Aug 19, 2019

Pakistan struggles to rally the world against India's Kashmir crackdown

An Indian paramilitary trooper on an empty street in Srinagar. Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

Two weeks after India announced major constitutional changes in Kashmir, a communications blackout continues, political leaders remain locked up, and the unrest India feared when announcing the drastic steps is still threatening to break loose.

The flipside: Pakistan, India’s fierce rival, has been attempting to rally international condemnation of India’s moves in Kashmir, which it also claims and partially controls. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly compared India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Nazis and warned without evidence of an “impending genocide” in Kashmir.

The big picture

Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only majority-Muslim state, has seen decades of violence and separatist tensions.

  • India moved on Aug. 5 to swiftly unwind the state's long-held political autonomy, sending in tens of thousands of troops and cutting off phone and internet connections to quell the backlash.
  • It's become clear that India also detained thousands of people, including politicians, business leaders and journalists, says Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

The view from Pakistan

In an interview with Axios on Friday, Pakistani ambassador to Washington Asad Majeed Khan called for a stronger global pushback against India and said Pakistan would "go all the way" to "defend the rights" of Kashmiris.

  • He said the prime minister's claims of a coming "genocide" in Kashmir were sparked by the severity of the crackdown and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "history" (Modi was accused in 2002 of complicity in riots that saw hundreds of Muslims killed).
  • Ambassador Khan denied that Pakistan would itself foment violence in Kashmir, as it has often been accused of doing in the past. But he predicted that Modi would use such fears “to cover up the repression, justify the presence of those additional troops, and then pass the buck on to Pakistan.”
  • He said the BJP's vision for Kashmir was the same as its vision for all of India: "To turn it into a Hindu state.”

Axios asked the ambassador whether Prime Minister Khan's warning about "appeasement of fascism" from the international community applies to the U.S., which has been notably quiet over the crackdown.

  • The ambassador emphasized that President Trump had made a "good faith" offer to mediate in Kashmir before conceding that Pakistan "would hope to see more."

The global view

Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center says Pakistan's "image problem" and history of supporting insurgents in Kashmir, combined with the fact that many countries prize relations with India, mean Islamabad will struggle to rally a global response.

  • The UN Security Council discussed Kashmir for the first time in nearly five decades on Friday, but declined to release a statement after the meeting.
  • Trump tweeted this evening that he'd spoken to Modi as well as to Imran Khan about "reducing tensions in Kashmir."
  • India, meanwhile, claims the issue is now settled. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told a political rally Sunday that any future negotiations would be confined to the portion of Kashmir that Pakistan controls.

The latest from Kashmir

Indian officials had previewed a return to normalcy, with schools and businesses set to reopen today. But just 1 of 1,000 pupils turned up today at a school visited by Fayaz Bukhari and Devjyot Ghoshal of Reuters.

  • “Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault rifles stood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire in Srinagar’s old quarter to deter any repeat of weekend protests," they write.
  • “In dense neighborhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set up makeshift barricades to block security forces from entering.”
  • Looser restrictions on movement meant increased traffic on some streets and residents venturing out to stroll along Dal Lake, "a popular tourist destination ringed by Himalayan mountains."

Though “violence has been mostly restricted to dozens of stone-throwing incidents,” Kashmiris are “anxious and enraged by the situation,” Fahad Shah reports for the Atlantic:

  • “'They forced tourists to leave, so how can our business function?’ [Shabir] Ahmad asked, looking at the shut doors of his handicraft showroom near Dal Lake. ... ‘They kept Kashmiris silent at gunpoint and forced this upon us.'”
  • “‘The communication blockade has pushed us to the Stone Age,’ Areeb Ashraf, 26, a civil engineer, said." Ashraf's uncle had been hospitalized, but he was unable to find out where.

What to watch

While many locals believe the constitutional changes are motivated by Modi's Hindu nationalist politics, India claims they're designed to promote development.

  • But the situation on the ground is now "very volatile," Kugelman says, and “it’s very hard to bring development and investment to conflict zones.”
  • Kugelman notes that as India eases its restrictions, and Kashmiris have more opportunities to protest, an "escalatory cycle of violence" could result.

More from the interview

Ambassador Khan stressed that Pakistan's long-uneasy relationship with the U.S. is moving in a positive direction after the prime minister's visit to Washington.

  • "Apart from whatever chemistry they have, I think what basically brings them together is Afghanistan," he said, noting that both leaders hope talks with the Taliban result in a peace deal.
  • Ambassador Khan dismissed the suggestion that Pakistan's close friendship with China would prevent further warming as outdated "Cold War" thinking.
  • He also said Pakistan wants to be seen in Washington as "a very important country in our own right," rather than through "the Indian prism."
Go deeper