The unilateral revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by Narendra Modi’s BJP government has escalated Pakistan-India tensions and put the region’s stability at risk. Moreover, the move has also exacerbated the Kashmiri peoples’ further alienation from India.
Above all, the Indian move has also torn open old regional fault-lines!
At a time when Pakistan was weighing its diplomatic options to counter India’s highly provocative move, China denounced the splitting of the disputed Himalayan region. Beijing was of the view that the Indian move to annex Ladakh area as a separate union territory amounts to undermining China’s sovereignty as it too lay claims over the mainly Buddhist area. India controls 45 per cent of the entire disputed Himalayan region, while Pakistan holds a third. The remainder, that includes Ladakh as well, is controlled by China.
Ladakh is an arid, mountainous and largely uninhabitable area. It accounts for roughly a third of the Jammu and Kashmir which is spread over 222,236 square kilometers. It has just 274,000 residents as against over 12 million population of the rest of Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from Ladakh, both China and India lay claim over many other swathes of the Himalayan region held by both of them.
While Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, India and China too fought a full scale, but a brief, war in the Himalayan region in 1962 resulting in a humiliating defeat for India. Both the countries also had a two-month standoff at the Doklam plateau in the region in 2017.
If China’s policy over territorial disputes with neighbours over the past several decades is any guide, then Beijing is unlikely to be provoked by India’s belligerent attempt to go into any armed conflict. However, it is unlikely to relent diplomatic pressure on India to stop it from changing the demography of the disputed region, particularly Ladakh.
Though Pakistan and China have been steadfast friends throughout, Beijing’s strong position on the latest Indian move provides a golden opportunity to Pakistan to team up its efforts with Beijing to diplomatically confront New Delhi on the issue. Pakistan has announced that it would take up the issue at all international forums, particularly the United Nations Security Council, and the support from one of the five permanent members of the Security Council seems handy.
The United States is all likely to stay ambivalent over the issue partly because of its rivalry with China. The US China rivalry, in the recent months, has been exacerbated by the ongoing trade war between both the countries, however, China’s strong opposition to the Modi government’s decision to alter the status of an internationally disputed territory could elicit support from other countries in the region.
Moreover, Pakistan’s support is crucial for the success of the U.S.-led efforts to end the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan that could pave way for coalition troops’ pullout from the war-torn country. Islamabad should continue that support, but it should also try to convince the Trump administration that Modi’s move has the potential to stir instability in the entire region and, therefore, the U.S. should play its part towards de-escalation.
Pakistan has already stated that it would continue with its political, moral and diplomatic support for the Kashmiri freedom movement, which is likely to intensify in the wake of New Delhi’s belligerent decision. However, this time around, the alienation among Kashmiris to India is more widespread and popular.
While India has always had politicians like Sheikh Abdullah and Mufti Muhammad Saeed to justify its occupation of the Jammu and Kashmir, the mood in the entire region now seems totally different. There is not a single voice in Kashmir, even among pro-India politicians, which supports India’s bid to annex the disputed territory.
The scions of Abdullah dynasty – his son Farooq and grandson Omar – are now openly admitting that Modi’s India was not one their forefathers had opted for in 1947. On the other hand, Mehbooba Mufti, Mufti Sayeed’s daughter and former chief minister who previously allied with Modi, has gone to the extent of questioning the rejection of two-nation theory by her ancestors and has said that it has now been proven that it (siding with India) was a mistake”.
Pakistan should avoid any major armed clash with India but should gear up its diplomatic war along with China to put India on the back foot. At the diplomatic front, it should also capitalize on the strong anti-India sentiments fueled by Modi’s intransigent move and galvanize world opinion against Indian rights violations in Kashmir.
Zeeshan is a senior journalist based in Islamabad and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org
Ali is an Islamabad-based journalist and can be contacted at email@example.com