On Thursday June 24, the leaders of all political parties active in Jammu & Kashmir, but especially the Srinagar Vale, will gather in Delhi at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There will be the old knowns — the Abdullahs (Farooq & Omar) of the National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but also smaller outfits such as Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. Apni Party, in particular, promises political fireworks in the future. It has been building up its cadre and engaging in mass contact programmes before 5 August 2019 when Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution were abrogated, earning for the dissenting top echelon of the NC and PDP a longish stint of house arrest. It cleared the political space for Apni Party to put down roots. Bukhari hopes to do in the Valley what Aam Admi Party of Arvind Kejriwal did to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress in the capital — decimate them, and force their dynastic leaders into retirement, replacing them with grassroots representatives who have found their voice and a role unconstrained by the activities of the usual favour seekers and entrenched supporters of the NC and PDP.
Having participated virtually lastweek with the G-7 leaders meeting in Cornwall, UK, who emphasized the importance to international peace and order of democratically-run states, Modi wanted to be on the same page as them. Never mind that democracy may not be faring all that well in the West! The defeated Donald Trump’s residual but resilient support in America is combining with the doggedly uncooperative Republican party in opposition to erect institutional and procedural barriers to voting by minorities in all American elections. The French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face when gladhanding in a crowd, etc. Modi could have wagged a finger at them. Instead Modi addressed the unease in certain American circles about the Kashmir issue, by now calling an all J&K parties’ meeting and, as goodwill gesture, even released an aide of Mehbooba Mufti’s, Sartaj Madni.
Pakistani press and even some sections here have interpreted this Modi initiative as a precursor to the BJP government restoring the status quo ante in Kashmr with Art 370-35A back in place and a return of the tried, familiar and failed situation of the past. See https://tribune.com.pk/story/2306115/restoration-of-old-iiojk-status-on-cards. This is a gross misreading of the political tea leaves, and underestimates Modi’s nous.
By junking 370, India had passed the point of “no return” the day it was abrogated. Pakistan, the Abdullahs and the Muftis, however, have been slow to catch on. What the Prime Minister has in mind with the June 24 meeting is to encourage all the parties to participate in the separate elections in the three units — Valley, Jammu, and Ladakh, of what once constituted Indian J&K. There are no problems with Union Territories — Jammu and Ladakh.
The Valley potentially posed a problem but not anymore. That is because of a new party in Kashmir affairs, the Apni Party, which has gained traction. Without Bukhari’s outfit in the political mix NC and PDP had negative leverage in terms of the Abdullahs and Mehbooba refusing to fight elections. But with Apni Party eager to test its budding political support in the Valley, NC and PDP cannot afford to sit out an election and lose what chance they still might have to reestablish their political bonafides, presence and even their duopoly in the Muslim majority Srinagar region.
Nothing has so decisively helped Modi to advance his plan of permanently trifurcating not just J&K — ridding the system of the Art 370 anomaly was only the first step, but the politics of J&K than the emergence of Bukhari’s Apni Party.
A former Finance and Education minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s government, Bukhari was kicked out, in 2019 perhaps, because of his ambitions, and promptly founded the Apni Party which won almost instant support from the BJP. So, it is not unfair to conclude that Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari and his party are beneficiaries of Modi’s calculus. Apni party spun off from the PDP in March 2019. But Bukhari has denied he is in cahoots with the BJP. Indeed, he has publicly made common cause with the NC and PDP on the matter of restoration of statehood of J&K. He explained his two meeings with Modi — once in 2019 and another a year later as an attempt by him to convince the PM to fill the vacant government posts in J&K with locals, and to finesse the domicile rights to prevent the unhindered influx of “outsiders” into the province.
Restoring J&K’s status as a single state entity is unachievable, but even more so is the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, which are history. But Bukhari has been careful not to demand the latter! In real terms though Bukhari is likely to accept the formal territorial and political trifurcation of J&K, if he can assume the “gaddi” in Srinagar (with no latitude for the Valley government to move to Jammu in the winters!). Whether just the Valley will be designated ‘Kashmir’ is a loaded issue, but one that Modi and Amit Shah can use as leverage against the NC and PDP leadership — better to be elected and referred to as Chief Minister of Kashmir than Chief Minister of ‘Srinagar Valley’, surely.
