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There is no change in Kashmir other than an increase in troops: Professor Imtiaz Ahmed

FOCUS-ENG-07-08-0202-INTERVIEW
Professor Imtiaz Ahmed 

With Article 370 being revoked, Jammu and Kashmir has been placed under direct control of the central government of India, and 5 August marks one year of Kashmir without autonomy. The past year has seen an increase in troops, killings, brutality and a never-ending lockdown in Kashmir. International affairs analyst Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed, in an interview with South Asian Monitor’s Shafiq Rahman, speaks in detail on the Kashmir issue as well as India’s central and regional politics.

SAM: The Indian central government defended its decision to revoke Article 370, saying that now Kashmir would finally see development. Has there been any palpable change there in the last year?

Imtiaz Ahmed: I see no changes there other than an increase in troops. Public life remains under lockdown. Internet connection remains limited. The situation there has simply become more complex and the impact is already visible. There are several stakeholders there. These are the Kashmiri people, mostly Muslim and Hindu with a few Buddhists. And undoubtedly, the rights of the Muslim Kashmiris have been further abrogated. So those who have been in the movement for so long, particularly the radicals, will now be able convince the moderate section of the people that the Indian government has never been honest with them. The special status was nothing but a farce.

Then there are the complex relations with Pakistan. And now there are complications with China. China has a link with Kashmir, especially regarding Galwan Valley. There is the matter of the Line of Actual Control. As a result of the abrogation, when the Kashmir border issue arises, the ‘Line of Actual Control’ becomes the ‘Line of Actual Border.’ We saw 20 Indian soldiers dying in a scuffle where no firearms were used. That indicates that many more could have died if firearms were used.

In the meantime, China’s influence has increased considerably in South Asia. That is very clear in the case of Nepal. Nepal is now no longer the Nepal of old. It is clear about where its national interests lie. It is the same in the case of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa has come to power again through the elections.The Maldives has the same picture. And Pakistan never has seen eye to eye with India anyway. 

As for Bangladesh, it has strengthened its economic ties with China, though this is not in exclusion of India. Even so, India is wary of Bangladesh’s shift towards China. Cracks are showing in its foreign policy.

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SAM: Can the turn of events in Kashmir be compared to any other region or place in the world?

Imtiaz Ahmed: There is no point in trying to draw comparisons. The question is whether the Indian government will be able to get away with creating this situation and also whether the problem will be resolved. Obviously, the problem will not be resolved. How can the problem be resolved? The Supreme Court could be an option. There has been no verdict as yet as to whether the Supreme Court will reject this. Many people see the decision to be contrary to the Indian constitution. Then again, not everything is restricted to the constitution.

We do not know what verdict the Supreme Court will pass. But things cannot go against the people’s wishes and the court has no reason not to understand that.

Then there is the two-nation theory which BJP is pushing for. Many people do not realize that the RSS campaigned for this 18 years before Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Bangladesh emerged from this in 1971, but BJP is now going back in history.

We see how National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Act have had a negative impact on the whole of India. The people of India had risen against this. All sorts of movements have been taken up against this all over India, even in Delhi. Many states said that they will not get involved in NRC or any such census. Actually coronavirus has saved the government somewhat. Then there is the question as to whether the two-nation theory is an answer to the Kashmir problem. The answer is ‘no’.

SAM: What does India want to gain by keeping this territory under lockdown?

Imtiaz Ahmed: Eve Hitler and Mussolini had been elected through what we call a democratic process. So there is a bad side of elections. That is, it does not require 50 per cent of the votes to come to power. Narendra Modi got 34 per cent of the votes and this was enough to give him a two third majority. He didn’t even need 40 per cent of the votes. So he is clear about what that 34 per cent wants. They want this kind of Kashmir.

That is why Gandhi was opposed to this. That is why he had referred to it as a “heartless doctrine”. He had said, how can it be possible that whoever gets 51 per cent of the votes will go to power? What about 49 per cent? Now even 51 per cent is not required. 34 per cent dictates to 66 per cent.

Going by the manner in which the Kashmiri people have fought, they will not give up their struggle. The people of India will rise up or else India will suffer more. They had risen up before the pandemic. 

SAM: India says that Kashmir is their internal problem, but can it be called an internal problem still? Can it not be termed a regional or international problem?

Imtiaz Ahmed: The Kashmir issue is nothing new. It is a matter of the United Nations. The abrogation of Art 370 negates all the settlements passed by the UN. India is not bothered with all that because it looks to Donald Trump for friendship. If he can go ahead without giving a hoot to the UN, there is no reason why they can’t follow suit.

In that context, the main responsibility lies with the people of India, and undoubtedly, with the people of Kashmir. The latter has been struggling for long. They really have no other choice but to continue with their struggle. It is to be seen how fast the people of India stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir.

SAM: India wants Bangladesh to say that the issue is an internal issue of India, but Bangladesh remains silent on the matter. Does that indicate a change in policy?

Imtiaz Ahmed: We hadn’t spoken out in the past either because Bangladesh’s fundamental policy is ‘friendship with all and malice towards none’. Our development is basically without enemies. Myanmar is trying its best to foster enmity, but we have maintained relations there too and continue with bilateral talks. We do not want to make enemies, even after such a big issue like the Rohingyas.

I have always felt that the Kashmir issue will be resolved by the Kashmiri people, and the people of India. If Bangladesh has made no statement about the issue, that is good. It does not want to get involved in the issue.

There is now talk about Pakistan and also about China. We have some journalists who think reading newspapers is enough to understand international relations and to report on such issues. There is need for a much deeper understanding. 

Our ties with China are economic. We have not said that China’s enemies are our enemies. China’s enemies are China’s enemies, not ours.

There is a big change in Pakistan. Imran Khan has come to power there, finally, it has a prime minister with no baggage. The Muslim League doesn’t have any baggage either, not does PPP. Nor does the military. In the past, all the prime ministers or presidents had some baggage and had bad relations with Bangladesh historically.

Imran Khan has very clearly praised Bangladesh on many occasions. He said that Pakistan can learn from Bangladesh, that Bangladesh in 2020 is not the same as the seventies’ Bangladesh. It is like America doesn’t want to understand that the China of today is not the China of the forties’. Even the Indians don’t want to see this.

Pakistan is now eager to build ties with Bangladesh. We need to see if they have changed their stand about 1971. They have to change that and there are many intellectuals in Pakistan who feel that way too. The matter must be settled. 

SAARC must be revisited. Pakistan might play a role there as the presidency of SAARC will pass on from Nepal to Pakistan. I don’t know how far SAARC will be effective, but we don’t want to go into India’s conflict with Pakistan. We don’t want to go into India’s conflict with China either. It is clear that we are not in any conflict. But a certain country feels we have to choose sides. As an academician, I do not feel that Bangladesh needs to do that. 

SAM: What has India gained from revoking Kashmir’s autonomy and what has Kashmir lost?

Imtiaz Ahmed: The problems for the Indian people have multiplied, not lessened. It must now be seen what stand the people of India take and what decision is taken by the Supreme Court.