The reorganisation of J&K has reset terms of diplomacy with Pakistan and China issuing belligerent counters
When Home Minister Amit Shah told Lok Sabha that the government would not settle for the integration of Jammu and Kashmir without Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or Aksai Chin, he drove home the point that we are now very much prepared to redefine diplomacy in the neighbourhood and change status quo in that area too. That our strategic reboot would mean an uncharted approach to both Pakistan and China. And that the big powers, particularly the US, have been kept in the loop to evolve a new dynamic in a post-Donald Trump era, where extreme coercion would provoke extreme reaction. There has been an overnight upending of our terms of reference with Pakistan, one that has involved the primacy of Kashmir as a pivot of talks, be they diplomatic, economic, cultural or about confidence-building. But after the withdrawal of special status that allowed Pakistan interventionist interest, and now the downgrade of statehood to a Union Territory (UT), J&K is just another piece of territory in the Indian Union. And with the government keeping legalities and technical arguments within the Constitutional framework of justification, one wonders if challenges to that can ever wash with the larger diplomatic community, who have so far stayed away, except asking both sides to maintain calm. Considering India had launched its diplomatic awareness drive on its “internal reorganisation for peace” a week before and the P5 members have so far maintained a hands-off approach, there’s enough indication that a new template has to evolve within the bilateral paradigm. So the pre-condition of Kashmir for any talks with Pakistan has now evaporated as it is now a legitimised domestic matter. Many strategists feel that the unique status of Jammu and Kashmir was in a way a tacit admission of its controversial status and was obstructionist, compromising India’s bargaining power. Now that the Valley is off the table, future negotiations with Pakistan will have to begin from scratch. Of course, Pakistan is not expected to give up so easily without its own takeaways from it. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has resorted to familiar bluster, warning of ethnic outbursts, more Pulwamas, even a conventional war, if provoked. He may keep harping on the refrain of the UNSC resolution though that cannot be a reference point anymore. India’s claim that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is virtually an extension of Islamabad’s administration waters down any counter-campaign. Perhaps, that’s the reason why Khan absented himself at first from Pakistan’s Parliament to debate the reorganisation issue and then came prepared. Now whether this is part of a larger understanding — where Pakistan is currying back its favour with the US by negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan over withdrawal of troops and a new regime of governance — is open to speculation. If its relevance to the US as a strategic ally is conditional on its role in Afghanistan, it may, for the time being at least, not be too aggressive. Its overt push for mediation in J&K with Trump is, after all, one of the reasons for emboldening the Modi regime to wall off any attempt at internationalisation.
However, China is gravely disturbed by the UT status to Ladakh as it would lend India strategic depth in a region that lies next to Aksai Chin. China, which got the Shaksgam Valley in 1963 from Pakistan, has so far argued that its claim there is contingent on the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Now it is part of the UT of Ladakh and cannot figure as an adjunct of J&K. So it has lambasted India’s “unilateralism”, saying it impinges on its “sovereignty.” Over the years, it has invested much, pushing an agenda of cultural contiguity, influencing Buddhist groups and playing them against each other. It has surreptitiously been funding monasteries in the area to link them to the larger Chinese Buddhism, a strategy which has allowed it to make inroads in the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia too. Particularly, given Dalai Lama’s ill health, China would like to hold sway over various schools of Tibetan Buddhism and have a say in a post-Dalai Lama scenario. The reorganisation now allows New Delhi direct decision-making and first-hand engagement with the Buddhists of Ladakh and could well strengthen the constituency of Himalayan Buddhism. As Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, with 70 per cent Buddhists, Ladakh will be the first Indian territorial entity with a Buddhist majority. Like Balakot, the redefinition of Kashmir will compel both Pakistan and China to evolve new reactive strategies. Only time will tell how provocative they can be. Beyond the obviousness of wordplay.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer