Monday, September 23, 2019

In Balochistan, more people have disappeared than anywhere else in Pakistan, says this book

Tilak Devasher
An excerpt from Tilak Devasher’s book on one of the most contentious areas in south Asia, ‘Pakistan: The Balochistan Conundrum’.
The most distressing aspect of the situation in Balochistan is the sharp increase in the number of human rights (HR) violations. While both sides have been guilty of it, it is the army that has been guilty of violating human rights systematically as an instrument of policy to crush the insurgency. This is borne out by reports of human rights organisations, think tanks as well as journalists who have had access to the region.
There are four impediments in discussing the HR violations. First, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted, “The human rights abuses in the province receive only limited attention as certain areas remain virtually inaccessible to the national media and civil society, while many parts of the rest of the province are poorly connected to major cities elsewhere in Pakistan. Human rights violations are, therefore, poorly documented and patchily reported.” The media has been denied access even to the internally displaced people in the Bugti area where hundreds are believed to have died due to inadequate medical facilities and poor sanitation.
Second is the lack of serious international attention. As noted by Declan Walsh, the Baloch insurgency that has gone on intermittently for decades is often called Pakistan’s Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas. The government was able to take “... advantage of the more permissive attitude towards human rights violations by the international coalition fighting the ‘war on terror’ to subject its political opponents, including Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, to enforced disappearance.”
Third, as Walsh notes, the forces of law and order are curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single perpetrator has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone. As he puts it: “The stunning lack of interest in Pakistan’s greatest murder mystery in decades becomes more understandable, however, when it emerges that the prime suspect is not some shady gang of sadistic serial killers, but the country’s powerful military and its unaccountable intelligence men.” Fourth, the statistics relating to human rights violations vary given the enormous difficulties in documenting them. Despite this, the common link in these violations is the crude attempt at suppressing the growing independence movement in Balochistan.
In spite of these constraints and Pakistan’s efforts to keep its brutality in Balochistan under wraps, it has failed to do so due to the determination of the human rights organisations and of the Baloch to bring to light what the army is doing to the people.
The most harrowing of all the human rights violations in Balochistan are enforced disappearances. It has become an explosive issue given that more people have gone missing in the province than in any other part of Pakistan. The HRCP has ample evidence to support the allegations of the families of victims that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are intelligence agencies and security forces. Senior officials and politicians in authority have also conceded this. A HRCP mission learnt that in several incidents even public figures in power were unable to secure relief or assurances that such incidents will stop.
These public figures cited a number of incidents of disappearances in which, on the basis of credible evidence, they approached the intelligence agencies and the security forces only to be met with a bland denial. The mission also received information about arbitrary arrests and reports of endemic torture at unauthorised cells whose existence was confirmed by public figures.
The consequences of such atrocities were well articulated by the veteran Baloch leader, Attaullah Mengal, when he told Nawaz Sharif in December 2011: “Baloch youth don’t want such a Pakistan in which they receive mutilated bodies of their compatriots. It is for them to decide [about their future], because they are being systematically eliminated and forced to seek refuge in the mountains.”
An ominous note followed: “But if atrocities continue, the Baloch will never accept a united Pakistan.” Sharif termed Attaullah Mengal’s concerns legitimate, conceding that atrocities were being committed in Balochistan. He said his party would also talk to Baloch youth. About the assassination of Akbar Bugti, Nawaz Sharif said the “killers must be called to account”. The HRCP started noticing this issue in 2004 when the number of missing persons from Balochistan rose sharply. By 2006, Balochistan accounted for an overwhelming majority of persons reported missing in a year in Pakistan. In the cases of enforced disappearance brought before it, the mission found that there were credible allegations and material on record to substantiate the involvement of state security forces, particularly the Frontier Corps.
While first information reports (FIRs) had been registered with the local police in many cases of enforced disappearance, there had been no efforts by the police to investigate them. Quite likely since the involvement of the state security agencies, particularly the FC, was well known, the police did not take any action. According to the HRCP, “This indicated that there was either an unstated policy not to interfere with actions of the FC or the civil law enforcement authorities themselves feared the military and paramilitary forces.”
In one particular case a young man named Abid Saleem was picked up from Chitkar Bazaar in Panjgur on 23 January 2011, together with five other men who had no connection with him. Everyone present in that part of the bazaar saw uniformed FC personnel together with plain-clothes men take the boys into custody. An FIR was registered on 26 January 2011 with Panjgur Police Station and FC personnel were listed for the disappearance.Instead of making any efforts to recover the disappeared persons, the police did not even ask any questions of the FC personnel. At least one of the persons picked up along with Abid Saleem was found alive. He had been severely tortured, shot and thrown by the roadside along with the dead body of another person who had disappeared with him on 23 January.
His tormentors had apparently thought that he too had died after being shot in the throat. There had been no investigation in this case by the police. No medical records were collected even though the survivor did receive medical treatment.
The HRCP Report 2009 made the important point that while in the rest of the country most of the missing persons were picked up due to involvement in terrorism, in Balochistan many belonged to areas where no terrorist activity was reported. The inescapable conclusion, according to it, was that a large number of Balochistan’s missing persons were targeted for their legitimate political activities/opinions. The perception had also gained ground that only ethnic Baloch were being targeted in incidents of enforced disappearance and none of the disappeared was a “settler”.
The situation had become so bad and attracted such international opprobrium that Pakistan was compelled to allow a UN mission in September 2012. The mission spent ten days in Balochistan meeting with government officials and private citizens to investigate the fate of disappeared persons in Balochistan.Some of the witnesses who met with the delegation told its members that they had been “threatened or intimidated”. However, neither the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) nor the Frontier Corps that are blamed for most of the disappearances met the delegation. The UN mission did succeed in drawing international attention to the issue of enforced disappearances. The United States and the United Kingdom also expressed concerns over the human rights situation in Balochistan during the nineteenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Enforced disappearance is defined in Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which the UN General Assembly adopted in December 2006, as: “...the arrest, detention, abduction, or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support, or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Part II of the Constitution of Pakistan dealing with Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy states: “(1) No person shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice. (2) Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before a magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest to the court of the nearest magistrate, and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.”
There are provisions for preventive detention but here too: “No such law shall authorise the detention of a person for a period exceeding three months,” unless approved by the appropriate Review Board. All these constitutional guarantees have been systematically and repeatedly abused by the state.
For example, Munir Mengal, director of a proposed Baloch television channel, was illegally detained in April 2006. He was released in September 2007 on orders of the Balochistan High Court after he was exonerated of all charges. However, according to his family, he was again detained by the intelligence agencies at an unknown location. Despite undeniable evidence of “disappearances”, successive governments have consistently denied subjecting anyone to enforced disappearance or knowing anything of their fate or whereabouts. In September and December 2006, after Amnesty International released reports documenting dozens of cases of enforced disappearances, President Musharraf responded by stating: “I don’t even want to reply to that; it is nonsense, I don’t believe it, I don’t trust it.” He added that 700 people had been detained but that all were accounted for.
In March 2007 President Musharraf asserted that the allegation that hundreds of persons had disappeared in the custody of intelligence agencies had “absolutely no basis” but that these individuals had been recruited or lured by “jihadi groups” to fight for their “misplaced causes”: “I am deadly sure that the missing persons are in the control of militant organisations,” he said. The security forces when confronted by the Supreme Court and the provincial high courts about enforced disappearances have resorted to a variety of falsehoods to avoid being exposed. Not surprisingly, the refusal of the state to meaningfully and truthfully respond to Supreme Court directions has stalled the tracing of persons subjected to enforced disappearance in Pakistan. More wide-ranging damage is being done by giving the intelligence agencies immunity to commit such grave human rights violations and collaborating in their cover-up. The state has also sent a dangerous signal that it condones the impunity of committing, condoning or concealing such human rights violations.
In July 2011 the Human Rights Watch published a report named “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years – Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan”. It starts with a summary that gives the account of the person who witnessed the disappearance of Abdul Nasir in June 2010: “Even if the president or chief justice tells us to release you, we won’t. We can torture you, or kill you, or keep you for years at our will. It is only the army chief and the [intelligence] chief that we obey.”
During consultations with the families of the disappeared people in Quetta, the HRCP found that families of missing persons living in remote areas, and in not so remote areas such as Kalat, did not have the means to register their complaints; most did not know how to access redressal channels and families were unaware of the cases in courts. As a result, Balochistan today has the dubious distinction of being the world capital of enforced disappearances where more than 2,000 journalists, singers, teachers and lawyers have been forcibly abducted, tortured, killed and dumped since 2009 – in just five years as many as in Chile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet. In 2014 alone, as many as 455 people, who were forcibly abducted, were tortured and killed by the Pakistani security forces and intelligence services, and their bodies dumped, according to Nasrullah Baloch, chairman of the VBMP.

After Ghotki, Pakistan Should Abandon its Glorification of Temple Vandalizers

The abandonment of the Islamist narrative has long been an existential question for Pakistan.
Last week, an Islamist mob vandalized three temples, and damaged a school and houses belonging to the Hindu community in Ghotki, after the principal of the local Sindh Public School had been accused of blasphemy by a student. 
The principal was taken into custody and a First Information Report (FIR) was registered by the police under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which establishes the death penalty for offending Islam.
Despite the arrest of the principal, who has since been shifted to an undisclosed location for his own safety, communal tension gripped Ghotki, with the local Hindu community fearing more aggression from Islamist mobs in a country where outraged sentiments have resulted in entire localities belonging to religious minorities being razed.  
Where Christian communities are largely targeted in Punjab owing to the demographic distribution, local Hindus are often attacked in Sindh, where they’re more densely populated. 
In May, mob violence broke out in Mirpurkhas where a Hindu doctor had been accused of blasphemy. In February, the Sham Sundar Shewa Mandli Temple in Kumb was the target of an arson attack, where idols and religious scriptures – including Bhagwat Geeta and Guru Granth Sahib – were set ablaze. 
Ghotki was the scene of violence in July 2016 as well, when a 17-year-old Hindu boy was shot dead after being accused of desecrating the Quran. In March 2014, a Hindu temple and dharamshala were set on fire in Larkana for similar blasphemy allegations. 
When the temples aren’t being torched by Islamist mobs, they are often demolished under the auspices of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, with local municipal administrations razing temple sites to facilitate construction of commercial centers and private properties. 
2014 survey revealed that 95 percent of the places of worship belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan no longer exist, with many of them having been converted to “toy stores and restaurants.”

Indeed, the mob killings and destruction of temples isn’t the only way the Hindu community is violently marginalized in Pakistan. Over 1,000 non-Muslim girls, a vast majority of them Hindus, are forcibly converted to Islam annually, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Member of the National Assembly, and the head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani revealed in 2014 that on average 5,000 Pakistani Hindus migrate to India every year.
Historically, the persecution of Hindus in the country has emanated from the circumstances of the state’s creation and its founding ideology called the Two Nation Theory, designed by the founders of Pakistan to underline the differences between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent.
Since the creation of Pakistan, that founding antagonism against Hindus was gradually etched in the national narrative as illustrated by the school curricula.
“Hindus have tried all their means to harm Muslims… The foundation of [the] Hindu set up was based on injustice and cruelty… Hindus… used all means to weaken and harm Pakistan…” are examples of how the community is often referred to in government textbooks
Similarly, among those glorified as part of the “history of Pakistan” are the likes of Muhammad bin Qasim who “saved the people of Sindh” from the “atrocities of Hindu Raja,” as described in the Civics Class IX & X book from the Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 2001.
Among those lauded as heroes of Pakistan are Tipu Sultan who in a 1790 letter to then Bekal Governor Budruz Zuman Khan took pride in forcibly converting 400,000 Hindus. Prime Minister Imran Khan has often touted Tipu Sultan as his hero.
What often united Muslim invaders from the millennium leading up to the Indo-Pak Partition was their vandalizing of Hindu temples. The destruction of the Somnath temple at the hands of Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1024, continues to be celebrated as a “Muslim conquest over Hindus,” despite many historians questions the credibility of the claims made as part of later traditions.
Even so, the demolition of Somnath temple remains etched in the Islamist folklore in Pakistan to such an extent that the country has named nuclear warheads carrying missiles after Ghaznavi – ostensibly emblematic of “Muslim Pakistan” intimidating “Hindu India.”
In Pakistan, Ghaznavi doesn’t just symbolize Muslim supremacy over Hindus, but also Sunni supremacism given his attempted cleansing of the Ismaili Shia population in Multan in the year 1005.
This misplaced glorification of genocidal invaders, the legal sanction to Islamic supremacy and the state’s capitulation to religionist groups, facilitate mob vandalism as witnessed in Ghotki last week. 
While abandonment of the Islamist narrative has long been an existential question for Pakistan, there is hope that the country might take the requisite steps to finally turn the corner.
That hope emanates from the local Muslims guarding the temple in Ghotki against further destruction as an expression of solidarity with their Hindu neighbors, with civil society protests against the mob eventually culminating in cases being registered against the vandalizers.
Prime Minister Khan’s insensitive reaction to the Ghotki incident notwithstanding, the government set a progressive example by sacking a minister for anti-Hindu bigotry in March this year. Even the historic Holi address of Khan’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif in 2017, where he endorsed pluralism, suggested that an Islamist interpretation of history was being revamped, albeit with the requisite revisionism.
For Pakistan, overcoming the Islamist inertia and embracing religious pluralism isn’t merely about righting the societal wrongs, it is also critical for its global standing. 
At a time when Khan is looking to fight Pakistan’s case at the United Nations General Assembly, he needs to realize that any support on Kashmir hinges on the abandonment of its wrongs from the past, many of which were founded on radical Islam and the masochistic penchant for jihad.
While leaders condemn the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, it is important to differentiate its opposition to Hindutva ideology from bigotry against Hindus.
More importantly, for any condemnation of actions across the border to carry substance, Pakistan would need to abandon its own adherence to religious supremacism and uphold the sanctity of human rights.

India vs. Pakistan Could Be a Nuclear War Where Billions Die

By Kyle Mizokami  
Hundreds of nuclear weapons could go flying.

 Know This: It’s distinctly possible that any future war between India and Pakistan would involve limited action on the ground and full-scale fighting at sea and in the air. India has the upper hand in both, particularly at sea where it would have the ability to blockade Pakistani ports. Pakistan imports 83% of its gasoline consumption, and without sizable reserves the economy would feel the effects of war very quickly. An economic victory, not a purely military one might be the best way to decisively end a war without the use of nuclear weapons.
With that scenario in mind, let’s look at the five Indian weapons Pakistan would fear most in a war.
INS Vikramaditya Aircraft Carrier
Commissioned in November 2013, INS Vikramaditya is the newer and more modern of India’s two aircraft carriers. In the event of war, Vikramaditya would lead an offensive at sea designed to sweep the Pakistani Navy from the field. The nightmare scenario for Pakistan would be Vikramaditya parked off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest port, enforcing a naval blockade.
Originally built for the Soviet Navy as the anti-submarine aviation cruiser Baku, Vikramaditya was mothballed in 1996 after it became clear post-Cold War Russia could not afford to operate her. The ship was purchased by India in 2004, to be upgraded by Russian shipbuilders to a true aircraft carrier complete with angled flight deck. The updated design deleted all cruiser armament, including two 100mm deck guns, 192 SA-N-9 surface to air missiles and 12 SS-N-12 Sandbox anti-ship missiles.
