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India Enters Turbulent Waters After Kashmir Action
Risks confronting New Delhi have suddenly multiplied.
N. V. Subramanian
New Delhi - A popular government, a $2.72 trillion economy, the world’s second largest 1.36 million standing army endowed with deterrent weapons, and nuclear sabre-rattling directed against rival Pakistan are collectively proving quite ineffective as India faces grave sovereign risks today. Having failed in the gamble of speedily containing the fallouts of stripping Muslim-majority Kashmir of its autonomy and statehood, the religious right government of Narendra Modi has taken the country to the brink almost reminiscent of India’s vulnerabilities at the end of the Cold War.
If Pakistan with China’s assistance and encouragement was more than happy between 1989 and 1991 to give a hand to India’s disintegration like the former Soviet Union with diplomatic and material supports to the insurgencies in Kashmir and Punjab, history is repeating itself without blushes as Beijing and Islamabad act in tandem to extract a heavy price from New Delhi for Modi’s 5 August blunder of voiding Articles 370 and 35A that applied to Jammu and Kashmir. While disintegration is out of the question and cleaving Kashmir from India for both China and Pakistan, all three expansive nuclear powers, is militarily unthinkable on date, yet there are deepening susceptibilities internally, externally and in the economy for the country that cannot be glossed over or easily overcome.
Internally, the gravest danger is posed by the rise of Hindutva nationalism and Islamophobia and the hate crimes against Muslims they engender. Whilst Hindu-Muslim animosities have their roots in colonial Britain’s encouragement of sectarian identities that resulted in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 and separate electorates for the two communities, the 1947 Partition and birth of Pakistan accompanied by 200,000 to two million violent deaths, and the post-independence riots in India after a lull in the sixties, seventies and subsequent decades, the Hindutva supremacism of today is a relatively contemporary phenomenon still. Originating with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) set up in 1925 in Nagpur in central India by a medical doctor who left the Congress party protesting Gandhi’s support of the Khilafat movement (for the restoration of the Ottoman caliph and empire), Hindutva supremacism came into its own with the demolition of the sixteenth century Babri mosque in Lord Rama’s perceived birthplace in Ayodhya.
Hindu-Muslim riots that followed the demolition, the serial bombing of Bombay by the Muslim underworld in 1993 (causing 257 deaths and 713 injuries), and the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) expanding reach in politics in this communalized milieu at the cost of the long-reigning Congress party all resulted in the BJP coming to power firstly at the head of a coalition government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, a moderate, and then in two majority governments of its own (2014 and 2019) with Narendra Modi as prime minister. Whilst narrowly escaping indictment for the riots that occurred in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister of the state (790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed; unofficial figures run in thousands), Modi embraced Hindutva supremacism with constitutional caution in his first term and has done so again in his second but with less circumspection. With his long-time aide and right-hand man Amit Shah as the Union minister of home affairs, they share between them the burden of advancing the RSS’s Hindutva programme.
The Hindutva programme manifests itself most uglily in emphasizing the “otherness” of Muslims, which may be deconstructed in the following terms. Indian Muslims owe their first allegiance to Pakistan, India’s neighbour, rival and equal claimant to Kashmir, and if they have objections to Hindutva supremacism, they are welcome to leave. As beef consumers, Muslims are un-Hindu and therefore un-Indian, and must be denied their source of cheap nourishment, and targeted for the smallest suspicion of cow slaughter, an old RSS demand that lacks legal sanction nationwide. And as Muslims are distinctly identifiable in their outward appearance, they are subject to random and gratuitous harassment by Hindutva groups in cities, on trains (where they may be thrown out), in towns and highways, and could pay with their lives if they hesitate to repeat religious and nationalistic slogans such as “Jai Sri Ram” or “Vande Mataram”. A study of hate crimes between 2009 and 2018 has shown a marked ninety per cent increase since Modi’s rise to power resulting in ninety-one deaths of which the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq (2015), Pehlu Khan (2017) and Rakhbar Khan 2018) made headlines without bringing justice. Since hate crimes flow from an ideology championed by those in power, it gives protection to the perpetrators from the police and the lower judiciary which are often communal. Oftentimes, victims face police persecution. Sadly, as scholar Sara Ahmed wrote in a 1996 study of “Judicial complicity with communal violence in India,” even the Indian Supreme Court is not entirely immune to the communal virus, since “several recent court decisions evince the influence of identity politics on judicial thinking.”
