The bold decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A, with the approval of both Houses of Parliament with 2/3rds majority, has been a groundbreaking event in the history of India. In times to come, this revolutionary move will change the geopolitics of the region, establishing all-encompassing gains for all the concerned parties including Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
For decades, Pakistan’s government has been channelizing its precious economic resources towards Kashmir, with the single-point agenda of its geo-political-economic landscape being annexation of Kashmir. After Pakistan’s loss in three open wars with India, it changed its policy from direct to indirect confrontation, in the form of passively sending jihadi terrorists to create unrest and internal strife in Kashmir. Amidst the uncertainty and unrest in Pakistan, Mr Modi played the masterstroke of abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, which has left Pakistan’s shadow government completely immobilised with their army surrendering and unable to showcase any credible move of strength against India. This historic revocation has been instrumental in creating massive political turmoil in Pakistan, leaving its civil-military leadership completely rattled. Furthermore, Pakistan’s shadow government has failed to mobilize international support against abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, leaving it with little room. The international community has accepted India’s view that scrapping of key provisions is an internal matter. The landmark move has resulted in Pakistan’s leadership finding itself flummoxed.
While Pakistan’s agenda has been entirely Kashmir-centric at the cost of its own economic development for the last 70 years, the current inefficacy of Pakistan’s leadership upon revocation of Article 370 has left it utterly embarrassed. It is expected to be the stepping-stone for citizens of Pakistan to recognize that they have been bearing the cost of the misadventures of their entire military establishment and its shadow government. Further, the government in collusion with Pakistan’s army has rendered the country a feudal and a regressive state. A report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) highlighted that in 2018 Pakistan was the 20th biggest military spender in the world with an expenditure of $ 11.4 bn, accounting for 4 per cent of its GDP, which is its highest level since 2004. In this backdrop, Pakistan’s leadership will be unable to convince its citizens about its complacency and inability to act post revocation of Article 370.
This year, Pakistan’s Economic Survey displays a dismal picture of the economy with annual growth rate declining from 6.2 per cent to 3.3 per cent (close to a 50 per cent decline) and further expected to plummet to 2.4 per cent the next year, a ten-year low. Further, inflation is expected to peak to 13 per cent in the next fiscal; a tenyear high. Pakistan is currently under a huge burden of international debt amounting to about 30 per cent of its annual budget every year. When looking at macroeconomic indicators, even neighbouring Bangladesh’s economy has far surpassed Pakistan. In times to come, a revolution in Pakistan to overthrow the corrupt shadow government can be expected. Separatist movements in Pakistan will gain momentum, which the central government may find virtually impossible to contain at gun point.
The only option available to the discontented and deprived masses will be to resort to an internal civil war in order to pave the way for real democracy, for shifting the focus of governance in Pakistan from Kashmir to its own macroeconomic growth. Pakistan will have no option left but to take a complete U-turn in its economic policy from an India-centric one to that of growth and poverty eradication. Going forward, it would mark the commencement of successful dialogue between India and Pakistan, since for Pakistan’s economy to prosper, it is imperative to have its next-door neighbour as a strategic ally. Not only in recent conversations with Trump, but in 2016 Mr Modi directly addressed the youth of Pakistan from a public platform, seeking their support to join forces to fight poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. He truly believes that war on poverty and unemployment is better than any other war. Mr Modi has both the capacity and the drive to transform lives. Should Pakistan choose to adopt growth and poverty eradication as its objectives, it can expect to get his complete support.
Turning our attention to J&K, we see three options which could be theoretically considered for discussion. J&K can either be made an independent region or can be merged with either India or Pakistan. Jammu has historic roots with India. For Kashmir to be an independent region, landlocked between three nuclear powers, is politically and economically unsustainable and potentially dangerous. Kashmir faces the danger of being converted to a hub of terror training camps like the current state of Afghanistan.
