Win hearts & minds in J&K, normalise Valley

The Indian delegation led by Ms Vijay Thakur Singh, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, rebutted in kind.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was recreated in 2006, during the UN reforms. The new 47-member body was supposed to be less ideological and more devoted to the protection of human rights. The United States leaving the body, however, confirmed that politics was germane to any UN body’s DNA. The council holds three regular sessions every year in March, June and September. The current 42nd session presented Pakistan with an opportunity to rake up the Kashmir issue, after its bid to involve the UN Security Council did not move beyond an informal pre-meeting discussion.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi alleged “genocide” by India in locked-down Kashmir after the drastic constitutional changes on August 5. The Indian delegation led by Ms Vijay Thakur Singh, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, rebutted in kind. The debate obviously has internal and external dimensions.

Pakistan originally attacked the constitutional changes made by India and the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, eliminating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. India, it charged, had unilaterally altered the status quo in a state subject to UNSC resolutions and perceived by Pakistan as a “dispute”. This found little support internationally, or in the Security Council, as Pakistan has also in the past tinkered with areas in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), particularly in the Northern Areas, now christened Gilgit-Baltistan. China is complicit in that game, running its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Gilgit-Baltistan without India’s consent. Therefore, Pakistan cannot treat actions in the part of Kashmir that it controls as its right, including the initiation of major infrastructure and demographic changes, while vehemently objecting to any Indian action. In any case, whether the Indian government’s actions are constitutionally valid is before the Supreme Court and would be decided domestically.

Pakistan thereafter decided to shift the debate to the Indian government’s inability to quickly restore normality in the Valley, rather than flogging the first argument. The new line of attack is the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of the Valley. Prime Minister Imran Khan has also altered his tweets from threatening India with nuclear hellfire to a Gandhian appeal to the Pakistani people to stand in silent protest. Thus, its energies were redirected to the Geneva UNHRC meeting in an attempt to get a special discussion on state of affairs in Kashmir. Again, Islamabad found that rustling up 24 votes against India to pass such a resolution is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi, meanwhile, kept up her tirade at the UN, meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, yet again to seek his intervention. His spokesman told the media that he advised both nations not to escalate tensions and resolve their differences bilaterally. His mediation is only possible if both nations seek it. US President Donald Trump has been periodically airing the same line.

While India’s reasoned defence abroad will ensure that no inquiry is begun by a UN agency or resolution passed to condemn the Indian action, it can only buy time. Ultimately, the longer that normality is not restored in the J&K Valley the more nervous even India’s friends abroad shall be. The Indian security agencies seem to be counting on snowfall in the higher reaches in October stymying any intrusion by Pakistan-based jihadis. Without ignoring the external threat, the bigger need now is to worry about local alienation. No counter-insurgency operation has ever worked without winning the minds and hearts of the populace.

The BJP clearly timed its Operation Kashmir without considering strategic external considerations, as the August-September period, ahead of the high-profile UN General Assembly session, is hardly ideal, but obviously keeping crucial state elections in mind. For instance, Maharashtra is the financial capital of India; Haryana, abutting the national capital, is a critical staging ground for any large anti-Centre agitation; and Jharkhand the coal and mineral powerhouse. The BJP is also able to entrap all critics among the Opposition parties or analysts in their sectarian and jingoistic net. Any criticism is projected as siding with Pakistan in the matter. Silence would naturally be taken as approval. Pakistan also mischievously put remarks by Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah on the front page of its UN dossier.

But the government’s reasoning lacks conviction. The move is said to block terrorists, particularly those who may move once Afghanistan passes under Taliban control. The breakdown in the American dialogue with the Taliban negates that theory. On the contrary, with the local population upset by the move, the youth would be more amenable to recruitment by jihadis. This was exactly the scenario in the late 1980s, when militancy began. It was not just the victory of jihadis against the then USSR in Afghanistan and Soviet troop withdrawal in 1988 that triggered the jihad in Kashmir. It was the rigged Assembly election of 1987 that created conditions for militancy to flourish. This is a classic Thucydides trap — you create conditions for the very outcome that you want to avoid.

National security adviser Ajit Doval’s argument that normality depends on the Pakistani interference ending is surprising. The aim of constitutional changes was to make Jammu and Kashmir an inalienable part of India. Then normality can’t be dependent on Pakistan, as it will never cooperate. Thus, by that logic, the Valley is in for permanent absence of normality? It is also proffered that Jammu and Kashmir, as a Union territory, would see more investment, greater development and an end to gender discrimination. The right to education and information are also proferred as likely benefits. Are populous states of the Indo-Gangetic plane models of such development? Of course, Pakistan’s charge of “genocide” is gross exaggeration. However, repeated adjournments by the Supreme Court over cases relating to the denial of fundamental rights to people in the Valley is troublesome. One-liners like “false narrative from the epicentre of terrorism” are fine for speeches and rebuttals at the UN. Luckily for India, the United States, Britain and Europe are distracted by their internal churns or external battles with China. In the near future, power in both the US and Britain may pass to the Opposition parties. The solution lies in J&K lies in the Centre not shredding federalism or constitutionalism and preferring prescriptive solutions after debate and consensus. It must recall the wisdom of Maslow’s hammer: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

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