Abrogating Article 370: Modi plays a blinder

Irrespective of where you stand on the Kashmir issue, you can’t deny that Indian PM Narendra Modi has totally changed the rules of the game. He has, to use a popular British term, played a blinder.

Article 370 and 35A, which conferred an autonomous status on Kashmir and banned outsiders from buying property in Kashmir respectively, has been daringly abrogated. The former state of Kashmir has been bifurcated – split in two territories (Jammu/Kashmir and Ladakh) for more efficient governance. The Indian central government has much more power over both union territories. No longer can Kashmir be described as a disputed territory, used to balance and contain a rising India by outside powers.

The litmus test of Great Power status, the ability to change the world has been demonstrated by India. The world has crossed an invisible turning point. It will be New Delhi that sets the rules in South Asia, even as it rises into a player of great prominence in the broader Asia-Pacific region. There are also very significant implications for global counterterrorism, as the integration of Kashmir into India enables it to set the terms of diplomacy vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Prior to this seizure of the initiative by Modi it used to be Pakistan goading India, using its nuclear umbrella to deter India from retaliation in the aftermath of ever more horrific terrorist attacks both in Kashmir and outside it. Now it is India that has the strategic initiative. The Pakistani military, the true rulers sitting atop Pakistan’s feudal structure are in a terrible bind. They have spent decades telling their people that they are military geniuses who are either holding India at bay or defeating it outright in military confrontation.

The historical record says otherwise. Having lost four consecutive wars to India, including the humiliating loss of Bangladesh and 93,000 Prisoners of War in 1971, they are in no position to fight the Indian juggernaut. If they don’t take some kind of action against India they face the real possibility of their population, increasingly radicalised, turning against them. Either way it is a win-win situation for India. This underlines the strategic genius of Modi.

It is possible that India wants a limited confrontation of some kind, but does not want to be seen starting it. This offers an opportunity for India to take more punitive retaliation against Pakistan for decades of terrorist attacks, bringing its significantly more powerful armoured corps, air force and navy to bear. Whatever choice Pakistan makes going forward the reputation and domestic political power of the Pakistani Army is bound to take a significant hit. Worse still for them China, the West and the global Muslim community seem to be looking the other way on Kashmir and not diplomatically criticising India.

This underscores the growing diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, already widely seen as a source of instability and terrorism. Major powers including the US have all now acknowledged Kashmir as an internal matter of India, with China only criticising Indian Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement claiming Aksai Chin (the part of Kashmir ceded to China by Pakistan). Clearly the massive size of the Indian market is telling; everyone wants access to it. India’s $3 trillion dollar economy gives it a huge advantage in the diplomatic arena.

That and rapidly growing economy gives Delhi a further advantage in terms of domestic counter-terrorism. It means that ordinary Kashmiris can be given jobs and opportunities.

The prospect of economic growth is a significant factor in pacification efforts globally. It is important to note that many Kashmiris are not anti-India; that is primarily a feature of the people of the Valley. Kashmir as a whole is much bigger than just the Valley. Ladakh- now a separate Union territory- and Jammu are strongly pro-India. The development of Ladakh as a major Buddhist pilgrimage centre can also help India reach out to Buddhist nations from Sri Lanka to South East Asia.

There is an important concept in modern counterinsurgency: an iron fist in a velvet glove. This is a colourful term for reaching out to ordinary people even while isolating and eliminating insurgents. The increased powers of the Indian central government following the bifurcation of Kashmir will make it much easier for the military and armed police to root out terrorism and insurgency from the Kashmir valley especially, as they will no longer be hobbled by the quasi separatist feudal families that fed on the largesse afforded by Article 370. It is likely that a new political leadership will emerge, taking the power of the old feudal and separatist forces away from them.

What is really telling is the lack of violence in Kashmir once potential troublemakers and separatists were arrested and shifted out of the state. This underlines the fundamentally external nature of the insurgency in Kashmir. It is largely not an indigenous movement but one that has been nurtured, funded and directed from across the border in Pakistan. While the full extent of restrictions have yet to be lifted by the Indian government, the lack of large scale violence so far will come as a relief.

It is clear now that India will robustly stand up for its interests in a world that respects strength, not weakness. That is a welcome development at a time when autocracy and instability globally are on the rise. A powerful and confident democratic India now stands on the horizon.