Two nations, one goal: Alter status quo

GAUTAM MUKHERJEE

Two long-pending moves were made in the very first month this year. One of them is national, the other international. Both have great potential to alter the status quo. Perhaps, the bold initiatives reflect the reformative zeal of both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the just elected US President Donald Trump respectively.

After more than two decades, registered Kashmiri Pandits, who were driven out and were languishing as refugees in Jammu, Delhi, and elsewhere in the country, will be re-settled in multiple locations in the Kashmir valley.

They will be settled, provided security, and Government jobs for their sustenance. This flies in the face of inaction on the topic except by way of lip-service. The fear of reprisals from anti-national forces and their apologists had kept this issue in cold storage for decades.

Now, the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Council has made up its mind. Last week, the Assembly passed a resolution unanimously, meaning, inclusive of the Opposition National Conference (NC), to welcome back the displaced Pandits into the Kashmir valley. Also, the Legislative Council resolved to create a conducive atmosphere for their rehabilitation as full-fledged Kashmiris.

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti refused to countenance objections in the name of ‘demographic change’, in this endeavour to restore “our own people” into Kashmir once more. Most Kashmir’s Pandits, who contributed to its unique culture and communal harmony for centuries, were driven out of the valley in the 1990s. And this has continued ever since.  

Having well begun, the matter is swiftly moving into the early stages of implementation already. The bold initiative underlines the resolve and sincerity of the current State Government to practice, at last, what has long been preached and promised.

Belying the dire predictions against the merger of ‘opposite forces’ and ‘unlikely bed-fellows’, the Government in J&K is remarkably stable. Even though it is formed jointly by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which was once in cahoots with the separatists, and the Hindutva espousing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The J&K Government naturally also benefits from the largesse of BJP ruling at the Centre, in concert with its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners.  Recent events have underscored that the Pakistan Army, its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other of its non-state actors have been restrained effectively by India’s Armed Forces, despite efforts to escalate tensions in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. And all attempts to internationalise the Kashmir  issue on the part of Pakistan, even helped by all-weather ally China, have been rebuffed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the J&K Government has chosen this very time to move forward on an old pledge held for so long in abeyance.

And in West Asia, a new initiative from distant America is about to change things irrevocably. The US, redeeming a campaign promise of President Trump, has already begun early negotiations on the modalities of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  This is welcomed by Israel and the powerful Jewish community in the US, and is something they have long called for themselves. There is even a 1995 Act of the US Congress authorising the move. But it had been put off by successive Governments  in the US out of anticipated concern for strong Palestinian and Arab reaction. However, with no strategic dependence on Arab oil any more, the leverage of the Arab world in American foreign policy is much diminished.

The US move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would go a long way to confer legitimacy on the Israeli take-over of east Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. East Jerusalem was formerly under the Jordanian Administration.

However, to date, the Arab position on the Israeli annexation  of east Jerusalem, designated by them as the capital of the pending full-fledged Palestinian State, is illegal. But the problem is the Arabs have not been able to make any headway in 50 years anyway.

Now that the US has decided to bite the bullet, it could upgrade its long-standing consulate in Jerusalem, or build a brand new embassy on a large plot already on long-lease from the Israeli Government. It could also  simply have the US Ambassador work from Jerusalem in short order.

Both the actions and directions taken in Kashmir and Israel will potentially have far reaching consequences. At this juncture, they reflect the minds of the current Indian and US leadership. Both heads of Government seem unwilling to kick the can down the road as previous Governments in both countries have done.

It may even be emblematic of these two leaders for their bias towards change and renewal in spite of the risks involved. And underlying both moves seems to be a desire and the courage to call the bluff of naysayers.

The militants in the Gaza strip, and those operating out of Syria and Lebanon, the Arab regimes that have aided them with money and arms purchases over the decades,  will  all have to come to terms with a fait accompli that is not in their power to roll-back. And recognise that the US Government now is not cowed down by the threat of terrorist attacks and reprisals elsewhere.

In Jammu & Kashmir, long allowed to be dominated by the anti-national elements in the Kashmir valley, a new realisation that they cannot have their way in future may also be recognised now. Dreams of an independent Kashmir, or one amalgamated with Pakistan, are unlikely to be ever realised. On the contrary, it is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan, and other Provinces such as the would-be Pakhtunistan, Balochistan, and Sindh, always restive under the Pakistani-Chinese yoke, that could be liberated/unified in times to come.

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