REPORTS that the Union Government is withdrawing troops from some of the disturbed districts of Kashmir are a tangible sign of the success of its policy. They indicate that life is getting back to normal. At the same time, calls have resurfaced for the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and resumption of talks with Pakistan. Some even talk of bringing back Article 370, which was abolished on August 5, 2019. Such demands, however, fail to factor in the broader international dimensions.
The abrogation of Article 370 made it clear with one definitive stroke that Kashmir is India’s internal matter. Any avenue, no matter how tenuous, for foreign interference was closed. Henceforth, it would be a matter to be settled by the democratically elected government in India and the people of Kashmir. India has conveyed this also to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).
It is a matter of record that the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession with India in 1947. The unfortunate UN Resolutions passed in 1948 opened the way for foreign interference, with Pakistan promptly claiming to be a directly-involved party.
Three years later, in 1950, a provision, albeit described as temporary, was inexplicably inserted in the Constitution allowing special status for Kashmir. It introduced room for an element of doubt regarding Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union. The UK and the US, too, haven’t adopted a clear-cut position on the status of Kashmir.
China has also questioned Kashmir’s status. Chinese military attaches posted in India have consistently declined to accompany their colleagues on tours to Kashmir, organised by India’s Ministry of Defence, on the specious pretext that Kashmir is a disputed territory. They, however, have no such qualms about visiting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
From 1964, China began laying claim to Kashmir, with official statements and Chinese maps depicting large parts, or the whole, of Kashmir as a part of China. These rest on China’s claims of sovereignty over Tibet that are contested and dubious.
Beijing also established contact with members of the separatist Hurriyat. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), unveiled in April 2015, sought to concretise China’s territorial claims. Subsequently, China began pressuring India to first ease tensions with Pakistan, resume talks, resolve the Kashmir issue and then look to improving ties with Beijing.
The UK is another country that has played a perfidious role in Kashmir’s affairs. In 1945, General Frank Messervy (Pakistan Army’s Commander-in-Chief in 1947-48), and his Deputy, General Douglas Gracey, both British officers, finalised a top-secret order codenamed Op Gulmarg for full-fledged military operations against India to capture Jammu and Kashmir. General Gracey operationalised these plans and a force of British-led Pakistani troops, disguised as irregulars, seized Baramulla, where they destroyed the Mill Hill Convent, raped English nuns and ravaged the town before being finally beaten back by the Indian Army. British bias in favour of Pakistan, probably a hangover from past practice, still persists. The controversial BBC documentary has exposed close collaboration between the broadcaster and the British government. An appropriate riposte by India would be to take the long overdue step of quitting the anachronistic Commonwealth.
The calls for the restoration of statehood have been raised not only by Kashmiri politicians, which could perhaps be understandable, but also by others and sections of the national media. Around mid-January, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif joined in with the unexpected admission that Pakistan had ‘learnt its lesson’ and wanted peace with India. That his remarks were insincere, or that he didn’t have the full backing of the other stakeholders, was substantiated when within hours, his office clarified that any talks would include the Kashmir issue. His remarks were a non-starter, but they seemed to have energised persons in India calling for talks with Pakistan.
At this point in time when the world is in a flux, India’s international profile is rising and the country is striving to gain its rightful place on the global high table, it would not at all be prudent to pay heed to calls for the resumption of talks with Pakistan. And certainly not when terrorist operations continue to be launched from Pakistan. If at all talks are to be held, Kashmir cannot be on the agenda. Pakistan must also give concrete, demonstrable guarantees on ending cross-border terrorism and not raising the Kashmir issue at international fora such as the UN.
Calls for the restoration of Article 370 are a non-starter and play directly into the hands of Islamabad, Beijing and others who have been meddling in India’s internal affairs. The technical issue of the grant of statehood to J&K is something the government has already said will happen at the appropriate time. India has made its position on Kashmir amply clear, including at international fora. It has also reasserted its claim on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by Pakistan.
China should remember when it raises the issue of Kashmir that it is itself in illegal occupation of large portions of the Indian territory. China’s so-called historical claims made on the basis of dubious ‘ancient’ maps and records were dismissed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016.
In any case, these cannot alter centuries-old facts on the ground and, if these are to be the basis for talks, India, too, has thousands-of-years-old records conclusively showing India’s influence and presence in the areas of Mount Kailash, Mansarovar, etc.
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