Panelists discuss recent political and military developments in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s domestic politics and democratic future, and U.S. policies in the region.
ASTILL: Well, hello, everybody. Yeah, we have some sound.
I’m James Astill. I’m the bureau chief of the Economist here in D.C. I have a bit of a background in South Asia. I’ve lived and written about both Pakistan—lived in and written about both Pakistan and India. I was in Delhi from 2007 to 2011.
I’m sure you all know why we’re here. On August the 4th, the Modi government in Delhi revoked the special status, the limited autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir on a political argument that it was high time Kashmiris had no more rights and powers than any other Indian citizen. Of course, this was something that was coming down the line the instant the BJP won its strong majority in the last Lok Sabha election. It was an election manifesto item of the BJP’s. But in the event, Kashmiris have ended up with rather less than most Indian citizens because they have not only lost their limited autonomy—much-eroded limited autonomy; the crucial component was probably the inability of outsiders to buy land in the valley—but nonetheless, they lost those small autonomies, and they also lost statehood. So Jammu and Kashmir, that fibral part of India, the trigger for two major wars between India and Pakistan and a smaller war—an incident that many would call a war—lost its autonomy, lost its statehood, has been split into two parts. The remote somewhat Buddhist—45, 50 percent Buddhist—region of Ladakh will be separately run and controlled by the central government in Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmir together as a larger halved-off entity will also be run by the central government in Delhi.
As things stand, through some impressive political legerdemain the Modi government has executed this strategy. They have a democratic mandate of sorts for what they—for what they chose to do, though that is to be tested yet in the Supreme Court.
We will discuss this enormously involved topic, I think, with sort of three areas of focus.
One is very much internally to India what this—what this grab by the central government means in terms of India’s institutions and how the Supreme Court responds. It’s taking its time to respond, but how it eventually responds, as it must, to this grab will be an acid test of what this means for India’s institutions and the potential repercussions of that for other parts of India, especially the periphery, of course. The status of parts of the northeast are already topics of conversation as a consequence of this—of this event.
We’ll also talk a little bit about security, militancy in the valley, and the cross-border dimension to that, what this means in terms of the security of Kashmir and beyond.
And thirdly, we will try—insofar as we have to do all of this, we’ll look a bit more specifically at the consequences for the Indo-Pak relationship and further beyond the foreign policy/international relations dimensions to this.
And broadly speaking, we have three tremendously accomplished experts to do those three parts of this conversation. Ashutosh Varshney, Brown University, will—to my immediate right—will start off, I think, by looking at this intra-India dimension. Stephen Tankel from American University will give us his sort of throat-clearing opening thoughts on militancy and security in the Valley of Kashmir and what this might mean. And Aparna Pande will muse, thirdly, on the regional international dimensions of this.
So, with that, enough from me. Ashu, what does this mean institutionally and constitutionally for India? Where are we in—you know, in even trying to answer that question?
VARSHNEY: So the constitutional validity of New Delhi’s move is to be determined by the Supreme Court. And there are basically three issues there, and all will have a serious bearing on how democracy now evolves in India.
One, whether revocation of Article 370, which gave Kashmir, legally at least, a lot of autonomy—politically, some—rather the revocation requires a simple legislative majority or required a constitutional amendment, which is a—which, in turn, requires supermajorities and a special process.
Second, which is—
ASTILL: Why don’t you—just in case some of us need a refresher, why don’t you just walk us through very briefly how the government got round that so far and what—what is its argument for avoiding a constitutional amendment? What has it done?
VARSHNEY: It was not even raised, actually, in parliament.
ASTILL: That’s one way of getting around it.
VARSHNEY: It was not even raised in parliament. It was proposed to parliament as a simple legislative matter which will require an ordinary majority. But for scholars of democracy and for legal—(inaudible)—and scholars and lawyers, the issue is not simply rather it required a legislative majority or a special majority—which an amendment normally requires.
The second part of the constitutionality is whether a state can be turned into a union territory. Can a—can a state of Indian Federation lose its status?
ASTILL: Something that has never happened before, right?
VARSHNEY: This has never happened before. Under Article 3 of India’s constitution, a state can—a state’s boundaries can be changed by Delhi but a state cannot be demoted to a union territory. That we have not heard. So that is—whether it’s a constitutional issue or just a simply legislative matter is also in front of the court.
And the third thing in front of the court is the jailing of hundreds of leaders without a habeas corpus ruling.
So why has the judiciary still not commissioned or scheduled hearings on habeas corpus or the constitutionality of the two-way change is something we will know more about in the—in the next few months. But the very fact that even habeas corpus hearings have not been scheduled is a matter of deep concern. And if they’re not, then we would have to say that the—that judicial review, which is in principle based on a counter-majoritarian idea, since the legislature and the executive are supposed to represent electoral majorities, judiciary, we are—judicial review, in all constitutional arguments, in all political arguments, is supposed to represent not the majority but the minority. So it’s a counter-majoritarian institution. And look after individual rights as well.
Therefore, if the judiciary doesn’t even schedule hearings or pushes them for—towards June or July or so, we would have to sadly conclude that India’s judiciary is not standing up to the majoritarian impulses of the executive and the legislature, which is really not its job. The job of the judiciary is not to enhance executive power or legislative power; the job of the judiciary is to constrain executive and legislative power if some lines have been crossed.
ASTILL: And again, just for the broadest context on this, this doesn’t come in a vacuum. This testing of the court doesn’t come in a vacuum. It comes at a time when there are considerable concerns about the rule of law and the independence of institutions in India, exacerbated, we may say, by the recent ruling on Ayodhya, where it appears ultimately that the court bent towards a Hindu nationalist lobby.
