12 August 2019

India and Pakistan- 14th of August vs. 15th of August. Two national celebrations separated by a Contact Line

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

During the week that just passed, it happened something that can change the entire geometry of India-Pakistan’s relations. For the first time after 1947, Jammu-Kashmir’s state privileged status, protected even by constitutional provisions, got cancelled through Delhi Parliament’s decision. It was not a surprise at all, as prime-minister Narendra Modi and the nationalist party he leads, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced this intention during the spring electoral campaign, but it was hardly to believe that prime-minister Modi will actually do it, given that it is a sensitive topic that can change not only the Delhi-Islamabad relations, but also India’s position within South Asia’s regional architecture.

Image source: Mediafax

Kashmir region’s previous constitutional provisions and the reason of their rescission

Article 370 from the Indian constitution was providing this region a series of special rights which, in August 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was divided in two dominions, India and Pakistan chose, through region’s leaders, to continue to be part of India. The population was then, as it is also now, mostly Muslim, but the increased autonomy they got among India’s other entities, have convinced the inhabitants to make the same choice.

A single constitution, a single government, parliament and flag, the right to buy lands which are guaranteed only to residents/ an important provision, covered by article 35a, added in 1954, which allowed blocking Indian citizens’ influx from other regions of the country to this area, considered to be one of the most famous Indian scenery. The only areas where India had a word were finance, defence, foreign relations and communications.

These rights were neither few, nor insignificant, but they could not cover all local frustrations, especially Pakistan’s ones, which did not even admit its membership to India. Two of the wars between these two countries took place in this specific region.

On the other hand, India is already famous for being a state to have many ethnicities, religions, a true cultural mosaic. Within this whole picture, Kashmir is a privileged region, to have special rights comparing to more economically and politically important and numerous states. A nationalist Hindu tendency, old for decades, which always aimed at “bringing this region back on the line”, even risking to provoke huge tensions with the Indian Muslim community, which is more numerous in states like Andra Praesh, Assam, Kerala, Western Bengal. Even though, all in all, Indian Muslims represent only 14.5% of the population, it means almost 200 million people. Those few millions of Muslims in Kashmir are thus just a drop in this Indian mosaic, including the coreligionists.

But this is more of a technical explanation because Kashmir’s constitutional status was less tied to the realities in the territory staying under the shadow of the Himalayan Massif than to the relations between India and Pakistan.

“And what does the opposition want? Declare war to India?”

„Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin asto”/ If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”. This is a stich from a poem dedicated to mogul Nur-ud-dim Mohammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, about the beauty of Northern India’s territory.

Currently, this paradise is divided between the three nuclear states of Asia, so that its fate no longer depends on the local options of Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist communities’ leaders. The war is raging in Islamabad or Delhi, although the reason for it can be found in the Kashmir Valley.

 But under opposition’s pressure, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has responded according to the title above. However, given the sensitiveness of this issue for both capitals, Khan did more than his predecessors. During the February 2019 crisis caused by the Pulwama terrorist attack, Pakistan acted actively in the brief border conflict with India, proving both firmness and restraint. And no later than the end of July, during his visit to Washington, the prime minister managed to convince Trump to get involved in the Indian-Pakistan dispute, by his own initiative, or induced, for the US to mediate the conflict between them. This happened after the same president had had, earlier, a long series of reproaches on how Pakistan had managed the fight against terrorism and used the funds received as aid from the US. Trump's initiative and, in particular, his statement that the request came from the Indian side, raised a serious disputes in Delhi. And also vehement appeals.

Indeed, Pakistan has always wanted the internationalization of Kashmir’s issue in any way possible, while India has always promoted the narrative that whatever is related to the situation in this state is and remains a strictly internal issue.

With all of its superior experience in military operations, being much more intensely involved in combating domestic terrorism than India, as well as more advanced equipment in certain forces categories, especially the air forces, Pakistan is not, however, in the position to military provoke India. Therefore, Pakistani Prime Minister’s question was only rhetorical, as there were almost no chances for the measure taken by Delhi in Kashmir to be canceled.

