There has been speculation that India might be preparing to withdraw Article 370 and Article 35A from its Constitution which gives special privileges to Jammu and Kashmir, the Muslim-majority state which has a history of terrorism-driven violence, a decades-old conflict over autonomy, and even ethnic cleansing of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits.
Supporters say that the removal of Article 370 and Article 35A would eradicate the Kashmir problem once and for all; detractors, that it would cause massive protests and violence in the valley.
U.S. President Donald Trump, too, had a role to play in the current chatter on this. He, at a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, offered to mediate to resolve the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir—a position that has never been acceptable to India, but which has always been pushed by Pakistan.
The reason for this is simple. Pakistan does not have the military or the economic strength to push through any negotiation with India that India does not want to participate in. Especially now when India has refused to reopen dialogue until it is convinced that Pakistan is doing all it can to stop cross-border terrorism, a third-party push for mediation really works for Pakistan.
But India cannot agree to this for a bunch of reasons. First, a historical perspective must be kept in mind that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru insisted on taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations (UN) despite strong opposition from within his party and government. Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru’s deputy and the first home minister, was of the view that India should have never taken this issue outside the bilateral realm and had received nothing beneficial by taking it to the UN. This lesson weighs heavy on the shoulders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his lieutenant and home minister Amit Shah, both avowed Patel devotees.
The Indian understanding is clear: any move towards third-party mediation today would detract from the upper-hand that India has painstakingly managed. Even a discussion of such an option would incentivise Pakistan, and elements within its security forces, to re-trigger the terror campaign against India as they would believe that the process protects them from immediate and debilitating retaliation from India.
There is also a deeper logic at play—what would be the interest of the third party in this deal-making? Mostly it would be geostrategic containment. Who is to be contained? Almost inevitably an economically and militarily rising India.
So, any containment would be directed towards India as there is not much benefit in containing Pakistan, which is far more useful as some kind of a proxy-state, regional balancer to contain India.
Historically, too, India has been far more intransigent and less willing to stray from its non-aligned stand rather than Pakistan, which has always been in the camp of the U.S., then transferring to the side of China. India’s old military support system Russia is tied with its own concerns as it watches NATO expand its arms across eastern Europe. On its eastern front, it faces a destabilising Afghanistan, potentially controlled by the Taliban.
Any deal that India negotiates under pressure could be as disastrous as the Manmohan Singh formula which allowed for a soft border between India and Pakistan, and therefore inevitable mid-to-long term demographic overhaul via endogamy.
This India can never agree to, should never agree to. It is simply enough to understand that any leeway in a Kashmir deal leaves the defence of New Delhi vulnerable to any determined ground attack, and the potential forced movement of capacity from other sectors onto guarding the capital. Such reinforcements might come from sectors which would make India vulnerable to Chinese designs. Also, any weak deal in Kashmir would never result in cessation of hostilities, but would encourage Pakistan to reinvigorate trouble in Punjab by attempting to revive the Khalistan movement.
Indian strategists understand the long-term repercussions of any such move only too well, and therefore any talk of third-party mediation is likely to remain, let us just say, inconclusive.