VARSHNEY: Right. So not for the first time, but certainly not as ferociously ever before, an argument has emerged in Indian polity that elections are the only source of power; that our constitutionally designed independent institutions that do not depend on elections for their power must play a secondary role or tertiary role—electorally enabled power should not be challenged.
Now, the judiciary is supposed to actually, in almost all political/constitutional doctrines that I have read and that I am—that my friends, who are legal—(inaudible)—who would testify to—the judiciary is supposed to knock down this argument. The central banks are supposed to knock down this argument. Some other institutions we can think of. The press is not supposed to be governed by this either. But all of these institutions, which do not derive their legitimacy or power from elections, are in a state of siege. And Indian democracy, which was—at this point there’s no doubt it’s electorally vibrant, very vibrant, but the liberal dimensions of democracy, which have been weaker in the past also than its electoral aspects, are certainly in a state—are being attacked as only once before. That was during the Emergency.
ASTILL: Sobering thought, which we can return to.
Stephen, let’s switch to the kind of related but quite distinct, actually, area of security and militancy. What would you—so we have, as Ashu mentioned, a great suppression of the citizens of the valley right now, including their leadership, including their media. But there will be, as Ashu says, a degree of decompression. Things will return somehow somewhat to normal soon. What would you expect to see then?
TANKEL: Sure. I think—I mean, first, I think it’s safe to—it’s a safe bet to say that this has clearly fed grievances that were already, you know, quite robust, especially in the valley. Talking to security forces and officials there for a number of years, I mean, it’s been—it’s been articulated clearly to researchers and scholars the sense that it’s a lack of weapons and it’s a securitized climate that is sort of keeping the lid on more than ability to address, you know, underlying risk factors that are going to lead to militancy there. And India as been, I think, you know, on guard against the formation of new organizations and infiltration of terrorist groups, although we still get a couple hundred militants crossing the Line of Control annually.
So there’s been this—you know, there’s already—it’s already a very securitized situation. The situation has been further securitized. And I think what’s going to be a challenge for India is as it sort of does try to decompress, how it does that in a way that continues to keep the lid on to the degree that they’ve done. And I think that in part goes to the way in which militancy has been evolving in the region.
I mean, a big part of this is, obviously, the activities of Pakistan-supported groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen. And those groups, beginning around—I guess in probably 2012/2013, began trying to ramp back up their activities. And we saw higher-profile attacks beginning around 2015, and we’ve seen at least one a year more or less, and sometimes two or three of year, several of which that have spurred responses from India against Pakistan.
But alongside that has been growing protest movements for a number of years—nonviolent, also involving stone-throwing, things of that nature—that at times some of these groups have fed by providing money or try to stoke resentment, but are almost entirely indigenous, really, at the end of the day. And the suppression of these protest movements and of individuals has further stoked militancy, and I think the Pulwama attack earlier this year is a very, very good example of that—suicide bombing that killed over forty people done by a Kashmiri Muslim who, if memory serves, I think had been arrested five different times by the authorities, right? And so it’s the potential for militant organizations—in this case it as Jaish-e-Mohammed—to leverage these individuals who are becoming radicalized by this process.
But at the same time, I think there are two other developments that I would briefly point to.
One is the cooperation and competition that exists between these different organizations. And so although one organization may claim credit or one might be out front, behind the scenes I think there’s been a pooling of resources at times between LeT, JeM. For a little while they were pushing Hizbul Mujahideen out front because it was seen as more indigenous, and so that gave the sense that this was an entirely indigenous event. But simultaneously competition among them, and that can lead to outbidding.
And that highlights, I think, the other development that’s worth noting, which is that among some Kashmiri youth who are radicalized or prone to radicalization, there is I think frustration or lack of confidence in these organizations because they are seen as having failed over time. That on the one hand opens the door potentially for groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State, although I think we shouldn’t make too much of that at this stage. On the other hand it also means that there’s the potential for more disorganized violence, which nevertheless may get laid at the feet of these Pakistan-supported organizations. And so, you know, that has ramifications not only for the security situation in Kashmir, but also for relations between India and Pakistan.
ASTILL: So, to try to kind of summarize what’s complicated, it’s a tangled knot. There are for sure, when we see violence—and perhaps logically we may expect an uptick in violence in the valley—in Delhi they will scream that it’s all Pakistan’s doing, that it’s all cross-border. Actually, it may be. It need not be. It’s perfectly possible that internal grievance and actually organized groups alone and currently on the ground in Kashmir are adequate to drive a degree of protest—violent protest, insurgency even, but there will probably be enough foreign involvement for Delhi to be able to plausibly claim that the Pakistanis are involved somehow.
TANKEL: Yeah. I think it’s also notable that at the very least it appears that at this stage Pakistan has been restraining its organizations and trying to make its play in the diplomatic sphere. It’s questionable how long that restraint lasts on the Pakistani side. But again, it’s also questionable whether that restraint really matters. If, you know, locals in Kashmir are able to source explosives or get their hands on other weapons, they can act largely on their own, potentially, you know, only in name of another organization across the border.
And to the degree to which these organizations are able to maintain an infrastructure in Indian-administered Kashmir and provide assistance, you know, it’s not as though during the height of the insurgency every attack that was taking place was being supported or directed from across the border. And you know, this—what’s happening now creates the potential for, you know—for more Pulwamas, as it were.
