New Delhi: Since the US president, Donald Trump, offered to mediate on Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the country has been in panic mode. Tens of thousands of paramilitary troops have been inducted into the Valley. The Amarnath Yatra was foreshortened, tourists and non-resident university students urged to leave, and as the suspense built, leaders of mainstream parties in the Valley were placed under house arrest and all Valley communications to the outside world snapped. The regime put out heightened fears of militant strikes to support the extreme security measures but few were convinced. The real reason for the clampdown turned out to be what was always greatly apprehended. The two constitutional provisions that gave special status to Kashmir, Articles 370 and 35A, are to be revoked. The regime declared that intention today.

Would it resolve the Kashmir crisis? No.

Could it lead to a final break and make the unthinkable happen? There is a very definite possibility of it.

The best solution for Kashmir was always that India and Pakistan get to keep what they possess. It is not the best solution for Kashmiris divided between two vastly armed neighbours and nuclear rivals but the terms of the Partition left no scope for an independent Kashmir which a bulk of local residents desire. The hope was that even a divided Kashmir would heal as India and Pakistan modernized and concentrated on economic growth. Pakistan has constantly rejected formalization of the status quo and the last offer of it in the 1972 Simla Talks failed despite Pakistan’s loss of its eastern wing. Indeed, the loss made it even more adamant to fight India and gain Kashmir by force if necessary.

India and Pakistan have fought several wars over Kashmir and the last skirmish in Kargil happened under a nuclear overhang. While India is in principle opposed to foreign mediation on Kashmir using the bilateral mechanism devised in Simla in 1972 as a crutch, it has repeatedly sought Great Power assistance to contain Pakistan’s Forward Policy. Because of its economic potential, India was indulged by the powers, but never to the extent to end Pakistan’s threat to Kashmir, which is beyond India’s military might. Wisdom should have made India to employ its foreign clout to impress on Pakistan of the necessity and imperative to formalize the Line of Control as the border. The Donald Trump mediation offer opened that possibility. Panicking that all of Kashmir was up for grabs, the regime revoked its special status.

Till there was special status, it gave Kashmiris a stake in the country. They were compelled to suppress their gut instinct that the Central government was keen on their land and had scarce interest in them as citizens. Now their inmost sentiment has proved prophetic. The separatists were always decrying Kashmir’s mainstream politicians who now have no leg to stand on. Atal Behari Vajpayee restored India’s democratic credentials by holding Kashmir’s first free and fair polls in decades in 2002. The gains were enormous to India from that decision which are now lost. In the eyes of the world, Kashmir has come closer in description to the Palestinian occupied territories. The world has chosen to give Israel a free pass because of the collective guilt of the Holocaust. India enjoys no such advantage.

A combination of factors will make it even more difficult than before for India to hold Kashmir. If the regime’s muscular policies of the last five years combined with the confidence of cross-border land and air strikes could come crumbling with the faintest hint of international pressure on Kashmir, imagine the situation when the heat becomes perverse. While estimates vary, India has the highest concentration of troops (both regular army and paramilitary) in Kashmir today in all the state’s tortured history. The Indian economy is in a mess with no recovery expected in the next five to seven years. How long can the country afford such high troop concentrations? There’s also the wear and tear of soldiers and equipment to consider. No country can be in battle stations for a majority of the time.

And if Kashmir gets the ignominious status of “occupied territory”, there will be hell to pay. Pakistan won’t have to do much of the heavy lifting: The rest of the Islamic world will unite against India and assorted declarations of jihad will materialize. Not a single country will come to India’s aid. Cross-border militancy and local insurgency will see a steady and alarming rise. With Kashmiris no longer having a stake in the country, they will come out in larger numbers in support of the armed struggle.

As long as the United States was fighting in Afghanistan, there was reason to believe that radicalism was concentrated in the country. With Washington departing and Pakistan filling the security void with which it will assist its ally, the Taliban, the entire northwest presents an extraordinary challenge to Kashmir peace. The logic of the situation suggests that India will not be able to preserve its invincibility for long. It could be forced to accept international mediation on far more inferior terms than if it had kept Jammu and Kashmir’s special status intact. Perhaps the self-fulfilling prophecy is upon us. All of Kashmir is up for grabs.