GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
Tensions between India and Pakistan are rising to dangerously high levels once again, because of India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s political autonomy. On Monday, the Indian government under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 of India’s Constitution. That article had provided a degree of autonomy for Kashmir, which is India’s only Muslim-majority region ever since Pakistan split from India in 1948. Here’s a clip from the parliamentary debate in India when Article 370 was revoked.
MINISTER AMIT SHAH: On the powers vested in the Constitution, the President of India in consultation with the parliament announces that patch all the sections of Article 370 cease to hold code.
GHULAM NABI AZAD, CONGRESS LEADER: The government’s decision will not lead to integration but disintegration of the region and its people. You can’t force people to be part of a country. This needs to happen with the consent and the will of the people. This is wrong. This is a mockery of laws.
GREG WILPERT: Shortly before the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy, the Modi government cut the territory off from all phone and Internet connections and deployed thousands of troops to Kashmir. Also, Indian troops have been repressing protests in Kashmir, and as many as 500 people have been arrested in nighttime raids, according to reports that have gotten out. When Modi ran for reelection in May of this year, and he had campaigned on the promise of revoking Kashmir’s independence, arguing that doing so would allow India to halt terrorism and separatism. Pakistan though, which controls the northern half of Kashmir, responded by expelling India’s ambassador and suspending bilateral trade. Pakistan also warned that the situation could deteriorate into war, because of Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir, which it believes should belong to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, said the following to Pakistan’s Parliament shortly after Kashmir’s autonomy was revoked.
PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: This is not a decision the BJP have taken out of the blue. It was part of their election manifesto all along. It is in fact ingrained in their ideology to put Hindus above all other religions, and seeks to establish a state that represses all other religious groups.
GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to analyze the situation with regard to Kashmir is Junaid Ahmad. He is the Director of the Center for Global Dialogue and Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. He is also the Secretary General of the International Movement for a Just World, which is based in Kuala Lumpur. He joins us today from London. Thanks for being here again, Junaid.
JUNAID AHMAD: Great to be with you, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with the legal point of view. It seems that Modi is hoping to eventually annex Kashmir. However, Article 370, which provided Kashmir with autonomy, was included in India’s Constitution as a condition for seeding control of that part of Kashmir to India. So what does revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy mean from a legal point of view? Does it violate international law or any treaties?
JUNAID AHMAD: Oh, absolutely. It violates both domestic Indian law as well as international law. The context of the Kashmir conflict emerged right after partition. As some of your listeners may know, Kashmir—a Muslim majority province of India— wanted to go to Pakistan, but had a Hindu Maharaja ruler who had decided to join India. At the time, what immediately happened was a UN Security Council meeting was held in which it was decided and passed unanimously that a plebiscite, a referendum, will be held within Kashmir to determine whether the Kashmiris want to join India or Pakistan, and the emphasis was on the wishes of the Kashmiri people. And so, that was the international component of it. The domestic component of it was that within the Indian Constitution, Article 370 gave a semi-autonomous status to Kashmir because of the controversial nature of the whole conflict and the categorization of it unanimously by the international community as disputed territory.
GREG WILPERT: So India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over Kashmir. And just a few months ago, India launched an airstrike into Pakistan, and Pakistan shot down one of India’s fighter jets, which is something that hasn’t happened since the 1970s. So how do you think that this move to strip Kashmir’s autonomy will affect India-Pakistan relations beyond what has already happened with the expulsion of the ambassador and the halt to bilateral trade? Could it lead to all-out war in other words?
JUNAID AHMAD: It certainly has exacerbated the relations to an enormous extent. I think that recently when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, visited Washington, DC, in fact, there was a lot of enthusiasm that perhaps there may be a mechanism in which the United States or the UN may actually start to take the issue of Kashmir seriously in order to try to resolve it because of the repressive nature of the Indian state within that territory for decades, but especially since 1989 in which all human rights groups have documented tens of thousands of killings. Some say about 80,000 killings, rapes, encounter killings, disappearances, and so on. And so there was some hope because Trump had mentioned that he would be willing to mediate, that he would want to try to help to solve the conflict.
