By Emraan Ansari
The Hudson Institute hosted a panel discussion on the security, stability, and future of Kashmir on Friday, October 4. The panel included Salman Anees Soz, Indian author and politician; Shuja Nawaz, a distinguished fellow at the South Asia Center; Jeff Smith, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and was moderated by Aparna Pande, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia. The topics of discussion included the future of Jammu and Kashmir, the international response to India’s revocation of Article 370 granting Kashmir autonomy, and the actions required to de-escalate tensions in the region.
Salman Anees Soz was the first to speak, and clarified at the onset that he was speaking in his personal capacity as a native of Kashmir, and not in his capacity as a politician in India’s Congress Party – the main opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Soz began his presentation by discrediting the Indian government’s reasoning behind revoking Article 370, the constitutional clause which grants Kashmir autonomy. He quoted India’s government as believing that revoking Kashmir’s autonomy would lead to increased development in the region but proved that this has not happened. He also argued that while the Indian government was correct in saying that there is widespread corruption in Kashmir, there is also rampant corruption throughout South Asia, and Kashmir is no more corrupt than any other area in the region. Additionally, Soz warned that the recent imprisonments of public leaders in Kashmir was the beginning of India’s attempt to change the demographics of the province. From here, Soz pivoted to how the United States should react to the recent developments in Kashmir. He called for the Trump Administration to push Prime Minister Modi to reinstate Kashmir’s autonomy, and celebrate the diversity that exists there. Soz also emphasized the importance of a diplomatic solution to the problem, and stressed the need for Prime Ministers Modi and Khan to meet for in-person talks. To conclude, Soz cautioned that if Modi was not checked by the international community for his actions in Kashmir, he could use his strong parliamentary majority as a remit to pursue similar actions in other minority-dominated areas in India.
Following Salman Soz was the South Asia Center’s Shuja Nawaz. Nawaz emphasized the importance of a face-to-face meeting between Khan and Modi, and also raised the possibility of what he called the “Andorra Solution.” This response to the Kashmir problem revolved around giving the province full autonomy but withholding independence. In this solution, both India and Pakistan would be responsible for certain aspects of Kashmir’s governance, but the plan was centered around ensuring that both sides held security in Kashmir as their highest priority. Nawaz also bristled at the treatment of Kashmir by both India and Pakistan, and likened it to how a colonial power treated its colony. He emphasized the uniqueness of Kashmir, and his belief that the Kashmiri people should have the biggest voice in finding a solution. Nawaz concluded by saying that the Indian Supreme Court was crucial in determining next steps, as it is considering whether the revocation of Article 370 is constitutional.
The final panelist was Jeff Smith, of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Smith began his monologue by outlining the Chinese and American response to India’s revocation of Article 370. China firmly supported Pakistan, and released a statement saying, “India’s unilateral move challenged Chinese sovereignty.” China also attempted to raise the issue with the United Nations Security Council, but was only able to secure a closed-door meeting in which the Kashmir situation was one of many topics discussed. Contrasting this, the United States views the situation in Kashmir as an internal affair for India, and believes that any issue between India and Pakistan should be solved in bilateral talks, in which the United States would only mediate if requested by both parties. However, the United States also stated at the United Nations General Assembly that it was hoping for an end to restriction of movement, communication, and assembly. In response to some people labelling the events in Kashmir as “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide,” Smith called those claims absurd, and said that while the exact situation of what is going on in Kashmir is vague, it is clear that there have not been mass killings.
One area in which all of the panelists agreed was the role of politics in solving the problems in Kashmir. Politicians in India and Pakistan are able to generate mass support by trumpeting their position in Kashmir, and from an electoral perspective, there is not a strong reason to find a solution. Politicians on both sides of the border are able to play to the small but radical parts of their electoral base, which jeopardizes the chances of a meaningful solution in Kashmir. Given that India and Pakistan both have nuclear capabilities, a long-term resolution to the conflict in Kashmir should be among the highest priorities for world leaders.