“I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it,” insists Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s Consul General to the United States.
For the first time a senior Indian diplomat has called for establishing Hindu enclaves in the occupied Valley of Kashmir, similar to the illegal Jewish settlements in the Israel-occupied West Bank. While speaking at an event attended by Kashmiri Hindus in New York City on November 25, Chakravorty, in his address, was hopeful that the Modi administration would build occupying settlements modeled after Israel to ensure the colonisation of Kashmir’s Muslim population. Although his statement was heavily criticised in India and by the Pakistani Prime Minister, it reflects the prevailing mindset in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) about the demographic transformation in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.
Four months after the revocation of Article 370 and 35(A), the Modi regime is implementing its programme of “Hinduisation” of the Kashmir Valley. It will be an uphill task for the Indian government to turn the 92% Muslim population there into a minority, but people like Chakravorty strongly believe that if the Israeli model of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is seriously considered, it may not take that long to transform the valley into a Hindu-majority territory. Ram Madhav, BJP’s National General Secretary, said his Hindu nationalist party was committed to bringing some 200,000 to 300,000 Hindus to the valley i.e. the Kashmiri Pandits who left during the starting years of the insurgency. But the Pandits are highly critical of such ideas by BJP stalwarts as they don’t want to live a life of exclusion, detached from their Muslim Kashmiri counterparts.
What is the Israeli model of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank and how far will the revocation of Article 370 and 35(A) help unleash the process of “Hinduisation” in IOK? Following the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israeli forces occupied Golan Heights, a Syrian territory; the Sinai desert, an Egyptian territory; Gaza, which was controlled by Egypt; and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, which was controlled by Jordan. While Israel vacated the Sinai desert under the Camp David Accords of 1978, it maintained its control over Gaza, the West Bank and Golan Heights. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza but maintained control over its borders. It annexed Golan Heights and East Jerusalem including the Al Aqsa Mosque. In case of the West Bank, according to the PLO-Israeli Accord of September 13, 1993, Israel agreed to grant autonomy to some of its parts. But when Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party came to power following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, he reneged from that accord and embarked on aggressively establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel also established a wall separating the Arab and Jewish populations in the West Bank, while the Jewish population surged to around half a million, challenging the Arab majority there.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank under the Israeli patronage have been declared illegal by the UN but Netanyahu’s regime continued its policy, resulting in the occupation of the Palestinian lands and settling of hundreds and thousands of Jews in the last 25 years. It is this model of Jewish settlements in the West Bank which was supported by Chakravorty, the Indian Consul General in New York. The only hindrance the BJP regime saw in settling Hindus in the Kashmir Valley was Article 370 and 35 (A). With the revocation of both by the Indian state, New Delhi’s policy of “Hinduisation” of Kashmir is now being implemented.
The idea of establishing Hindu enclaves in the Kashmir Valley is, however, being contested by the Kashmiri Pandits who have been living side by side with the Kashmiri Muslims for centuries but had to leave with the outbreak of violence in 1989. Around 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits took refuge in Jammu and other parts of India, particularly New Delhi. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits oppose being accommodated in Hindu enclaves as it will be akin to living in ghettos. The Indian government, however, believes that not only Kashmiri Pandits but Indian nationals should also be settled in the valley in special enclaves equipped with full security and having necessities like shopping centres, educational institutions and hospitals, but separated from the Kashmiri Muslim population.
This “Apartheid” policy which the Indian government wants to adopt in IOK would have three implications. First, the Muslim majority in the valley would be under a constant threat of forced occupation and displacement by the Indian authorities and military personnel deployed in IOK. Inspired from the Israeli model of Jewish settlements, the Indian government would not hesitate to confiscate lands if the local Muslims refuse to sell. They would either be forcibly displaced or pushed across the Line of Control.
Second, if India proceeds with establishing Hindu enclaves, it will face enormous resistance from the Muslim Kashmiris along with their Pandit counterparts. But, if Kashmiri Pandits are convinced by the BJP government to support such enclaves, then one can expect a sharpening of the communal polarisation in the valley. Predictably, apartheid-like enclaves, segregated with a fence or a wall, would expand over time so that in 10 years, the Muslim majority is altered to the advantage of the Hindu minority.
Third, Pakistan’s position — if these enclaves are established — will be like walking a tight rope. Certainly, Pakistan would raise this issue at the international level but given the lack of support it got from the UNSC when it informally discussed the Kashmir situation in September this year, the likelihood of major powers taking a strong position against India is remote. In 2019, back-to-back events in IOK put enormous pressure on Pakistan. For Both the IMF and the World Bank are struggling to stay relevant in a world where the challenges of climate change continue to undermine long-term prospects of economic growth, the on-ground reality is quite bitter because India has not only grabbed IOK but is now proceeding with its agenda of transforming the occupied valley into a Hindu-majority territory.
Despite Pakistani efforts to exert international pressure on India, New Delhi’s policy remains unchanged. It has totally disregarded the international reaction against ending IOK’s special status, imposition of curfew, media curbs, and brutal suppression of demonstrations and arbitrary arrests of Kashmiri youths. Armed with a majority in the lower house of parliament, a fragmented opposition and the world’s sixth largest economy, India’s growing confidence in curbing popular dissent in IOK is understandable.
With each passing day, India is consolidating its hold over IOK and Pakistan is unable to effectively challenge New Delhi because of its fragile economy, political polarisation and gaps in policy and action. Pakistan should have hit when the iron was hot. Does it mean Pakistan has lost Kashmir for good?
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2019.