Comparable to Jews in early Nazi Germany, Muslims cannot pass any test of patriotism short of converting to Hinduism, which Hinduism does not by tradition permit; but conversions nevertheless remain a prized programme of another RSS outfit called the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The programme is tellingly named “Ghar Vapsi” or homecoming and was rather crudely attempted in Modi’s first term. Otherwise, Muslims are uniformly viewed as Pakistani agents despite having gallantly fought in the wars against Pakistan. India’s highest war medal for the 1965 conflict was awarded posthumously to a company quartermaster, Abdul Hamid, who died battling Pakistani tanks. Shocked by the 1965 experience, Pakistan instituted a ban on Indian Muslim immigration, a fact lost on supremacists. In my own coverage of Muslim attitudes to their birthplace as opposed to Pakistan interviewing scores of them from all walks of life in the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh in the mid-nineties, I encountered uniform solidarity with India. The consensus view was, “This is our country and we are not leaving.” That view appears not to have changed with the rise of unprecedented Hindutva supremacism since. But the Muslim community at the same time has retreated into a shell and blocked out all dissonant clamour. Accounting for 14.2 percent of the population per official statistics, India has the third largest number of Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan.
While no religious community is immune from radicalization today in a world rived by accentuated identities and narrow nationalism, this remains miniscule for the great size of the Muslim population in the country. Home-grown terrorist organizations like the Students’ Islamic Movement of India and its derivative, the Islamic Mujahedeen, focussed on establishing shariah rule in the country, were neutralized a decade ago, and there is no suggestion that they have metastasized. Before the rise of the Hindutva right and since, Pakistan has sought to trade on the accumulated grievances of India Muslims without much success. Not only does Pakistan not showcase a thriving constitutional state, it would be disastrous for Muslims to permit its smallest intervention on its behalf. Not for very different reasons, the bulk of Indian Muslims, despite sharing a common religion, have studiously kept away from the Kashmir self-determination movement. Salman Khurshid, a former Indian cabinet minister of external affairs, writes in his book titled Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen that “...the price of an unlikely unwholesome outcome (from India’s point of view) [in Kashmir] will in a substantial measure have to be paid by Muslims”.
Because Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, succeeded in carving out an all-Muslim nation from British India using the agency of the “Two-Nation Theory” that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in a single nation, Indian Muslims dread the consequences of a second partition involving Kashmir. Blamed for the first Partition, they desire no association with a second, should it ever come about, and they, therefore, manifestly keep away from Kashmir, and indeed toe the mainstream opinion. You would rarely find Indian Muslims criticizing the voiding of Articles 370 and 35A although, in their hearts, they may decry its immorality. From the Muslim point of view, the splitting of East from West Pakistan in the 1971 war with India repudiated the Two-Nation Theory, and Kashmir’s separation from India, even if it is only theoretically contemplated, would reopen old wounds.
Are Kashmiris unreconciled with the standoffishness of Indian Muslims even as they tilt to Pakistani ones and of course the state of Pakistan for supporting their movement? Kashmiri militants have tried from time to time since the commencement of the insurgency in 1989 to enlist the support of Indian Muslim youth with scant success. Before other educational opportunities opened for Kashmiris in different parts of India, the Aligarh Muslim University, which has produced a steady crop of Indian Muslim political leaders over many years, was the chief draw for generations of Kashmiris. It still did not result in empathy for the Kashmir movement. At the same time, however, Kashmiris are leery about “outside support”, the non-existent one from Indian Muslims and the overabundance of it from Pakistan. A Kashmiri journalist provides a nuanced understanding of this complex reality. “Most or perhaps all of us want independence,” says Sana Altaf. “The basis of our independence movement is Kashmiriat. It has little to do with religion and everything with culture. Kashmir can be anything but communal. It is about our culture which has no match with any part of India or Pakistan. We have nothing in common with them.” In her construction of Kashmiriat, Sana includes Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus), who fled the Valley in 1990 with the rise of militancy. “We never looked at them from a different prism,” she says. “They were always part of our society and culture. Pandits were wonderful teachers. They were always missed. I was small but my parents had Pandit friends.” Like most Kashmiris, she believes that the exodus of Pandits was orchestrated by Central authorities. I encountered the same view in my interviews with Kashmiri politicians and separatists over a period of several years, several of who took initiatives to bring back Jammu-based Pandits to the Valley but were failed by circumstances.
