Modi's Kashmir Meeting Has Many Regional Ramifications, Will Be Keenly Watched
New Delhi, June 24 || It is expected to be a consequential day for the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Speculation is agog, in both India and Pakistan, and among Kashmir watchers globally, which includes perhaps the United Nations, about the all-party meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi has convened on Thursday, June 24, to discuss the future of Jammu and Kashmir.
The government has extended the invite to 14 J&K leaders, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad, to attend the meet at the prime minister’s residence. All 14 political leaders from J&K invited to the all-party meeting have been asked to carry a negative RT-PCR report.
Media speculation about the meeting ranges from discussions on delimitation - or redrawing - of constituencies, whose process had begun tentatively, to the restoration of statehood to the union territory. Though the state was stripped of its special status that gave it limited autonomy, nearly two years ago on August 5, 2019, the government had said that it would restore its statehood at an appropriate time as a prelude to holding of state assembly elections.
Why then has the Modi government decided to suddenly convene the Kashmir meeting? And how did Pakistan get wind of it days before its actual convening?
Why the meeting?
Many theories are circulating in New Delhi as to the reasons for the Modi government's decision. The reasons appear to be both political and diplomatic. Modi, who has faced a lot of international denigration over his government's perceived inaction and administrative callousness when India was hit by a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the India-originating Delta variant spreading to other countries, has come under a lot of pressure from his political and ideological constituency.
His ruling BJP's supporters feel - Modi's popularity is still way ahead of his putative rivals with the opposition in complete disarray - that only some far-reaching policy decision by his government can send a strong message, both to the country as well as internationally, that his government remains firmly in control and means business.
Also, the US is known to be acting behind the scenes with their not-so-gentle nudging on the Kashmir issue. which could mean part restoration of the status quo in Kashmir. Although reversal of the August 5, 2019 legislations to nullify Kashmir's special status is ruled out, the government might show a willingness to revive political activity in Kashmir, restore its statehood beginning with the delimitation of constituencies, and work towards having assembly elections at the earliest.
There is little doubt that Islamabad was tipped off about the likely happenings in New Delhi, in a way to force the Modi government's hand.
A full 17 days before the meeting, Pakistan's Foreign Office, in a strongly worded statement, warned India not to undertake any "further division, bifurcation and demographic changes" in Jammu and Kashmir, saying its actions violated international law and relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
“We have noted with serious concern reports indicating that India might be plotting further division, bifurcation and demographic changes… to perpetuate its illegal occupation. No new instrument of occupation shall have any legal effect, ” said the statement. The statement followed what it called, "rumors" of another "vicious" plan being hatched in New Delhi to further divide Jammu and Kashmir.
On June 17, a week before the scheduled meeting in New Delhi, and a day before Indian media got wind of the meeting, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi conveyed his country’s “grave concern” to the UNSC on reports indicating that India might impose “further illegal and unilateral measures” in Jammu and Kashmir, including “division, bifurcation and additional demographic changes in the occupied territory.”
Qureshi, in a letter addressed to the UNSC president, underlined that “all the unilateral and illegal actions taken by India … since 1951, including the measures initiated on and after August 5, 2019, and any additional unilateral changes that India may introduce in the future, are violations of international law including the Security Council Resolutions and the 4th Geneva Convention.”
Noting that a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with relevant UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people is essential for durable peace and stability in South Asia, Qureshi said the onus was on India to create an enabling environment for a "result-oriented engagement" with Pakistan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan went one step further to state in a media interview this week that there will be no need for nuclear deterrents once the Kashmir issue is resolved with India. "The moment there is a settlement on Kashmir, the two neighbors would live as civilized people. We will not need to have nuclear deterrents," Khan said in his interview to HBO.
The American factor
Pakistan knows well it will be unrealistic to expect Modi to restore Kashmir to its pre-August 2019 status to create what both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa called a "conducive environment" for bilateral talks to resume. How far Modi - who has ridden to power on the pledges of strong-arm actions to 'integrate' Kashmir in India and against a hostile and 'terror-spawning' Pakistan - will go to meet both Washington's and Islamabad's expectations remains to be seen.
Linked tangentially to a political decision on Kashmir are the tangled web of Afghan peace talks, with New Delhi reported to have conducted secret parleys with the Taliban, as the latter steadily moves towards its goal of controlling Afghanistan once more. Unless Kashmir moves towards democratic governance - and New Delhi is able to reach some kind of modus vivendi over it with Islamabad - it will remain vulnerable to extremist influences and spillovers from the notorious AfPak terror sanctuaries.
With the US declaring its strategic focus was to contain China's rise, it cannot afford to have the Afghan pot simmering. And, to achieve that, it needs Pakistan's strategic support. Islamabad, in turn, will extract its price for its support, and that would mean 'positive' movement on Kashmir from its perspective. The UAE-influenced February ceasefire between the Indian and Pakistani armies is a piece of the larger regional matrix whose changing dynamics are likely to fall into place in the coming weeks and months.
Tomorrow's Kashmir meeting by Modi with key political interlocutors could well unlock many possibilities.
(The writer is President, Society for Policy Studies (SPS), New Delhi. The views expressed are personal)