(CNSNews.com) – Pakistan’s government and army are vowing to fight a decision by India’s Hindu nationalist government to change the status of the Indian-controlled part of disputed Kashmir – a troubling prospect given a long history of Pakistani support for anti-Indian terrorism in the Muslim-majority territory.
On Tuesday, India’s lower house of parliament voted in support of the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to revoke the special autonomous status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir state since shortly after India and Pakistan won independence from Britain in 1947.
A day earlier the upper house endorsed the move, which will downgrade the status of the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, and split it into two “union territories,” falling under the oversight of officials appointed by the central government.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to oppose the decision, but the more significant reaction came in the form of a veiled warning by the country’s powerful army chief.
“[The] Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end,” Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said Tuesday. “We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard.”
Islamabad’s declared support for the Kashmiris’ “just struggle” for self-determination – despite its denials to the contrary – has long been seen by Indian and Western security analysts as a cover for terror-sponsorship.
As recently as last February, 40 Indian police reservists were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in Kashmir claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) an al-Qaeda ally and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
JEM, whose name means “Army of Mohammed,” was founded in Pakistan in 2000 with the support of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) military intelligence agency. The most recent State Department country reports on terrorism found that JeM continues to “operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan,” and that “Pakistan did not take sufficient action against” it or other terror groups.
Pointing to Bajwa’s pledge to “go to any extent” in support of Kashmiri separatists, Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi, said Wednesday such statements “give ample indications that the Pakistani establishment and ISI are going to mobilize their captive terrorist formations for escalating operation in Jammu and Kashmir, and possibly across India.”
“Over the years, however, terrorist support networks in India and in Jammu and Kashmir have weakened, and while some escalation must be anticipated, any disproportionate descent into chaos is unlikely,” he said in an email.
In terms of immediate reaction to the Indian move, Sahni said the saturation of Indian forces in the territory, along with “very substantial intelligence flows to agencies … will tend to neutralize much of this response, at least in terms of a sustainable movement.”
In the short term, however, a few terror operations, including potentially major attacks, could succeed, he said.
According to data compiled by the ICM’s South Asia Terrorism Portal project, 451 people died violently in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 – 86 civilians, 95 Indian security force personnel, and 270 “militants.”
The Indian government reported 614 terror-related incidents in the territory in 2018 – the highest annual number since 2008.
Divided between India and Pakistan (with a smaller portion under Chinese control), Kashmir is claimed by both, and has triggered three wars between the nuclear-armed rivals since independence – in 1947, 1965 and 1999. Skirmishes are not infrequent, and last February’s suicide bombing sparked tit-for-tat airstrikes.
Ahead of the Indian move, Indian troop reinforcements were sent into Jammu and Kashmir, prompting condemnation from Pakistan, its allies, and human rights groups.
Khan told Pakistan’s parliament Tuesday he worries India’s move would be followed by “ethnic cleansing in Kashmir,” with efforts to create a Hindu majority in what has been India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Khan predicted an increase in “resistance” from Kashmiris, a harsher crackdown by Indian security forces, and the possibility of another war between the two countries that “will have grievous consequences for the entire world.”
At Pakistan’s behest, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an urgent meeting in Saudi Arabia, and in a statement “condemned the gross human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and encouraged the parties for a negotiated settlement.”
Attending the meeting Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, called on the international community to “take urgent necessary actions to protect the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Qureshi also sent a letter to U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres calling on the U.N. to intervene.
Guterres’ spokesman on Tuesday said only that the secretary-general was “following the developments in the region with concern” and urged “all parties to exercise restraint.”
The issue of outside arbitration of the Indo-Pak dispute is a contentious one.
The two in a 1972 agreement ruled out third-party mediation, a stance India maintains. But Pakistan has welcomed proposals over the years – by the OIC, Clinton administration, and European Union among others – to appoint envoys.
When President Trump met with Khan in the Oval Office last month, the Pakistani leader expressed the hope that Trump would “push” a process of negotiations on the dispute.
In reply, Trump said that, when he met with Modi several weeks earlier, the Indian prime minister had invited him to mediate on Kashmir.
“And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Trump told Khan, who said in response, “I can tell you that, right now, you would have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue.”
The remarks caused an uproar in India, prompting Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to tell lawmakers in New Delhi that “no such request has been made by the [Indian] prime minister to the U.S. president.”
“It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally,” said Jaishankar. He added that “any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism.”