In the first part of this article Article 370 Revocation Through the Eyes of an Indian-American Immigrant – Part I I provided a historical, geographic and demographic context to the Kashmir conflict. In this part I provide contemporary political context and speculate on what the future might hold for J&K.
I was a teenager in North-Central India (Uttar Pradesh) when the Kashmir Valley exploded into the national consciousness as a full-blown armed insurgency and secessionist movement in 1989-90. India at that time had state-controlled TV media and most adverse news out of J&K was suppressed. However, we had all heard about Islamic terror groups targeting Hindus. Many of these Hindus trickled into refugee camps in and around New Delhi which was a city I often visited to see relatives, so people had begun to be familiar with the scale of the violence against Hindus despite the attempts of state-controlled media to conceal it.
India’s Rationale for Preventing Kashmir’s Secession
In general, the attitude of most Indians since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the conflict became radicalized has been to hold on to the Kashmir Valley by any means necessary. There is a simple rationale for that position. Around 20% of the population of India is not Hindu (with religious minorities being broken up roughly in 70%/10%/10%/10% proportions of Muslim/Christian/Sikh/Other) and there are close to 200 million Muslims in India in a country of 1,400 million people. Indians have always been proud of having a secular Constitution and State, uniquely so in South Asia. India is the most ethnically and religiously diverse nation in the world bar none. Each and every resident of J&K has always been a full-fledged citizen of India. So, it is a hard pill for any Indian to swallow that 7 million Muslims in the Kashmir Valley feel that they cannot be equal citizens of India and must secede to Pakistan. It would raise questions about the unity of India and its tradition of religious and ethnic diversity. It would also put a question mark against the nearly 200 million Muslims in the rest of India. Consequently, almost all Indians feel an emotional and visceral reaction against allowing even just the overwhelmingly Muslim majority Kashmir Valley region of J&K to secede. India has Muslims in positions of power and influence in every field, ranging from Government to Sports and Entertainment. Some of the biggest Indian movie stars are Muslim minorities. Every Muslim of J&K had more than equal citizenship in secular India. There was simply no reason for a secession movement other than religious fascism.
Most Indians are united on Kashmir policy, regardless of political affiliation. Even If Modi lost the next election in 2024 and even if a Communist government was in power, there is very little chance that their actual policy on J&K would differ very much other than in public rhetoric. That is because a religion-based secession would be disastrous to India’s identity.
Muslim Kashmiri Secession Movement and the Global Islamic Jihad
Did the Indian state crack down hard and commit human rights abuses? Absolutely 100% it did. But that is inevitable once an armed terror movement funded by an enemy country starts. Keep in mind that some of the Kashmiri terror groups have a base in Pakistan and have not just restricted themselves to anti-India terrorism but have also been engaged in anti-Western terrorism. There were groups in the valley who may have genuinely desired independence from both countries (the JKLF formally had this position), but they were sidelined (and in many cases, violently eliminated) by Pakistani supported groups with an extremist Islamist agenda. Pakistan is a global Jihadi factory and recruits for anti-Western Jihad and anti-Indian Jihad are drawn from the same source. The Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group is completely sponsored by the Pakistani military. When Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008 they went out of their way to attack a Jewish Centre and kill the Israeli American Rabbi and his wife. One of the planners of those attacks was a Pakistani American by the Nome de plume of David Headley who also tried to stage a terror attack in Denmark in retribution for cartoons he found to be blasphemous. India is facing a global Jihadi terror movement in the Kashmir Valley, not some localized conflict. On Christmas Eve in 1999 Indian Airlines Flight 814 from Katmandu to New Delhi was hijacked by Pakistan based terrorists and. India had to release three hardened terrorists in order to secure hostage release. These terrorists then openly lived in Pakistan and one of them, Omar Saeed Sheikh, was a key conspirator in the killing of American WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl.
India is facing a Global Jihad terror movement that has globalized a local issue. India is trying to tackle that while balancing out competing demands of a secular democracy and the need for national security. The world should be on the side of India and not Pakistan.
Article 370 Considered Harmful
It is also important to recognize the pernicious effects of the special autonomy granted to J&K by Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution. For example, if residents of J&K got married to someone else, neither their spouse nor their children would be allowed to acquire real estate. Any progressive changes made to Indian laws would not apply to J&K, which include recent reforms such as legalizing gay sex, banning Triple Talaq (instant Muslim divorce) and other reforms such as making inheritance laws gender equitable.
This special autonomy also led to the rise of a few Muslim family political dynasties who became “conflict entrepreneurs”, playing a double game – acting as advocates of remaining in India, while turning a blind eye to Jihadi terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. Needless to say, J&K did not benefit from the 1990s economic reforms in India that unleashed an economic boom and the tourism industry in the Kashmir Valley completely dried up. At one-point J&K state per capita income was at or above national average. it is now 25% below.
