THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 5 MARCH, 2019
Have the Post Pulwama Air Raids Internationalized the Kashmir Issue?
The raids appear to have internationalized the Kashmir dispute to India’s discomfiture.
The post-Pulwama air raids by India and Pakistan in the last week of February, appear to have internationalized the Kashmir dispute to India’s discomfiture.
If India had carried out a 2016 style “surgical strike” or taken some other type of ground action and not resorted to an air raid forcing Pakistan to reply in kind, the issue would not have sent shock waves through the world and triggered a nuclear war hysteria in the Western world.
Offers of mediation to settle the Kashmir dispute would not have been made by powerful nations , who know fully well that “mediation” has been anathema to the powers-that-be in New Delhi all along.
India wants no international mediation in the Kashmir dispute as it insists that there is no room for any dispute since the Maharajah of Kashmir had signed the Instrument of Accession to India in the late 1940s. India wants international intervention only to prevent Pakistan from sending terrorists across the border to trigger blasts and unrest in Kashmir and other parts of India.
But Pakistan and the world do not see the dispute over Kashmir’s status and the issues of cross-border terrorism and civil unrest in Kashmir as being unrelated to each other.
However, significant regional and geo-political developments after the “no mediation” stance was formulated by India decades ago, could drag New Delhi to accept a role for the big powers in the resolution, or at least an attenuation, of its conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.
Admittedly, New Delhi is still firm on no mediation as the latest statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shows. Responding to a resolution in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Saturday harshly criticizing India on its Kashmir policy, the MEA said: "We reaffirm that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and is a matter strictly internal to India."
The OIC’s resolution had condemned "intensified Indian barbarities since July 2016" and "illegal detentions and disappearances" in Kashmir. Passed by 57 influential members of the OIC, the resolution came as a surprise to India given the fact that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had attended the OIC session in Abu Dhabi earlier in the week as a “special guest” and delivered an address.
However, India’s efforts to keep the Kashmir issue under wraps, separating it from the issue of Pakistan-based cross-border terrorism, may not meet with consistent success given the world powers’ increasing involvement in the issue after the events which followed the terrorist strike in Pulwama on February 14.
For the first time since 1971, India had conducted an air raid against targets in Pakistan and Pakistan had replied in kind the next day, re-kindling, in Western minds, fears of a nuclear war.
While condemning the Pulwama carnage and calling for an end to terrorism, key Western powers and also Russia and China, called for an immediate de-escalation of tension and start of talks for peace and settlement of all contentious issues. In a departure from the past, there were serious offers to mediate
Saudi Arabia is reportedly wanting to be a mediator making use of the carrot it has dangled before the two countries. India is to get US$ 100 billion in Saudi investments and Pakistan US$ 20 billion. The Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir planned to go to New Delhi and Islamabad carrying a “special message’ from Crown Prince Salman.
It is not known as to how India will react to Saudi efforts, but it might have to accept some kind of intervention by Russia and China, which have declared their intention to jointly sponsor an initiative.
The February 27 meeting of Russia, China and India at the trilateral meeting in Wuzhen in China, appears to have paved the way for a Russo-Chinese mediatory effort. According to the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mohammd Qureshi, China is to send a special envoy to India and Pakistan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the media after the trilateral that “as a mutual friend of India and Pakistan, we hope both sides will, through dialogue, find out the truth, control the situation, solve the problem and jointly well maintain regional peace and stability. The Chinese side is willing to play a constructive role in this regard.”
On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing “grave concern at the escalating situation along the Line of Control and the surge in tension between India and Pakistan “which are Russia’s friends.”
Moscow urged both sides “to show restraint and redouble efforts to resolve existing problems by political and diplomatic means.” Asked by the media if Russia would mediate in the dispute, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "If they want this, then of course."
The Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov called his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi. And TASS quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that “Moscow expressed its readiness to contribute to de-escalating tensions.”
Lavrov told the Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi that diplomatic moves could be made under the aegis of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Russia has experience in peacemaking in South Asia. In January 1966, Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin mediated between India and Pakistan to end the 1965 India-Pakistan war. The Tashkent Agreement signed by Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan, with Kosygin as the mediator, brought peace, at least till 1971.
Moscow, which was very pro-India and anti-Pakistan during the Cold War, is now cozying up to Islamabad because it wants Islamabad’s cooperation to tackle Islamic terrorism and also to bring peace in Afghanistan. Moscow has brought interested parties to talk to the Taliban and has provided a venue for the talks. Being more even-handed now, Moscow might be an acceptable choice for both Pakistan and India in case New Delhi agrees to mediation or “facilitation” (if mediation is an unacceptable term).
China’s Changing Stance
In recent years, China and India have managed to strengthen ties to an extent, primarily by expanding bilateral economic relations. But the relationship is still fraught with contentious issues such as the construction of a road under Chinas’ Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Pakistan on land claimed by India. China has also refused to vote in the UN Security Council (UNSC) to brand the Pakistan-based Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
However, China’s policy on the Kashmir issue has been changing since the 1980s from a markedly pro-Pakistan stance to one of neutrality. It was Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who made China even handed on the Kashmir issue. In 1980, Deng said that the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral issue to be resolved peacefully by the two countries.
Observers say that China’s support for Pakistan’s efforts to internationalize the Kashmir issue has declined over the past few decades. China had advised Pakistan against convening a special UN session on Kashmir. China has not endorsed Pakistan’s numerous calls to the UN to demilitarize Kashmir and implement old UN resolutions.
Although Beijing continues to contest India’s case that Pakistan-based Masood Azhar should be branded by the UN as a global terrorist, it recently signed a UNSC resolution naming Azghar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as the mastermind behind the carnage in Pulwama on February 14.
Literature on the subject says that during the brief Indo-Pakistan was in Kargil in 1999, China urged Pakistan and India to “respect the Line of Control (LOC) and resume negotiations at an early date in accordance with the spirit of the Lahore declaration.”
China also joined international efforts to prevent a near-war scenario that brought a million troops eye ball to eye ball on the India-Pakistan border following an allegedly Pakistan-backed militant attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
According to reports at that time, China helped the US and Russia coordinate mediation between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to end the standoff. China sent Premier Zhu Rongji to India. Reportedly, Chinese officials engaged in “shuttle diplomacy” after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei was a special envoy shuttling between New Delhi and Islamabad urging dialogue. China is said to have unofficially urged Pakistan to arrest and prosecute some militants, which Pakistan did (for a while).
The US has not made an overt effort to mediate, but it is likely that the captured Indian pilot Wing Com.Abhinandan Varthaman was released due to behind-the-scene US prodding. Trump obliquely hinted at it in a remark in Hanoi before Pakistani Prime Minister announced the decision to release the pilot.
American interest in intervention stems from its need to have peace between India-Pakistan in the context of its on-going talks with the pro-Pakistan Taliban to bring peace to Afghanistan and to withdraw US troops from there. The Afghan peace process will suffer if Pakistan continues to be locked in a war-like situation vis-à-vis India.