IT is one year to the day when New Delhi rescinded J&K’s semi-autonomous status, bifurcated the state into J&K and Ladakh and downgraded the two regions into union territories. It was an unprecedented development with local, regional and geo-political repercussions. Locally, the decision completely altered the situation in J&K, both geographically and politically. Some observers argue the situation has also been altered geopolitically. And it has.
The annulment of Article 370 that granted J&K its autonomy under India’s constitution has changed the nature of the conflict in and over Kashmir. As for the issue within Kashmir, it has now become more about a concern for the identity than a struggle for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. A place that has been a site of a struggle for three decades for a better political deal has with revocation of Article 370 been downgraded beneath what was already an unacceptable status quo. J&K is now not even a state now. Instead of being governed by an elected local government with a semi-autonomous status to boot, it is being ruled directly from New Delhi. We can only hope that the central government reviews this decision at the earliest.
And then there is Pakistan factor. New Delhi’s withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status stunned Islamabad which seemed to have war-gamed for everything in relation to India other than this move. By integrating Kashmir, New Delhi displayed a contemptuous rejection of Islamabad’s claim over the state that basically stems from the 1948 United Nations resolutions calling for a referendum to allow people in Jammu & Kashmir to choose to join either of the two countries. Though decades down the line, the neighbours agreed to resolve Kashmir bilaterally, Pakistan hasn’t let go of the UN resolutions. What form the longstanding tug of war between the two countries over Kashmir takes in future is still in the realm of speculation. As for the last year, the neighbours have stayed short of getting into confrontation over the altered situation. And here’s hoping it stays this way and the two countries rather choose a return to engagement and dialogue. There is an urgent need for a dialogue, one on the lines of the 2003-07 Musharraf-Manmohan Singh process but this time brought to a logical conclusion. This will change the fate of not just Kashmir but Indian subcontinent as well.
And as for New Delhi’s approach towards Kashmir, it is now important that the tack is changed from a security-centric approach to one of political engagement that takes stock of the existing grievances in the former state and seeks to meaningfully address these. Over last year and also over the past three decades, Kashmir has witnessed too much of violence and suffering. The effort by New Delhi should be to do everything that ends this cycle of bloodshed once and for all.
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