Constitutional Amendment: Reactions from the Sub-continent
Mayuri Mukherjee

On August 5, the Government of India repealed Article 370 of the Constitution which had accorded special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories - Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. This essay looks at how India’s neighbours in the sub-continent viewed this landmark decision, outside of their respective government’s official statements. The first section covers Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal while Pakistan is covered separately in the second section.

Part I
Bangladesh: Is Kashmir India’s internal matter or a cause for international concern?

In Bangladesh, the Daily Star took a cautious editorial line, noting that the matter was an “internal affair of India”, but still “affects not only the countries of South Asia” and that “one cannot lose sight of the fact that India and Pakistan have gone to war on Kashmir thrice”. The editorial also questions, “why, after seven decades, a ruling party in India thought it was appropriate to change a political dispensation accorded to a state whose accession to the Union was... far from normal”. However, it closes on a positive note, hoping that “the desired purpose for which the Act was repealed would be fulfilled, alienation of the people of J&K would disappear, and there would be lasting peace and development in J&K”.

In contrast, the New Age took a much more strident tone in its editorial, warning that, “the move is likely to have serious, unintended and dangerous consequences on the peace and stability of all of India, Pakistan, the region and the world”, and urged the international community to “mount pressure on India to revoke its unconstitutional and undemocratic action”. It claimed that while the decision “disenfranchised the people of Kashmir” on the one hand, on the other, it empowered other “Indians, outside the valley, to buy land, acquire property and permanently settle in the Muslim majority region”. In a similar op-ed in the same newspaper, Chicago-based commentator Nazarul Islam focused on “the sins of the leader”, arguing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had breached “legal and moral jurisdictions” to secure his place in history.

The Dhaka Tribune didn’t have an editorial on the issue, but published at least two op-eds. In one, Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury argued that the decision diminished “India’s international reputation as a democracy”, and that “India might very well be on its way to becoming a full Hindu majoritarian state”. In the other op-ed, journalist Afsan Chowdhury noted that Dhaka’s official response to the issue (‘Article 370 is India’s internal matter’) was not in line with public opinion but, as a small country with a big neighbour, Bangladesh’s hands were tied.

Sri Lanka: Should we cheer Kashmir’s integration or criticise its loss of autonomy?

In Sri Lanka, journalist PK Balachandran opined in the Daily Mirror that the decision to repeal Article 370 was, “like the curate’s egg, partly good and partly bad”. In the positives column, he listed the end of the “invidious and unsustainable distinction between Jammu & Kashmir and the other states of India”, arguing that better “integration with India is expected to help the growth of the industrial sector, boost the tourism sector and generate employment. Tighter integration with India will help improve security which is essential for economic development and tourism”. In the negatives column, he listed the legislative process used to repeal Article 370 which he described as “unconstitutional” because “New Delhi did not consult the State Assembly” but instead took the assent of the State Governor’s who was only “a representative of the Center and not the elected representative of the people”.

Balachandran also had a piece in the Daily Express wherein he dealt specifically with former Sri Lankan president and now opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comment that the developments in India will have to be factored into the long running debate on the devolution of powers to Tamils in Sri Lanka. Herein, Balachandran opines that “What is happening in India now in regard to federalism and devolution of power to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region could further dim prospects of Sri Lankan Tamils’ getting power devolution beyond what they have been given de facto under the 13th Amendment of the Lankan constitution”. He points out that Rajapaksa’s brother and political successor, former defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is expected to win the next election and take a hardline approach to “terrorism, separatism and devolution of power”. And such an approach in Colombo will only be strengthened by the precedent set by New Delhi.

Also commenting on the devolution of powers and decentralisation, Rajan Philips writes in The Island, that even before the repeal of Article 370, much of Kashmir’s “autonomy had become compromised over seven decades after independence”. Instead, Philips focuses on New Delhi’s argument that “Articles 370 and 35A had given only separatism, nepotism and corruption to the people of J&K”. “This”, he says, “is a rather simplistic assessment” and that “the revocation of these Articles is not going to address the root causes of the Kashmiri problem”; though it might help “rewrite India’s federalism in the Hindutva script” and “assert India’s dominance in the region”.

