India’s Kashmir policy has strategy weaved along physical linkage with Europe

By Shankar Kumar

It was the post Uri attack in 2016 India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had drawn a roadmap to deal with Kashmir–politically and strategically. Though special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 has been opposed by BJP since its Jan Sangh days and the party’s successive Lok Sabha manifestoes talked about this constitutional provision’s abrogation since the 1990s, but the spadework for giving boost to reorganization plan for Jammu and Kashmir began three years ago. And this was fulfilled on August 5 when Parliament cleared a bill on bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. Yet the Centre let the cat out of the bag when Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while defending the government’s stand on the annulment of Articles 370 and 35A, said that Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin-are part of Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier also, parliament had passed a resolution on taking back of Kashmir’s part from Pakistan and Aksai Chin from China.

But never was the issue so forcefully put before the House as it has been done earlier this month. Question is: Why India has taken such a stand? Is India’s move on Kashmir indicating towards New Delhi’s objective to play larger strategic game in South Asia, Middle East, Eurasia and Europe? Yes, India has a plan to come out with road connectivity right from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad to Mirpur (both part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir) to Iran to Turkey to Greece to Romania to Austria to Germany to the United Kingdom. The total stretch from Srinagar to London is around 8000 km and India may like to realize this project in association with like- minded democratic countries. Also, India is considering since long to connect itself by road and rail to Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia. Although the 7200 km-long sea-road-rail connectivity programme–International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that links India with Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia—is on the verge of execution. Only some technical glitches related to customs, documentation and logistics have to be resolved before this ambitious multi-model transport corridor gets operationalized. Yet direct road connectivity from India’s northern tip to Europe has its own advantages and strategic importance. And New Delhi doesn’t like to miss an opportunity to realize its dream of physical linkage with Europe and the Eurasian region.

Before that New Delhi will have to ensure that the whole Kashmir, including the one which is under Pakistan’s forced control, becomes an integral part of India. For this New Delhi will have to consistently push Islamabad to hold dialogue on Kashmir’s part that is under its occupation. However, it is not an easy task, because Pakistan is backed by China which has already a boundary dispute with India. Then Beijing is particularly critical of the Modi government’s decision to turn Ladakh into Union Territory, a facility which will allow the region to be directly ruled by New Delhi. “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. She added: “India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force.”  China claims large parts of Ladakh, including 6000 sq km of Aksai Chin, which was actually ceded by Pakistan in 1963. In such a scenario, New Delhi will have to handle the Kashmir issue very deftly. For India, it is encouraging to see that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran or Turkey have more or less toed India’s line that removal of Articles 370 and 35A is an internal matter of India and that conflict should be resolved diplomatically by New Delhi and Islamabad. Domestically too, India will have to ensure that Kashmir doesn’t go out of control once curfew imposed in the Valley is withdrawn. Kashmir’s middle class, government servants and common civilians will have to be won over from separatists and their Pakistani handlers. To this regard job opportunities will have to be created while developmental agenda and welfare schemes have to be pushed in Jammu and Kashmir. It is indeed a right move on the part of the Centre that by dividing the state into two Union Territories, it will directly monitor their activities, especially developmental ones. For many years, on account of restrictions brought on Jammu and Kashmir through Articles 370 and 35A, the state suffered economically, socially and politically. It has been only part of India which has been, hitherto far away from private or institutional investments. In the last five years, India attracted $269 billion worth of Foreign Direct Investment.

But, unfortunately, due to the provisions of Article 35A which entitled only permanent residents of Kashmir right to own or buy a property in Jammu and Kashmir or enjoy special benefits related to employment, scholarships or other privileges in the state, no investor ventured there. While majority parts of the country have witnessed setting up of new factories, IT hubs, airports,  quality hospitals and educational institutions, Jammu and Kashmir has been only state which has been enjoying Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Since 1989, more than 47,000 people have been killed in the cross-border terrorism in the state. Yet opportunistic local politicians, separatists of the state only blamed New Delhi for Kashmir problem. Recent National Investigation Agency’s probes have shown that Kashmir’s separatist leaders were hand-in-gloves with Pakistani establishment which used to fund the former for creating unrest in Kashmir. Masarat Alam, General Secretary of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, recently confessed during his custodial interrogation by NIA that Pakistan-based agents route the funds through hawala operators and they are then transferred to separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference.

There is no denying the fact that cycle of violence in Kashmir has been perpetrated with direct assistance and support from Islamabad. In fact, instances have shown that Pakistan doesn’t want peaceful resolution of Kashmir rather it wants to dismember India to grind its own axe. Pakistan is only country in the world where terrorism is a part of its strategic policy. From Lashkar-e-Taiba to Jaish-e-Mohammand to Taliban and Haqqani group—Pakistan is full of terrorist organizations which are banned whenever it suits Islamabad’s bill and it is lifted when their services are utilized against India, Afghanistan, Iran or any other country which Islamabad doesn’t like.

Withdrawal of Articles 370 and 35A from Jammu and Kashmir and its subsequent division into two Union Territories have emasculated separatists and their Pakistani handlers of their nefarious design to force New Delhi to leave the region. Instead, it is Pakistan and their agents in Kashmir who have been pushed into their back foot, compelling them to chalk out new plan for their survival. But given the critical economic situation of Pakistan where inflation is over 11 per cent, joblessness has reached all-time peak, development has come to a standstill and is struggling to avoid default on balance of payment, there is hardly any meaningful option before Islamabad to stop India’s Kashmir strategy from becoming a path breaker on geo-political front in South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.