from its base—after it struggled to carry out an oft-promised economic reform agenda.”

For now, a major question is how key players will respond, Kugelman says by adding: So long as New Delhi maintains its security lockdown in Kashmir, unrest is unlikely. But if that grip is loosened, violence could ensue—suggesting that the lockdown could remain in place for an extended period. Then there is Pakistan. Islamabad’s immediate priority will be to step up its longstanding campaign to get the Kashmir issue on the global agenda and to get the world to condemn India’s policies.

There is also the risk of further social turmoil once those outside Kashmir, following the repeal of Article 370, are allowed to acquire land, Kugelam believes. “For many Kashmiri Muslims, the fear is that this influx of Indians will eventually change the demographics of the Muslim-majority region and exacerbate communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims.”

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamericsa.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com




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