Finally, in the Daily Mirror, Ameen Izzadeen worried that not only was Modi “turning Asia’s temple of democracy into a fort of fascism”, he might even take over Sri Lanka! Izzadeen reminds his readers that, “At one point, there were fears in Sri Lanka too, that India, in keeping with K.M. Panikkar’s advice, would make Sri Lanka also part of its territory. This fear prompted Sri Lanka to sign a defence treaty with Britain at Independence”. He then adds, “The possibility of India annexing Sri Lanka or part of it cannot be ruled out even now, given India’s worries over China’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka.”

Nepal: Jammu Gorkhas have cause for celebration, but what’s the message from Kashmir for Kathmandu?

The Nepali Times editorial noted that even though the developments in Kashmir garnered little interest among locals, the issue deserved to be taken seriously for two sets of reasons. First, many Nepalis work in the tourism industry in Kashmir and Ladakh, while many more serve in the Indian Army standing eye-ball-to-eye-ball against Pakistani and Chinese soldiers. “As in previous hostilities between India and Pakistan, and between India and China, Nepalis have shed their blood for the Indian side,” the editorial reminded its readers. In this context, the editorial noted that, “It is in Nepal’s interest that a future war over Kashmir should be prevented at all costs” and expressed displeasure over New Delhi’s moves to further “damage already bad relations” and fuel “a triangular flashpoint (astride another hot spot, Afghanistan)” involving “three nuclear-armed nations”.

Second, the editorial also made the argument that a “BJP government that could overturn India’s own Constitution on Kashmir for populism could attempt a reversal of Nepal’s secular constitution” especially since some BJP leaders had advocated “Nepal becoming a Hindu state again”. The editorial warned New Delhi not to tamper with Nepal’s constitutional realities, but also called on Kathmandu to learn from “New Delhi’s mistake in Kashmir” and “not to retreat from the assurances of provincial autonomy inherent in our federal constitution” as “guarantees of territorial integrity come not from brute force or taking away people’s rights, but from true devolution and self-governance”.

Keeping with the autonomy/decentralisation theme, The Kathmandu Post published an op-ed by Amish Raj Mulmi which argued that, “serious challenges have been posed to India’s federal system, with a Centre that is willing to mould legislature to address what it sees as flaws in the system, aided by an opposition either shocked or malleable to its will. Mulmi also opines that the repeal of Article 370 “signals a move towards uniformity, of India’s homogenisation process akin to China and other single-ethnicity dominated states”.

On an entirely different note, the New Spotlight magazine published a long read on the largely Jammu-based Gorkha community’s reaction to the developments in Kashmir. The article noted how the Gorkhas had welcomed the repeal of Article 370 (and along with it, Article 35A) and were hopeful that would not have to be second class citizens in their own country. As the article points out, they had been “deprived of basic human rights by State Government of J&K in the garb of Article 35A” with no right to vote in local elections, apply for government jobs, access social welfare benefits or even send their wards to professional colleges. The repeal of Article 370 was, therefore a “big relief.. Our dream is finally getting fulfilled,” the article quoted an 81-year a Gorkha war veteran.

Part II: Pakistan

The repeal of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the State of Jammu & Kashmir expectedly received ample coverage across Pakistani media which, without exception, condemned the move but also deliberated in depth over the scope of Islamabad’s response.

Caught off-guard

The Dawn newspaper said in its editorial that the international community’s “tepid response speaks to a failure of Pakistan’s diplomacy” and questioned why Islamabad had not been lobbying foreign governments from before, even though the abrogation of Article 370 was “one of the main planks of Mr Modi’s hyper-nationalistic re-election campaign”. The Pakistan Daily offered two explanations for why Islamabad was caught off guard: first, the government had been too busy “curbing domestic dissent from all quarters”, and second, the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf Party (PTI) leadership had become “complacent” after Prime Minister Imran Khan was seemingly well received in Washington.

