Bondevik claims that his visit was facilitated by Art of Living founder, Sri Sri Ravishankar. The godman had tried to organise a Kashmir initiative earlier called “Paigam-e-Mohabbat” in Srinagar. However he had to beat a hasty retreat after people said that they had been tricked into attending the event with promises of free cricket bats, sewing-machines and loan write-offs!
The US-based Carter Center is one of the international partners of Bondevik’s Oslo Centre. Wikileaks revelations have shown that Norwegian negotiators mediating in the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka worked in close cooperation with the Americans. The Carter Center is also interested in resolving international conflicts. That may not be enough to conclude that Bondevik’s Kashmir-initiative was at the behest of the Americans. However it is quite possible that the Americans are seeking Islamabad’s cooperation in getting the Taliban to the US-sponsored negotiating table but as a quid pro quo Pakistan wants Washington to provide relief in Kashmir. Direct US mediation in Kashmir would be unacceptable to India, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi could perhaps accept a ‘neutral’ visit by a Norwegian peacenik especially if it were routed through a friendly godman.
Whatever Bondevik’s motivations, he has effectively drawn the attention of the international community to the ongoing conflict between the Indian state and the people of Kashmir.
The statements of J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik also suggest that Delhi may be losing control over the Kashmir narrative. He justified his dissolution of the J&K Assembly claiming that he “overruled” the option of installing Sajjad Lone of Peoples’ Conference as the next Chief Minister. Lone was being promoted by none other than Ram Madhav, Bharatiya Janata Party’s general secretary in-charge of J&K, who hoped to install a government with the help of defectors. “Had I looked to Delhi, I would have had to install a government led by Lone, and history would have remembered me as a dishonest man,” Governor Malik declared publicly.
It is unclear what Governor Malik meant by “looking towards Delhi” – the forces represented by Ram Madhav or the PMO? If the plans of Ram Madhav, and derivatively that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), had succeeded, there would have been an uproar in the Valley, in Pakistan and the international community would have taken notice of the mockery of democracy in J&K. The PMO may not have wanted to provoke unwelcome international attention. In any case, the joint bid for governance by the PDP, National Conference and the Congress and the failure of the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar and the PMO in Delhi to foresee their move, seems to have left the Lone centered strategy unworkable.
India’s Kashmir policy is also intricately linked to its Pakistan policy. The deliberate heating up of the Line of Control by targeting its military posts across the border to punish it for promoting terrorism in J&K, was pioneered by the Modi government. It fed into the narrative of no engagement with Pakistan. This part of using the Big Stick has also come unstuck.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s has said that Imran Khan threw a googly at India with the offer of opening the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for Sikh pilgrims. Unable to spurn an offer linked to sentiments of millions of Sikhs in the country, the Modi regime was forced to scale down its policy of no-engagement to one of limited contact. Outmanoeuvred, Prime Minister Modi went overboard comparing the opening of the corridor to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was compelled to send two of his ministers to the ground-breaking ceremony in Pakistan. This was barely a few days after his government described an attack on innocent Nirankaris at a prayer meeting in Amritsar as being “Pakistan inspired” act of terrorism.
The public relations fallout has been unfavourable for India. Pakistan’s Prime Minsiter Imran Khan got a platform in Kartarpur Sahib to upbraid India for refusing to discuss the Kashmir issue. This was followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s announcement that the next Kashmir Day would be celebrated in London to attract the attention of the international community to the continuing violence in the Kashmir valley. This also has to be seen against the European Parliament’s decision to hold a hearing on human rights violations in J&K on 23 January 2019.
The state’s narrative about controlling Kashmir through use of superior force does not seem to be working any longer. Whether it is Prime Minister Modi or someone else who assumes power in India after the general election in May 2019, it may not be possible to continue the Big Stick policy in J&K without the world raising alarm over the raised levels of violence. The high pitched justification for violence and lack of political dialogue in the name of ‘state doctrine’ may well have to be dialled down.
The writer is a journalist based in Delhi. He tweets @bharatitis