Today, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, introduced measures in the Rajya Sabha to end the special status of J&K and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories. These measures have immediate and long-term implications for India’s foreign policy and for Jammu and Kashmir’s status within India.
- Pakistan will certainly look for an opportunity to keep highlighting this issue through covert and diplomatic means. India can expect heightened action on the Line of Control, exceeding the scale of exchange of artillery fire and infiltration activities seen in recent days.
- Islamabad is also likely to approach the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) on this issue. Among other neighbours, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh will be concerned by this assertion of the Indian state. Nepal may issue a statement on its own and at the insistence of China. India’s friendliest neighbor, Bangladesh will not be pleased, as it comes soon after Home Minister Amit Shah stated that every illegal immigrant will be identified under the National Register of Citizens and deported.
- Among the major powers – reactions of China, United States, and Saudi Arabia will be critical. The Chinese will particularly target the creation of a Union Territory for Ladakh as (a) the CPEC passes through J&K, (b) Beijing makes territorial claims on Ladakh as a part of Tibet (c) China has also been practicing cheque book diplomacy in the monasteries in Ladakh and along the India-China border.
- India should anticipate an attempt by Pakistan, with Chinese assistance, to take this to the U.N. Security Council.
- The U.S. State Department may issue a balanced statement to start with, but President Donald Trump is likely to tweet independently, repeating his offer to mediate. This will be projected by Pakistan in its favour. Among the OIC countries, Saudi Arabia and UAE are expected to play a double game – keep India happy but side with Pakistan.
- Jammu and Ladakh will welcome the move, particularly the creation of a Union Territory for Ladakh which fulfills the region’s long-standing demand. Within the Kashmir Valley, there will be opposition leading to heightened and prolonged unrest, including increased activities of the terrorist groups.
- The central government can encourage business to invest in Jammu & Kashmir, and in Ladakh, now with a long term view. Tax incentives similar to those available in the North Eastern states, plus suspension of GST for five years, will attract business to J&K. The region is rich in high value handicrafts and carpets which can now be exploited to scale and for export as can horticulture and agribusiness. The biggest value can be added by an expansion in tourism and entertainment, for which the state has vast capacity.