The backing from Russia for Delhi’s decision to revoke special status for Jammu & Kashmir is as sure an indication as any that Pakistan’s bid for a debate in the United Nations Security Council will be unsuccessful. But Islamabad’s efforts to internationalise the issue will continue in other ways, including by stirring up Western allies, and Kashmiri and Pakistani diasporas in the US, Europe, Britain and other western countries, as well as international human rights organisations. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was both hyperbolic and hypocritical in his allegation of “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir. After all, he has mutely watched China send its Muslims citizens in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to “re-education camps” to de-Islamise them. But with every passing day that India keeps the people of the Valley locked up and cut off from the outside world, the possibility of the issue being raised in the UN Human Rights Council grows more real. Through the 1990s, Indian diplomacy’s main preoccupation was to fend off the “K” word in multilateral statements and agreements in organisations like the UN, Commonwealth, and Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. It is well documented how hard the Narasimha Rao government had to fight at the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Conference, and later at Geneva 1994 to fight back Pakistan’s accusations of human rights violations in the Valley. At that time, the world was not ready to believe in such a thing as “cross-border” militancy. It was only after the nuclear tests and Kargil, and Kashmir’s own return to near normalcy in 2002 that the so-called K word began to fade from international discourse. But references to human rights violations in Kashmir started coming up again after 2016 over the security forces’ use of pellet guns to crush the new round of militancy.
The Ministry of External Affairs must be ready for the challenge of international attention on Kashmir, to explain the legal nitty gritty of its Constitution changing decisions, and to argue again that this is “an internal matter”. Equally challenging will be the management of the potential fallout on security, both from homegrown militancy in the Valley and cross-border jihadists. Pakistan has taken the extreme step of expelling the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, and suspension of the rail service from Lahore to Attari, which is an indication of the pressure the Imran Khan government is under to demonstrate that it has not abandoned Kashmir. For its own credibility, the Pakistan Army may also feel compelled to take measures. Despite the pressure from the Financial Action Task Force to dismantle support for jihadist groups, an increase in cross-border militancy is likely, with attempts to pass it off as the work of al Qaeda or ISIS. The emerging situation in Afghanistan, especially if the Taliban gain ascendency, giving Pakistan an upper hand in the region, would only further complicate matters.
The government has yet to reveal how it plans to handle and implement on the ground in J&K what it has done with the stroke of a pen. The real tests will come when the restrictions on the Valley are removed.