Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in early August to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the Indian constitution and bifurcate the troubled state into two separate territories to be administered by the federal government has drawn furious reaction from Pakistan. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan and the powerful army chief, Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa returned from Washington at the end of July buoyed by President Donald Trump’s apparent promise of an intervention in the dispute with India over Kashmir. The Pakistani leadership was utterly surprised by Modi’s bold political decision to rearrange the Kashmir chessboard.
Pakistan immediately downgraded diplomatic relations with India in protest and sought the political intervention of the international community, including the United Nations Security council, the major powers and Islamabad’s traditional friends in the Islamic world.
The three western powers in the UNSC—the US, UK and France—as well as the European Union have tended to be neutral or slighted tilted towards the Indian position. But there has been considerable criticism in the liberal Western media of the Indian decision to lock down large parts of the Kashmir valley and Pakistan, although having its own problems of democratic rights, hopes to build on India’s violation of human rights in Kashmir.
Within the Islamic world, Malaysia and Turkey, have been exceptions to the generally muted reaction to the Indian actions in Kashmir. One of Mr. Modi’s diplomatic achievements in the first term as prime minister has been the significant improvement in India’s relations with key Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The first is the potential for large scale protests, either peaceful or violent, that could test Delhi’s restraint as it begins to ease current restrictions in Kashmir. Any serious crackdown is likely to draw more intensive international scrutiny of India’s policies in Kashmir. A second potential route to escalation and international intervention is a major terrorist attack in India that Delhi will be compelled to retaliate against Pakistan.
As if to preempt any future accusations against its complicity in a terror attack, Pakistan is suggesting that there could be false-flag attacks that India might use to justify a military response against Pakistan. While the many anti-India Jihadi groups are itching to step up violence in Kashmir, Islamabad is quite conscious of the danger of the additional international sanctions from the Financial Action Task Force that expects Pakistan to take a number of anti-terror steps in the weeks ahead.
Another variable is the peace process in Afghanistan that is at a critical juncture. Pakistan is warning the US that tensions with India on its eastern flank would significantly limit its cooperation with the Trump Administration in extricating the US from its military intervention in Afghanistan. Pakistan is hoping that President Trump’s eagerness to exit Afghanistan will help him weigh in against India. Delhi appears confident that the larger stakes in the relationship with the US would limit any political intervention by Trump in what India considers an internal matter.
Through his first term and since, Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly demonstrated that he is capable of taking fresh policy initiatives that depart from India’s overly cautious strategic tradition. He also brings unprecedented domestic political support and significant international influence behind his effort to revamp India’s strategy towards Pakistan and Kashmir. Mr Khan and Gen Bajwa, in turn, have elevated the latest development in Kashmir as a life-and-death struggle for Pakistan. That sets the stage for new phase in Kashmir and more broadly in the unending conflict between India and Pakistan, since they became independent more than seven decades ago.