Testing times

Published On: September 3, 2019 01:30 AM NPT By: Gopal Thapa

With the new developments in Kashmir, Nepal may have to listen to and deal with the pressures and persuasions from India, China and Pakistan, all at the same time

The South Asian region has suddenly been on the international spotlight, in the aftermath of dramatic developments in Jammu and Kashmir. That these developments have consequences for the peace, stability and security of the whole South Asian region is unmistakable. Many fear that if not managed in time through peaceful dialogue, it has the potential for endangering international peace and security. It is also not possible either to predict the shape of things to come so soon. These are indeed the testing times.

Debate and dimensions
Within India, fierce debates are raging on the legality of the abrogation decision and its possible implication for India’s peace, security and stability. For a quick understanding of the issue, it would be useful to cite a few insightful observations made by one acclaimed Indian constitution expert. Professor Faizan Mustafa, a renowned constituonal expert and vice-chancellor of Nalsa University in Haiderabad thinks the centre’s move is not only posing a question about constitutionalism but also strikes at federalism, the basic structure of Indian constitution.

Writing in The Indian Express on August 14, he says: “India has a constitution but centre’s move on Kashmir poses questions about “constitutionalism.” Constitutionalism tries to limit the power of constitutional authorities through doctrines of rule of law, which as opposed to rule by law, ensures equality before law to all the non-arbitrary use of power.” He further argues that “federalism is the basic structure of the constitution and it means sharing of power between the centre and states. Since the Kashmir Assembly would have opposed bifurcation of the state into two UTs (Union Territories), we did not hold assembly elections along with Loksabha polls. Now, currently the state is under President Rule and the parliament has exercised the power of assembly.This means we have gone against the spirit of constitution and made it a “plaything.” 

There are mixed reactions even in terms of “gain and loss” for the centre and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Many, including Faizan Mustafa, regard that Jammu and Kashmir had lost the status of a “single state.” It has lost its own flag and constitution.It has now been demoted to two Union territories. From now on, in place of Governor, there will be Lieutenant Governor as representative of the President. The centre has also lost one of its states. Now, India will have only 28 states, instead of 29.  Similarly, several benefits enjoyed by the Kashmiri people so far will be ended. Among many others, Mustafa cites right to free education. Till now, education up to the university level was free in Kashmir. According to the state constitution the centre could impose Presidential rule up to seven years in Kashmir. But in other states this is only up to three years. So, argues Mustafa, the center has now lost that important constitutional leverage too.

Going by his argument, it seems it is only an emotional victory of BJP’s Akhandabharat agenda. 
Many experts believe that this special status abrogation issue is multi-dimensional and that it has internal, bilateral, trilateral and even international angles. It has internal dimension because it has to do with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Many countries say it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. China’s claim on part of its territory gives it trilateral dimension. This issue has also been discussed in some ways in the United Nations in the past and as recently as a few weeks ago. Pakistan, therefore, says it has international dimensions, which India dismisses outright. 
Viewed from these perspectives, the end of special status without taking the people of Kashmir valley into confidence, many fear, may pose serious threats to the peace and security, not only for South Asian region but also the whole world. There is valid reason behind this fear. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear countries. Even in terms of conventional weapons, both are armed to the teeth.

A lot depends on how Indian government works to help bring normalcy in Kashmir.  I am reminded of Mira Shankar, a retired Indian senior Foreign Service officer and former Indian Ambassador to Washington, who in one of a TV interviews said that the problem for the government is not external and it is internal. It is therefore dependent upon how quickly peace is restored and how soon and effectively the government reaches out to the people of the valley in providing a healing touch to them, she further said. The government may maintain peace through sheer presence of military force. But enforced peace is only temporary. Enduring peace is only when people own it up.  

Tightrope for Nepal 
These are difficult and delicate times for Nepal. With the new developments in Kashmir, Nepal may have to listen to and deal with the pressures and persuasions from India, China and Pakistan, all at the same time. It is the time that requires display of diplomacy that is of highest order. It is also the time to demonstrate high level of diplomatic poise and prudence.  

Nepal can be under covert and overt pressure from India, China and Pakistan to toe their line on Kashmir.  Nepal should not be swayed by what these countries say Nepal should do. Indian fear may have been that if internal situation in Kashmir deteriorates, extremist elements, taking advantage of the situation, may infiltrate into Nepal and sneak into India to create problem. Indian Foreign Minister in his recent visit to Nepal may have raised this apprehension with our prime minister and other important national personalities and warned us to remain alert. Many think there is no telling of Narendra Modi’s mercurial moods and actions. Both in domestic and foreign policy matters his actions are marked by what they call “element of surprise.” 

His decisions to impose economic blockade on Nepal came as quickly and unexpectedly as the ending of special status in Jammu and Kashmir was swift, surgical and surprising.

Similarly, Pakistan has already shown its concern. Pakistani foreign minister had reportedly called our foreign minister asking to play a proactive role as current chair of SAARC to help resolve this issue. China may also want Nepal not to be seen as openly involved in this issue. So far, Nepal has conducted itself in a matured and measured diplomatic manner. It has asked India and Pakistan to resolve the issue through peaceful dialogue. This is what had to be asked.

However, this doesn’t mean we should be meek and tight-lipped. If India reiterates that Kashmir issue is its internal issue and warns us to stay away from it, we must also not be afraid to tell India not to interfere in our internal issue of Madhes. This is called bold and balanced display of diplomacy.

The author is former Chief of Protocol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs


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