At the same time, I think, you know, the other—the other point I would make is it’s a heavily securitized situation, and so the potential to keep a lid on attacks is still there. But what India will need to do to keep a lid on those attacks runs counter to their underlying rationale for revoking 370 and 35A. If the whole point was to develop, you know, Jammu and Kashmir and integrate them more into India, and you need to continue to securitize the environment in order to avoid an uptick in attacks, it’s going to be very, very difficult to accomplish both of those things simultaneously.
Which I would argue has been a large part of the problem all along, is that when India has talked about normalizing the situation, to normalize the situation would mean to give voice to what people on the ground actually want. And New Delhi has not had any desire to do that for years. I don’t see that changing now.
ASTILL: When you say—and I understand that you caveated this—but when you—when you say that the degree of grievance and the degree of disaffection with those same militant groups that have been on the ground for a long time in Kashmir is such that you might have conditions welcoming to Islamic State or al-Qaida, the distinction you made between Islamic State/al-Qaida and Jaish or Lashkar-e-Taiba is that they have a more internationalist vision or that they’re more ruthless? Or what’s the distinction that you’re making there?
TANKEL: More of a global vision.
TANKEL: Fewer ties to the Pakistani state. And this sense of—you know, I mean, when—to the degree that individuals—and one wants to be very, very careful about painting with too broad a brush. But to the degree to which more globally oriented organizations have been able to find purchase, it has at times been because individuals on the ground cease to become—you know, they no longer see value in sort of their—you know, a national or regional identity, and it’s much more of a—of a global identity. Or because these entities are seen as having credibility in that they have no ties to any state, they’re not beholden to local politics, they’re good online, what have you.
And this is something that has repeated itself in various places. We’re here to talk about Kashmir, so I don’t want to talk about other regions around the world. But you know, I—Kenya primarily faces an al-Shabaab problem, but there are individuals who are, you know, radicalizing online, disconnected from Shabaab and motivated by Islamic State. Same thing—we’ve seen that in Afghanistan. So that—it opens the door for that type of issue as well, which is—which is separate. It is a—it is not the same problem as a Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed problem. And it has an impact on how LeT and JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen may behave.
ASTILL: Yeah. Let’s leave that there just to lay down a marker, Ashu. I want to move on to Aparna, but we’ll come back to this.
I am particularly interested in the kind of—the internal political optics of this. You know, the Modi government has just worked out how to win stonking great electoral majorities by being as belligerent as you like against Pakistan. And it will present an argument that it’s done the right thing in Kashmir, that it’s justified by whatever cross-border its own actions have elicited. If the violent, we may expect, protests that erupt in Kashmir—we may expect; there may not—come to seem far more domestic, I think the politics shifts internally in India in a potentially interesting way. Aparna, can you—can you kind of widen the focus for us? What is—what’s going on in Pakistan? What does it mean for the regional relations and beyond?
PANDE: Thanks, James. I’d like to thank CFR.
So both countries have actually looked at Kashmir through a slightly different lens, and the way they portray it to the international community is also different. For India, Kashmir has for decades remained what they see as a bilateral or internal matter; whereas, for Pakistan, the aim has always been to internationalize the issue as much as possible.
So India’s argument is it is Indian territory, the instrument of accession, and elections mean the people want to stay with India. Pakistan’s argument is that a plebiscite should be conducted as per the U.N. Security resolution—which actually the last one was passed in ’57, which is before a large number of us were born in this room, and so you may need a newer resolution.
Till quite recently India used to say that the Simla Agreement of 1972 is the one by which the two countries should discuss. In recent, actually, months, India has started to say that when India says Kashmir and discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, it only means the Pakistani part of Kashmir, and there’s no discussion on Indian Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, however, treats the Simla Agreement as something that was imposed, and therefore does not believe it needs to abide by that.
What has happened in recent months is I’ll sort of go along with Stephen and say that Pakistan’s dichotomy today is that on the one hand it would like more pressure on India which is internal and from domestic jihadi groups. However, as of now, any jihadi attack or attack inside India—inside Indian Kashmir will be the first explosion will come on Pakistan. And when Pakistan faces international pressure at FATF, IMF, and the international community, it would not want an attack which can be traced back to Pakistan. However, no attack and no pressure on India domestically also does not suit the Pakistani military establishment. So it is caught between trying to push for a diplomatic pressure on Pakistan through the international community and not wanting—and ideally not wanting any attack inside India, and yet that may not actually happen because it’s most likely that a terror attack will happen sooner or later inside Indian Kashmir.
One point I’d like to make—like to push here is that India believes it has resolved the issue, according to New Delhi, and it has presented the world with what it sees as a fait accompli, and that India’s friends should give it the benefit of doubt and allow it time to restore the situation. India is fortunate that as of now Pakistan’s attempts to raise the matter at the U.N. Security Council have not succeeded, and there is by and large an international consensus that terrorism is not acceptable.
However, there have been growing concerns in the last few months. The U.S. State Department, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the French president have reiterated that India needs to do more, especially with respect to the situation inside the valley, and that the situation is not sustainable.
India has sought—has—to avoid internationalization. However, I would argue that the recent move has actually resulted in the exact opposite. This is the first time since the 1990s that there have been two hearings on Kashmir on the Hill, and that people are actually talking about Kashmir and domestic situation of Kashmir, which India would not have wanted. And nobody’s pushing for a resolution of Kashmir right now, but the issue will—till the time that you actually resolve the issue legally and properly in the eyes of some, it will remain something that New Delhi will have to deal with.
A different American, French, German, or British leader can bring the issue back to the U.N. Security Council. China will always support Pakistan. What India needs to be concerned about is how do the others—other countries, which are Indian friends and partners, how do they view India’s policies, and how long can India hope that the international community will give India the benefit of doubt.
