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August 23, 2019

Making sense of South Asia

Opinion

August 23, 2019

Politically, Narendra Modi has played his cards. He has used his near two-thirds majority to remove the charade of Article 370 in the Indian constitution to formalize Kashmir’s annexation. It’s now a fait accompli. He wants the world to settle with it. Pakistan too. Modi also dispensed with morality when he chose to expressly dismiss any pretension of seeking the opinion of the people of Kashmir by cheating his way through the legislative process with opportune help from his appointed governor.

Diplomacy too was at a standstill. Successive Indian governments have refused to engage with Pakistan. They first malign Pakistan and ultimately hope to isolate it on that basis. The ploy has patently failed even as South Asia has lain steeped in strife and deprivation. Bilateralism ordained by the Simla Agreement of 1972 be damned. Kashmir, peace and conflict-resolution of legacy issues have remained unattended along with any prospects of a brighter future. Talk of holding a billion-and-a half people ransom to an interlocutor’s whimsical fancy and some very vile agenda. Why Pakistan held onto this false hope will now haunt Pakistan.

What Modi’s aggravation on Kashmir has done to the status of the Simla Agreement itself is open to diverse interpretations. And none so salubrious. Mostly there is a fearful silence on how it just might upturn the applecart. Most peace agreements are in good faith but when violated even perfunctory coexistence is rendered tenuous. Someone, somewhere, should be looking at these implications. Were Pakistan to formally end the encumbrance borne out of Simla – now torn to shreds by India – how does it impact the LOC and its status? How do the Kashmiris get impacted? What are the legal connotations of a dissolution of the Simla Agreement? Does it bring back the primacy of the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir? How will the security at the LOC/(border?) be impacted now that Simla’s restraints on not materially altering its state is removed? Is the flexibility attached to the dilution of LOC now hardened into an international border? How does it impact Kashmir and Pakistan’s stand on the matter?

India thinks assimilation of Kashmir in its reconstituted structure has dissolved the matter. Pakistan clearly disagrees, but will it need to reframe the issue around the foundational human and legal rights of the Kashmiri people? To live with the dated mantra of #KashmirBanegaPakistan may hold little water. But what then is the impact of such reconstruction on the UNSC Resolutions which Pakistan hopes to re-emphasise freed after the restraints of Simla? With Kashmir annexed, does that materially alter the facts of the case? Such consummation is founded around some shameless political and constitutional gerrymandering bringing two nuclear powers to the verge of a flashpoint. Just the threat of it forces humanity and its various peace-arms to impose newer set of approaches to its resolution.

The UN Resolutions still hold their legality if there is international will to assert its combined wisdom, expressed through those decisions; or the UN could decide to review it in totally different terms dictated by the evolving nature of the issue while retaining the legality of the dispute. It could for example make the Kashmiris a bona-fide party to the process and integrate their rights as a dominating determinant. The recent 'informal discussion' at the UNSC did neither and ended with banalities all around. Does such dismissiveness make the case for Pakistan to declare Simla dead as it grapples to deal with the aftermath of clear Indian provocation? Unless the collective conscience of the world intervenes, South Asia stands at the brink of another disaster.

Despite an attempt by Modi to neutralize the potency of any political or diplomatic options, and in his manner of thinking, a legal fallback to approach resolution of the Kashmir, there may still be some prudence in sticking to the course. What else are the options? The moral quotient is already dead and long buried. The other two, legal and military, remain slippery slopes. The chance of any success through political intervention or diplomatic initiatives may appear flimsy in the face of Indian haughtiness but in keeping with these is the only and the surest way of keeping the others away. I assume the legal case before the ICJ will only peter out to push the region to the ultimate resort of use of force. If, however, diplomacy can only push Pakistan to avoid the use of force while succumbing to the inevitability of the Indian consummation of Kashmir the spectre of war reigns. It will mean assimilating India’s overreach. Can Pakistan afford it, politically at home and then strategically because of Kashmir’s criticality to its territorial and economic security? The world must not let this become a precedent.

Pakistan will continue to raise the political forums to the necessity of their attention to the Kashmir issue and its pendency before real peace of any kind can be realized in South Asia. Diplomacy as its tool must now been fully revved up to provide such international leverage and tools to force India to review its usurpation of a state in dispute and an entire people who were deceived and denied their rights as equal citizens of the world. Human rights indeed is another blot that should rankle global conscience.

The legal plank is a penultimate resort while use of force is the next. The military option may have its own span and spread, thankfully, before escalating to its ultimate level.

Referral to the International Court of Justice has its own flip side. The lacunae may lie in the maintainability before the court unless both sides have agreed to an adjudication in a bilateral issue. Also, were the ICJ to give a verdict as benign as the one in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case India and Pakistan may have run out of all options short of war. That would be a telling consequence.

Equally fortuitously, though, politics and diplomacy still continue to be relevant as President Trump still has his nose in South Asia. He may be driven by the pressing need of apparent stability which could give him the ruse to pull his forces out from Afghanistan, and that keeps the world informed of the dangers lurking in South Asia because of Kashmir. But the world must take a lead and build on such voices outside and within India with the hope to stem the rot in South Asia. The only other hope is the next Indian election in 2024 when India may decide differently. Will India and its neighbourhood survive the madness that Modi has launched, or will it have descended to the depths of irrecoverable perversity? That is the danger.

Pakistan, for its own sake and that of the Kashmiris cannot let Modi play his hand as freely. Kashmir should not be as easily digestible. We must fight his baser instincts. And save the region as well as India. Otherwise, as Trump says, ‘the problem is between Hindus and Muslims in India… and they cannot live together’. If this fire lights in India, just the heat will be unbearable for Pakistan. And it may not die away as quickly either.

Email: [email protected]

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