The surprise was near complete. The Doval Doctrine was in full evidence, with a slow build up of tensions, paramilitary forces flown in by IAF C-17’s, and the Amarnath pilgrims flown out by returning flights.
And then the announcement itself, of the withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status. That too was slick. Nothing needed to be ‘scrapped’. The government merely used the exit clauses provided in Article 370 itself with the assent of the state, at a time when the Governor was at its head, and therefore did not need a complicated process involving the ‘Constituent Assembly’.
The party enjoys a huge majority at home, and Parliamentary assent, is a given. Eventually of course, the issue will land up in the courts. But that’s another story.
Beginning of A Long, Arduous Road?
However, as the NSA himself would be fully aware, there’s no time for rest and a little savouring of the moment. This is the beginning of a long and arduous road, that could have a few dangerous forks along the way.
First, while the separatists are left with egg on their faces, they have little choice but to stir up the coals. The recent meeting at Hyderpora had SAS Geelani calling upon the youth to be ready for a ‘hard and tough struggle’.
Geelani and the likes of him have little respect left in the Valley, given how they ( and their children) live luxurious lives, while pushing the youth out on to the streets. But their handlers across the border will demand a rallying of forces, and separatist leaders (now stripped of their security) will obey.
As of now, most of the ‘crowd mobilisers’ are under preventive custody, but they will have to be freed sooner or later.
Meanwhile, whether the youth will heed Geelani’s call, depends entirely on the ability of the Centre to get the right message across, and that carries a promise of good things to come without even a vestige of triumphalism. That messaging is vital.
What Are Pakistan’s Options?
Second, Pakistan is expected to ‘reject’ the change in a joint session of Parliament. Foreign Minister Qureshi is already talking of a threat of genocide , and has admirably made Pakistan’s role clear in stating ‘We will consult our legal experts and I believe the freedom movement in Kashmir will gain momentum.”
Imran Khan equally unsurprisingly, had to take up the nuclear card, by warning of bad blood behind “nuclear neighbours’. Retired Pakistani generals will come on television to threaten blood and retribution. And it will certainly go running to the UN Security Council. But here’s the thing.
Overall there is a tiredness on not only the Kashmir issue, but a disgust with Pakistani establishment itself.
Endless complaining and an empty pocket are not the best arbiters at international forums.
And notwithstanding the recent eulogies, this is entirely apparent in Washington, and perhaps in China, where headlines are focussing on Hong Kong, without a mention of the Kashmir issue.
Third, and notwithstanding all of the above, Pakistan sorely needs the ‘freedom struggle’ to reach new heights of violence and passion. The country is at present in disarray.
The Pakistani rupee stands at above Rs 160 to the dollar, the strictures of the International Monetary Fund is likely to cause severe distress, particularly among farmers and the poor; Maryam Nawaz’s rallies are all over social media and notably absent from the mainstream press, and International concern at the frequent arrests of Opposition leaders and curbing of press freedom is rising, even more because its prime minister seems to be blithely unaware of anything wrong.
In Washington, Khan’s statement that the Pakistani being ‘freer than the British press’ led to audible gasps in the audience. However, the fury of the Pakistani establishment is almost palpable. Without reservation, the Pakistanis are the best in the business of terrorism sponsorship, without equal rivals anywhere in the world.
The rage and the expertise will go together to create a struggle on the lines of the Palestinian conflict in Kashmir.
Time is of the essence, since the blanket security strictures can’t be imposed for too long. Given the ongoing delimitation of constituencies, the announcement of elections seems to be in sight. A continuing commitment to free and fair elections will set the seal of approval on Delhi’s move.
The biggest challenge for the government therefore is not Pakistan or anyone else. It is the possibility that it may overestimate its own strength in changing the ground realities in Kashmir.
The coming elections require political acumen of a very high order indeed. That’s where the ultimate test of this whole exercise will lie. So even as the celebrations at party headquarters and elsewhere continues, remember that there is a spectre at the feast, that will raise a toast to lack of sensitivity, and disappear entirely when realism rules.
(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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