The Daily Times tried to look ahead but couldn’t make up its mind on Islamabad’s next steps. Initially, it argued that “Pakistan’s only option, really, is to get the international community to push India towards talks”, but two days later, suggested that “It’s best, therefore, if Islamabad takes peace talks with Delhi off the menu for at least the foreseeable future.” The Express Tribune took the long view on Islamabad’s response. Slamming Modi for playing with fire, it noted that “Long years of mismanagement of foreign policy have left Pakistan in an awkward position.”

Do something, but what?

The Nation had a slew of editorials on the issue, starting with ‘Darkest Hour’ in which it claimed that as “Kashmir bleeds alone, the world must awaken to its cries, and if it doesn’t, Pakistan must do what is necessary”. Then, when the world didn’t seem to rise up enough, it bemoaned in ‘Incriminating Silence’ that “the international response towards India’s illegal violations against Kashmir has been severely lacking,” adding that “the situation in Kashmir will be a test of Pakistan’s diplomatic skills”. In ‘Response on Kashmir’, the paper wrote off the possibility of “an escalation of violence” as a “military response would not be in the interest of both countries”; instead, it argued that “More effective would be to bring to international light India’s utter and complete disregard for international conventions and agreements”.

The paper was also particularly critical of the PTI government’s decision to continue with the anti-corruption drive which was sweeping up opposition leaders. “The state has not relented in its bid to continue an accountability campaign against political leaders in the opposition, even when its attention should be focused on our eastern borders… on the plight of Kashmiris, ignoring all else”, the paper said in ‘Undermining Unity’. Finally, it expressed frustration that Islamabad wasn’t properly leveraging all its options against India (such as the Kartarpur Corridor or the Afghan peace process), and described the government’s response as “muddled”. In ‘Wake Up, UN’, it urged the international body to “initiate a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against India”.

Among the columnists also, the focus was primarily on Pakistan’s response to the situation. Writing for the Express Tribune, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg argued for a “regional alliance between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, consolidated and strengthened, into a common bond of a powerful nation”, adding that, “I do not hesitate to say that Pakistan now has to prepare for a full fledged war with India to safeguard its freedom”. In the Daily Times, Umair Jamal promised a “long phase of resistance from Pakistan” and warned that, “there won’t be a week or a month when the world won’t worry about Kashmir as the flashpoint can lead to a nuclear conflict”.

Reality check

Thankfully, Irfan Husain offered a reality check of sorts in the Dawn. He noted, “We have already been to war with India over the disputed territory three times, to no avail. For decades, our diplomats have been pushing for a plebiscite as called for by the UN, again with no success. The Muslim ummah remains unmoved at the plight of the Kashmiris, as does most of the world. Our politicians have no idea of the degree of Kashmir fatigue that has set in around the world.” On similar pragmatic lines, M Ziauddin, writing in the Express Tribune, noted that as the abrogation of Article 370 seemed to be “irreversible development”, it was important to acknowledge that “The Line of Control (LC) seems to have disappeared into thin air and a line denoting the international border has emerged in its place”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) swords

Muhammad Amir Rana, writing in the Dawn, added another element to the mix. He worried that a ‘Kashmiri intifada’ was on the cards, and that India would blame Pakistan for the ensuing mess. How should Pakistan respond, he wondered. “Pakistan is morally and politically bound to support the Kashmiris. However, supporting the resistance movement will have serious consequences..the IMF and FATF swords are hovering over the country’s economy”. The latter issue was also highlighted by former diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi who wrote that, “Hopefully, Modi has bitten off more than he can chew” because his Pakistani counterpart must focus on doing “whatever it takes to get off the FATF grey list… If Pakistan cannot deliver on its several commitments to FATF, it can have no national, foreign or even Kashmir policy”. Summing up these views, former Dawn editor Abbas Nasir wrote, “Given the FATF pressure, resorting to any jihadi or military option is unlikely… This means that the diplomatic option is the only one available, although in 72 years it has delivered nothing.”

Just what South Block wanted all along!

Writing from a strategic-legal perspective, Advocate Yasser Latif Hamdani pointed out in the Daily Times that “Pakistan’s position has never been to accept Article 370... the full implication of Article 370 is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that Kashmiris are Indian citizens by virtue of Article 1. This is the position that Pakistan has always rejected till now. Now we are virtually fighting for its restoration. I suspect this is what the South Block wanted all along”.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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