Further, Kashmir’s citizens wouldn’t agree to merge with Pakistan where citizens are severely hamstrung by limited opportunities for growth. For decades, Pakistan has been shedding crocodile tears in order to stir the local Kashmiris in their favour, amidst the self-created jihadi terror and unrest in the region. While Pakistan’s propaganda has led to some ideological confusion and internal insurgency in Kashmir, most of the armed fighters are infiltrators from Pakistan. Local support is limited to a small group of ideologically confused Kashmiris incited on the basis of religious bigotry. Additionally, Pakistan follows a radical Wahhabi sect of Islam which is divergent from the prominent faith in J&K. People of Kashmir are desperately seeking peace after a long spell of mayhem in the region and any amalgamation with Pakistan would not be harmonious.
At this juncture, it is natural for J&K to merge with India as the most viable and promising option. Kashmiris and Indians are inseparably inter-related in many areas. India is the largest democracy in the world with a federal structure in the Constitution, encompassing the ability to embrace diversity with ease. There are more than 29 states in India integrated together, but with each retaining its own identity. India offers respect, dignity and protection of identity; juxtaposed with tremendous opportunities for rapid growth in J&K. Thus, on account of union with a secular nation like India, J&K faces no danger of losing its identity and cultural ethnicity. J&K is primarily an agrarian economy. Opening of J&K to the rest of the country will create opportunities to mobilize growth of industrial sector which would be mandatory to pave the way for employment, growth and development. Within the matter of a year, the people of J&K will recognize that the current revocation has been solely with the purpose of growth and development in the region.
Further, abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A has made the regional and political leaders of J&K powerless and irrelevant. Separatist Hurriyat leaders and local organizations were the true catalysts of terrorism acting on Pakistan’s funding. They were the ones instrumental in creating internal unrest by inciting youth to demand azadi and providing local support to jihadis, serving as accomplices of Pakistan.
This landmark decision has resulted in the governance of J&K falling under direct control of the central government of India, which will ensure noninterference of anti-social elements, illegal traders and perpetrators of terrorism. Abrogation of Article 370 will be the turning point for J&K towards unprecedented growth and socio-economic development of the entire region.Going forward, Ladakh too will get its due share after becoming a separate Union Territory. At present, the major share of the budget is being spent on Jammu and Kashmir, depriving Ladakh of funds for its development. Mr Modi’s landmark decision will ensure economic growth in Ladakh, in addition to J&K; and further ensure that the citizens there have the same rights and privileges as those in the other parts of the country.
Revocation of Articles 370 and 35A will safeguard strict vigilance on the borders of Jammu and Kashmir, with the non-involvement of local leaders with vested interests dramatically improving the law and order situation in the Valley. This will build a cohesive and a peaceful state. It will render terrorism and separatism as depressing events of the past. Earlier, a few families in J&K region perpetuated their power and indulged in corruption. Whenever accountability was sought, they took shelter under Article 370. How could one have justified that the Prevention of Corruption Act ~ which lays down elaborate legal provisions that insist on criminal accountability against authorities ~ was not applicable in the state? Why were laws like the Right to Education, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, Right to Information Act, reservations in education and employment and other facilities for traditionally deprived communities not made applicable in the state? All this while Article 370 was being abused to deny citizens free and fair elections, and equal and essential rights. With the Right to information (RTI), people can now demand necessary information and use it for redressal of their grievances. Scrapping Articles 370 and 35A is imperative to empower democracy and ensure governance with transparency and accountability in the region.
The economy of PoK is in a shambles. Residents are currently victims of Pakistan’s nefarious strategies to annex Kashmir and are living in a deplorable state. Going forward, Mr Modi’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A will be contributory in stirring integration of both PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan with India. As peace returns to the J&K region and it moves on the trajectory of development, the gap in the economic status of J&K with PoK will be in the spotlight. Opportunities for large-scale migration out of PoK to the more economically advanced J&K can be expected. With time, this will propel an uprising in PoK to force Pakistan for liberation and to demand merger with the more prosperous J&K, in order to decode its own growth strategy.
