A few things are now quite clear after the Indian government abrogated Article 370 that gave the state of Kashmir special status. First, it has made not just Pakistan angry, but China equally mad after the bifurcation of the state and the creation of a preponderantly Tibetan Buddhist Ladakh as a union territory which Beijing feels can threaten its sovereignty. Second, it is clear that the US government was not just aware of India’s dramatic move to annul the special status of Kashmir, but used it adroitly as an opportunity to position itself as a mediator between the warring neighbours and also prevented India from drifting into a tighter embrace with China.
Indeed, aggressive re-assertion by the US to reclaim its close ties with India is visible in the manner in which Chinese telecom company Huawei is being threatened with the denial of participation in the forthcoming 5G trials. Needless to say, this visible shift away from Beijing could hurt the upcoming October summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which promised many things.
Surely, the abrogation has disrupted the status quo and upset many of the existing paradigms that defined India’s relationship with Pakistan, China, the US, UK and Russia. Quite expectedly, the response of each of these countries — four being part of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council — has been quite nuanced. This revealed itself in the Security Council’s closed-door meeting.
The US government was not just aware of India’s dramatic move to annul the special status of Kashmir, but used it adroitly as an opportunity to position itself as a mediator between the warring neighbours and also prevented India from drifting into a tighter embrace with China.
China initiated a discussion based on Pakistan’s complaint on India’s Kashmir move — the first time in 70 years that Kashmir’s internal affairs were raised in the UN Security Council. All the other permanent and non-permanent members reportedly suggested that the dispute should be resolved bilaterally. The responses of Russia, the UK, besides China, were far more complicated.
Russia, usually a steadfast supporter of the Indian position, uncharacteristically stated that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved as per the UN resolutions. This precisely meant that India must call for a ‘plebiscite’ to allow the people of Kashmir to vote whether they want to stay in India or not. The UK supported the Chinese position till it back-tracked. It later denied that it was opposed to India. France and the US supported India and suggested that the matter should be settled bilaterally and India’s decision on Kashmir was its internal matter. They objected to any statement to be issued after the meeting.
The manner in which the Indian government has locked down the entire state, detained three former chief ministers and thousands of others, has allowed US President Donald Trump to give meaning to his statement made during a presser with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington recently. Trump then had claimed that Modi had offered to him an opportunity to mediate on the Kashmir issue. Unmindful of the Indian government’s denial that such an offer has been made, Trump has been creating an impression that he has begun mediating between the two countries. He has called up Modi whereby he cautioned him not to escalate the crisis. He conveyed to Khan to cut down the rhetoric against India after he called Modi a “Hindu supremacist”.
Indian officials and the commentariat, populated by retired diplomats who harp on how the two countries will bilaterally find a solution of the issue, continue to suggest otherwise — but an undeterred Trump continues to meddle. Trump had announced that he would discuss Kashmir and other matters with Modi at the G7 summit. India is not a member of this exclusive club, but an invitee of the host country, France.
The Indian government has been put on the defensive by an adverse international media and manifest human rights violations that are taking place due to the lockdown of the state, a total communications shut down, mass, illegal arrests of mainstream politicians, prominent businessmen, civil society leaders, young boys, and even a doctor who made a “request and not a protest” for better medical facilities in hospitals for beleaguered and critical patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy or three-times dialysis in a day – which they are unfortunately missing due to the blockade.
Schools are shut, journalists are not allowed to report, parents and children have not been able to communicate for weeks, and opposition leaders from Delhi were not allowed to step out of the Srinagar airport. This kind of political, social and medical Emergency with military might has never been imposed in Kashmir or any part of the country since Independence under any regime.
Russia, usually a steadfast supporter of the Indian position, uncharacteristically stated that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved as per the UN resolutions. This precisely meant that India must call for a ‘plebiscite’ to allow the people of Kashmir to vote whether they want to stay in India or not.
Undoubtedly, it is a brazen and cold-blooded violation of all the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution and amounts to a total disregard of the inherited norms and conventions of Indian democracy. Indeed, tragically, even the Supreme Court, which is the last and final repository of the sanctity of the Indian Constitution, seems to be in a state of déjà vu, which almost amounts to tacit complicity.
At a presser with Trump at Biarritz, Modi has said that the two neighbors did not need anyone’s mediation as they have been talking in the past and would find a solution through discussions. Implicit in this statement is that the PMs of India and Pakistan could meet soon and start a reasonable dialogue. Will they, really? That’s a question which still hangs in a bitter twilight zone of what looks like yet another unhappy spell of a lingering Cold War across the borders of the two nations.
Significantly, it’s India’s strategic and bilateral relationship with China that could suffer grievously after India’s Kashmir decision. China, which stepped out in support of its close ally Pakistan, had been investing in its ties with New Delhi. The Doklam stand-off in 2017 near Bhutan was a setback for the ties between the two neighbours, but leaders of the two countries got together at Wuhan to thrash out the problems and rebuild their ties.
India did not join China’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it perceived the ambitious programme to be violative of the sovereignty of participating nations. However, after the Osaka meet, there were suggestions that China could work together with India on some Asian connectivity projects like the 2800 kilometer long BCIM corridor that linked Bangladesh and Myanmar with India and China. Jinping had asked officials of both sides to work hard to end any border dispute.
The Indian government has tried to improve the atmospherics between the two countries by distancing itself from some nettlesome issues like giving support to Dalai Lama and helping Tibetan Buddhists in exile. Early last year, it had instructed all government officials to stay away from Tibetan Buddhist celebrations. Similarly, Karmapa Lama, who was emerging as the successor to Dalai Lama, was driven out of the country as domestic intelligence agencies tarred him as a Chinese agent. India is learnt to have assured China that it would not interfere on matters pertaining to the successor of Dalai Lama.
The Indian government has been put on the defensive by an adverse international media and human rights violations, a total communications shut down, mass, illegal arrests of politicians, businessmen, civil society leaders, young boys, and even a doctor who made a “request and not a protest” for better medical facilities for critical patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy or dialysis.
With business and trade ties on the upswing, the impression in India’s neighbourhood was that the two Asian giants were coming together. Neighboring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were nervous about the implications of this bonhomie, fearing their interests would be ignored. After the Kashmir ‘integration’ and the manner in which Ladakh has been turned into a union territory, it has intensified the Chinese fear that its control over Aksai Chin could be challenged by India.
“More than how Pakistan will react to New Delhi’s abrogation of the special status, what has to be seen is how China will respond to it,” claimed a China watcher. According to him, what Beijing has in mind would become apparent before Jinping travels to Varanasi for the October summit. As an astute observer of China pointed out, “They would like to put India on the defensive to control the direction of the conversation. Jinping is committed to the BRI project and does not want India to put a spoke in it. China could perceive Trump’s tighter embrace of Modi as a threat.”