Now, you played Imran Khan’s clip in which he stated that this was a longstanding demand of the Hindu right to annex Kashmir, which is true, but I think that also the Modi government, the right wing nationalist Modi government, did become a little fearful of these remarks by Trump. And therefore, decided to do this right away and basically annex all of Jammu and Kashmir, and make the issue a moot issue now, and essentially just resolve it on unilateral terms. Of course, the Pakistanis are outraged by this because this is a disputed territory.
In terms of your question, whether this will lead to all-out war, it’s still – we can only speculate to what extent the Pakistanis can respond to this in a way both diplomatically and politically as well as, if it reaches that level, militarily. Now of course the asymmetry and the disproportionate nature of the Indian military and the Pakistani military is there for all to see. However, I think the Pakistanis will use all the diplomatic clout they can, particularly relying on Beijing, on China, to also put pressure on India to reconsider what it has done.
GREG WILPERT: That’s very interesting. Now, for the past 30 years, there’s been also an independence movement in Kashmir that has been engaging in at times violent conflict, and two groups that use terror tactics, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, have formed to fight for Kashmir’s independence. Now, as I mentioned, Modi believes that stripping autonomy from the region will allow him to get rid of the separatists movements. What effect do you think that the move will have internally on Kashmir and its independence movement?
JUNAID AHMAD: Right. I think it will have precisely the opposite effect of what Modi claims that it will have. I think that it will have an effect that will be similar to what happened in 1989 when the mass uprising in Kashmir took place. Now while it is true that the Pakistani state at some point during that struggle within the early 1990s did interfere perhaps in very adverse ways in that conflict, the fact of the matter was it was an indigenous mass uprising that the Indians were incredibly threatened by.
In this situation, it’s actually even worse. I think the listeners should know that there was a time over decades that the Kashmiris would have perhaps accepted some type of semi-autonomous status within the Indian federation. By this point, the levels of repression, now we have to remember we’re talking about 750,000 troops. In addition to that, probably around 150,000 paramilitary security forces and so on, so it is the most highly militarized zone in the entire world, much more than Palestine or anywhere else. I think at this particular stage, the Kashmiri many people have such contempt for the Indian state that we can expect an uprising at the level of what happened in 1989, if not even greater.
GREG WILPERT: Now, many are speculating that Modi will encourage Hindus to settle in Kashmir just like Israel has encouraged Jews to settle in occupied Palestine, so that this could eventually lead to an excuse for annexation. What do you think such comparisons between Israel-occupied Palestine and Indian-occupied Kashmir?
JUNAID AHMAD: I think the comparison is very apt. I think that in fact, this is a key factor in what the Indian government is doing. The close collaboration between Israel and India in developing policy, not just with regard to Kashmir but if we go a few years back, the Israelis said very openly to the Indian government that, “We can help you solve your Muslim problem,” and that is what we have been seeing that has been unfolding within India itself. The Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi has been viciously targeting minorities, Muslims, Christians, and so on, but especially Muslims. And so I think with specifically in Kashmir the parallels with what Israel is in terms of trying to change the demographics of this society by once again, and they have done this before as well, importing really, Hindu pundits also separating Ladakh. What they did in this, they bifurcated Kashmir. Ladakh is where predominantly Buddhists live. So it is classic divide and rule policy that they are engaged in internally. So this whole mythology of integrating Kashmir is actually a neo-colonial policy of divide and rule and for their subjugation.
GREG WILPERT: Okay. Very interesting. Well, we’re definitely going to continue to follow up with you on this, but we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Junaid Ahmad, Director of the Center for Global Dialogue and Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. Thanks again, Junaid, for having joined us today.
JUNAID AHMAD: Wonderful to be with you, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.