Two months back, the Narendra Modi government sent out feelers, quietly, to the global community on a possible move to scrap Section 35A of the Constitution, under which anyone who is not a state subject of Jammu and Kashmir cannot purchase property in the state.
I had spoken discreetly to several people across the world to gauge their reaction to this very question.
Surprisingly, the reactions were, without exception, muted and unconcerned, bordering on approval. Although the conversations were restricted to Article 35A, they led me to believe that the scrapping of Article 370 will elicit no real response from the international community, save rage in Pakistan and a pro-forma condemnation by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Why is that?
Modi did the groundwork
Clearly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was laying the ground for this momentous occasion when he spoke to Donald Trump at the Osaka G20 summit. He definitely did not ask for mediation, but he almost certainly informed him of the decision, although that clearly went awry. Trump’s restraint in not responding to a public denial by the Indian government meant that some kind of urgent communication had taken place and the US President was finally informed about the exact request. Clearly when asked again – he did offer to mediate if asked – he did not repeat that he was asked to mediate by Modi.
In many ways, the US reaction is not just the most important reaction, it’s the only real reaction that counts. This is because the western foreign policy media, dominated as it is by US thinking, is seldom divergent and will align its views to the US.
We saw this in Bosnia, for example, when Britain and France, initially sympathetic to the Serbs, changed their stance rapidly when the US decided it was on the side of the Bosniaks.
Similarly, most of the West lined up behind the US, despite private reservations about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Whatever opposition there was remained merely vocal, despite the outrageous breach of international law.
No breach of law
This is significant, because what India has done is entirely constitutional. It is not a breach of any domestic law, nor is it a violation of any international treaty obligation. This means the opposition to it will be muted at best. Note how the US, UK, Germany, Australia and Israel all issued advisories (based on Indian government briefings) asking their citizens in Kashmir to leave. Clearly then, they knew what was coming, and made absolutely no public statements about it.
If someone opposes your actions, invariably they leak the said actions. This is what happened when an irate Bill Clinton leaked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s confidential letter citing China as the main motivation behind the 1998 nuclear tests. Cumulatively, this seems to indicate that the West – or at least the Anglosphere – is on board with India’s plans. Moreover, US trade with India unlike 1998 is significantly greater now.
Does the US need Pakistan for a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan? Yes, but the problem is the terms of the said withdrawal were already negotiated by Imran Khan and Trump. Any attempt to tag Kashmir on to the price will be seen as an attempted renegotiation by Trump and will not go down well. In short, if Pakistan thinks it can play the Kashmir vs Afghanistan card with the US, the boat has sailed.
Most will follow US line
This also means Germany and other European countries too will fall in line, even if reluctantly. They after all have much bigger issues to manage back home and Britain, which was the only real worry given its large Pakistani expat population, is bogged down by Brexit. Focusing on Kashmir when it desperately seeks alternative partnerships in Europe, will not go down well with its electorate. Although we can expect Pakistani-origin MPs and possibly Jeremy Corbyn to make some noise, given their constituencies. However, this will not translate into official British policy.
France is unique in that it has mostly adopted an independent policy line. In this case, during the Rafale talks – delicate negotiations enabled a nuclear delivery capability on these aircraft – France had indicated its willingness to provide a veto on demand. This was one of the many concessions offered to India (including a prima facie violation of the NPT) to show that India was unique. Moreover, France led the defence of India at the UN Security Council during the 1998 nuclear tests. The India-France relationship is solid and France, for its part, will not jeopardise anything over some province that 99 per cent of the French people have never heard of, especially when such criticism would be seen as violating its implied sales pitch “Rafale = Strategic Autonomy”.
Who can create a problem?
The problem may arise from three quarters: an EU prone to posturing, Russia, and China. Here again, the EU can be safely ignored because the bilateral trade interests of the EU member states with India are so great that they can’t afford to outsource policy to the EU on this. Any EU protestations must be seen as purely superficial.
China, similarly, may protest, but that would open it up to comparisons with its actions in Tibet and Xinjiang that are far, far worse than India’s worst excesses.
As for Russia, we have on record, former ambassador to India Vyacheslav Trubnikov saying “the solution to Afghanistan lies through Kashmir”. Old and clueless Trubnikov is a known stooge of Putin’s Afghanistan point person Zamir Kabulov, who is anyway considered by the Indian establishment as being a compromised ISI stooge. Given the large arms deals with Russia recently, it is highly unlikely that Putin will allow Kabulov to guide Kashmir policy and the fallback position will almost certainly be the USSR’s, which is that Kashmir is India’s problem or bilateral at best.
All up, expect furious media reactions, but as far as foreign governments go, all you will get is indifference or silence, and silence as they say is acquiescence.
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.