Two things should happen and be enough to affect the Modi 2.0 government:
- a strong international pressure. China, for example, stated that this measure is unacceptable, and asked both countries to solve the issue peacefully, through dialogue and consultation. Beijing induced Islamabad the idea that the partnership between the two capitals does not include Chinese support for a force solution. Indeed, already being in the middle of conflict with Trump’s administration, China needs peace in terms of other issues. Changing Kashmir’s status and dividing it into two federal territories, yes, has upset Beijing, but not related to what everyone expected, but through the collateral effect of change for something better, by promoting Ladakh as a federal territory, directly administered by Delhi. This region is contested by both India and China, and a direct administration also means increasing this territory’s importance and the attention paid to the border segments that still disputing. But as there is also a Contact Line, wherefore an agreement was signed in 2005, the discussion is closed;

- a popular uprising in Kashmir, following the 90's model, when the violent acts ended with tens of thousands of victims. In recent years, these violence’s level has dropped significantly, but, in the meantime, a new generation of young people and adolescents has grown, for whom these bloody realities are just impersonal images and stories and, hence, are ready to take it over. But India has also mobilized in terms of this issue. Hundreds of local leaders and activists were arrested, communications were blocked and tens of thousands of soldiers went to the region. These measures are, especially in terms of cutting off on-line communications, but also telephone or TV, the beginning of a "new era" in how a democratic society, such as India, manages its internal problems. The phrase "new era" was also used by Prime Minister Modi, suggesting how Kashmir will be after the cancellation of Article 370 and its privileged status. Suggesting even a cinematic vision of how things will evolve: "I think the whole world will come and shoot their films there."/ “This will bring jobs for the population.” Referring to this Bollywood-Janian perspective calls on the role that visual arts are still playing in directing Indian population’s emotions.

India, through the voice of federal Home Affairs Minister, Amit Shah, hopes, however, that nothing (dangerous, destabilizing, n.n) will happen. "Kuchh nahin hoga" - "Nothing will happen." After making a comparison that may not be particularly pleasing to Europeans, stating that "we will not allow the region to turn into a new Kosovo", the minister optimistically concluded, in a speech held in the Lok Sabha, Indian Parliament’s inferior chamber: "It was heaven on earth and it will remain so ... Give us five years, and we will make Jammu and Kashmir the most developed state in the country”. Some opposition members actually gave them this mandate, voting with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to abolish region’s special status. And the required period, coincidentally, goes beyond Prime Minister Modi’s effective mandate, so that the project, in order to be finalized, will ask for one more victory for Modi.

14th of August vs. 15th of August. Two celebrations and a common border

Before that, Pakistan will celebrate August 14, its national day, along with its "brothers in Ksashmir". It will be a "black day", according to the statement issued immediately after the meeting of the National Security Committee. A day which will be added, following the Muslim community’s version in the region, to another "dark day", October 26, 1947, when it was signed the unification act with India. In order for this contestation to be accompanied by some concrete actions as well, the Pakistani prime minister announced also that the diplomatic representation level in bilateral relations will also decrease by getting back the accredited ambassador to Delhi, cancelling the trade relations, the partial blockage of the air space. And that would be all.

And on August 15, India will also celebrate its own national day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address his people and will also mention the recent decision to renounce constitution’s article 370, correlated with 35a, regarding the status Jammu Kashmir enjoyed for almost 72 years. Kashmir will again join the rights, obligations and representation of the other Indian states.

And for the speech to be completed by contributions coming from Indian citizens, the prime minister has created a special online forum (where did we see that also?), where they can send personal opinions.

It will be, for India, the beginning of a new relationship with Kashmir. The inverse counting of those five years requested by the Federal Home Affairs Minister, Amir Shah, has begun.

As for Pakistan, it will be the beginning of an accommodation period with the new bilateral realities and with the "paradise on earth", divided by a Contact Line.

Militaries from the Indian Security Forces and the Pakistani Special Forces (Rangers), who are joining, every evening, the ceremony of having the national flag at half-mast, at the common border crossing point, in Attari-Wagah, Kashmir, will remain threatening, face to face.

 Even after the sun goes down.

Translated by Andreea Soare