This is precisely the denouement Islamabad fears the most, the reason for Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi repeatedly internationalizing the Kashmir issue and especially the possibility of Delhi reconfiguring Kashmir demographically by settling outsiders in the Valley to tip the balance against the Muslim population, and demanding that the UN Security Council take up the matter and bar India from proceeding to do what’s in Modi’s mind to do.
The trouble is Pakistan cannot reasonably make that case because the only relevant Security Council Resolution No. 47 of April 21, 1948 requires as prerequisite for holding a “free and impartial plebiscite” the removal of all Pakistani natives — military, police and others as of date from the erstwhile ‘princely kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir” inclusive of Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan (since referred to by Pakistan as ‘Northern Areas’). The second step was for India to remove its military but to maintain a skeletal police force to carry out constabulary functions (law & order). The final step was for a plebiscite under the UN’s aegis to ascertain the will of the peoples of all of J&K including Northern Areas. Pakistan never removed its armed forces then or at anytime soon thereafter, until now, 70-odd years later, when that prior condition, because it cannot be met, has rendered Resolution 47 moot.
In fact, in the early 1950s — I think it was 1954 — General Ayub Khan issued orders for the ‘Azad Kashmir forces’ (AKF) to be regularized and integrated into the Pakistan army. The special status of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the validity of UN Resolution 47 ended then and there. The August 2019 Art 370 abrogation only belatedly completed that process begun by Ayub Khan. This was so because AKF were made up by large remnants of the tribal Pashtun ‘raider’ force who never returned to their homes in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and settled down in POK. This raider force under then Brigadier Akbar Khan, it may be recalled, invaded the princely kingdom at Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s behest in September-October 1947. And then the worst thing that could happen from India’s point of view, happened. As advised by his nominee as free India’s first Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru decided senselessly to refer the dispute to the UN for resolution. That fatal decision is mainly to blame for the mess India finds itself in. It owns a truncated J&K minus the strategically significant Northern Areas.
For the Pakistan Foreign Office, therefore, to keep squawking interminably about getting the UN to compel India to respect and to comply with the provisions of that outdated Resolution would be understandable if Pakistan government agreed somehow and credibly to rid POK of 30%-40% of its population which can be traced genealogically to the original raider force members. How that’s to be done is anyone’s guess! Once that happens India can agree to the UN-mandated plebiscite which, given the disaffection of the mostly shia peoples of Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan, will result in most of that population voting to merge with India. Along with the bulk votes from the Ladakh and Jammu areas, the results of the plebisite will be in India’s favour — assuming every last vote in the Valley goes Pakistan’s way.
But the orginator of the idea to treat the different regions of the 1947 J&K as discrete geographic units for the purpose of ascertaining the wishes of the various peoples is not Modi but rather, Sir Owen Dixon — an Aussie judge appointed by the Security Council to obtain conditions on the ground to facilitate a plebiscite. Dixon suggested that for the ease of conducting it, it be carried out in geographically distinct territorial blocs. He concluded after touring both sides of Jammu & Kashmir that a majority of the people in Muzaffarabad and adjoining areas and in the Northern Areas were inclined to join Pakistan, while Ladakh and Jammu were for merging wth India, and the population of the Srinagar Valley was undecided but leaning towards India. Other than the changed attitude of the people of Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan, plebiscite votes 70 years later would generally fall along the lines Dixon foresaw!
Incidentally, India agreed to Dixon’s plan of thus electorally demarcating J&K for the purposes of the plebicscite, Pakistan opposed it on the grounds that Nehru had promised a plebiscite “in all of Jammu & Kashmir”!
This bit of history is to highlight the sheer ridiculousness of Pakistan’s demand. But it has not kept Qureishi and his predecessors in office from periodically making it. The Permanent Five, including Pakistan’s so-called “iron brother” China, in the Security Council are aware that this is an insurmountable problem and Resolution 47 is a dead letter, a no-go solution, and that no one can do anything about it other than to carry on disregarding Pakistan’s case for a defunct Resolution. It is akin to a hopeless and futile effort to disinter the body of a long dead relative, and to try and revive it! Then again Islamabad apparently believes in miracles! Apni Party, National Conference and the People’s Democratic party too, but for different reasons, would have to do the same — believe in miracles — to think Modi will return J&K to its status and condition prior to August 5, 2019.