We have recognized for a long time that the key to peace in Jammu and Kashmir is the effective handling of the internal and external dimensions of the situation. The external situation was created by India by taking the matter of a “dispute” to the United Nations Security Council and getting it recognised as a disputed territory. The internal situation was dictated by the religious composition of the state, growth of militancy and the alienation of the leadership. India has worked on both fronts for a long time.
On the external front, the task was to convince the International community about our constitutional and legal rights over the state by countering Pakistan’s relentless effort to capture by negotiations what it could not do militarily. Internally, we made many concessions to the communities to maintain a sense of belonging to India and to retain the cultural and religious diversity of the state. Over the years, the two dimensions merged and the problems of each began to strengthen the other.
Externally, J&K assumed the nature of a bilateral conflict with Pakistan on account of the number of wars fought by the two countries and it became a hot spot of the world when they both became nuclear weapon states. The fear that a future conflict might turn into a nuclear war made it difficult to settle matters bilaterally and the international community settled for the status quo rather than a churning of the situation with its implicit dangers. Today, no country in the world supports the claims either of India that J&K is an integral part of India or Pakistan’s claim that the Kashmir valley belongs to it. The whole world wants the matter to be resolved bilaterally and peacefully between India and Pakistan. The external dimension of the issue is, thus, confined to debates and statements between the two countries without others getting involved. Pakistan’s efforts to agitate the issue in various fora have not been successful so far.
Terrorism vitiates the situation
The introduction of terror, intimidation, extremism and religious fundamentalism, mainly instigated by Pakistan, has turned parts of Jammu & Kashmir into a battlefield, resulting in military action by either side. Any dialogue with the dissidents or with Pakistan became impossible as India rightly insisted that there shall not be war and peace together or dialogue and terrorism together.
India's drastic action last year
The bold decisions taken by the Central Government in August 2020 to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35 A and to bifurcate the state to new Union Territories opened up both the external and internal fronts. Pakistan and China accused India of unilaterally altering the status quo and many other countries expressed concern. When measures were taken to prevent an insurrection by arresting political leaders, crushing protests and shutting off communications, the pressure mounted on the Government to normalize the situation. It was even suspected that the Chinese incursion across the Line of Actual Control was linked to the changes in J&K.
Reviving border ceasefire
The surprise announcement by India and Pakistan at the level of Directors General of Military Operations to reinstate the ceasefire on the border in February 2021 led to speculation that India and Pakistan had opened some backchannel discussions to resume the dialogue. Pakistan declared that India had expressed a wish to resume the dialogue, but there was thunderous silence on the part of India even after reports came that the National Security Advisers on both sides were engaged in secret talks with a view to normalize relations. There were reports of several meetings between them, confirmed by other countries, which had facilitated such meetings. Among the factors which prompted a thaw was suspected to be prompting by new US President Joe Biden to ensure some stability in the region after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
PM Modi springs a surprise
Having dealt with the external dimension by breaking the ice with Pakistan and having removed the many restrictions in J&K, PM Modi pulled a rabbit out of his hat by convening an all-party meeting, including the J&K leaders, who were detained earlier. There was no guarantee that they would attend such a meeting, but they actually went and the meeting was without bitterness or arguments. There was even an indication that a new consensus could be forged in favour of an early return of democratic governance and full statehood for J&K. But whatever be the eventual outcome, the meeting itself gave a signal to Pakistan and the rest of the world that the actions of last August did not mean the end of the road for reconciliation and harmony. There was a sense that the Centre would not reverse the decision on Article 370, but now it is felt it could well give J&K statehood and hold elections.
The challenge of J&K leaders
The Gupkar alliance is a grouping of convenience as a public face of a group of old politicians and the unity among them is quite tenuous. The positions of former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party are not fully harmonized on the autonomy issue, but the loss of the NDA to the Gupkar alliance in the civic bodies’ elections gave the alliance a certain strength and credibility. The challenge of the J&K leaders is to gain statehood first and then work out a plan with the Centre for good governance with a commitment to unity, peace and development.
There is a glimmer of hope that instead of hankering after the old architecture that has been demolished, a new one will be built in mutual trust and confidence.