Vikramaditya is 282 meters long and displaces 44,000 tons, making it less than half the displacement of American supercarriers. Nevertheless Vikramaditya’s powerful air wing is capable of executing air superiority, anti-surface, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare. The carrier air wing is expected to consist of 24 MiG-29K or Tejas multi-role fighters and 10 anti-submarine warfare helicopters. India has ordered 45 MiG-29Ks, with the first squadron, 303 “Black Panthers” Squadron, stood up in May 2013.
INS Chakra Nuclear Attack Submarine
While INS Vikramaditya would be the visible symbol of a naval blockade, perhaps the real enforcers would be India’s force of 14 attack submarines. The most powerful of India’s submarines is INS Chakra, an Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.
INS Chakra would be able to fulfill a variety of wartime tasks. It would be a real threat to Pakistan’s Navy, particularly her 11 frigates and eight submarines, only three of which are reasonably modern. Chakra is also capable of covertly laying mines in Pakistani waters and conduct surveillance in support of a blockade.
Construction of the submarine that would become Chakra began in 1993, but stalled due to lack of funding. In 2004 the Indian Navy agreed to fund the sub to completion—at a cost of $900 million—in exchange for a future 10 year lease with an option to buy. Delivery to the Indian Navy was supposed to take place in 2010, but transfer was delayed after a 2008 accident that killed 20 Russian Navy personnel and wounded another 21.
At 8,000 tons displacement, Chakra is as large as U.S. Virginia-class nuclear submarines. It has a maximum speed of 30 knots with a maximum operating depth of reportedly 520 meters. The sub not only has a customary large sonar hydrophone array on the bow, but also active and passive arrays scattered over the rest of the hull. Chakra also features a pod-mounted towed hydrophone array.
INS Chakra is armed with not only four standard diameter 533 torpedo tubes but also another four 650mm torpedo tubes. Armament includes the VA-111 Shkval supercavitating torpedo, a high speed torpedo capable of traveling at 220 knots to ranges of up 15 kilometers. Missile armament is in the form of 3M54 Klub anti-ship missiles. Chakra can carry up to 40 torpedo tube launched weapons, including mines. (Five merchant ships were struck by mines during the 1971 India-Pakistan War.) For defensive purposes, Chakra has six external tubes, each carrying two torpedo decoys.
According to the terms of the lease with Russia, Chakra cannot be equipped with nuclear weapons.
AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III Attack Helicopter
India’s recent agreement to purchase the AH-64D Apache helicopter represents a quantum leap in land firepower for the Indian Army. The Apache’s versatility means that it will be able to do everything from engage armored formations in a conventional war scenario to hunt guerrillas and infiltrators in a counterinsurgency campaign.
The Apache is one of the most battle proven attack helicopters fielded. Apache is capable of speeds of up to 171 miles an hour in high altitude environments, an important consideration in India’s mountainous terrain. The rotor blades are resistant to 12.7mm machine gun fire and the cockpit is protected from shrapnel by Kevlar shielding.
The Apache Longbow is optimized to attack and destroy armor—the mast-mounted millimeter-wave radar is capable of detecting and prioritizing up to 128 vehicle targets in a matter of seconds, then attacking up to sixteen targets in quick succession. For counterinsurgency operations, the thermal imaging sensor allows crew members to pick out individuals in ground cover and concealment.
The helicopter has four external hard points, each of which can mount four Hellfire missiles. A 30mm cannon capable of engaging light armor, soft targets or personnel is mounted underneath the helicopter chin and slaved to an optical sight worn by the pilot and gunner.
In a contract worth $1.4 billion dollars, in 2012 India agreed to purchase 22 Apache helicopters. Also included in the 2012 deal was a request for 812 Hellfire Longbow millimeter-wave radar guided missiles for use against tanks and armored vehicles and 542 Hellfires optimized for use against hard, soft and enclosed targets. Also included in the deal were 245 Stinger Block I missiles to provide an air-to-air capability.
