New Delhi: There appears to be some amount of panic about Kashmir. The trigger is Donald Trump’s offer to mediate. Abusing him or making fun of him (a national pastime) won’t help. Having initiated the process to resume strategic relations with Pakistan for Afghan peace, the United States will be looking to resolve the Kashmir tangle. The link between Afghan and Kashmir peace has been established. No amount of Indian diplomacy or denial could break that link. What may still be salvaged should be. And panicking about Kashmir and taking gross missteps would blow in the country’s face.

The past few days have been filled with rumours about Kashmir. Since additional paramilitary troops were ordered deployed, fear has mounted that Article 35A could be scrapped and possibly Article 370 as well. The Centre and state authorities have denied this but suspicions persist. The offered explanation of flag hoisting in panchayats does not carry conviction. Since it is additional paramilitary induction and not the regular army, border threats and actions do not suggest themselves.

Since this writer wrote of a Kashmir resolution centring on recognizing the Line of Control as the India-Pakistan border (Commentary, “No place to hide,” 24 July 2019), a great many voices have risen in support of the formula which is gratifying at one level. But support from thinking and well-meaning Indians does not mean Pakistan will accept it (it hasn’t in all the decades since the offers were made), there is still the matter of the Centre making up its mind, and although a negotiated solution is the only means to end the violence and bloodshed in Kashmir, it does not necessarily follow that wisdom will prevail rather soon.

So why the panic and the mixed messages? Does the government also believe the LoC-as-border solution is imminent? It is hard to say. However, the rumours surrounding the surge are unfortunate. If there is the smallest truth to an imminent shredding of Kashmir’s special status, it would be the worst blunder India would make in the Valley’s chequered history since the Accession. Indeed, the Accession would be undermined. It would be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Indeed, a contrary argument can be made for opening a dialogue with Kashmiris in anticipation of a final settlement with Pakistan. Having Kashmiris on your side whenever bilateral or mediated talks are held is a wiser strategy than having them sullen and alienated and ready to break free at the first opportunity. Forces can contain violence for a time but exercise no leverage over alienation, which needs a calming political dialogue.

And there is no guarantee that time will stay benevolent to India. India is haemorrhaging economically. The suicide of Cafe Coffee Day’s V. G. Siddhartha symbolizes the awful times. As long as India showed economic promise, the industrialized world was prepared to indulge its Kashmir narrative. Not only has the promise disappeared, India is becoming protectionist, inward-looking and socialist. The social fabric shows great tears. At this rate, very soon, there will be no incentive for the United States to engage India.

Should the United States turn away, we would face a very wintry situation indeed. India is the only large country in South Asia to have invested $3 billion in Afghanistan but exercises zero leverage over the impending settlement with the Taliban which will give Pakistan a decisive upper hand. Since the United States and Pakistan will be working closely together, they would have opportunities to discuss Kashmir threadbare which would gradually build up pressure on India.

If there had been a powerful and growing trade relation between India and the United States, pressure on Kashmir could have been tolerably managed for a time if not longer. Since India is showing little trade flexibility, it is adding to Washington’s disenchantment. An irreversible situation could be reached when India is hit by a double whammy of high counter tariffs and Kashmir. Not a single major power will come to India’s support.

And it would definitely amount to shooting oneself in the foot to scrap Kashmir’s special status in these stressed times or ever. Leave the legal underpinnings of Kashmir’s Accession alone and win hearts and minds. The day Kashmir becomes a real estate battle zone, India will lose world support and sympathy. Internally, the situation could become untenable.