ASTILL: Thank you, Aparna. I think you may have explained to us why India didn’t leap at President Trump’s offered meetings—
PANDE: Yes. (Laughter.)
ASTILL: —on this issue.
Let me—let me briefly—and then I’d like to turn it over to you, the audience, so you’ve all got a decent opportunity to ask your questions—let me just briefly try to play devil’s advocate here. We know that the—that the highly damaging Pakistani (4G ?) state, the military state, has been—has lived on this fantasy of an Indian threat entirely based around the uncertain status of the Valley of Kashmir, and that, you know, Pakistani (4Gs ?) especially will cite you chapter and verse of long-ago Security Council resolutions and, you know, sort of storied dreams of plebiscites, things that have never looked remotely feasible for decades now. Is there in any way a realist/pragmatic argument that one could attach any credibility to that India has in a brutal way dispelled some of that fantasy; has made the status of Kashmir entirely no longer a subject for international debate; and though we are living through an illiberal, undemocratic, and reprehensible moment in India, it need not have negative consequences for the region? Could you attach any hope to that—(inaudible)—the valiant devil’s advocacy argument?
VARSHNEY: Illiberal moment for sure, but not undemocratic. Electoral democracy is thriving in India. Illiberal for sure. So I think we’ll have to draw a distinction between the—
ASTILL: I think—I think Kashmiris might take issue with that.
PANDE: (Laughs.) So, yes, I mean, I do believe that New Delhi views it just as you explained it, that sort of let us try and sort of present the world with the option that sort of, you know, Jammu and Kashmir—
ASTILL: That it’s a fait accompli, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
PANDE: Yeah, it’s fait accompli, try and avoid intervention. Sort of if we recall a few months ago, President Trump did offer in July of this year to mediate. India is concerned that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to pressure on India as a quid pro quo for Pakistan helping in Afghanistan, so try and remove the options which come in the quid pro quo in case Kashmir is one of those. So present the world, present Pakistan, and then see how the world reacts.
I mean, the only part I would add to it is this sort of—this could work out if in the next few months/years there’s actual democracy and development in the valley. But if in the next few months/years we are sort of—we see just a repetition of what’s happening right now, then I think they will have a—New Delhi will have a problem in selling it.
ASTILL: I mean, to both of you, because both of your comments touched on this—all three of you, actually—do you feel that the valley is winnable by Delhi? Do you think that there are things from this base that the central government could do to mollify public opinion in Kashmir?
PANDE: Yes, but they would have to do things which they may or may not be very comfortable with, which is sort of trying to sort of, first, release the politicians, try and restore a sense of normalcy in the valley, because without that you cannot bring in the money and the development that you seek to bring into that region. And try and make the valley feel that it is part of India, not a territory which you need to keep under your control.
ASTILL: Yeah. Thanks, Aparna.
Could I just have a brief show of hands, who might like to ask a question in the next thirty minutes? Just a fluttering of arms in the air. OK, fine. (Laughter.) Well, then let’s start with some. Gentleman here. If you’d just tell us your name and address a short, brief, pointed question to whoever you—
Q: Yes. My name is Islam Siddiqui. I’m former undersecretary of agriculture in USDA.
I have been at—I’m part of the Indian diaspora and a very strong supporter of secular and democratic India. I think what—events in Kashmir, I have a question for—especially, Aparna, for you. And you mentioned that the last three—India’s relationship with—New Delhi especially—with Kashmir has been very tense from the very beginning, 1948. Now these actions of August 4 or 5, they are creating new, you know, dynamics for—if we want to make Kashmiris to feel more Indian, what Mr. Modi has done is just the opposite what he should have done. And now my question is, how do we put the genie back? Because I would like to see the situation becomes what had existed before August 4. Thank you.
ASTILL: Let me—let me add something to that question because I think it’s the question I just asked now. So of course, you know, the central government will always say development is the answer; these people just need economic development. It’s the standard response in this kind of situation. How sufficient would economic development—which has never come to the valley—be? Or do people feel that their sovereignty has been removed from them, and they will not be mollified unless they’re given some greater freedoms than Delhi imagines them enjoying? So certainly perhaps a return to statehood, and perhaps something more. Do you want to comment on that, Ashu?
VARSHNEY: Yeah. So this is certainly not a way to win hearts and minds, it should be clear. Delhi could in principle—and Jaishankar—Foreign Minister Jaishankar has made this argument in a couple of interviews that we need time to slide back to normalcy. But that argument—if the argument only is that development will deliver Kashmiri hearts and minds to India, then first of all that argument is wrong in principle because it’s democracy and development which might do it, as opposed to only development.
Secondly, if the—if the security situation remains tricky, it’s not clear why private investors would go into the valley. Private investors will go into Jammu, and there is enough money to be made in Jammu. And now you can legally buy land there if you’re a non-Kashmiri. You can buy land for whatever you have to do. So they will do it in Jammu. Why would they go to the valley, where there might be attacks on their—on their business installations?
So I think—I don’t see how development alone, were it to happen, would do it, right? There has to be some that turn to democracies, you know, however wish to conceptualize it, that important experience of life.
ASTILL: And on that, just to touch where I started, how important is statehood, do you think?
VARSHNEY: It seems to me if Mr. Modi loses the next election—and as of now we can’t say anything about that, whether he’d win or he’d lose—and it seems to me if the Supreme Court allows simply a legislative change, then the next government can change the special status, through its control over the two houses.
