As is to be expected, there are opinion articles and editorials galore across South Asian English-language newspapers regarding the “scrapping” of Article 370 and 35A by the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir. Across the board, the Pakistan media has condemned the decision, and each newspaper’s position is harsher than the next. Even the rest of the South Asian press has hardly welcomed the change in Jammu and Kashmir’s status.
Dawn, arguably the most anti-establishment paper in Pakistan, and one which has had a fairly consistent line on human rights violations in that country as well as alleged instances by Indian forces in Kashmir, has articulated its position, which can be seen as at least partially representing the views of Pakistan’s liberals, in multiple editorials.
On August 16, Dawn focussed on the internet shutdown in particular and the blocking of communications in general in the Valley. It cites a report by an international advocacy group — Access Now — which says that India is responsible for the largest number of internet shutdowns in the world over the past three years. The current shutdown in Kashmir is the “53rd this year”. The purpose of such blocking of communications, according to Dawn, is: “One of the singular characteristics of a country’s drift towards autocracy is an increasing curtailment of citizens’ access to sources of information and communication. When the flow of diverse opinions and ideas is restricted, state propaganda is allowed free rein.”
“Despotic governments,” it states, “have much to fear from the internet”.
On August 17, Dawn launched a more frontal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The editorial begins by saying that “in attempting to illegally annex” Kashmir and then “mocking its people with claims that it was for their own good, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only ensured that the cycle of violence. will intensify in the months and years to come”. The editorial draws an unfavourable parallel with Palestine (where India is Israel and Kashmir is “occupied”) before lamenting the “lukewarm response” of the global community to New Delhi’s actions”.
It maintains, even within its polemical rhetoric, a sense of realism to balance the moral outrage: “As indicated in these columns earlier, the demands of realpolitik and global economics have taken precedence over human rights, justice and fair play. Unless Pakistan and other parties that have a feel for democracy step up their efforts to engage robustly with the diplomatic community on the issue, Mr Modi’s reckless act is unlikely to be challenged.”
Kashmir and Tamils
Outside of Pakistan, the rest of South Asia does not seem as outraged by the situation in Kashmir. However, this is not to say that it is seen as a welcome development. In Sri Lanka, for example, the August 18 editorial in the Sunday Observer mentions Kashmir only in passing, as the thrust of the editorial is the announcement by Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president of Sri Lanka, that his brother Gotabaya would be his party’s presidential candidate. Mahinda was the first Sri Lankan leader to have mentioned the Kashmir situation in an interview while trying to circumvent a question about a federal setup that is fair to Sri Lankan Tamils.
The editorial also references PM Modi, comparing Gotabaya’s platform to the Indian leader’s rather unfavourably: “Gotabaya’s electoral platform bears striking resemblance to that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is also riding the wings of ‘cultural nationalism’ (read, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism), which has lately assumed strident overtones of Islamophobia. He’s a platinum-grade populist, too. Interestingly, when asked about the SLPP’s stance on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem, Mahinda Rajapaksa has blithely drawn the analogy of the Modi government’s revocation of the special status for J&K”.
The editorial also, in passing, questions India’s political choices and the current political climate in the country.
The Kathmandu Post, while not quite as outraged as Dawn, is unequivocal in its condemnation of the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status. After recalling how Article 370 was scrapped and the lockdown in the Valley, it questions New Delhi’s justification in the face of unfavourable international reports — that Jammu and Kashmir is an “internal matter”. “Not only is the move by the nationalist Narendra Modi government illegal, according to its own federal constitution, it is also ironic, given its manoeuvres in Nepal. In 2015, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had imposed an economic blockade on Nepal because India was unhappy with Nepal’s new constitution, saying that it had failed to address the demands of marginalised communities, especially the Madhesis,” the editorial says.
The editorial suggests that “Nepal, as chair of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, should also come out clearly and vociferously in favour of de-escalation”.
A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi