August 5 marks the third anniversary of the center’s decision to abrogate Articles 370 and 35[A] of the Indian constitution, and though it’s still too early to comprehensively comment on the pros and cons of this move, however, after evaluating the post Article 370 abrogation developments in the union territories of J&K and Ladakh, certain inferences can nevertheless be drawn from the same.
In democracies, all citizens enjoy equal rights and privileges and as such, Article 370 which accorded a ‘special status’ to J&K and its people, was perse discriminatory in nature. This dichotomy in the Indian constitution was being exploited by vested interests to prop-up their infirm narrative of J&K being “disputed territory.” However, by abrogating Article 370, New Delhi has unambiguously reiterated its legally sound and internationally acknowledged stand that J&K always was, is, and will forever remain an integral part of India
That abrogation of Article 370 was a diplomatic masterstroke which completely demolished Pakistan’s Kashmir narrative is evident from the unprecedented pandemonium this decision caused across the Radcliffe Line. Islamabad’s knee jerk reactions and desperate attempts to salvage its ‘beating stick’ by taking up this issue with UNSC, as well as the threat to move International Court of Justice [ICJ] seeking revocation of Article 370, is a clear indication of the disconcert that this move created in Pakistan.
However, while Islamabad would have never expected this to happen, it would be completely wrong to assume that it was unaware that it’s objections to abrogation of Article 370 were both legally and diplomatically untenable. Why else would have the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi caution his countrymen not to “live in fool’s paradise” since “They [UNSC members] are not waiting for you with garlands in their hands” even before this issue was taken up at UNSC?
Furthermore, by pompously announcing that “An in-principle decision has been taken to take the issue of Kashmir to the International Court of Justice,” as well as adding that “The decision was taken after considering all legal aspects,” and thereafter suddenly developing cold feet, Qureshi unwittingly admitted that there was no substance in Islamabad’s puerile stand on abrogation of Article 370! And with UNSC agreeing to China’s request hold just an ‘informal’ and generic meet on Kashmir without discussing Article 370 or issuing any resolution, it was abundantly clear that it was merely a perfunctory face-saving exercise to extricate Islamabad from an embarrassing situation!
The turmoil Article 370 abrogation caused was not limited to Pakistan’s Foreign Office only. It also seems to have rattled Rawalpindi, forcing Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to declare that “Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations…,” which is a clear confession regarding the devious role being played by Pakistan army and its notorious spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] by fomenting terrorism in J&K. What else can one infer when an army chief of a country expresses his army’s solidarity with secessionist activities and terrorism in a foreign country?
With the abrogation of Article 370 and 35[A], while central welfare schemes have been extended to J&K, many discriminatory laws like denial of residency and inheritance rights to women who choose to marry men from outside the state stand null and void. This move has also made J&K more accessible to business and the fact that, Dubai based Lulu Group, which is Middle East’s largest hypermarket and retail group has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up a food processing and logistics hub in Srinagar is a case in point.
Besides generating substantial employment, this MoU also comes as a windfall for J&K’s farmers and horticulturists. Lulu Hypermarket has already launched the world-famous GI tagged saffron of Kashmir and is importing fruits and spices for sale in the Middle East. Similarly, the J&K govt has also signed a MoU with the Dubai government for development of real estate and industrial parks, and this will create a host of job opportunities as well as attract businesses.
The main impediment threatening optimum exploitation of the multi-faceted benefits accruing from Article 370 abrogation expectedly comes from Pakistan and its proxies as well as those who have lost their political and financial fiefdoms or relevance. While these entities spread negativity, politicians supporting pro-Article 370 abrogation who go overboard by making incredulous claims such as this decision will overnight end terrorism or unemployment too generate cynicism amongst the people.
Islamabad’s attempts to sabotage the benefits of Article 370 abrogation is evident from its attempts to create a state of anarchy in J&K by using terrorists to escalate violence levels. With targeted killing of minority community members and migrant workers, ISI has now enlarged the scope of its sponsored terrorist activities in Kashmir Valley in a bid to dissuade business houses from setting up shop here. This is a serious challenge since there’s no reason to believe that Pakistan will mend its way and cease its disruptive activities in Kashmir Valley.
While Pakistan may wax eloquent on its concerns regarding the wellbeing of Kashmiris, its actions smack of utter duplicity. For example, it was expected that Islamabad would welcome direct flights between J&K and the Middle East, and allow overflight facilities to make it cheaper for Kashmiri passengers as well as to earn revenue. However, by unilaterally reneging on its agreement allowing a private Indian airline overflight facility from Srinagar to UAE, hasn’t Islamabad exposed its brazen attempt to sabotage J&K centric commercial and travel activities?
The Way Ahead
When viewed holistically, it’s apparent that while Pakistan has most certainly lost its diplomatic battle on Kashmir, it’s still not willing to give up, and just like a psychotic spurned lover has adopted the destructive ‘If I can’t have you, then no one else can’ approach! This is what has to be explained in great detail to the people of J&K alongwith examples that prove the same so that Pakistan’s Kashmir façade can be exposed. Simultaneously, use of all mediums of communication [especially social media] to counter the propaganda being disseminated by the pro-Pakistan camp in J&K also needs to be undertaken on a war footing.
Lastly, there’s a need for a comprehensive public awareness campaign to educated people so that they can for themselves realise that criticism of Articles 370 and 35[A] abrogation is motivated and designed to suit vested interests. While factual information/data relating to the various post-Article 370 abrogation initiatives is regularly being disseminated through government agencies, the same doesn’t have the required impact at grass root levels. Therefore, it’s necessary to engage the public in frank discussions and debates.