After a relatively peaceful spring and summer this year, there are now indications that the political impasse in Kashmir — which set in with Parliament abrogating Articles 370 and 35A and the carving up of the State into two union territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh — may be coming to an end. The first proposed meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 14 political leaders from the Valley later this week i.e. on June 24, is a tangible and welcome outcome of the series of steps, that began with restoration of 4G services, and holding of panchayat, municipal and District Development Council (DDC) elections. Despite the posturing by the more hardline People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, indications so far are that invitees from the National Conference (NC), Congress, People’s Conference, Apni Party, BJP, CPM and the National Panthers’ Party will attend the meeting. The meeting will likely discuss restoration of Statehood, holding of Assembly elections and furthering the delimitation exercise.
The developments in the Valley, where all players have moved from their respective positions, should also be placed in the context of the US’ plan to pull its troops out of Afghanistan before September 11. For preventing any escalation of violence coinciding with the departure of the US troops from Afghanistan, the cooperation of Pakistani intelligence and military assistance cannot be understated. The US would seek to balance its strategic objectives here with its other geo-political preoccupation in the East — limiting Chinese dominance, for which it needs India’s support. Aiding the US in bringing Pakistan on board for keeping peace not just in Afghanistan but also on the Line of Control (LoC) with India are the UAE and Saudi Arabia which have developed a strong relationship with India. Some of these Gulf States have worked towards preventing Afghanistan’s further descent into conflict and terrorism — the UAE in particular seems to have engaged Pakistan in exercising restraint. There were reports of meetings between Indian and Pakistani security chiefs in UAE following the sudden announcement of ceasefire on February 25 this year at the LoC. Finally, during his trip to the US in end-May, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar maintained that “at the end of the day, the two neighbours have to find ways.” The march along this road has begun.
For the ruling BJP, it would be a feather in its cap if the Prime Minister were to announce Assembly elections and resumption of statehood status for Jammu and Kashmir, although it has not succeeded in its objective to upend the “dynasts” in the Valley. In Ladakh, where the demand for UT status by the Buddhist majority precedes the grant of this status in August 2019, status quo is likely to prevail. Notwithstanding the scars of a strict lockdown and incarceration of the local leadership, a healing process may have just begun in the Valley.