Situated and divided between India, Pakistan and China, all three of them nuclear powers, and claimed by both India and Pakistan, Kashmir has been a region of instability since the British left in 1947. It has been fought over in two wars between the states of the Subcontinent, and a war between India and China, which have cost an estimated 45,000 lives. The conflict has been continued with the Pakistan-backed Muslim separatists, costing tens of thousands more lives since 1989. The working class can expect nothing from these conflicts but to see workers and peasants, civilian or in uniform, being used as hostages and cannon fodder. Whether Kashmir is ruled by India or Pakistan, or divided between them, or independent, there is nothing to be gained by the working class, or the peasantry.
Six months after the confrontations at the Line of Control between Pakistan and Indian administered regions of Kashmir last February, Modi’s BJP government has revoked the territory’s status as an autonomous state, dividing it into two union territories ruled from Delhi. India began by turning away the 20,000 tourists and pilgrims that visit Kashmir in the summer months, on the grounds of possible terrorism from separatists. Then it prepared for the constitutional change by sending tens of thousands of troops ready to put the territory in ‘lockdown’, cutting communications and using pellet guns against the protests which arose. On the Pakistani side villagers have fled the line of control, fearing further fighting along it.
The Modi government has claimed that it has acted to allow Kashmir to benefit from India’s economic growth, just when the Indian economy is heading into crisis. Moody’s has downgraded its forecast for Indian growth for 2019 from 7.5% to 6.2%, and it looks as if it will fall below 6%. Private sector investment is at a 15 year low. Car sales in July were 30% down, with an expected loss of around a million jobs, including those in the supply chain. Imports from China have doubled since 2014, while exports remain at 2011 levels. “Rajiv Kumar, the head of the government’s think tank Niti Aayog, recently claimed that the current slowdown was unprecedented in 70 years of independent India”
Of course, the problems with the Indian economy are not specific to one country, but an aspect of the difficulties of the world economy. Pakistan has called on the IMF for help with its economic crisis.
Of course the action in Kashmir, fuelling Hindu nationalism, along with a campaign against corruption, particularly when carried out by the government’s foes, are distracting attention from these economic woes. The Economist has even suggested this is the purpose of the anti-corruption campaign. However, there are deeper underlying problems behind the move in Kashmir.
Feeding communal conflict
The removal of Kashmir’s special status was no whim, but part of the BJP programme at the last election. Nor did it just annul its autonomous status; it also rescinded the constitutional ban on outsiders buying land, which has been relied on by Kashmiri nationalists (and Pakistan) to prevent its Muslim majority population from being diluted by an influx from the rest of India. The BJP in fact propagates and benefits from a very divisive Hindu nationalism that has gained great popularity in India and even among the minority high caste Hindu population in Kashmir. A similarly divisive policy has been carried out in Assam where 1.9 million residents have been robbed of citizenship because they were unable to prove they had not moved from Bangladesh since 1971.
Unlike the nationalism of the 19th Century, which saw the unification of Germany and Italy, today’s nationalism tends to feed centrifugal tendencies. The Hindu nationalism of the BJP undermines the secular nationalism that has been necessary to the unity of India as a country with numerous religions and languages. This is not a specifically Indian problem: we see parallels across the world. If Modi’s Kashmir policy has increased divisions in the Indian state, in the UK Brexit is fuelling Scottish nationalism and putting in question the conditions of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the sectarian ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Neither nation faces an imminent break-up, but in both there are increased centrifugal tendencies. The measures against residents of Assam echo the Windrush scandal in Britain, in which thousands of people who had lived in the country since early childhood lost jobs and access to healthcare, and were even deported if they could not prove they had lived in the UK all their lives. It’s a similar story with the deportations of undocumented migrants in the USA. There have been increased murders of people accused of killing cows in India, murders of those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, just as there were increased xenophobic attacks in Britain after the Brexit vote.
