ASIAINTL CONFLICTSOPINION

Why a potential peace deal in Afganistan could flare-up the violence in distant Kashmir

By Bilal Hussain

At a time when New Delhi directly governs the Indian-administered Kashmir through its anointed Governor, the fragile strands of peace are coming under increased duress and tensions are escalating once again. Ever since the Hindu nationalist rightwing party, the BJP let an elected Kashmir government fall by withdrawing support to a Kashmir centric regional part the PDP, the recent troop buildup has sent alarm bells among the local ethnic Kashmiri populace.The routine life is off the track, and residents of this landlocked valley are scrambling to store food, fuel and medicine while anticipating something sinister and as it were, never witnessed in the turbulent history of Kashmir viz the Abrogation of Kashmir’s special legal status. Such a  constitutional mechanism bars any non-Kashmiri from settling down permanently in this contested Himalayan region famous for its beautiful meadows, pleasant climate and abundant natural water resources.

Why New Delhi has spiked its robust military footprint with an additional 38,000 troop deployment over and above the existing seven lac active personnel already stationed in the state for decades is perplexing. Kashmir being caught up in a protractedconflict for three decadesnow is infamously knownfor its rumor and grapevine industry; where facts are hard to discernfrom fiction.  The state apparatus and intelligence often have a  conscious but covert hand in that, ostensibly to muddy the waters and what experts see as tactics to punish the whole population through ‘psychological warfare’. Many see this as the replication of the Israeli model of “punish and perish all.”, making any potential civil resistance minimal and sporadic. 

The timings of this move from the Indian government coupled with myriad emergency circulars curtailing human movement, barring tourists, shutting down education centres & hotels are being interpreted conveniently by each stakeholder of the conflict. But from an international and geostrategic perspective, the understanding is that it could well be an Indian ploy to try and sabotage the Afghanistan peace talks.

India experts believe is miffed over its diplomatic isolation while its rival Pakistan seems to have taken centre stage in the ongoing AfghanPeace process. This further gained concurrence with president Trump throwing his hat in Kashmir conundrum as a potential mediator thereby embarrassing Indian premier Modi by mentioning his name and proposed ‘offer to mediate’.  Such a proposition hasn’t gone well internally for Modi and his nationalistic brigade who boast a muscular Pakistan policy at least in their carefully curated public perception during the recent federal elections that returned Modi his second term in power.  

Heavy shelling on Indo-Pak borders

Fearing the moves by India, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said, ‘some forces would play the role of spoilers given the worsening situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir and as the Afghan peace talks entered a critical stage.’  Spokesperson of Pakistan Armed Forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor has condemned the use of cluster bombs by the Indian Army, whichhe sees as a violation of international conventions. However, the Indian Army, while rubbishing these claims said ‘No cluster bombs are  being used.’

Internal politics in Kashmir

Back in Kashmir, the General Officer Commanding of Indian Army’s 15 Corps, Lt General KJS Dhillon is giving the whole development a different twist. In a media statement, the general insists the troop buildup as “routine & Normal deployment” and that “intelligence inputs suggest that (Muslim)   terrorists are trying to target the ongoing Shri Amarnathji yatra – a hilly pilgrimage trek of Hindus largely from the mainland India in the glaciers of south Kashmir.  

Kashmir’s mainstream political parties are perhaps finding it trickier to negotiate this latest Indian move. The overwhelming perception in Kashmir is that these so-called mainstream parties are the collaborators of the deep Indian state and the actual source of the misery that they find themselves in.

Omar Abdullah, the scion of the largest ruling party of Kashmir the National Conference, tweeted, ‘this will dampen the sense of fear & foreboding that prevails in the valley at the moment.’ While his rival Mehbooba Mufti, the inheritor of second largest political dispensation – the PDP said that the move would create panic & distress. ‘So far, the Government of India resorted to military might & psychological warfare like techniques vis a vis J&K. Neither will work.’ These leaders though have little public acceptance left now as both have in the past shared the luxury of power by opportunistically joining hands with the Hindu Bharatiya Janta party, whom the Kashmiris see as their ‘ Collective oppressors’.

US mediation in Kashmir

President Donald Trump’s assertion that India’s prime minister Modi has sought his intervention to meditate on the Kashmir issue. The development came when Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, met Trump at the White House where the two leaders discussed a host of issues, including the Afghan peace process. However, reacting to Trump’s statement,the Indian government denied the claim. Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar in a tweet said, ‘We have seen @POTUS’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate if requested by India & Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. PM @narendramodi has made no such request to US President.’

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the flamboyant Foreign Minister of Pakistan, thinks that India is avoiding the talks. “India won’t agree easily to the Kashmir talks. We urge the US to exercise its influence and persuade India [to come to the table],” Qureshi said.

The author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir,’ David Devadas, in an article explains how geopoliticalthreat lurks behind the Valley’s crisis?  While, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, now a Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, in a write-up emphasises howKashmir situation is potentially dangerous and could flare up further. 

The Afghan peace deal, Kashmir linkage

The continuation of the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may partly jeopardise theAfghanistan peace process. Reuters quoted Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying, however, later they denied of having made any such statement. 

“India has officially maintained its position that the peace process should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. New Delhi wants the Kabul government, its newfound ally, to be the key player in the negotiations and patronizes outfits that are seen anti-Pakistan,” said Paliwal, referring to India’s “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” policy in Afghanistan. Limiting India’s room to manoeuvre, the Taliban till date has refused to have any dialogue with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration in Kabul.

Bharat Karnad, a professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, writes that in case dialogue between India and Pakistan isn’t resumed, ‘a peace process on Pakistan’s other border with Afghanistan is likely to escalate tensions once again in Kashmir.’

According to a media report, the peace agreement between the US and Afghanistan is expected before, before August 13, and that will end the 18-year war. While, in one of the latest statements, U.S. President, Trump has told advisers he wants to pull US troops from Afghanistan by 2020 election. In the backdrop of all this, the developments in Kashmir in coming days will be crucial. Its impact and the repercussions on the peace talks between Afghanistan and the US are critical as it will shape up the geopolitics of the whole South Asian region.

Bilal Hussain is a columnist, and his lead domains are conflict economy, capital markets, developmental sector, and ecological economics.

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