In these crosscurrents of Kashmir, the tragedy of Indian Muslims stands out in stark relief in another manner as well. Whereas a bulk of Indian Muslims are frozen in fear about a Kashmir denouement that would bring fresh misery to them, their state of being equally cornered by Hindutva forces has excited the interventionist attention of such pan-Islamic terrorist organizations as the al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Twenty years ago, India could proudly claim, as it did, that Indian Muslims were conspicuous by their absence in international jihad. They were not part of the World Trade Center attacks (9/11), did not participate in the Palestinian armed struggle despite being sympathetic to the cause, and were even missing in action in next-door Afghanistan. The idyll has been shattered. Indian intelligence agencies estimate that up to one hundred youth from Kerala in South India have constantly fought for the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and their numbers have risen in Afghanistan with the closure of the other two theatres. Fighter contributions for the Islamic State from North India are comparatively less because of its distance from Middle East transit hubs that enable “disappearances” to terrorist-held territories. Kerala is closer. There is no solace that Indian Muslim fighters inspired by the Islamic State are prosecuting jihad abroad because the blowback could come when India is least prepared.
Between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Islamic State appears to have left a greater mark on impressionable sections of the Indian Muslim population, and could even acquire totemic value for future Indian terror groups. Not only has it attracted the bulk of Indian fighters prosecuting foreign jihad, its domestic radicalization programme is on a stronger footing than that of the al-Qaeda, which in real terms, however, is still a work in progress, gestation periods for such activities being usually ten years or more. Islamic State claimed the incident in March 2017 when ten persons were wounded in an explosion at Shajapur railway station in Madhya Pradesh. Since then, at least three incidents inspired by it have been foiled: an attempt to spring its functionary from a Tamil Nadu jail in September 2018; targeted attacks on political leaders with crude pistols and a homemade rocket launcher in December 2018; and a bid by a ten-member group in January this year to poison a large religious gathering.
Such failures, however, do not mean the Islamic State threat has receded. And the recovery of crude weapons from its functionaries counter-intuitively suggests that the worst is yet to come. Islamic State has standing instructions for all theatres and cadres to use any and all available weapons, ranging from knives to automobiles. The terror of Islamic State indeed lies in its online inspirational capacities which have raced it ahead of the al-Qaeda which has only lately abandoned its person-to-person radicalization approach. Since the death of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda has struggled to recoup the grounds lost to the Islamic State, and sees itself in second place in the Indian subcontinent, where its attempts to subsume terrorism in the prophecy of Ghazwa-e-Hind (“the final battle in India”) have met with little success. On the other hand, the threat from the Islamic State is independently graded short-to-medium term, and its modules and inspired organizations (Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam, Ansar-ut-Tawhidfi Bilal al-Hind, the Popular Front of India, etc) are located in the dense clusters between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Pune, and in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and most recently West Bengal. Using low cost, high impact tactics, the aim of the Islamic State is to “aggravate” Hindu-Muslim tensions and spread fear and terror.
With Indian internet consumers expected to exceed six hundred and twenty-seven million this year which amounts to nearly forty-six percent of the population, the threat to the country from the Islamic State’s audacious and inventive online radicalization programme cannot be overstated. When Sri Lanka was rocked to its foundations by the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings which claimed two hundred and fifty-three lives and wounded five hundred, the initial suspicion was that the perpetrators had been radicalized in the Middle East. Only when the Islamic State claimed the incident was its hand revealed. Investigations quickly dashed the theory of on-location radicalization in the Middle East and came to focus on one person’s long-distance embrace of Islamic State ideology: Zahran Hashim, preacher and mastermind of the Easter Sunday attack, who died carrying it out with the others he had influenced. It has since been discovered that Zahran radicalized several youth in South India, one of who attempted a suicide attack. It is further suspected that Zahran was aided by a shadowy Islamic State network in India and Bangladesh. This network is conjectured to connect Sri Lanka, Maldives, South India and Kashmir in a web of terrorism.