These are all examples of the rotting of a society that can give no perspective to humanity, not even the completely insane perspective of mutually assured destruction in war, while at the same time the working class is not able to show society its own revolutionary perspective.
Shifting alliances exacerbate instability in Kashmir
Despite Indian government protests, its action in Kashmir is anything but an internal matter, with repercussions felt far away. Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan, has protested loudly, calling for it to be discussed in the UN Security Council, (a call supported by China), and threatening to take it to the International Court of Justice, as well as accusing India of acting like Nazis. Pakistan, with its porous Afghan border and tacit support for the Taliban, has threatened to move troops from the Afghan border to Kashmir, just when the US wants it to control that border because it is in talks with the Taliban with a view to withdrawing its troops. “Pakistan’s ambassador, Asad Majeed Khan, emphasised … that the Kashmir and Afghanistan issues were separate and that he was not attempting to link them. On the contrary, he said, Pakistan hoped the US-Taliban talks would succeed and that his country was actively supporting them. … India’s moves in Kashmir ‘could not have come at a worse time for us’, because Islamabad has sought to strengthen the military control along the western border with Afghanistan, an area long infiltrated by Taliban militants”. Meanwhile, the Taliban has just invaded Kunduz in the North of Afghanistan.
In fact the conflict in Kashmir cannot be divorced from the overall shifting imperialist situation in Asia, with the growth of China as a rising power aiming to challenge the USA for control of the region. The Chinese expansion in the Indian Ocean compels all bordering states to position themselves. On the one hand China must push its Maritime Silk Road along the coasts of the Indian Ocean up to the Iranian coast. This creates additional tensions between Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the port of Gwadar, not far from the Iranian border, will be connected to the extreme west of China after the construction of a 500 km road connection. The port should give Chinese trade easier access to the Middle East than by sea through the Strait of Malacca (between Malaysia and Indonesia). India is protesting against this road project that crosses part of Kashmir claimed by New Delhi. A new international airport is to be built in Gwadar.
And the Maritime Silk Project also pushes India to take counter-measures. On the one hand Iran does not want to be too dependent on China: this is why it seeks to strengthen its ties with India. India contributed to the construction of the new Iranian port of Chabahar, allowing India to avoid passing through Pakistan to reach Afghanistan. At the same time, India itself, which has had special links with Russia for decades, has intensified these, despite the fact that on a military level India has also tried to diversify its arms purchases at the expense of Russia, and that India is seen by the US as an important counter-weight against Chinese expansion. It has received American backing for its stronger militarisation, in particular increasing its nuclear capabilities. And together with Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan, India has been attempting for some time to establish an International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which is to connect Mumbai to St Petersburg via Tehran and Baku/Azerbaijan.
In any conflict or tensions over Kashmir, India has to take account of Pakistan’s “all weather” alliance with China. In a past war, though it was not a military alliance, the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, which India had signed with the erstwhile Soviet Union before the 1971 war, ensured that China refrained from aiding Pakistan militarily during the war. The Indo-US strategic partnership has been described as India’s ‘principal’ strategic partnership. Its defence cooperation element does not offer such protection as its previous alliance with Russia in 1971.
The situation in India, Pakistan and Kashmir today show us what capitalism has to offer humanity: unstable imperialist tensions, communal conflicts, in a word a growing barbarism.
. The book Malevolent Republic by Kapil Komireddi, recently reviewed by the Financial Times argues that Hindu nationalism is “putting the very fabric of the country at risk. His core thesis is that secularism is ‘the condition of India’s unity’.” (https://www.ft.com/content/dee2bdde-b9d4-11e9-8a88-aa6628ac896c). This is not however something created by Modi and the BJP, nor a simplistic result of the corruption of the previous Congress Party governments, as the author thinks.
. See ‘Report on the impact of decomposition on the political life of the bourgeoisie’ from the ICC 23 Congress, https://en.internationalism.org/content/16711/report-impact-decompositio...