In August, India offered to buy a further 39 Apaches, in an attempt to drive the overall unit cost down.
Su-30MKI Fighter
The Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI air superiority fighter is meant to secure air superiority over Pakistan. The IAF has 200 Su-30MKIs in service with another 72 on order. A long-ranged, twin engine fighter with a powerful radar and formidable armament, the Su-30MKI will form the mainstay of the Indian Air Force.
The Su-30MKI is an evolution of the 1980s-era Su-27 Flanker. Thrust vectoring control and canards make the plane highly maneuverable, while the Zhuk active electronically scanned array radar makes it capable of engaging several targets at once. Complementing the Zhuk will be the Novator long-range air to air missile, capable of engaging targets at up to 300 to 400 kilometers.
The Su-30MKI has an impressive twelve hardpoints for mounting weapons, sensors and fuel tanks. The Su-30MKI is arguably superior to any fighter in the Pakistani Air Force, with the possible exception of the F-16 Block 50/52, of which Pakistan has only 18.
A portion of the Su-30MKI force has been modified for the strategic reconnaissance role. Israeli-made sensor pods reportedly give the Indian Air Force the ability to look up to 300 kilometers into Pakistan (or China) simply by flying along the border.
The Su-30MKI will grow even more lethal with the addition of the air-launched version of the BrahMos supersonic missile, currently under development. Each Su-30MKI will be capable of carrying a single BrahMos. BrahMos will give the Su-30MKI stand-off capability against ships and ground targets to ranges of 295 kilometers.
Indian Nuclear Weapons
India first tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, with the detonation of a 12 kiloton explosive device. The Indian government has been consistently tight-lipped on the status of their nuclear arsenal, and as a result a considerable amount of mystery surrounds India’s nuclear weapons.
The exact size of the arsenal is unknown but estimated to be between 90 and 110 nuclear devices. Statements by officials have lead outsiders to believe the maximum yield of Indian weapons to be around 200 kilotons, or approximately ten times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.India’s first nuclear delivery systems were likely attack aircraft—first the Jaguar, then the MiG-27 and Mirage 2000. Although capable, the aircraft were vulnerable to Pakistan’s air defense network and this vulnerability likely lead to the development of the land-based missiles. It is unknown whether nuclear weapons have been fitted to the Su-30MKI, but as a non-stealthly aircraft its ability to penetrate Pakistani defenses would not be dissimilar to a Mirage 2000.Indian nuclear weapons are placed under the authority of the Strategic Forces Command. India’s primary delivery systems are land-based missiles. The Prithvi I and II liquid-fueled missiles have ranges from 150 to 350 kilometers and need half a day to prepare for launch. The Agni I, II, III and IV solid-fuel missiles are medium to intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 700 to 4,000 kilometers.
India is also on the verge of fielding its first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant. Based on the Akula-I attack submarine design, Arihant has been modified to carry 12 K-15 short-range missiles or 4 K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Arihant is significant in that it will be able to patrol far beyond the range of Pakistani anti-submarine warfare capabilities. This will essentially make India’s retaliatory capability untouchable by Pakistan and thus a more credible deterrent.
India has a “no first use” policy regarding its nuclear weapons, reserving them solely for retaliation in the event of nuclear attack. Indian also adheres to a “minimum self defense” doctrine, in which the fewest nuclear weapons needed to maintain effective deterrence from attack are maintained.

Video - PM Narendra Modi's Speech | Howdy Modi Event | Address to Indian diaspora

Don’t Mess With Modi in Texas - Indian prime minister defends the takeover of Kashmir and casts scorn on Pakistan

 By Roger Cohen

Trump joins Modi as the Indian prime minister defends the takeover of Kashmir and casts scorn on Pakistan.