Showing its readiness to expand into India for the first time in mid-2014 coinciding with Narendra Modi’s rise, the Islamic State depicted Western India in a map as part of the Islamic state of Khorasan. This triggered competition with the al-Qaeda which set up al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Not done yet, and simultaneously heightening its interest in Kashmir, where its fronts have mounted ten operations and caused twenty-two casualties, the Islamic State has since established Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir under the Khorasan section. Its singular objective is to effect a pan-India jihad and overcome the Indian state. Before the Easter Sunday bombings, the Islamic State’s expansion to South Asia was inconceivable. With the success in Sri Lanka, the Islamic State’s highly elusive leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, came alive in a video appearance for only the second time in five years, indicating the importance of South Asia for his expansion plans. Calling on his fighters to adopt a “shadowy” and “unconventional” campaign in the likeness of post-9/11 al-Qaeda strategy, he went on to say, “We recommend to all of you to attack your enemies and exhaust them in all their capabilities – human, military, economic, logistical – and in all matters. Our battle today is one of attrition and stretching the enemy.” He could almost have been speaking to India’s potential strategic overreach triggered by the decision to scrap Kashmir’s special status.
Although India is a $2.72 trillion economy in the books, a steady and palpable decline in GDP growth since at least 2016, coinciding with the Modi government’s decision to ban Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes (demonetization), has rendered that figure suspect. The former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, an Oxford University-trained economist, estimates that demonetization shaved off at least two percentage points from the economy. And soon after he quit as economic advisor to the Indian government, Dr Arvind Subramanian, also from Oxford, using ingenious econometric devices, revealed in a study for Harvard University that India had overestimated GDP growth by as much as 2.5 percent between 2011-12 and 2016-17, with the overestimation significantly pronounced after May 2014 when the present administration took office.
Despite howls of protests from government economists, Subramanian has found support for his findings from the much respected former governor of India’s Reserve Bank, Dr Raghuram Rajan. And the distinct possibility that growth may not even be the contracted official figure of 5.8 percent for the last quarter is evident from powerful signs of an economic slowdown verging on recession. Everything from sales of automobiles, cheap biscuits, FMCGs, innerwear, etc to bank lending, private investment, regenerative government expenditure and exports are down. Unemployment has gone past forty-five year highs and further massive layoffs are expected in all but a few segments. Consumption, which accounts for three-fourths of economic growth, the rest coming from investment, has slipped, with the country’s three FMCG majors, Hindustan Unilever, Dabur and Britannia, dropping to single digit growth from double. Demands for stimulus, which essentially entail cuts in goods and services taxes, which are mostly applied at twenty-eight percent but go up to almost fifty for luxury or “sin” imports, have come from industry, economists and others. However, extortionate taxes, which have driven the Modi government’s programme of wealth redistribution, one of the major reasons for his re-election this year, cannot be made benign, and the government as such stares at a depleted treasury which cannot support other forms of stimulus. Tax demands from business and industry have become so egregious, oppressive and intimidating that the indebted owner of a prominent cafe chain, V. G. Siddhartha, took his life in July this year.
In this parlous state of the economy, the Modi government has exposed the country to further vulnerabilities in Kashmir. While the stretched economy may not come to breaking point soon as even Al Baghdadi would appreciate, the strains of fighting an expanding and open-ended insurgency in Kashmir are showing. Particularly worrisome are the deficit numbers because the government reported a fiscal deficit of 3.46 percent in this year’s budget while the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pegged it at 5.85 percent on account of extra-budgetary borrowings. The borrowings have proved so opaque that The Economic Times which broke the story of the parallel CAG audit said that “the reporting is such that the actual extent of the borrowing is unclear even to budget experts”. Around the same time as this report, there was another that the Modi government was keen for provinces to share the defence burden, which is not their constitutionally-mandated responsibility but that of the Union government, which is also charged with the exclusive stewardship of the currency and foreign relations. Why the haste to spread the risks if risks they are? Is Narendra Modi anxious not to become the fall guy should new Kashmir tensions skyrocket military spending and break the bank? One will not know until it is too late.
