Monday, 30th October 2017

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Waging a war of words

India and Pakistan celebrated their 70th Independence days recently, even as a war of words escalated between the two countries. As usual, Kashmir is the focal point. But this time, India has changed the terms of discourse rather dramatically. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that while his government was willing to talk to anyone with an "open mind" and was keen to normalize the situation, there won't be any major concessions in dealing with the protests in Kashmir. Strongly rejecting Pakistan's bid to present itself as an involved party, Modi has made the point that Islamabad's own human-rights record did not give it such leeway. He has also suggested that there was a need to track those who had fled Pakistan-occupied Kashmir so that their accounts could be publicized. PoK, he has said, is the fourth part of Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley. The Modi government is also keen to bring to the attention of the world the plight of Balochistan. New Delhi is now clear that if Pakistan continues to meddle in Kashmir and incite violence and terror, India would be forced to expose the atrocities it continues to commit in restive Balochistan. India's approach was welcomed by activists in Balochistan who blame Islamabad for their plight.

By Harsh V. Pant
  • Published 20.08.16
  •  

India and Pakistan celebrated their 70th Independence days recently, even as a war of words escalated between the two countries. As usual, Kashmir is the focal point. But this time, India has changed the terms of discourse rather dramatically. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that while his government was willing to talk to anyone with an "open mind" and was keen to normalize the situation, there won't be any major concessions in dealing with the protests in Kashmir. Strongly rejecting Pakistan's bid to present itself as an involved party, Modi has made the point that Islamabad's own human-rights record did not give it such leeway. He has also suggested that there was a need to track those who had fled Pakistan-occupied Kashmir so that their accounts could be publicized. PoK, he has said, is the fourth part of Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ladakh, Jammu and the Valley. The Modi government is also keen to bring to the attention of the world the plight of Balochistan. New Delhi is now clear that if Pakistan continues to meddle in Kashmir and incite violence and terror, India would be forced to expose the atrocities it continues to commit in restive Balochistan. India's approach was welcomed by activists in Balochistan who blame Islamabad for their plight.

In his address earlier this month to the home ministers' conference of Saarc countries in Islamabad, Rajnath Singh raised the issue of Pakistan's support for terrorism on foreign soil. "One country's terrorist cannot be a martyr or freedom fighter for anyone", said Singh. "I also speak for the entire humanity - not just for India or other SAARC members - in urging that in no circumstances should terrorists be eulogised as martyrs," he added.

The government of Pakistan declared July 19 to be a "black day" in memory of the slain Hizbul militant, Burhan Wani. Pakistan's prime minister did some grandstanding by stating at a rally, "We are waiting for the day [when] Kashmir becomes [a part of] Pakistan." The Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, had hit back by accusing Nawaz Sharif of advancing the "despicable design" of destabilizing South Asia by exporting "dirty money and dangerous terrorists". New Delhi was making it clear that sections of the Pakistani establishment can dream on but it has no locus standi on the issue.

There has already been a face-off at the United Nations. Slamming Pakistan for raising in the UN the killing of Wani, India had said Pakistan "extols" the "virtues" of terrorists and uses terrorism as a State policy towards the "misguided end" of coveting the territory of others. India's ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, was responding to the remarks made by Pakistan's envoy, Maleeha Lodhi, on Kashmir and on Wani's killing during a debate on human rights at the UN general assembly. In her statement, Lodhi not only raised the Kashmir issue but also mentioned the "extra-judicial" killing of Wani by Indian forces. She described Wani as a "Kashmiri leader". Other senior officials from Pakistan had also been using the turmoil to further their agenda so as to take advantage of the tensions in the Valley. Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, also suggested that "India cannot suppress the voice of Kashmiris - who are struggling for their just right of self-determination by using brutal force and committing human rights violations in the Occupied Kashmir."

Indian security forces have been facing turmoil in Kashmir since protests erupted after the killing of Wani. More than 60 people have been killed and over 5,000 wounded, including Indian soldiers. Normal life remains paralyzed, caught between the curfew imposed by the government and calls for a shutdown by separatist leaders. Even as the Indian government has taken steps to ensure a return to normalcy in Kashmir, it has taken a strong stand against Pakistan's role in the ongoing tensions.The home minister, while visiting Kashmir last month, had addressed Pakistan directly when he said, "You [Pakistan] yourself are affected by terrorism. You had to storm the Lal Masjid to kill the terrorists. But on the other hand, you appeal to Kashmiri youth to take up arms."

It is clear that no Indian government is in a position to allow Kashmir's secession for fear of setting a precedent. India's democracy and secularism would receive a body blow if India accepted the idea that Muslims should secede if they are in the majority in a state. Under the circumstances, if there has been a success in the India-Pakistan 'peace process' in the last few years, it's been on the basis of a recognition on both sides that territorial changes are strictly out of bounds. Moreover, there will be broader geo-political ramifications of an independent Kashmir that will remain dependent on the kindness of its neighbours. India, Pakistan and even China will try to enhance their own strategic interests and compete for the loyalty of Kashmir. It is not readily evident if an independent Kashmir would not be as much of a bone of contention between India and Pakistan as is the case at present. Islamist extremism would get a boost worldwide even as India, already under assault from rising Islamist fundamentalism, will find it difficult to manage growing tensions between Hindu extremists and Islamist radicals. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that this would be the end of India as the world knows it.

Pakistan's narrative on terrorism is no longer acceptable to the world at large, and it is in danger of losing the Kashmir card. Pakistan has gone all out to exploit the killing of a dangerous militant. In the process, relations between India and Pakistan - they appeared to be on the mend under Modi and Sharif - have, once again, regressed. A verbal tit for tat is the new normal. The loss is entirely of ordinary Kashmiris, who are unable to come out of the grip of violence.

The author is professor of International Relations, Department of Defence Studies, King's College, London