Speculation on the Motives and Future Plans of the Modi Government
One question people might have is why did the Modi government break up the state of J&K into two Union Territories – J&K and Ladakh? Why not three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh? I think it is probably because the Modi government did not want to create a territory where 95%+ of the population was Muslim. Keeping Jammu together with Kashmir Valley results in 1 out of 3 residents of J&K being non-Muslim. Ladakh is a sparsely populated region with little violence and a completely distinct culture, which was also badly neglected by the J&K state govt. Its separation has strong support within the region and makes tactical and strategic sense. Unlike a State, a Union Territory is administered directly by the Indian Federal Govt. This will eliminate from the political scene the two major Muslim political dynasties in J&K – the Abdullah family and the Sayeed family. This is, in my view, a very good thing as it will eliminate a lot of political corruption and the principal-agent conflict. These families had just enriched themselves and their political position. Removal of the state’s special status and conversion to Union Territories renders them meaningless.
There has been a lot of idle speculation that the Modi government will change the demographics of the Kashmir Valley. There is zero chance of that happening. India has no equivalent of the Israeli settler movement in the West Bank.
No Hindu in their right minds is going to rush to the Kashmir Valley and snap up land, because the Indian government is simply powerless in ensuring their security. What is possible is that Indian Muslims from outside of J&K might take advantage of opportunities to buy land and start a business there. Even they might be reluctant to do so as separatists have recently killed Muslims they deem disloyal to separatist goals. In any case, any such demographic change will be extremely gradual. India is not China (and that is a good thing). The Kashmir Valley will remain Muslim majority for a very, very long time. Nothing will change in terms of religious mix.
How is the Future Likely to Unfold in J&K?
Pakistan has openly sponsored terrorism against India for decades and will continue to do so. India can expect major terror attacks in J&K as well as other parts of India. No one in India is under any illusions about this. This is a very long game, and it will take at least one generation (~30 years) to get to a point where the situation is completely peaceful in the Kashmir Valley.
In any case, it should be clearly understood that “independence” is not even on the list of possible outcomes. With both Pakistan and India insisting on their respective claims to Kashmir, the only possible outcomes are status quo (split between the two nations), conquest by India, or conquest by Pakistan. “Freedom” for Kashmir is little more than a Pakistani talking point, meant to paint India as the occupying power, but never intended as the final outcome. Even in a purely hypothetical (and frankly implausible scenario) India were to lose its will to hold on and allow independence for the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan would capture it the next day. There is simply no other option.
Now getting back to current events, there has been a communications blackout on landline and cell phones and restrictions on movements of the public. The restrictions on movement and landlines seem to have been eased, but not the mobile phone or internet restrictions. That is undoubtedly leading to hardship. I am of the view that at least full landline service should be restored immediately across the state and cell and internet service gradually restored. Once that happens, we can expect to see large political demonstrations and protests within the Kashmir valley (though likely not in Jammu or Ladakh). I do feel for all the hardships faced by J&K residents (both Hindu and Muslim) with the communications blackout. I hope phone service and Internet are restored soon. I feel for those Muslim families that have a missing son or father locked up in jails without any knowledge, or perhaps even worse. killed by Indian security forces. However, there is a path now open for economic development of the state should the local population shun violence.
The bottom-line is that the Muslim Kashmiri movement is by no means a “liberal” movement worth of support for the “underdog”. Islamic terrorist groups in Kashmir have already expelled Hindus from the Kashmir valley via a well-planned and ruthless ethnic cleansing campaign. An Islamic Kashmir will unite with Pakistan, an openly Islamic theocratic state where all non-Muslims (as well as “Muslim heretics” such as Ahmedis and Shias) are second class citizens, subject to formally legalized and informal discrimination. Of course, no one deemed an apostate or atheist would survive in such a state. The conflict in J&K is a classic case of two liberal principles running up against each other. The principle that all groups have the right to self-determination would suggest that Muslim Kashmiris have the right to secede from India. The principle that all residents of any state should have the same rights and privileges and the same protection under the law regardless of religion or ethnicity would suggest that the Pakistanization of Kashmir is contrary to dearly held liberal ideals. Which principle should prevail?
I would say that as long as India is willing to grant full legal rights and privileges to Kashmiri Muslims (and there is no indication that they are not) – Kashmiris have enjoyed full Indian citizenship and are not being treated for example like the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who do not enjoy Israeli citizenship or the rights and protections that go along with that – then the second principle is more important than the right to self-determination.
Even under a hardline Modi government the path forward in Kashmir will almost certainly be not to punish and diminish the Muslim population of J&K, but instead to offer them full rights and privileges as Indian citizens, provided they give up violence. This might seem unlikely at present, but at various points it would have seemed equally unlikely for the violent secessionist movements in Punjab and various Northeastern Indian states, each of which have been pacified. Human beings do not have unceasingly unbending attitudes but adjust their positions based on what they see as possible and desirable. Even if many Kashmiri Muslims currently desire to join Pakistan, that desire will be replaced by other options in the long run once it becomes clear that independence for Kashmir is not on the cards.