Young vendors selling ballons walk on the shores of Dal Lake as the sun sets in Srinagar on June 24, 2021. Photo: AFP / Tauseef Mustafa

PESHAWAR – New developments are deflecting Pakistan’s attention from the Afghan chessboard to the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir, where India says it will soon make “some crucially important” administrative changes, without elaborating on the details.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest initiative to convene an “all-parties” meeting of Kashmir’s leadership in the last week of June in New Delhi has raised speculation that the region is on the cusp of either new rounds of instability or a new era of reconciliation.

Some saw hope for the latter in Modi’s first meeting with the Kashmiri leadership, which has overshadowed his earlier stated plan to “tighten the noose around the miscreants” for creating trouble for the Indian government in Kashmir.

Others were less sure following reports of a meeting involving Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha with Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week in New Delhi. Kashmiri leaders, tweeting on social media, have claimed vaguely that India is planning “something big vis-à-vis Kashmir.”

Despite the recent reaffirmation of a 2003 ceasefire, the mountainous region of Kashmir that borders Pakistan and India is still a hot flashpoint between the nuclear neighbors, who have fought three wars over possession of the valley since the 1947 partition of British India.

Pakistan currently controls one-third and India two-thirds of the disputed mountainous region.

The 2003 ceasefire had in reality wholly failed to stop hostilities. India’s government says Pakistan violated the ceasefire at least 5,133 times last year, killing 22 civilians and 24 security personnel.

Pakistan, for its part, says India violated the ceasefire at least 3,097 times in 2020, killing 28 civilians and wounding 257 others.

Recent Indian troop movements including the deployment of 200 companies of paramilitary forces in Kashmir have rekindled memories of 2019, when India tightened security in the valley in anticipation of large-scale public reaction to New Delhi’s abrogation of Article 370, which controversially stripped the princely state of its autonomous status.

Since then, Islamabad has tried in vain to build up international pressure against New Delhi to reverse the move, which resulted in a spike in tensions and a severe security clampdown that shut down the internet among other restrictive measures.

Now, however, some analysts believe that backdoor diplomacy has over time worked and that India is preparing to reinstate Article 370, potentially paving the way for the restoration of Kashmir’s previous autonomous status.

Article 370 provided Kashmir autonomy over its affairs with the exceptions of communications, defense, finance and foreign affairs. It also gave the state the ability to craft its own constitution and legislation, though in conference with the Indian government.

If Modi follows through and reinstates the abrogated article, it could have far-reaching implications for stability across the wider region.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters during a mega-rally ahead of the West Bengal elections, on the outskirts of Kolkata on April 12, 2021. Photo: Sonali Pal Chaudhury / NurPhoto via AFP

Any move in that direction, analysts say, could be motivated in part by fast-moving events in Afghanistan, which some analysts believe is drifting toward anarchy and civil war as the US and NATO withdrawal their troops.

India, like Russia and China, has an interest in stability in Afghanistan, which in the past has been a hotbed for Islamic militancy and terrorism under Taliban rule. The Taliban is poised to either cease control of Kabul or enter a power-sharing arrangement with incumbent President Ashraf Ghani’s national government.

Jan Achakzai, ex-adviser to Pakistan’s Balochistan provincial government, told Asia Times that Pakistan’s various and recent approaches to the UN secretary-general and UN Security Council on India’s abrogation of Article 370 had no effect on New Delhi. 

“Modi is going to restore the statehood of Kashmir with the start of an elections process in the disputed region,” he predicted, claiming non-governmental, informal and unofficial activities have all helped to melt the ice. 

“The backchannel activities going on for quite some time have produced the desired results.  It is important to note that all J&K politicians have been invited for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, which shows the seriousness of the Indian leadership to end this stalemate,” Achakzai maintained.  

Still, uncertainty over exactly what India has in mind concerning new administrative changes in Kashmir and New Delhi’s attendant build-up of troops in apparent anticipation of the move has given Pakistan’s military strategists some restless nights.

Indian forces on alert in Srinagar, Kashmir in a file photo. Photo: Muzamil Mattoo / NurPhoto via AFP

Since 2019, India has taken steps to end what it sees as an “infiltration of terrorists” in the valley from neighboring Pakistan, where New Delhi claims Islamabad’s powerful security and spy agencies have built training camps to equip and train militants bent on destabilizing the region.

Indeed, Pakistani officials are not wholly convinced India’s next move will necessarily be conciliatory. This month, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi sent letters to the United Nations Security Council and UN secretary-general to convey pre-emptive concerns over India’s undisclosed new action in Kashmir.

Echoing previous complaints, Pakistan’s foreign office stated that India’s proposed “demographic changes” in the disputed region were an “instrument of occupation, which shall have no legal effect” in Kashmir.