Uncertainty for the Near Future in South Asia

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

All abrupt changes need time for adjusting to new realities. With India making J&K a Union Territory, the Line of Control is now the de facto International Border. The on-again-off-again India-Pakistan diplomatic relationship will be off-again for the foreseeable future.

For starters, there will be only minimum diplomatic contacts between India and Pakistan. The already dormant South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is now dead, buried in Pakistan and cremated in India. Pakistan has banned direct trade with India, even though it benefits its economy and its working poor, given the economic crisis Pakistan is experiencing. People-to-people contact are gone. It may close its space for airlines for all flights to and from India. 

In his tweets, speeches, interviews and writings, Imran Khan repeatedly throws incendiary terms like fascist, racist, Nazi, Hitler, Mussolini, ethnic cleansing, Hindu Supremacists and Muslim persecution, when referring to Modi and his government. This he does to whip up anti-India, anti-Hindu feelings in Pakistan and draw the Western media’s sympathy.

Pakistan, given its severe economic crunch, cannot afford a full-scale conventional war stretching even a few weeks. So, border skirmishes will be the norm, with frequent terrorist attacks in J&K and elsewhere in India. The two countries spying on each other will intensify. Military and security outlays will increase further, possibly hurting Pakistan more.

Given the severe strains in Pakistan’s economy and its aam-aadmi problems, its faujis will not be interested in a coup. The current arrangement of having a pliable, weak prime minister allows it to let the elected nominal government face all problems, while appearing to keep its hands clean. 

If Pakistan’s military thinks it has nothing to lose — or the loss it will inflict on India will far more severe — nothing will stop it from initiating skirmishes in Kashmir that could escalate into war. In desperation, Pakistan’s military may even consider the nuclear option. Imran Khan repeatedly warns the world of this possibility, trying to force the global powers to intervene.  But even an adventurous and foolhardy military will count its beans before getting into a mess much bigger than what it can handle.

For India too, conventional war with Pakistan will impede its efforts to leap forward from new projects critical for its growth to catch up with China on many fronts. But if Pakistan attacks India again as it did in the Indian Parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008, India will be forced to respond.

The several invectives that Imran Khan raised against Modi on the abrogation — like changing the demographics of Kashmir, ethnic cleansing, ill-treating minorities and others — are more applicable to Pakistan. The Hindu population in Pakistan in 1971 (after  the Bangladesh war) was nearly 2.9%. Now it is around 1.7%. Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Ahmedis, and Sikhs complain about violence against them and their women. Balochs complain that Pakistan’s Punjabis and Sindhis are changing the demographics of Baluchistan, the mineral rich, thinly populated region. Christians, Sikhs and Hindus are prohibited by law from holding the office of president, prime minister, or chief Justice, or in the military. Ahmedis are hounded out and persecuted, and cannot even contest elections. And Pakistan has already changed the demographics in the part of Kashmir it occupies and in the Gilgit/Baltistan region with people from the Punjab. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is now directly administered by Islamabad. So, on these matters, Imran Khan has to only stand in front a mirror before accusing Modi. 

The real winner are the Ladakhis. People in Jammu have welcomed the abrogation. The Ladakhis, now in a directly administered Federal Region after the abrogation, are ecstatic since they will be no longer  exploited by Kashmiris in Srinagar and in the Valley. While the Muslims in the Valley in J&K complain about New Delhi’s domination, they have been dishing out the same thing to Hindus in Jammu and to Buddhists in Ladakh. The Ladakh region has been exploited and neglected since 1947 in every way possible by the Kashmiri Muslim political leaders.

This article would be incomplete without presenting the plight of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, who are part of the larger Saraswat Brahmin community. The Kashmiri Pandits’ contribution to Indian intellectual life has been enormous through the millennia. Here are some of the big names: Charaka (300 BC, the father of Ayurveda); Vishnu Sharman, the author of Panchatantra (300 BC); Nagasena (200 BC) Buddhist Scholar; the famous Kalidasa (5th century AD); Somananda, the famous teacher of Kashmir Saivism (9th century); the polymath Abhinavagupta (10th century); Utpala, a mathematician (10th century); Kalhana, poet and dramatist known for Rajatarangini (12th century); Sarngadeva, the musicologist (13th century AD); and the list goes on.

In the 1980s, over 450,000 Pandits were in the Kashmir Valley, having lived there for millennia. The Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front run by Muslim separatists, securing money and arms from Pakistan and other sources, targeted the Pandits and their women with gruesome violence and threats of violence and drove them out of the Valley. Now, hardly 3000 Pandits live there. Their exodus from the valley is hardly highlighted as ethnic cleansing, even in the Indian media. 

[Many Kashmir Pandits converted to Islam over several centuries, and are now prominent political leaders. Kashmiri Muslims carrying the same DNA as the Hindu Pandits are responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu Pandits.  That should send a chill through anyone’s spine.]

In the next few years, if the Modi government proves that it is serious about delivering all things to the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh that the abrogation of the articles promises, there is a good chance that after some hiccups and initial difficulties, ordinary Kashmiris in the valley will see their own self-interest and accept the abrogation. This will weaken the hands of the militants and the Hurryat separatists asking the Kashmiri youth to indulge in violence, thus jeopardizing their future. It is unconscionable that the Hurryat leaders live in relative comfort in Kashmir, and their sons and daughters live in and outside India leading placid, secure lives as doctors, engineers and professors. Kashmir deserves a respite from the corrupt Abdullahs, Muftis, Gandhi satraps, Hurryat leaders, and the violence let loose by the separatists and the terrorist outfits with Pakistan support. $$$$


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