The Narendra Modi government seems to be taking tentative steps to restore the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, and hold elections to the legislative assembly. According to media reports, the centre has already initiated backchannel negotiations, and if all goes well, the mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be invited to Delhi for a formal dialogue. The central government can rationalise this move as its recent public statements have claimed that it was always committed to restoring statehood at an “appropriate time.” But the reasons for moving forward are likely to be mainly external, as there is still no popular acceptance of the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and its bifurcation in August 2019.
The United States is putting pressure on India to provide a roadmap for restarting democratic processes in Jammu and Kashmir, and subsequently, a dialogue with Pakistan. On 12 June, the US acting assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Dean Thompson, told a congressional hearing on democracy that “some of the Indian government’s actions have raised concerns that are inconsistent with India’s democratic values.” Thompson told the hearing that among these concerns, “Kashmir is one area where we have urged them to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, including we’ve seen some steps taken: the release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other electoral steps we’d like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”
However, the Joe Biden administration’s interest goes beyond concern for human rights and democracy. The United States is committed to a pull-out of troops from Afghanistan before 11 September 2021, possibly even by mid-July. It, therefore, has to signal to Pakistan that despite a close alliance with India, it is conscious of Pakistan’s interests. It needs the active cooperation of Pakistan for the Afghan peace negotiations and to protect American interests after the troop withdrawal. Pakistan’s concerns over the developments in Jammu and Kashmir have to be acknowledged by the United States, at the least as a courtship gesture.