Since the abrogation of Article 370, the mainstream Indian media has celebrated Narendra Modi government’s move on Kashmir with an exaggerated, at times even vulgar, display of triumphalism fuelling jingoistic nationalism.
It’s time to get out of these triumphalist fantasies.
Much has been written and said about India’s substantial diplomatic victories and Pakistan’s drubbing and embarrassment in other countries and at multilateral forums. But the diplomatic ordeals are not yet over.
At the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, which began Tuesday and will conclude on September 30, India will have to face Pakistan’s robust diplomatic offensive against its Kashmir move.
Even the upcoming high-profile event in Houston – ‘Howdy, Modi!’ – will likely be a scene for protest against PM Modi’s visit and the clampdown in Kashmir. Sikh separatist groups like Sikh National Center and Kashmiri Muslim groups like Friends of Kashmir have come together on a common platform for the first time. According to an official in the Indian Foreign Services and a prominent US politician of Indian origin, the Kashmir Canadian Council’s alleged role in financing terror activities in Kashmir is already under the scanner.
These groups accuse Modi of discriminating and turning a blind eye to violence against minorities in India. With US President Donald Trump in attendance at Houston, the event can be an embarrassing moment for New Delhi, raising serious questions on India’s democratic credentials vis-à-vis Kashmir.
Losing the narrative war
Six American lawmakers – Ilhan Omar, Raul M. Grijalva, Andy Levin, James P. McGovern, Ted Lieu, and Alan Lowenthal – have already written a letter to US Ambassador to India Kenneth L. Justor and Paul W. Jones, expressing serious concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir. Quoting prominent NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the letter mentions the allegations of forced disappearances, mass detentions, rape, sexual assault, and the targeted detention of political leaders.
The prevailing global narrative on India’s actions in Kashmir since the 5 August move, through news reports and coverage in leading international media houses, does not put New Delhi in a good light.
India’s performance on the public diplomacy front was rather dismal, and it could not project its side of the story – that Kashmir is an internal matter and the issue with Pakistan is only terrorism – as smartly and convincingly as it should have. In a reminder of how such situations have been dealt with in the past, India did poorly in the narrative war, which makes its position quite vulnerable at the UNGA session.
On the security front also, driving home a reality check is crucial. Since the abrogation of Article 370, the efforts of the security forces and the administration have so far managed to avoid large-scale civilian casualties. However, the prevailing silence also raises disturbing apprehension about the future once the curfew has been lifted and the internet connectivity has been restored.
Playing into hands of terror groups
Locals residents in north Kashmir and intelligence sources have told me about significant infiltration. So, it is difficult to rule out the possibility of a major terrorist strike in Srinagar In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, putting the LoC on the boil and carrying out a major terror attack or a massive civilian protest in Kashmir with the UNGA session on will be immensely rewarding. There is also a possibility of Pakistan-sponsored terror groups choosing to strike in other parts of India, particularly in the southern region.
Moreover, the present level of alienation among the masses in Kashmir is alarmingly dangerous. This could prove to be playing into the hands of terrorist groups, which seek to exploit vulnerable, disgruntled youth in assisting them with logistics and movement. Besides, the political demise of moderate separatist leaders and the mainstream politicians makes the task of intelligence agencies daunting, in identifying new key members with whom they can coordinate in the event of massive civil unrest or a terrorist strike.
If things are allowed to worsen, the Kashmir issue may grab more international headlines in the future. In the new Union Territory, the mainstream and the moderate separatists – corrupt and dysfunctional they may be – have been made irrelevant and all New Delhi has on its hands now is an alienated and hostile population with room for the hardened Islamist militancy to grow.
The author is a policy analyst specialising in counter-terrorism, India’s Foreign Policy and Af-Pak geopolitics, and a graduate of Public Policy from Cornell University. His book on radicalisation will be released soon by Vivekananda International Foundation and it has a special case study on Kashmir. Views are personal.