As Pakistan shot down 2 Indian Air Force combat planes capturing one pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman on 27th February last, I immediately posted a note on the internet that India had sleep-walked into the trap by invading Pakistan in retaliation to its loss of 40 soldiers in the deadly blast at Pulwama earlier on 14th. This was based on the apprehensions expressed by seasoned Indian analysts like Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar who argued against a cross-border military adventure by India in response to Pulwama.
The logic was simple: Indias violation of Pakistani airspace would create a war-like situation, inviting external powers to mediate between the two parties on the issue of Kashmir. However, the BJP government went ahead with what it calls surgical strikes and Pakistan retaliated firmly but proportionately. The government acted in purely partisan interest considering that elections were drawing near, and it needed to do something big to maintain its macho image.
Also of decisive importance was the US National Security Advisor John Boltons call to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval during which the former had reportedly given the latter a go-ahead with the cross border incursion. Credible reports suggest Bolton did not expect Pakistan to retaliate. However, things did not go as planned, and Abhinandan proved the spoiler in Indias whole game. Downing of jets and capture of a pilot sent shockwaves across world capitals, and for the first time in perhaps 30 years, the Financial Times penned an editorial about Kashmir-centric Indo-Pak tension. For the first time also, Kashmir was raised in the British House of Commons during the Prime Ministers weekly Question Time routine. FT advised the United States to take the lead in diffusing the tension but taking into consideration the global power realities, FT further added that US should seek Chinas help in doing the job. Soon after that there was a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in which Russia offered to mediate, and Pakistan accepted. The crux of all that happened in those fateful days is that US, China and Russia became firmly entrenched in seeking an India-Pakistan peace focused on Kashmir.
Beginning with the pilots release, what followed was no less significant: Pakistan, to deliver on its part of the deal, cracked down on all that was known as Kashmir-related Jehadi network. Britain, US and France pushed ahead in United Nations Indias demand of designating Masood Azhar as global terrorist, and China, for the first time, helped. Now it is Indias turn to deliver. BJP has already taken maximalist positions like scrapping of article 370 and 35A. Usually this is done before a settlement is negotiated. Therefore to my mind, the process for which the groundwork was carried out post Pulwama, will now be initiated. Kashmir-centric measures will be taken, which could include anything from implementation of Musharrafs 4 point formula to restoration of pre-53 position. This however is not of primary importance. What is actually important is that the whole process is aimed at normalisation of Indo-Pak relations and Kashmir fits in only indirectly: the India-Pakistan relations whatever needs to be done in Kashmir will be done, and will be called a resolution of Kashmir dispute.
Let us look at it in a more realistic way in light of geopolitical realities, regional and global, to get a sense of, if you like, the compulsions of all concerned parties to somehow resolve the issue. Pakistan supported struggle of Kashmiris from 1989, and we had different phases of armed militancy in Kashmir. India did whatever it could to eliminate it but failed, Pulwama being another glaring reminder of this failure. On the other hand Pakistan too failed in forcing upon India a solution to the Kashmir conflict despite supporting the post-1989 movement with precisely this aim in mind. However despite its refusal to seriously address the Kashmir issue, in the process of eliminating armed resistance, Indias hold on Kashmir diminished to what is effectively a purely military hold.
India is now left with only 2 choices: either resolve the issue, or take extreme measures like affecting demographic change through the abolition of article 370. That however is practically impossible for more than one reason: it violates UN resolutions on Kashmir; Pakistan, in all probability would not allow it and above all; there will be a mass revolt against it inside Kashmir which Delhi will find difficult to control. Pakistan, if it has to emerge as New Pakistan under Imran Khan cannot afford to keep the Kashmir pot boiling; it has to focus on conflict resolution to minimize the obstacles in its path to progress. In addition to hostility with India, it costs Pakistan domestic peace also.
China is another significant factor. Its relationship with Pakistan is deeply strategic, and unbreakable. However, siding with Pakistan on Kashmir becomes an irritant in its relations with India which has openly shown its hostility to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. But neither India nor China is happy with this hostility, nor is it sustainable. If China accommodates some vital Kashmir-related Indian concerns that do not also sabotage its friendship with Pakistan, it will push forward a Kashmir solution in order to improve relations with India. The USA is a declining superpower anyway, the last remnant of the centuries old Western colonial/imperial World Order. Its main interest in the above is not to allow the emergence in the region of a US-independent security paradigm including India, Pakistan, China and Russia. As such, US, in order to keep India on its side (in its global hegemonic strategies, and particularly against China), will act to have Indias maximum interest accommodated in a future Kashmir dispensation. It would support or simply allow New Delhi to continue with its military approach in Kashmir if that was proving successful, but as noted above, Indias campaign in Kashmir – while bloody – is futile, so the US will instead help in seeking a solution to the conflict and in doing so, will act to secure Indias maximum interest in any forthcoming solution for Kashmir while at the same time taking care of its relationship with Pakistan on whom it depends for its Afghanistan-related agenda.
To conclude, a resolution of Kashmir suits the purpose of all concerned, does it suit Kashmiri people as well? Obviously, it does, why not? Kashmir has borne the brunt from multiple sources; the people are craving for peace, so a solution will be naturally welcome. The moot point, however, is what sort of solution, and the core consideration is and must be: is it the peace based on justice or the one designed to suit the short-term expediencies of powers driving the peace process.