By Kriti M Shah
It has been ten days since the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 of the Indian constitution allowed the state near-autonomy and by removing it the government intends to bring in much needed development and investment into the region. Pakistan predictably, protested the move and downgraded diplomatic relations with India, expelling the Indian High Commissioner and suspending trade ties. What effect the abrogation of the article will have on economic and social development in the region only time will tell, but the question for the time being is, what can be expected next?
Pakistan caught off guard by India’s move, has been scurrying to win diplomatic favor, calling leaders of Muslim nations and attempting to garner support for its narrative of India’s actions in Kashmir being ‘illegal’. However, it remains highly unlikely that Kashmir will affect India’s relationship with Muslim countries as New Delhi has steadily worked to deepen its economic and defence relationships with nations in West Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council over the years. While countries such as UAE, Maldives and Bangladesh have backed India’s decision; others such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia and Turkey have issued statements that toe the line, helping them balance between India and Pakistan, without criticizing India’s moves. This is because India remains a much more important economic and energy partner than Pakistan, offering far better trade and investment opportunities. Saudi Arabia’s investment of $15 billion in Indian petroleum company Reliance, a week after the big move in Kashmir, is a clear sign of support and confidence in the India’s growing economy.
What does this mean for Pakistan? The nation’s army has promised to “exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps taken by India” and has warned India that any misadventure would lead to a strong response. While threats and verbal accusations are typical of any Indo-Pak exchange, there is a strong likelihood that Pakistan will respond to the changes in Kashmir through its militant-proxy groups. During Imran Khan’s talk at a US think tank, the Pakistan prime minister alluded to the fact that there were around 30,000- 40,000 militants in the country who have been trained either in Afghanistan or Kashmir. In recent days, he has spoken in parliament about “incidents like Pulwama” (where a Pakistani-trained militant attacked an Indian convoy killing over thirty soldiers) happening again. After President Trump’s offer to mediate between the two countries, a few weeks ago, bases of militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba have been reinstated along the Line of Control with India. While Pakistan’s struggling economy should be cause enough to for the generals in Rawalpindi in hold their horses, the prospect that jihadists may use the recent developments as an opportunity to foment unrest in Kashmir should not be ruled out under any circumstance.
Given the imminent withdrawal of US troop from Afghanistan and the possibility of the Taliban holding some amount of political power, Pakistani militants who have supported the insurgent group would in all probability turn their focus east, towards Kashmir. Until now, Pakistan-based militant groups have been the most lethal Islamic terrorist threat to India. Last month, al-Qaeda chief asked his followers to deliver “unrelenting blows” to the Indian army and its government, claiming that the “fight in Kashmir” was part of the Muslim community’s “jihad against a vast array of forces”. The ability therefore of transnational militant groups such as al-Qaeda to mobilize and recruit for jihad against India, will remain dependent on the outcome of negotiations between the Afghan government and how ‘victorious’ the Taliban feel, when Pakistan, now backed into a corner, chose to provoke the Kashmiris and of course how Indian security forces keep the peace in Valley. The removal of Article 370 is India’s personal business, and yet what happens next will depend on other actors’ personal vendetta against India.