Two decades ago, under composite dialogue (later renamed as comprehensive dialogue), Jammu and Kashmir was the principal item of discussion between India and Pakistan. Not anymore!
Ever since the Narendra Modi regime on August 5, 2019, promulgated the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, which revoked Article 370 and 35-A, ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan retaliated by suspending air, road and rail links along with downgrading diplomatic relations. That put an end to any possibility to unleash a process of dialogue for managing and resolving the Kashmir conflict.
Now, India has an eye on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Its Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has threatened on multiple occasions to absorb both GB and AJK, which New Delhi terms as 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir' (POK). Does it mean that Jammu and Kashmir, once an unfinished agenda of the Partition and a lifeline for Pakistan, has lost its strategic value for Islamabad? How has India managed to absorb the Valley of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh while denying Pakistan space to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir according to the UN Security Council resolutions? Why has there been an erosion of the Pakistani stance on Jammu and Kashmir since 1947, and how has the BJP government now striving to grab GB and AJK if it wins the 2024 general elections?
The myopic approach of Pakistani policymakers in resolving the Kashmir conflict and India's smart moves in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 have proven how Pakistan lost Kashmir
These are the questions that have been raised by those who are genuinely concerned about the future of the people of Jammu and Kashmir because, without a final settlement of the region per the aspirations of Kashmiris, one can expect no peace in Indo-Pak relations.
Taking a cue from past efforts at resolving the Kashmir conflict, one needs to understand how the 'plebiscite' option, as envisaged in UN Security Council resolutions of 1948 and 1949, was diminished because of successive Pakistani failures by venturing on the 1948 and 1965 wars and the misadventure over Kargil in the summer of 1999. The myopic approach of Pakistani policymakers in resolving the Kashmir conflict and India's smart moves in Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 have proven how Pakistan lost Kashmir. Whether it was the Tashkent declaration of January 1966, the Shimla Pact of July 1972, the Lahore declaration of February 1999, or the failed Agra summit of July 2001, India managed to maintain a territorial status quo in Jammu and Kashmir in its favour.
The last opportunity to resolve the Kashmir conflict in a win-win situation for Kashmiris, India and Pakistan was the four-point proposal of former President Pervaiz Musharraf, which focused on softening the Line of Control (LoC), empowering people of Jammu and Kashmir under Indian and Pakistani control, promoting travel and trade in Jammu and Kashmir and redeploying forces of the two countries to their respective borders. Musharraf's 'out of box' solution fell victim to his loss of grip over power following the lawyer's movement of 2007 and the inability of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to render a positive response to his proposal.
Jammu and Kashmir is a heterogeneous region composed of a Muslim-dominated Valley, non-Muslim majority Jammu and Ladakh controlled by India. Then there are Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) under Pakistani control. The cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu and Kashmir is visible. Any attempt to resolve the Kashmir conflict in a just and fair manner would require that the people of Valley, Jammu, AJK, Ladakh, and Gilgit-Baltistan are on board, which seems difficult in view of ground realities.
Islamabad, in view of its domestic predicaments, should try to save G-B and Azad Kashmir before India targets these regions
There is growing confidence in New Delhi that it has been able to get away with revoking Article 370 and 35-A and is now tempted to reinforce its claim over G-B and Azad Kashmir. The Indian map reflects that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir (including parts of AJK) is under its jurisdiction, which the Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, Interior Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have asserted from time to time. When the realities of Jammu and Kashmir transformed after the promulgation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act of August 5, 2019, what options remained for Pakistan for the resolution of the Kashmir conflict or is the game over and Islamabad, in view of its domestic predicaments, should try to save G-B and Azad Kashmir before India targets these regions.
While the situation on the ground looks fragile for Pakistan, what is the future of Jammu and Kashmir, and why is there marginal hope for resolving the Kashmir conflict according to Islamabad's satisfaction, needs to be analyzed from three angles.
First, managing and resolving an intricate conflict like Jammu and Kashmir requires stakeholders to possess political will, determination, clarity, competence, courage, foresight and skills to take risks to deal with the fallout of an agreement. Furthermore, conflict management and resolution mechanisms also require mitigation of mistrust, suspicion, ill-will, paranoia, anger and antagonism against each other.
Viewed in the context of Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis, the three major stakeholders in the Kashmir conflict, one can notice the absence of requirements that can help the process of conflict management and resolution. Since the suspension of Indo-Pak ties, including the Srinagar-Muzaffrabad bus service, Poonch-Rawalakot truck service and other measures to soften the line of control reached during the time of President Pervaiz Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Vehari Vajpayee proved to be short-lived. The prevailing standoff in Indo-Pak relations hardened since August 5, 2019, resulting in a stalemate in Track-1, Track-II and Track-III diplomacy.
Second, until the Kargil crisis, when Pakistani unilaterally crossed the LoC and occupied the heights of Kargil and Drass mountains controlled by India, there was some will on the part of India to manage and resolve this contentious issue with Pakistan, including that of Jammu and Kashmir. But, with the degeneration of Pakistan's economy and political instability, confidence grew in the rank and file of the Indian state that they do not need to talk to Islamabad to resolve issues that can vitiate their relations.
Once Muslims lose their majority in the Valley of Kashmir, elections of a constituent assembly may be held so that pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements are defeated
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that their focus has turned to the 'issue' of 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir' as the regions of G-B and AJK need to be absorbed into India, like Jammu and Kashmir, under the Reorganization Act. Time will tell how realistic or pragmatic is the Modi-Rajnath duo to implement India's ambitions in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir if the BJP gets a third term in the May-June 2024 general elections.
When India unilaterally annexed Jammu and Kashmir into its fold, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) announced in Muzaffrabad about a march across the Line of Control in November 2019. The march would express solidarity with the beleaguered people of the Muslim-majority Valley of Kashmir who were facing persecution at the hands of Indian security forces. However, the Pakistan military denied permission for the JKLP to complete the march across the LoC, arguing that such an act could trigger an Indian retaliation.
Third, given the ground realities, it seems there are remote prospects of resolving the Kashmir conflict according to the satisfaction of Pakistan. The world did not adversely react when India unilaterally ended the special status for Jammu and Kashmir and instead further consolidated its hold over the Muslim-majority Valley by introducing the Domicile Act and removing restrictions on non-locals to permanently settle, cast their vote and buy property in the disputed territory.
Altering the demographic complexion of Jammu and Kashmir by reducing the population of Muslims in the Valley is the foremost priority of the Modi regime. The calculations by the BJP regime is that once Muslims lose their majority in the Valley of Kashmir, elections of a constituent assembly may be held so that pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements are defeated and the pro-Indian forces gain electoral strength.
Mitigating prospects of managing and resolving the Kashmir dispute cannot be undermined when Pakistan's house is not in order and lacks the capability and capacity to accomplish the unfinished agenda of the Partition. Whereas for India, Jammu and Kashmir is now a closed chapter, and the only issue pending is POK. Where are the Kashmiris and why have they been neglected and left out is a sad reality. Only by pursuing an inclusive, instead of an exclusive approach, can the people of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani and Indian control get a break and live a life of their own choice.