by Fatemeh Aman
Commentaries are calling India’s unilateral move to end the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir that had prevailed since India’s independence a geopolitical “earthquake.” A major geological earthquake normally has significant ripple effects as the affected tectonic plates adjust to major changes in their relationships to one another. So LobeLog asked contributor and South Asia specialist Fatemeh Aman to answer a series of questions about how those plates may try to adjust to the latest seismic activity.
Q) What do you see as the likely repercussions of developments in Kashmir on U.S. foreign policy (which so far has been more or less silent about this) and on the neighborhood, specifically Pakistan and its stance on Afghanistan?
A) Pakistan is actively involved in the Afghan peace talks. They have contributed in bringing together the U.S. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban. Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., told the New York Times that Pakistan will continue what it has done in regards to the Afghan talks. “It’s not an either-or situation,” he said. However, he described the timing of India’s action as the “worst timing” for Pakistan and raised the possibility that his country could move troops from the western border with Afghanistan to the eastern border with India. This could certainly impact the ongoing peace talks or any possible agreement.
Q) How would moving the troops from western to eastern border impact the peace talks?
A) The Trump administration has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to prevent terrorist groups from using Pakistan as a safe haven. Even U.S. financial aid to Pakistan was cut abruptly last July. Then there was Pakistan’s effort to mediate with the Taliban. In this regard, in August 2018 the Pakistani military announced the deployment of 60,000 additional troops to its border with Afghanistan, saying it was to prevent insurgents from moving between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Redeploying these troops back to the India-Pakistan border, as Ambassador Khan maintained is a possibility, could not only heighten tension between India and Pakistan but impact Afghan peace negotiations.
Pakistan could also use its influence on the Taliban to impact the course of the peace talks. This would in turn undermine any effort within the U.S. administration to reach an agreement before the 2020 election.
Q) How do Afghans feel about similar statements (impact of Kashmir on Afghan peace talks)?
A) In February, a suicide bomb attack on the paramilitary police in Kashmir killed scores of people. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, and India blamed Pakistan for not doing enough to curb Pakistan-based militants and threatened to retaliate. The Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, Zahid Nasrullah, stated that any attack by India [on Pakistan] would “affect the stability of the entire region and impact the momentum” of the Afghan peace effort. Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Pakistani ambassador over his remarks. The Afghan Foreign Ministry called on Pakistan “to act upon its commitments with regards to Afghanistan, particularly those in relation to peace and refrain from making irrelevant statements that do not help solve any problem.”
This time, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. warned about the impact Kashmir could have on Afghan peace talks. Those comments were even harsher, noting the nuclear capability of both countries and that “obviously if things get worse, things get worse.”
Q) Why is India not involved in the Afghan peace talks?
A) Afghans generally have a positive view of India. India has broad investments in Afghanistan, which may be a pity to abandon. Both India and Pakistan view each other’s work and presence in Afghanistan as suspicious.
Afghanistan has always been caught in the middle of the Pakistan-India conflict. Both countries have historically supported opposite sides and factions in intra-Afghan conflicts.
In December 2018, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed his country’s commitment to facilitating peace talks in order to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. He invited other regional players, including India, to be part of the negotiations. “Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard will also be required,” he said.
In contrast, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman stated in January this year that “India has no role in Afghanistan,” when responding to a question about India’s possible involvement in the peace negotiations. Others called PM Khan’s trip to Washington and India being “kicked out” of Afghan peace talks reasons for “India’s jealousy.”
As it has been in the past, Afghanistan will likely be drawn into any new India-Pakistan confrontation over Kashmir.
Q) Given its close relations with and need for support from India, should we expect Iran to remain silent about the Kashmir situation, as it has with respect to Chechnya and Xinjiang?
A) Despite Iran’s decades-old call for exporting Islamic revolution and supporting oppressed Muslims, especially Shia, throughout the world, its focus has remained on places of political significance, such as Lebanon, Palestine, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Muslim populations in Iran’s trade partner states have remained exempt from active support. Iran has generally stayed away from places like Kashmir and avoided meddling in the massacres of Pakistani Shia by Sunni extremist groups.
In response to recent events in Kashmir, Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian military, expressed concern over Kashmir in a phone conversation with his counterpart, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Staff of the Pakistani army. Bagheri expressed the hope that “political efforts” will secure the rights of Muslims in the region.
Meanwhile, Tehran’s Friday Prayer Imam, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, described revoking Kashmir’s autonomy as “an ugly act” and warned the government of India “to prevent confrontations with the Muslims” as “this is not in his [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s] interest or the interest of the region.”
Except for a very few occasions, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not actively criticized India. In 2017, Khamenei, perhaps in response to PM Modi’s trip to Israel, said “the Muslim world should openly support the people of Yemen, Bahrain, and Kashmir and repudiate oppressors and tyrants who attack [them].”
In 2010, in response to India’s vote on a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution about human rights violations in Iran, Khamenei, in his message to Hajj pilgrims, called on Muslims worldwide to support Kashmiris. India reacted by criticizing the Khamenei’s statement as “meddling in India’s internal affairs,” and summoned Iran’s envoy in New Delhi. But things were forgotten quickly as Khamenei has been a steady supporter of Iran-India relations. Based on these past examples, Iran is not expected to shift its steady approach regarding Kashmir.
Q) How about Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states?
A) Turkey’s Foreign Ministry expressed concerns about the possibility of increasing tensions over Kashmiri developments. It issued a statement expressing Turkey’s readiness to play a mediating role to ease tension “if both sides desire and approve that.” Also, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the Kashmir developments “worrying.”
Except maybe China, which has historically stood beside Pakistan, no other country has offered active support for Islamabad. A spokesperson for the Chinese government said his country would help Pakistan in defending “its rights” and called India’s Kashmir move “unacceptable.”
Arab states have major economic projects going on in both Pakistan and India. They have expressed concern over mounting tension between India and Pakistan and have offered to help bring both sides together, but no one is going to risk their investments by opposing India’s move in Kashmir.
Q) So the timing seems to be well thought out.
A) Yes, the timing of Modi’s action seems to be well thought out. Internally, Modi, who made revoking Kashmiri autonomy part of his election campaign under the slogan “One Nation, One Constitution,” could keep that promise. He could overshadow bad economic news with his moves in Kashmir.
The Trump administration was the best gift to the Modi government. There were conflicting statements on whether Modi’s government told the Trump administration about the planned move beforehand. There is also talk that President Trump’s mistake in saying that Modi asked him to mediate over Kashmir may have contributed to the timing of India’s move. What to expect, unfortunately, is more violence in the region. This is especially dangerous when it comes to two countries with both ideological convictions and nuclear weapons.