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The dice is loaded for Kashmir

Publication Date : 26-08-2014

 

Explanations abound for the current spat between India and Pakistan.

The less accepted view, which I am inclined to go along with, might seem perverse.

Yet I do believe that prime minister Modi wants to strengthen the ragtag resistance leaders in Kashmir — who are still quaintly known by much of the media as the Hurriyat Conference.

Strengthening the Hurriyat leaders, even though many of them don’t talk to each other — the reason why their Pakistani interlocutors have to meet them separately — will be a shrewd electoral step in pursuing the prime minister’s promised abrogation of Article 370 that gives Jammu and Kashmir its special status in the Indian Constitution.

The Kolkata-based Telegraph first put focus on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘Mission 44+’.

The reference was to the party’s proposed election gambit to wrest a first-time majority in the 87-seat Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

After its shocking success in the parliamentary polls, the BJP wants to capture the assembly at Srinagar, a requirement to clear a mandated step to dissolve the area’s special status eventually through an act of parliament.

Assembly elections are due also in Maharashtra this year, a major state where the BJP and its local ally, the Shiv Sena, require large helpings of anti-Pakistan polarisation to evict the Congress from power.

The November anniversary of the Mumbai terror nightmare will be handy.

The Congress in its current form offers only a tinctured version of the BJP’s full-blooded Hindutva.

It is thus never far behind in brandishing its own narrow nationalism to plug the leak in its depleting vote count.

Take for example some of the senior Congress leaders’ more than enthusiastic response to the BJP’s move to stop talks with Pakistan.

The idea, the Congress seems to have concluded, should be to seek ways to sound more ultra-nationalist than the BJP wherever possible.

However, in the arriving electoral competition the Congress is saddled with its commitment to stay with Article 370.

It interprets the clause as an assertion of India’s sovereignty on the disputed region.

For the BJP its removal is an article of faith, at par with its proven commitment to make India a nuclear power with the May 1998 tests.

A grand temple to Lord Ram in Ayodhya and a nationwide ban on cow slaughter are other issues with electoral traction for which the party keeps the powder dry.

How will strengthening the disparate Hurriyat leaders help the BJP? 

Modi’s ‘Mission 44+’ needs a foil to Kashmir’s two main electorally active parties led by chief minister Omar Abdullah and opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti.

So far the Hurriyat leaders have stayed away from the ‘Indian-sponsored’ polls, though in doing so they have painted themselves into an uneventful corner.

By projecting the Hurriyat as Pakistan’s cat’s paw in Kashmir, a role that was for all practical purposes abolished by the advent of the Gen Musharraf-led talks and the eruption of Kashmir-centric puritan Islamists in Pakistan, the Modi government has tried to give the bunch of jobless leaders a political purpose.

With their anti-India halo shining brighter, the bunch can be trusted to subvert the Abdullah-Mufti dominance, to split the votes, should the need arise.

In hindsight, calling off the foreign secretaries’ talks by India was not the only issue that seemed to negate the May 27 meeting of the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in Delhi.

Much of last month was a tight spiral of minor escalations between the two countries building up to the showdown.

On July 25, exactly a month before the secretaries were planning to meet in Islamabad, India and Pakistan traded doubts, shall we say, over the delay in two politically sensitive terror trials — the Mumbai nightmare trial that New Delhi wants to be hastened, and the Samjhauta Express bombing, which Pakistan believes has taken too long at the trial stage.

The perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage are linked by India to elements in the Pakistan army.

The suspects in the Samjhauta outrage are likewise considered close to the new ruling establishment in Delhi. It’s become a ‘who-blinks-first’ kind of situation.

A day after the Mumbai versus Samjhauta spat, India’s defence minister shifted the focus to the heated up Line of Control in Kashmir, saying the cross-border firing would figure in the foreign secretaries’ talks.

However, the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan claimed the same day, to New Delhi’s chagrin, they were there precisely to keep a close watch on the alleged infringements.

What Modi told his army commanders in Kashmir — that Pakistan was too weak to wage war so it was fomenting terrorism against India — was also part of the pattern of moving away from the May 27 bonhomie.

It wasn’t as if India was single-handedly fomenting doubts about the peace talks. Pakistan though distracted by its domestic political turbulence, or perhaps because of it, had been keeping pace.

Modi made his combative comments on Aug 12, making the diplomatic corps comb for similar hints albeit in vain in his Independence Day speech three days later.

However, Pakistan’s envoy in Delhi had flaunted unusually candid postures about Kashmir too — about it being at the root of bilateral disputes with India.

Such comments are rare if the two sides are heading for talks that would but of course include the Kashmir dispute.

In any case, does Pakistan have a view on Article 370? Or does it see it as an Indian ploy to divert the focus from the main issue of Kashmir’s future?

Or does it in fact feel comfortable with the Kashmir issue hanging fire so as to conserve its greater energies to confront an issue more palpably urgent than Kashmir — the division of spoils in Afghanistan?

 

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