Mr Modi is a farsighted visionary who waited and strategized for the right moment to take necessary action on the Kashmir issue. During his first term, a well-planned operation to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A was on the table. First, he scripted a foreign policy to not indulge in dialogue with Pakistan until Pakistan gave credible evidence to stop all terrorist activities from its soil. Intellectuals and political parties did not understand his vision and asked how without dialogue a solution to the complex problem of J&K could be attained? Pakistan also could not rationalise Mr Modi’s disinterest in dialogue. However, Mr Modi’s prime objective was to bring ‘terrorism’ as the most dangerous subject to the world forum, illuminating Pakistan’s role as a factory of terrorism.
Second, during his first term, Mr Modi’s focus remained on building a well calculated and formidable foreign policy, establishing personal bonds with world’s top leaders. Soon after Mr. Modi gained power, all major nations of the world showed willingness to build strong ties with India, given the large market size that India offers.
All five permanent member states of the UN Security Council sent their envoys to India within the first 100 days of his assuming office, which is significant given India’s long-standing bid to get permanent membership of the UNSC. Upon gaining power, Mr Modi’s focus remained on clearing policy logjams and remove structural bottlenecks so as to create a conducive environment for foreign investors. His flagship ‘Make in India’ programme, which increased foreign investment limit from 26 to 49 per cent and further liberalised FDI policy for 25 sectors, and the massive thrust on adopting ease of doing business measures, were important steps in the right direction. Gradually, Mr Modi succeeded in raising India’s status from merely being a player in the global order to that of a decision maker on the world map.
On the domestic front, Mr Modi’s success could be measured with outcomes of GST, Land Acquisition Act, institutional reforms like setting up of Niti Aayog, Monetary Policy Committee, measures for financial inclusion like the JAM Trinity etc, transforming India from a ‘Fragile Five economy’ in 2013 to a ‘Global Beacon of Stability of Growth’ in 2017.
After the 2014 J&K elections, when BJP-PDP coalition was formed, it was viewed as Mr Modi’s move to usurp power in J&K, while in reality it was an elegantly designed move to observe the dynamics of local parties in the region and gain deeper insights into their functioning. Gradually, Mr Modi stopped funding of all regional parties and local Pakistani-sponsored organizations like Hurriyat. Additionally, Intelligence Bureau was activated to ensure the cessation of foreign funding to regional parties.
Immediately after gaining power in his second term, Mr Modi played the masterstroke of revocation of Articles 370 and 35A. which left Pakistan and local ruling parties totally powerless in the region. In this regard, Mr Modi’s farsighted foreign policy and the raising of terrorism on the international agenda were successful weapons in thwarting Pakistan from gaining international momentum against revocation of Article 370.
Modi’s vision differs from that of earlier Prime Ministers who accepted status quo to protect their chair. He is a bold and courageous leader, in addition to being a political genius. He understood that the permanent solution to the Kashmir problem was related to the abrogation of Article 370 as it was the root cause for engendering feelings of separatism, misleading youth and local leaders, and ultimately giving birth to terrorism, corruption and mis-governance. Until now, the government’s energy and resources were being wasted to fight terrorists and on Pakistan’s spy wing the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI). While all ruling parties of India recognized that Article 370 was the basis of all problems in J&K and instrumental in giving fodder to Pakistan to keep the issue of J&K boiling, no one mustered the courage, vision or strategy to abrogate it.
The calibrated abrogation of Article 370 has been done with a single-point agenda, the interest of the people of J&K and Ladakh. Mr Modi has shown himself to be a fearless leader, embodying the capacity to take the toughest decisions in the national interest. He stands today as one of the tallest global leaders. The revocation of Articles 370 and 35A is a momentous achievement. If Mr Modi brings to fruition his grand vision of peace and development in a chronically troubled region, he will cement his place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest leaders.
(The writer is Chairman, Environmental Impact Assessment (Industry-II), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)