Not only is the Narendra Modi government the most secretive of all those that have ruled India since independence, it is reckless as well in financial manipulations with an eye on the short-term with no regard for the medium or long. It will do anything for power and anything to keep Kashmir, an article of faith for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its founding organization, the RSS. The second factor is the reticence about force strengths in Kashmir, military and paramilitary, and the spending on them. This reticence has been a feature of all governments although the reigning one has made it rigorous. There is a third factor as well and it restricts to the present government. It believes offence is the best form of defence. Retaliating for a February 2019 attack in Phulwama in Kashmir when a young Kashmiri suicide bomber killed forty soldiers of a paramilitary convoy, air strikes were conducted on an alleged terrorist camp in Balakot in Pakistan. While the air strike failed in its aims, a Pakistani counter-strike with twice as many fighters as India employed in its raid more than levelled the score, and Pakistan also brought down an Indian MiG-21 and captured its pilot. The point is not that the Balakot strike failed; military failures are not unique to India. It is rather this: India has broken the taboo against striking Pakistan from the air. The escalation risk this presents is one thing. Air strikes cost a great deal. Can India mount an expansive and endless campaign with limited ratio of success and grave counter-risks without fatally haemorrhaging the economy?
Add to this an entirely new factor, brought to currency on 16 August by India’s cabinet minister of defence, Rajnath Singh. Speaking in Pokhran in Rajasthan, the site of the second Indian nuclear test in May 1999, he insinuated that the existing nuclear doctrine of no-first use (NFU) was subject to circumstantial changes. With the NFU pledge eroded, a nuclear arms race is inevitable between India and Pakistan which will prove as dangerous and costly as that between Eastern and Western Blocs in the Cold War. While India can never gain counterforce capability for a decapitating first strike against Pakistan, it cannot expect its multiple and still rudimentary defences (no country in the world can) to repulse a Pakistani countervalue attack either, which would be the only second strike option left to Islamabad. It would be Armageddon. In the slim likelihood that the balance of survival tilts towards India, China will deliver the coup de grace by pre-arranged transfer of its second-strike subsea nuclear assets to Pakistan for final revenge. This is not as outlandish as it seems. When the United States pursued Pakistan after the twin tower attacks and talks of Pakistan’s imminent denuclearization rent the air, Pakistan, in the deepest secrecy, explored the option of removing its nuclear weapons to the safety of China. Indian planners do not take into account China’s response to an Indian nuclear strike on Pakistan.
In any case, even if the extreme scenarios do not materialize as they likely won’t, the costs of the nuclear arms race could bury Pakistan and very likely India as well. Speaking of the technological trap as a precursor of the economic one as the race begins, John K. Galbraith, the late economist and former ambassador to India, said in 1980, “Each power develops the weapons that make obsolete those of the other; each anticipating this obsolescence strives to develop those that protect it from that obsolescence and provide an advantage instead.” The Indian economy has not gotten as threadbare as the Pakistani one in not being able to withstand competition. At the same time, China would ensure with balancing proliferations to Pakistan that India meets Pakistan’s fate. While India is not unaware of the guns-and-butter dynamic or the opportunity costs involved for the economy resulting from higher defence spending (new findings reveal that a one percent increase in defence spending over a twenty-year period decreases economic growth by nine percent), it debates the issue as little politically as the United States, for example. Nevertheless, the United States is redeemed by the relative transparency in transmission of defence spending data to the public. The disaggregated spending data on Operation Enduring Freedom, for instance, is readily available. And academic voices do take a firm position on the guns-versus-butter debate. A recent Brown University study of the US counterinsurgency wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan not only raises alarm about the $5.9 trillion spending coming almost entirely from borrowing, it also portrays a grim picture of “its macroeconomic costs to the US economy, the opportunity costs of not investing war dollars in alternative sectors... and local government and private war costs....” The study estimates that “interest payments (for war borrowings) could total over $8 trillion by the 2050s”.
In contrast, in the absence of Indian government data, only vague estimates are possible for the spending in Kashmir, which has the highest concentration of troops today in all of the Valley’s tragic history of insurgency since 1989. While at various times Kashmir has had force levels fluctuating between 300,000 to 600,000, it is only now that they have reached above 650,000 with their full extent unknown. According to Outlook magazine, the yearly military expenditure on Kashmir in 1997 was $837,600. The force level that year was 300,000. Factoring for 316.5 percent inflation rise between 1997 and 2019 and the presence of more than twice the force levels of 1997 today, the annual military expenditure on Kashmir totals $2.1 billion. It is still not definite that this is all the security expenses incurred on Kashmir or that even the bulk emerges from the defence budget ($61.96 billion for 2019-20, of which more than two-third go to meet salaries, pensions and running expenses). Central grants are regularly provided to Kashmir and amounted to $15.87 billion for a sixteen-year period between 2000 and 2016 according to The Hindu newspaper. Grants subsequently ballooned because of floods, demonetization and so forth. The nationalistic narrative is that most of the grants go to retaining Kashmir but Kashmiris insist these are diverted to urbanized and industrialized Hindu-majority Jammu and also cover security expenditures. The Kashmiri counter-narrative is that Kashmir’s natural resources are largely wrested by the Centre, with the leading example of this being hydroelectricity generation, in which the pre-reorganized state contributed nearly forty-five percent of the national total. In sum, not only have military expenditures in Kashmir been large and opaque and are bound to magnify with the scrapping of its special status, they have not fostered “mainstream consciousness” to any degree in inhabitants of the land, and that should prove even more the case going forward.
