Pakistan’s options for Kashmir

Following India's scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh into two Union territories, Pakistan has severed bilateral trade and downgraded diplomatic relations with India. What are the other options available to Pakistan?

Background 

At the time of partition in 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir found himself faced with a critical decision. His choices were : accession to India or Pakistan, based on geographical contiguity, religious affiliation of the population or in defiance of the Viceroy. Adhering to the advice of the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten, the Prince signed an irrevocable instrument of accession to Dominion of India.  Since then, India and Pakistan have fought three wars for the disputed territory of Kashmir which borders both nations. 

The Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir constitutes more than 60% Muslim, making it the only state within India where Muslims are in the majority.

India and Pakistan's relationship has long been strained due to two strategic reasons. First, Pakistan's main river, Indus, originates in India (Kashmir). As a nation, Pakistan would like to enhance water-security by gaining control over the sources of the Indus River. Second, Pakistan is still upset over the balkanisation that India did in 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh.

Analysis

On 5th August, a Presidential decree revoked Article 370 of India's Cnstitutionthat guaranteed special rights to Indian administered Kashmir. Since 1954, the territory has held special status and was given its own constitution, a flag, and autonomy over all matters except for foreign affairs and defence. The scrapping of the Article will allow non-residents of the state to purchase property, apply for jobs and scholarships. 

The Pakistan government said that revoking the special status was a breach of international law and several UN Security Council resolutions. After the joint session of its parliament, Pakistan announced that it would call back its High Commissioner from India, expel the Indian envoy, Ajay Bisari and suspend bilateral trade. 

India has sent additional troops to the region, arrested political leaders and imposed a curfew.

During the meeting between the US President and Pakistan's Prime Minister, President Trump had offered to mediate and resolve the Kashmir issue. Pakistan had not anticipated this move even though it was part of the ruling party's manifesto.  Pakistan is set to raise the issue with the United Nations and United Nations Security Council. 

The country has, however, not received support from all its allies on the Kashmir issue. Turkey President Erdogan assured Pakistan of its support and Malaysian Prime Minister Tun said that they were keeping a close eye on the situation. China, on the other hand, has criticised India's unilateral decision on Ladakh. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying said "China is always opposed to India's inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction," Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid called for not linking the Afghanistan issue with that of Jammu & Kashmir. Many countries have supported India, including the UAE and Sri Lanka as they would consider this an internal matter that concerns India.

Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan warned the possibility of Pulwama-like attacks while the military leadership has stated that it is "prepared to go to any extent". Although Washington has sought Pakistan's help on the Taliban, it has repeatedly demanded that the country dismantle its terrorist infrastructure. Senior US officials met in Islamabad after Imran Khan's visit to the US, to discuss Pakistan's exclusion from the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF). 

Counterpoint 

If there are grave and serious human right abuses in Kashmir following the recent developments and continued long term lockdown in the Kashmir region, then it could lead to a different global opinion. The spokesperson for the United Nations expressed concern over the current information blackout in the region. The High Commissioner of Human Rights has already earlier issued two reports in 2018 and 2019 on human rights abuses in Kashmir, which India rebuked as biased and lacking in credible facts. The US and European Union will keep close watch over human rights situations in Kashmir.

Assessment

  • Pakistan has one month to live up to the commitments made to FATF  to avail further bailout packages from the International Monetary Fund. If it resorts to teaming with terrorist outfits against India, it is most likely to be blacklisted. Pakistan may not have any hard options except giving a new narrative to low-intensity conflicts, if they find an opening. 
  • Tactically Pakistan could influence people within India and instigate them to counter right-wing groups. The Islamic State may try to take advantage of the situation and may activate its contact with some fringe groups.
  • With the Middle East being pre-occupied with multiple conflicts in Yemen and Iran, it is unlikely that Pakistan will be able to get adequate support from the Organization of Islamic States. 
  • It is likely that China may align with Pakistan because they may not like India to assert claims over Aksai Chin. 
  • Afghanistan and the Taliban may distance themselves from the  India - Pakistan standoff for the time being.
  • In the current context of China's differences with the Uyghur Muslims, it is not likely to support Pakistan's stance on ethnic cleansing. But, Pakistan is likely to garner support in the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva against the treatment of Muslim minorities in India. 
  • The J&K assembly elections are likely to be postponed and the composition of the state may change, with Jammu having more seats.
  • Pakistan will definitely use this opportunity to change the narrative  and increase its relevance in the region. 

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Image Courtesy: Jrapczak [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

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