India’s action in revoking the special status of the mountainous northern region known as Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was driven not just by domestic factors, but by U.S. President Donald Trump’s looming Faustian bargain with the Pakistan-reared Afghan Taliban. A resurgent Pakistan-Taliban duo controlling Afghanistan would spell greater trouble for India’s J&K, including through increased cross-border entry of armed jihadis.
Mr. Trump is desperate to end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan and pull the majority of U.S. troops out of the country before seeking re-election next year. While recently hosting the military-backed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Mr. Trump said he’s seeking Pakistan’s help to “extricate” the United States from Afghanistan.
The paradox is that the U.S. is stuck in the longest war in its history because of Pakistan, which, by harbouring the Taliban’s command-and-control base, has effectively undercut the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Just last year, Mr. Trump tweeted that, although Pakistan received more than US$33-billion in U.S. aid since 2002, it has returned “nothing but lies and deceit,” including providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”
But now, seeking to appease Pakistan, Mr. Trump has offered twice in recent days to mediate the Kashmir conflict, although such an offer is a red rag to the Indian bull. His administration recently facilitated a US$6-billion International Monetary Fund bailout for Pakistan and relaxed its suspension of military aid by clearing US$125-million in assistance for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.
It is against this background that the Indian government moved several proposals in Parliament on Monday to alter the constitutional status of the Indian portion of J&K. This included revoking the special powers and privileges of J&K, separating the traditionally Buddhist Ladakh region from J&K, and converting the rest of J&K (made up of Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley and Hindu-majority Jammu) from a state to a federal territory. In addition, it proposed abrogating a misogynist clause permitting women to be stripped of their rights in J&K if they married outsiders.
The government’s proposals won approval easily in both houses of Parliament, with some opposition parties lending support. In fact, much of India has welcomed revoking J&K’s special status. However, the action carries risks of fuelling greater discontent and violence in the Kashmir Valley.
In the Kashmir Valley, jihadis increasingly call the shots. In one of the most successful and swiftest ethnic-cleansing operations in modern history, Islamists in January, 1990, drove out virtually the entire indigenous Hindu minority from the Kashmir Valley.
For India, three decades of a Pakistan-backed Islamist insurrection in the Kashmir Valley made the status quo no longer sustainable. This led the federal government to assume greater power and responsibility in dealing with the J&K security situation. But the Indian action, coupled with Mr. Trump’s Afghanistan exit plan, could embolden Pakistan, which hosts 22 United Nations-designated terrorist entities, to step up its use of armed jihadis as a force multiplier against stronger India.
The widely disseminated fiction on the Kashmir dispute must be dispensed: J&K is not a territory divided just between India and Pakistan. China occupies one-fifth of the original princely state. Underlining that fact, the Indian Home Minister on Tuesday referred to the Switzerland-size, Chinese-held Aksai Chin Plateau as “an integral part” of J&K, while China protested the “inclusion of Chinese territory” by India in the new Ladakh federal territory.
To be clear, Pakistan is a revisionist state that covets the Kashmir Valley and seeks to redraw borders in blood. But far from granting autonomy or special status to the parts of J&K it holds, Pakistan has treated them as its colonies, exploiting their mineral and water wealth and transforming their ethnic and linguistic identities through demographic changes.
Emboldening military-dominated Pakistan is Mr. Trump’s turning to that country to “help us out” in Afghanistan. Just days after Mr. Trump’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reached a tentative deal with the Taliban in late January, a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers, triggering tit-for-tat Indian and Pakistani airstrikes and fears of a wider military conflict.
A final deal now seems imminent, with the Taliban saying on Tuesday key differences have been resolved and Mr. Khalilzad reporting “excellent progress.” The talks, while sidelining the elected Afghan government, have signalled U.S. readiness to accept Pakistan’s primacy in Afghanistan.
Before the United States hands Afghanistan back to the same terrorist militia it removed from power in 2001, India has pre-emptively sought to safeguard its security through the J&K action. The U.S., by coming full circle on the Taliban and Pakistan, is validating Karl Marx’s famous statement, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”
Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning Water: Asia’s New Battleground.