So I—if it’s simply a legislative matter, then Kashmir’s older status can return. If it’s a constitutional matter, then we—then we’re in very different political—
ASTILL: But are you—when you say that they need not only development but more democracy, is it possible to—Steve, I’ll come to you—is it possible to envisage that without a return to either statehood or even super-statehood?
VARSHNEY: Mr. Modi’s proposal is that as a union territory, Kashmir—Jammu and Kashmir can vote in elections because they can have their own legislative assembly. That assembly will be reporting to Delhi, right? But a legislative assembly can come about as soon as the situation is normal, or somewhat normal.
I don’t see how the Valley of Kashmir will accept their argument. The Valley of Kashmir at the very least would like the special status back.
VARSHNEY: And if you want to say that special status was bogus and had been substantially politically attenuated in any case, well, its symbolic importance remains. Its symbolic importance remains.
ASTILL: The land issue is—was quite a substantial difference, right?
VARSHNEY: It may be that they’re able to get the special status back, but they may not be able to hold on to Article 35A. There was something obviously very troubling about the fact that non-Kashmiris could not buy land in Kashmir at all.
VARSHNEY: There was something—it’s not clear that even—from either liberal or democratic perspective would support that. There was something terrible about that.
ASTILL: Steve. Let me—
TANKEL: Yeah, I just wanted to add a couple points. One, I agree with Ashu that development alone is not going to solve this problem. I think that the attempt to sort of overlook the sentiments of a whole lot of Kashmiris in terms of their desires for greater autonomy is—seems very, very naïve to me. But I would also add to that that when it comes to sort of the question of democracy and politics, that it’s not—there’s these macro questions about what happens with 370, but it’s also the fact that for a long time the politics in India-administered Kashmir didn’t work particularly well. There was a fair amount of meddling and patronage and everything else and the sense that New Delhi was involved in negative, not positive, ways in the politics of the region. And unless that changes as well, I think it’s very, very hard to see how the government accomplishes what it wants to.
I would also, just to reinforce Ashu’s point and expand on it, I think there’s this question of development for whom? Right now development has taken a step backwards. Terrorism is down, investment is down, it’s very, very hard to see how it’s going to come anytime soon. But when it does, I think there’s real questions about who that development is going to benefit in J&K.
And then finally I would just circle back and expand on the point that I was making earlier, which is that all of this idea of normalcy presumes a future in which there are not hundreds of thousands of Indian forces on the ground trying to keep a lid on the situation. And this idea that development is going to magically, for all the reasons I and Ashu and others have laid out, wipe away all of these grievances is again, I think, hopelessly naïve. And so as long as New Delhi is concerned about the security situation and has all of these forces on the ground, I think it’s very, very hard to see how the type of integration that is envisaged actually occurs.
ASTILL: Yeah. Yeah.
PANDE: Just a brief point, brief.
ASTILL: Just briefly, Aparna.
PANDE: One, for the last seven decades the aspiration of a large number of people in India has been to acquire statehood, not to be deprived of statehood. So I just thought of—you know, it’s like—so to say that, you know, you don’t care whether you are a state, you should ask Telangana or the—I mean, the Bodo still demand. So there are parts of India which still demand statehood. So reversing it is something very contrary for the last seven decades.
Quick, a small point, Article 35A may seem unnatural, but we must not forget that there are many parts of India where outsiders cannot buy land. I come from Uttarackhand. I can buy land there, other Indians cannot. So Helian tribal areas in India do get special status and outsiders are not allowed to buy land unless you are a domicile of that area. It’s not sort of—so it’s—there are many other states which have that as well.
ASTILL: It’s not so unusual, yeah, yeah.
Let’s kick it back to the audience. The gentleman at the back there.
Q: Hi. Puneet Talwar, a former government official.
If you were to construct a back channel between—involving Pakistan, India, Kashmiris, who would you have in the room in that back channel?
Secondly, should the United States play a more aggressive role? And if so, what would that look like?
ASTILL: Aparna, do you want to respond to that?
PANDE: Actually, there have been a lot of track twos, track one-point-five, track threes over the last few decades, and they haven’t really gone anywhere. And part of the reason is that it’s the same people who come from both sides. From the Pakistani side you find the military establishment and its approved people who come. And till you—till that is changed, I don’t—and from the Indian side again, sort of a set number of people. So till the composition changes, which it will not because each government does arrogate to itself, especially the Pakistanis side, who goes to these track twos, I don’t believe these track twos will make any difference.
Secondly, with the change that India has undertaken right now, the Indian government will sort of—till it is—till the issue of Kashmir, Article 370, the repercussions is settled, I don’t really see any track two, track 2.5 going anywhere except people will have an opportunity to meet in really nice places around the world. Wait, the second part of your—yeah, the U.S.
I sort of—I do believe the United States, both the government as well as the legislature, have sort of—have expressed their views. I don’t believe sort of saying more than that will make a difference to anybody right now, but I do believe that what is being done should not be stopped either. I do believe as friends you’re supposed to tell your friend when you don’t agree or when you believe they are—they’re doing something which you don’t agree with or you don’t think looks good. That’s my take.
VARSHNEY: If there’s a Democratic administration—if I may?—next year, will that change America’s—Washington’s position?
PANDE: Official, I don’t think so. I mean, President Trump did offer to mediate and the pushback immediately came that said that, you know, we are happy to mediate if and when both India and Pakistan ask us to do so. So I don’t think that part will change. Will the number of hearings? Let’s say we are in the same situation one year from now and Kashmir is—continues the way it is today, then yes, the hearings on the Hill and the statements will be worse. But I don’t believe—
ASTILL: And broadly the continuity in U.S.-India relations, the idea that there’s a bigger prize out there than Indo-Pak relations and piddling Kashmir, it is now pretty bipartisan and conventional wisdom in this city, I think.
