Shortly before the Indian elections, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, wishfully declared that a win for Narendra Modi would prove to be good for peace between India and Pakistan. In the event, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
By separating Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and annexing both as Union Territories, Mr Modi has torn up Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution that granted Special Status to Jammu and Kashmir pending a settlement with Pakistan. Outraged, Pakistan reacted by downgrading diplomatic ties with India, suspended trade and airspace and vowed to internationalize the dispute.
Mr Modi couldn’t care less. He had other plans from the start. He won the election by stoking fears about Pakistani-sponsored terrorism and followed up by delivering “strategic strikes” against the old enemy. After winning New Delhi, he put together a coalition government in Kashmir; then, by turns, he engineered the fall of the state government, imposed Presidential Rule, dissolved the state assembly and, as required in the absence of the state legislature, obtained the President-appointed Governor’s ascent for the President’s attack on Article 370.
Imran Khan has been clean bowled. He didn’t know what to think of Mr Modi’s pre-emptive additional troop deployment in Kashmir or the travel advisories to tourists and Hindu Yatris to quit Kashmir. He didn’t even know what to say in Parliament after the shocking event. He waited for a cue from the Corps Commanders meeting but when they didn’t come up with a “befitting” response – what’s the big deal, they said, Pakistan hadn’t accepted the legitimacy of Article 370 and 35A in the first place because of the primacy of the UN Resolutions – Mr Khan followed suit. Why, he thundered, we have known all along about the BJP’s anti-Muslim ideology, its thinking about revoking the Special Status of J&K (it’s in their manifesto, silly!) and so on, and this makes not a whit of difference to our traditional stance about a permanent solution based on a UN-sponsored Plebiscite. However, for the international record, he warned about massive repression in Kashmir, fierce resistance, an act or two of “terrorism” that would be laid at Pakistan’s door as in the case of Pulwama, heightened tensions along the border leading to conventional military conflict and, given the military imbalance, nuclearisation of the conflict with horrendous consequences for the region and the world.
But nobody seemed to much care about Pakistan’s dilemma, not even traditional Muslim allies like Saudi Arabia. Even China only put out a temperate statement asking both countries to resolve their disputes peacefully. And that great crowing “reset” with the US that Mr Khan had earlier likened to a second World Cup victory, following his “successful” talks with President Donald Trump in which he offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute, only yielded a denial that Washington was ever in the loop about Mr Modi’s intentions, a charge that India’s foreign policy establishment had cunningly leaked earlier. Fearing a public backlash about Pakistan’s “soft” response, a hurried huddle of the National Security Council, that includes the top brass, declared trade, airspace and diplomatic suspensions. Two days later, however, there was backtracking on most “suspensions”, raising suspicions that some “deal” at least on facilitating India-Afghan trade via Pakistan had already been brokered in Washington earlier and couldn’t be retracted.
The Miltablishment is in a royal fix. Over the decades, it has so injected the narrative of “Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein” into the body politic of the state and people that anything short of “Kashmir banay ga Pakistan” is hard to sell at home. Nawaz Sharif twice tried to build a narrative of peace with India pending a final solution to the Kashmir dispute but he was castigated with the slogan “Modi Ka Jo Yaar Hai, Ghaddar Hai, Ghaddar Hai”! The Miltablishment is desperate to cement the status quo with India while it focusses on resolving Afghanistan to its advantage and enabling an “honourable” exit for the US. But Mr Modi has thrown a spanner in the works.
Public disquiet over Miltablishment policies regarding India and the US, suspicions that perhaps some other secret deal to “sell-out” on Kashmir has also been struck with Washington, coupled with rising anger over IMF sponsored economic policies, is a powder keg. The Opposition and media have already been hounded to the wall and are looking for an opportunity to stick the knife. The country is bitterly divided at home and isolated abroad. India’s leaders sense this as a particularly weak moment for Pakistan and are aiming to exploit it fully.
Unfortunately, the Miltablishment is at its wits end. Having put all its eggs in Imran Khan’s flaky basket and approved his decimation of the opposition and gagging of the media, it has left itself with few allies or options in the event of a strategic or tactical mishap, when Mr Khan will have to be scapegoated. The longer it takes to realise this unfolding crisis of National Power, the more problematic the solution will be when it explodes.