Who could resist an audience of more than 50,000 Indian-Americans packed into a Texas football stadium? Not Donald Trump, on the eve of an election year, so he joined the “Howdy, Modi!” party here to proclaim, with the Indian prime minister, a great future of shared values and mutual reinforcement for the world’s two largest democracies.
It was quite a rah-rah Lone Star State show, boasting Indian-Texan cheerleaders. It was also freighted with political significance. Less than two months after Narendra Modi, with strong backing from Parliament, revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, eliminating the special autonomous status of the Kashmir region and clamping down on the mainly Muslim territory, Trump chose to signal approval by standing side-by-side with the prime minister.
The president got his biggest cheer by saying the United States was determined to help protect India from the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” As for Modi, he brought the house down when he declared that his “new India” was bidding farewell to open defecation, taxes that are an obstacle to jobs, 350,000 shell companies, 80 million fake names used to defraud the government and — wait for it — Article 370.
“This article has deprived the people of Jammu and Kashmir of development and equal rights,” Modi said. “The forces fanning terror and terrorism were exploiting the situation.”
Then, taking aim at Muslim-majority Pakistan, whose covert backing of militant groups in Kashmir goes back decades, he threw down the gauntlet to Islamabad: “India’s actions within its boundaries are causing discomfort to some people who are unable to manage their own country. These people have put their hatred for India at the center of their political agenda.”
The situation in Kashmir, a perennial South Asian flash point where war has flared more than once between India and Pakistan, has festered for a long time. Its economy is stagnant, its potential blocked. The two countries, both nuclear-armed, always blame each other for the collapse of outreach. Both Modi, since taking office in 2014, and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, elected last year, have made conciliatory gestures and found them aborted in violence. For Modi, enough was enough.
His response has been sweeping. It appears to have involved significant human rights abuses. Several thousand Kashmiri political and business leaders have been rounded up, internet connections and mobile phone lines have been cut off, and Indian security forces have poured into the streets. Still, by Kashmiri standards, bloodshed has been limited; and India insists the communications blackout was intended to block social-media incitement to more violence.
Kashmir illustrates how the Trump administration’s indifference to human rights issues offers carte blanche to leaders like Modi. American pushback has disappeared. Modi, who talked up India’s diversity in his speech, has no incentive to keep his Hindu nationalist base in check. That could prove dangerous as he fast-forwards his country.
The question, however, is whether Modi had any choice in Kashmir and whether, over time, the revocation of an article conceived as temporary breaks the Kashmiri logjam, pries open the stranglehold of corrupt local elites and offers a better future. I think it might.
“We revoked a temporary constitutional provision that slowed down development, created alienation, led to separatism, fed terrorism and ended up as a deadly national security problem,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the external affairs minister of India, told me. “We know the last 70 years did not work in Kashmir. It has bled us. It would be Einsteinian insanity to do the same thing and expect a different result.”
The reaction of Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, has been wild. Suggesting Modi has sympathy for the Third Reich, comparing him to a Fascist leader and stating that he may commit “genocide,” is to protest too much. Raising the possibility of nuclear war is reckless. All this suggests his bluff has been called.
If Pakistan is so concerned about Nazi Germany, it might begin by recognizing the State of Israel. Whether Pakistan really wants a solution in Kashmir, the region that justifies its bloated military budget, and whether it can ever transparently demonstrate that its intelligence services have stopped finding uses for radical Islamism in its various violent forms, remain open questions.
They are important questions for the United States, as it contemplates a military withdrawal from Afghanistan. A quandary for Trump now will be how to secure Pakistani support, rather than suffer an incensed Pakistan’s sabotage, if he moves forward with his promise to bring American troops home.
Modi will not turn back from his elimination of Kashmir’s autonomy. That phase of Indian history is over. Trump and Modi are both forceful, media-savvy politicians. But they are not alike. Modi, a self-made man from a poor family, is measured, ascetic, not driven by impulse. Trump was born on third base. He’s erratic, guided by the devouring needs of his ego. I’d bet on Modi to transform India, all of it, including the newly integrated Kashmir region.