TANKEL: I remember asking somebody at the Embassy a while ago in Delhi, every time I would go I’d say how often are you visiting Srinagar or the valley, and over the years the number of times that people were going up there was declining because it was becoming less and less of an issue in the bilateral relationship.
ASTILL: And then only to ski.
TANKEL: So my, just for what it’s worth, I think there’s—right, it’s also important to distinguish between whether the U.S. position on how India and Pakistan and the Kashmiris sort out that—the final status versus raising the—to Aparna’s point, the question of human rights and repressive policies. Those are, I think, potentially two different issues for a Democratic administration, and I think there’ll be continuity on the former, but more focus on the latter.
ASTILL: Yeah. Yeah.
VARSNEY: Aparna, do you agree with the claim often made that Democratic administrations in Washington tend to care more about human rights than the Republican administrations? Do you think that that particular argument is supportable at all?
PANDE: I don’t, actually. I sort of—let me brief this way, that for the last two decades, ever since President Clinton and the improvement in the deepening of the economic and strategic aspect of the India-U.S relationship, there has been a sort of change, or let’s say a reluctance by either side to push the other on issues, which may have sort of happened more in the ’70s and ’80s. So India will not talk about a foreign hand and the U.S. will sort of, except for—let’s leave out the nuclear tests of the late 1990s—the U.S. does not sort of again talk about mediation in Kashmir. So there has been a change and I don’t believe that will change, irrespective of who the president is next November.
President Obama, it did not change. So President Bush, President Obama, even President Trump to some extent, there has been a continuity you can see. And I believe that the last two hearings in the last one month are not because of any change in how the current administration views India. It has more to do with what is happening in Kashmir. So it’s not a narrative which India needs to change.
ASTILL: A bit of muscle memory—a bit of muscle memory on the Hill.
PANDE: Yeah. So it’s not a question that India—the narrative India needs to change in this is that India needs to do more on the ground in order to—in order for things to move ahead in this city.
ASTILL: Let’s look for other questions. Any women? (Laughter.) Alyssa (sp)? Yes.
TANKEL: There you go. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi, guys. I’ve got a couple of things, I guess. First of all, I actually spoke—oh, sorry. Uscerf Ausli (ph) from OSD Policy.
I actually spoke on the Hill last week about Kashmir and I feel like there’s a couple of things being said today that don’t really align with kind of ground realities—one being this development, kind of like a BJP state-line narrative that development in Kashmir is the issue for why India entered and changed its status. But if you look at all the economic indicators for Kashmir, it’s not in the lowest of India; it’s pretty middling. It’s—and considering the fact that it’s been very heavily militarized, very heavily not-tourist-friendly, it’s actually not like—this economic development argument doesn’t hold a lot.
The reason people haven’t come in—like last month a congressman was denied entry—is because so many human rights observers and impartial observers aren’t allowed into Kashmir. So it’s kind of a communications black box. For the last four months the internet has been off. Landlines got turned on maybe like a month ago, texting is off, cell phones are off. So it’s very much—it’s not just that they took away special status; they took away a lot of human rights and a lot of just regular daily activities from people.
So I just feel like—I guess I’m having a hard time with this conversation. I think—I actually have a question, which is my understanding was that—and again, because of the communications blackout, I think it’s hard to know what’s happening on the ground right now—is that in Jammu the government had thought people would be very, very happy about this change of status, and that people weren’t happy and they took away the internet in Jammu. And I was wondering if you guys could speak to that, because I really don’t know.
ASTILL: So your question is how is this going down in Jammu?
Q: Yes. That’s my question.
VARSHNEY: Well, historically, as well as in more recent times, there’s no doubt Jammu, which is roughly 44 percent of the state and is in the majority. A lot of you know, but perhaps all don’t know that it’s in the majority part of the region of the state—65 percent, roughly 65 percent, now I think 63. But anyway, 63 to 65 percent Hindu and 32 to 35 percent Muslim has been Jammu’s demographic makeup. And Jammu has never gone with the valley. Never. At no point. And even recent—we have some recent survey data to show that Jammu’s identification with India is not the issue. Jammu seriously identifies with India. Ladakh also identifies with India. The problem is the valley, which is where 55 percent of the state’s population lives currently, and it’s 96 percent Muslim.
ASTILL: To the extent—and we were discussing this in the green room earlier—that in Jammu they’re perfectly happy to be controlled by Delhi, to be reporting to Delhi, because they’re no longer being bullied by the Muslims up the road, as they—as they may say.
VARSHNEY: Yeah, so both Ladakh and Jammu have—there’ve been movements also, at least in Jammu there have been movements. Ladakh is—Ladakh is sort of a Sleeping Beauty, right? So it’s not—not too much happens there unless there’s a—like Wales. Sleeping Beauty. You know, as they were telling me, it was for Wales as opposed to Scotland.
ASTILL: I’ve never heard that before. (Laughter.) I like it a lot.
VARSHNEY: In national literature that’s what Wales is called when you compare Wales and Scotland. (Laughter.)
Anyway, the point is—the point is that Jammu and Ladakh have felt the domination of Kashmiris and the valley acutely. And that’s 45 percent of the state. Fifty-five percent is in the valley. So that complicates the internal political situation immeasurably, if you will. And they have no trouble being ruled by Delhi because they are not going to be ruled by the valley now.
