Analysis

Risky Kashmir Move Could Make India Burst at the Seams

India may be tempted to treat the Kashmir struggle like Israel treated the Palestinian intifada, but the risks of doing so are far greater

Supporters of a religious group Anjum-e-Tulba Islam chant anti-India slogans during a demonstration to condemn India and its decisions on Kashmir in Pakistan, August 10, 2019.
Fareed Khan,AP

India just rolled the dice by announcing a change in the political status of what was once the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir by downgrading it to a union territory, which will now be run from New Delhi, hundreds of miles away.

It also revoked Articles 370 and 35a, which gave special status to the people of Kashmir. The aim: to end the perennial problem of insecurity and violence in the area and bring peace and stability to the country. The question is whether such an action will secure India – let alone Kashmir – from violence.

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India’s recent action in Kashmir almost echoes Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East: Introduce economic incentives to the embattled territory while continuing to use oppression with the goal of tempting people into agreeing to a political solution. It’s not just about peace, but also about implementing a majoritarian ideological formula in the Kashmir Valley.

The years of resistance there, dating back to 1989, challenges the Bharatiya Janata Party’s aspiration of consolidating Hindu rule in the country. The struggle of the Kashmiris not only irks Delhi, but also inspires others who do not want to be herded by the right wing. Nevertheless, the Indian government just indicated its desire to solve a complex issue by categorizing it as a proxy war originating in neighboring Pakistan.

Islamabad has been involved in the insurgency, but does not control it any longer. Its involvement is linked with a disagreement between the two states regarding ownership of Jammu and Kashmir dating back to the partition of India by the British in 1947. Since then, both neighbors have fought three and a half conventional wars and had numerous skirmishes.

Security personnel patrol during a lockdown in Srinagar, Kashmir on August 10, 2019.
AFP

But wasn’t this problem about to get solved due to American intervention? India and the U.S. are on the same page regarding cleaning up the region from militant non-state actors.

Keen to see the end of conflict in Afghanistan, the Trump administration started a conversation with Pakistan. During a visit by the Pakistani prime minister and three generals to Washington in July, Donald Trump managed to extract a commitment from the visitors to take decisive and verifiable action against all types of violent extremists.

The overarching tool was the Financial Action Task Force yardstick. In order to improve its economic situation, Pakistan must get off the FATF gray list – or at least not get on the black list. Incidentally, the day Delhi moved in on Kashmir, the IMF warned Pakistan that it must get off the gray list to ensure further flow of money from the multilateral aid donor.

But India probably does not want to play second fiddle to the Americans. New Delhi did not even brief the U.S. before taking action, even though it will turn to Washington for mediation if the tension with Pakistan intensifies. However, the U.S. may not go any further than keeping an eye on Pakistan. It is not likely to intervene in India’s internal matters, which means that Delhi will have little security against an increased domestic threat. It can buy any amount of military technology, but still find itself unable to contain the domestic reaction, which could take multiple forms.

India is too diverse and too complex to adopt options that are used in the Middle East. Although the regime has gagged dissenting voices and no independent report is coming from Kashmir, these voices cannot be silenced through brute force.

Greater oppression could make India burst at the seams. While India may be tempted to treat the Kashmir struggle like Israel treated the Palestinian intifada, the risks of doing so are far greater. It may be difficult to contain the domestic reaction to the move within Kashmir or limit it to just one minority group.

The development agenda that Delhi hopes to implement in Kashmir may actually fail elsewhere in the country as well, depending on the proliferation of violence. India is too large and too diverse a territory to be run under a singular ideological and security regime.

Pakistan may be a lesser problem at this stage. It would probably fight a battle on two fronts – a diplomatic contest against India, and an effort to convince critical states to be sympathetic if militants try to push India back. The scrapping of Kashmir’s special status has certainly put Pakistan’s military leadership in a very uncomfortable position that may prompt some to condemn a lack of action. The generals may also adopt measures of greater domestic oppression.

India’s approach may not earn easy dividends. It could also transform South Asia into a violent dystopia that would be costly for India and the entire region.