Whilst few are willing to accept this conclusion in India, the country, however, to all intents and purposes, is mired in Kashmir. Since 5 August, a lockdown is in place in Kashmir which increasingly gives the appearance of an open-air prison. The smallest slack in curfew or relaxation of the communication blackout has encouraged a deeply traumatized and persecuted population to fight back. Meanwhile, the Kashmir issue has been thoroughly internationalized; and China, smarting at the Union territory status accorded to Ladakh, a part of pre-reorganized Jammu and Kashmir whose eastern portions it claims, has openly sided with the Pakistani campaign in the United Nations related to Kashmir. The United States, under pressure from President Donald Trump, is keen to withdraw all but a few fighting brigades and intelligence teams from Afghanistan before the 2020 presidential election, and an orderly drawdown cannot be accomplished without the Pakistan army keeping the Taliban on a tight leash. Having effectively joined Afghan and Kashmir peace together, Pakistan wants third party mediation on Kashmir since India shows no desire to follow the letter and spirit of the 1972 Simla Agreement urging bilateral negotiations on the disputed territory. Indeed, Trump has thrice brought up the subject of mediation, but India has not entertained his quest or been delighted by it.
India’s economy is wobbly but promising and its large market continues to mesmerize the world, and the Narendra Modi government is drawing on these reserves of un-mined gold. Since stripping Kashmir of its special status, his diplomats and he have launched desperate fire-fighting operations with the Major Powers and influential Islamic states to curb Pakistan and endorse the fait accompli. The United Arab Emirates endorsed the Indian action promptly, obligated no doubt by Indian coastguards who restored the runaway Dubai princess, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Ali Maktoum, to her father, the ruler of Dubai in April last year. Others have been circumspect, calling the implementation of dead-letter United Nations’ resolutions. But they could be goaded into action because the most powerful defence of the rights of Kashmiris has come from none other than the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. Fearing that Iran may steal their thunder on an essentially Sunni Muslim issue in a replication of the Palestinian experience, the Arab states may yet return to stoke the fires of Kashmir.
The major Western powers and Russia are also in a quandary on Kashmir. Russia, in line to sell five S-400 missile systems to India for $5.4 billion, has no interest to make it more difficult for New Delhi. It has called Kashmir’s reorganization an “internal matter”. But out of deference to China, its strategic ally, it did not come out in open support at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) “closed door” consultation on Kashmir called by Beijing. Russia has also become closer to Pakistan as an ally of China and needs Islamabad’s traction with Afghan militants to keep its soft underbelly of Muslim republics and Islamic Central Asian states safe. Britain, cornered by its large electorate of Pakistani origin, with general elections due sooner or later compelled by the Brexit mess, is no longer in a position to support India. The United States and France staved off further embarrassment to New Delhi at the UNSC “closed door” by preventing a concluding public statement. All this is purely of a transactional nature. India’s vast market and insatiable appetite for Western weapons keeps Kashmir slipping from its grasp. But this makes for at best a tenuous situation.
Jihadis are encircling India in the west (Pakistan, Afghanistan), east (Bangladesh), and in the south (Sri Lanka, Maldives). If only to divert attention from its troubles in Hong Kong, China could be tempted for joint action with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. This may be farfetched but the threat exists. India’s nuclear sabre-rattling will derail its campaign for a permanent place in the UN Security Council and a seat in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. Its ambition for a “peaceful rise” may have gone up in smoke. India is more embattled today than it appears on the surface. Its ship of state has entered turbulent waters and a millenarian captain is at the wheel.