Historically the attempt of Sheikh Abdullah’s party was to be a party of all parts of Jammu and Kashmir. To some extent they succeeded for a little bit of time, but they didn’t on the whole, and also Sheikh Abdullah was incarcerated for such a long time. So you don’t have a meeting of minds or merging of hearts here between Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir. They have resented Kashmiri dominance of the state.
ASTILL: Yes. Well, thank you for that.
Another question or two. Gentleman here? Yes? The gentleman here with the beard, actually.
Q: We both have questions. (Laughter.)
ASTILL: Oh, of course. Twin brothers sitting there with their hands up at the same time. Thanks, guys. One after the other then.
Q: Hi. My name is Razi Hashmi. I’m a Term member and also with the State Department.
So with both the legislative and executive branches being denied access, the communications blockade, the closing of the mosque in Srinagar, how do we expect to hear voices of the Kashmiris to be elevated on what they truly want? So I know that’s kind of similar to Uscerf’s (ph) question, but I really—I do honestly want to know how are we supposed to hear from Kashmiris if we can’t hear from Kashmiris?
ASTILL: Who would like to—
VARSHNEY: So I think the government’s argument is clear, whether you believe it is a separate issue. Government’s argument is that as soon as we are near normalcy there will be elections. The elections will be for the state assembly, which would report to Delhi. Right? Their argument is very clear on this, that there will be elections at an appropriate time.
Now, they think it should happen sooner than later. We don’t know when that’ll happen. We absolutely do not know when that’ll happen. And if the idea in an election that you should be in control of your destiny and not be ruled by Delhi, that’s off the table and sadly, one element of democratic aspirations will not be part of even that election.
ASTILL: Do you think Kashmiris would boycott an election?
VARSHNEY: Most probably the valley will boycott the elections.
PANDE: Just like to add on that from the government’s perspective, they have started to ease the restrictions to the extent that they can control them. So they have restored some of the landlines, some of the cell phones, but only those which they can control. They have sort of—they’ve also sort of had those local body elections. So you may or may not believe what they are doing, but from their point of view they are easing it and controlling it. And they would ideally like political leaders—and I’ll draw on what Stephen mentioned earlier, they would like political leaders who are not the old political leaders. They would like a new political class to emerge. Will that emerge? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. Because at the end of the day, Kashmiris would like to be governed by people they believe will represent them. And so if this experiment succeeds, then there will be democracy and development. Otherwise, there may be a bigger challenge on their hands six months from now.
TANKEL: Yeah, could I just say I think, taking on board what both of my colleagues on the panel have said, I think the answer to your question is it’s very hard to hear from Kashmiris right now because of the present situation. And it is entirely unclear when all of these restrictions are going to ease and it’s not clear to me at least—maybe it is to somebody else—whether this is proceeding along the timeline of what New Delhi had actually envisioned or not.
My sense is that this is dragging on considerably longer than they might have anticipated, based on conversations that I had when I was in Delhi, when this was going down initially. Although that may have been the interlocutors with whom I was speaking in the government, and others may have had other ideas. But I think in answer to your question and to the—to other questions about how do we know what is happening on the ground? I just—it’s incredibly frustrating, but I think the answer is to a large extent we don’t, and that is a major part of the problem.
ASTILL: I guess just a brief point of information from you, Ashu, that the Supreme Court has taken a habeas corpus petition, right? And so—
VARSHNEY: Not yet.
ASTILL: It has not?
VARSHNEY: No, no, sorry. Petitions have been admitted, but hearings have not—
VARSHNEY: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Habeas corpus petitions have not been admitted. On habeas corpus.
ASTILL: Is that right?
VARSHNEY: But on Article 370 and—petitions have been admitted.
ASTILL: Right. OK, thank you.
Other gentleman with a beard at the same stable.
VARSHNEY: But the habeas corpus hearings have to be scheduled very quickly, right? Twenty-four hours, forty-eight hours.
ASTILL: Yeah. Yeah.
VARSHNEY: No, the petitions have not been admitted.
ASTILL: Yeah. OK. My mistake, thank you.
Q: Hi. Samir Alwani from the Simpson Center.
I’m just wondering a little bit about in the grand scheme of things, these actions that India has taken, do they give any of its partners, including the United States, pause about whether this is an aberration, sort of a one-off, Kashmir is sort of the unique situation, or whether this presages sort of a more illiberal turn generally, and then what that means for future relationships, partners which are the community of Western democracies.
ASTILL: I feel we’ve been dancing around that a little bit. Aparna, do you want to kind of give a succinct response?
PANDE: Sure. I’ll try.
The second part of your question, no, I don’t think that most countries choose their friends or allies or their partners based on norms. They by and large do it based on strategic interests. So India still remains important on the economic and strategic front and as long as it remains important on that, I don’t believe any of the Western or non-Western countries will start to change their views on whether or not India is a partner.
On the first, yes. I mean, there are those who believe that there’s a trend, but then it’s a global trend. So at some level the argument can be made that there’s a rise in nationalism, populism, illiberal democracy, all around the world. And India is not the only country which is experiencing it.
So if there’s a global trend, then you are more willing to give countries benefit of the doubt and wait, especially countries which have only had institutions for seven decades, unlike many others which have gone through two hundred, three hundred years and still are facing challenges on the democratic front.
ASTILL: We’ve got five minutes left, so let’s go back to the audience.
Yes, here. Gentleman here.
Q: Steve Kaplan.
It sounds from what the panel’s been saying that at best this is a barely manageable, barely controllable issue for the next ten or twenty years, because of the difficulties in winning the hearts and minds, if not the impossibility of that, of the 55 percent in particular. And secondly, what hasn’t been talked about that much, the issue of whether Pakistan, the Pakistani military, could ever accept even a mollified 55 percent. Comments?
ASTILL: Show of hands. I mean, do you accept that characterization? Does anybody think this is going to end well in the next decade or two?
PANDE: No. No. No.
VARSHNEY: But the Pakistani—
ASTILL: Stephen, you want to give a more articulated answer, it seemed to—
TANKEL: Well, I mean, I think it’s also right, important to recognize that for the last couple decades, that for a long time India has been the status quo power in the India-Pakistan dynamic, and that India now has attempted to change the status quo to its advantage, and that for several decades now it has managed to sort of weather the storm and ride this out to a point that now it has made this move. And I guess another way of asking that question is, is India prepared to just keep a lid on this and weather the storm for another ten or twenty years, if that shifts the status quo in a way that suits it sort of at the very least domestically? And my sense is probably yes. Would Pakistan—will Pakistan accept that? No. I mean, that is very, very hard to imagine.
ASTILL: Aparna, do you want to add to that?
PANDE: I just wanted to add on to Steve that the Pakistani military establishment will never accept Kashmir unless Kashmir forms part of Pakistan. So till the time that they change their view, that isn’t changing.
ASTILL: I think we have time for one more question. Yes.
Q: I’m Jennifer Hendrickson, White House Foreign Affairs Committee, and thank you so much for this conversation.
I was wondering if you could comment a little bit about another significant power that is proximate to this situation, China, and how developments might impact their thinking about the region and other territorial disputes that they have with India and, frankly, other neighbors?
ASTILL: Sure. Aparna again?
PANDE: So on Kashmir, actually China’s stance has been very clear for the last three, four decades. China is the country that supports Pakistan on Kashmir. China is the country which brings Kashmir if possible to the U.N. Security Council whenever required. And China has part of what India claims on—as Kashmir, which is the Aksai Chin area, that China controls it. And so—and so when India undertook the recent move, China was one of the first few countries to object to it, saying that it impinges on Chinese security. So China will remain involved and will continue to support Pakistan, not India, on the Kashmiri dispute internationally.
ASTILL: What is the potential, actually, for this to exacerbate Indo-Chinese border disputes?
PANDE: So India-China relations are more likely to exacerbate on the other side, because this side China more or less has Aksai Chin, so that—so it’s going to be on the Arunachal—
PANDE: —the northeast side.
ASTILL: Yeah, the northeast side.
PANDE: That is where the—
ASTILL: Arunachal. Arunachal.
PANDE: Arunachal. That is where Tawang and that area that the India-China border tensions will take place, not on this side of the border. Or maritime.
ASTILL: And the dynamics of those disputes will—China is a—is a more calculating power than—
PANDE: Much more calculating, and I mean, militarily and economically more capable and powerful.
ASTILL: Yes. Yes.
Let me give you all a final word. What is the thing that you are looking for now on your—on your thread of this conversation or another?
VARSHNEY: What is it that you would like—you would want to happen, or what is it that is likely to happen? Which.
ASTILL: Are you asking me or that’s what you’re asking yourself?
VARSHNEY: I’m asking you which of—those two are different—
ASTILL: So the gentleman characterized this conversation very well. There is a degree of concern on multiple fronts. There is no discernible optimism from any of you that this is going to unpick the knot that Kashmir has been in in Indian domestic politics and regional geopolitics for considerable time. What is the thing that most worries you, I guess, or what is the thing that would reassure you somewhat in the—
VARSHNEY: Jammu Ladakh will surge ahead and Kashmir will remain deadlocked, the valley will remain deadlocked. And that, to some, may be a matter of considerable comfort if two parts of the state surge ahead, which I think they will. But I—but the fact remains that the valley is politically central to—or central to Indian politics in the way the other two units are not. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, but purely empirically speaking. Therefore, the likelihood of continuing deadlocked in Kashmir Valley is to me a matter of great concern.
ASTILL: Thank you for that.
Steve and then Aparna, thirty seconds each, no more.
TANKEL: Two points. One, I think we’re unlikely to see a return to the levels of conflict that we saw during the 1990s or early 2000s, but the security situation has arguably become more unpredictable, so even if India can weather that storm I think that unpredictability in that neighborhood is cause for concern. And then to respond to Samir’s point, or question, while I would agree with Aparna that this probably doesn’t change the trajectory of the U.S.-India relationship, I think it does undercut one of the sort of key arguments that has been made for that relationship, and that’s problematic.
ASTILL: That it’s a liberal democracy?
TANKEL: That it’s—yeah. I mean, a lot of this has been discussion of common values. Now, I understand we are sitting in a very, very glass house here in the United States right now, but nevertheless, I think this is potentially problematic down the road.
ASTILL: Thanks, Steve.
PANDE: Two. One, what is Pakistan going to do and how will it affect not just Kashmir, but even Pakistan? Because the Pakistani military establishment cannot keep quiet for so long on what is happening inside Kashmir and the steps it takes, any actions by the jihadi groups or Pakistan’s diplomatic actions in the next few months. We need to see both for Kashmir and for Pakistan.
Second, I do agree with Steve. I mean, there has been a hit to India’s image in the world and the question is, do they have a plan in the next few months or are we going to see a continuation of this for the next six months to eight months? I guess what I’m interested in seeing what is their blueprint for the next six to eight months.
ASTILL: Thank you all. Thank you all very much, and please join with me in thanking our three tremendous panelists, Aparna, Stephen, Ashu. (Applause.) Thank you very much.