Kashmir: World watches, cautiously

Pakistan comes up with a strong reaction, but the rest of the world has been cautious and muted in its response.

Published : Aug 18, 2019 07:00 IST

An anti-India rally in Karachi on August 8.

An anti-India rally in Karachi on August 8.

A s expected, the international community has not reacted favourably to the government’s decision to unilaterally revoke the “special status” that was accorded to the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Constitution. The Kashmir dispute is incidentally the oldest unresolved international dispute pending before the United Nations. The international community has so far refused to recognise India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir or, for that matter, Pakistan’s claim to the part of Kashmir under its control.

But the immediate reactions from the international community were comparatively muted, with calls for restraint in the region. The United States State Department spokesperson, speaking on August 5, only urged India to engage in discussions with those affected by the decision. She went out of her way to emphasise that New Delhi considered its actions relating to Kashmir an internal issue, though she also added: “We are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussions with those in affected communities.” President Donald Trump, who had recently offered once again to mediate in the dispute, has not yet spoken on the issue.

Pakistan’s reaction was the strongest. It wasted no time in reiterating that India’s “unilateral step” would alter the “disputed status as enshrined in U.N. [United Nations] Security Council resolutions” and that as “a party to the international dispute”, it would exercise “all possible options to counter [India’s] illegal steps”. The Pakistani government downgraded diplomatic ties, expelled the Indian High Commissioner, and stopped bilateral trade. It has indicated that it will once again close its air space for Indian aircraft and suspended the Samjhauta Express train.

Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of possible war. He told a special session of the National Assembly on August 6: “With an approach of this nature, incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen.” He cautioned that a war in the region between the two nuclear armed states would have devastating consequences for the world. “This is not nuclear blackmail—this is what will happen if you logically follow the chain of events that have been triggered,” he said. He also said that he had asked President Trump to get involved in the Kashmir dispute because of the Indian government’s failure to respond to his repeated attempts to resume bilateral talks.

China’s reaction

The Chinese Foreign Ministry objected to the decision to make Ladakh a Union Territory and said that this undermined China’s territorial sovereignty. The disputed area of Aksai Chin lies partly within the Ladakh administrative area. “China is always opposed to the inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India border into its administrative jurisdiction,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. She said that India “was continuing to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law”. The spokesperson stressed that India’s actions were “unacceptable” and that China was “seriously concerned about the current situation”. She said that China’s position on the Kashmir issue had been “clear and consistent” and it had stuck to the international consensus that “it is an issue left from the past” that should be peacefully resolved through dialogue and consultation. “The relevant sides need to exercise restraint and act prudently. In particular, they should refrain from actions that will unilaterally change the status quo and escalate tensions.”

But if there was any solace for Pakistan in China’s stance, the leader of the opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, pointed out that Pakistan’s close friends, including China, had not openly backed the country after India’s move, which has drastically altered the ground realities in South Asia. Sharif advised the government “not to exhaust all its resources” in trying to establish peace in Afghanistan. He described President Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir a “trap card” and not a “trump card” as the Pakistan government has been claiming. Reza Rabbani, the Chairman of the Senate and a senior opposition leader, urged the government to move away from the U.S. and said there was a “nexus” between Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi. The opposition has also been critical of Imran Khan’s statement ahead of the general election in India that a Modi victory could turn out to be beneficial for bilateral relations.

Pakistan has announced that it will raise the Kashmir autonomy issue in the Security Council. In 1948, the Security Council called for a plebiscite in Kashmir, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also promised to hold one. The promise was not kept, and Kashmir became a flashpoint. Despite the U.S. being a staunch military ally of Pakistan at the time, the Indian state brazened it out in international fora with the Soviet Union’s invaluable support.

India and Pakistan have fought four wars and the mood in Pakistan is now angry. The country’s Science and Technology Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, described India as a “fascist” country and said that Islamabad was not ruling out another war over the disputed territory. “Pakistan should not let Kashmir become another Palestine,” he said. “We have to choose between dishonour and war. However, very few Pakistanis actually want another war. With both the countries now having nuclear weapons, a full-blown war is unthinkable despite the rhetoric from both sides of the border. On August 8, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a statement that Islamabad “was not looking at a military option”. But he also said that the country reserved the right to respond in case of any aggression.

Vested interests

U.S. commentators and reports in the media have not failed to notice that India’s sudden move came immediately after President Trump’s offer to mediate and the partial resumption of U.S. military aid to Pakistan. The Trump administration has denied reports appearing in the Indian media that External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had alerted his U.S. counterpart, Mike Pompeo, about the decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status. In a later statement, the U.S. State Department said that India’s decision on Kashmir could increase instability in the region.

The Indian government seems to be quite confident that the Trump administration will not openly criticise the move. The right-wing government in New Delhi has signed up to be a military ally of Washington and play the role of a strategic counterweight to Beijing. New Delhi is on the verge of signing the third and last “foundational” defence agreement with the U.S., which will provide the framework for joint India-U.S. military operations. India has already agreed to allow the U.S. to use military bases in the country.

The U.S. is emerging as India’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration now calls the Asia Pacific region “Indo-Pacific”. India’s tilt to the West will be even more evident if it does not allow the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to bid for 5G contracts in the country. And as the world knows, the Trump administration (and earlier U.S. regimes for that matter) cares little for human rights. The U.S., for instance, had opposed a U.N. inquiry into the war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza during its brutal 2014 bombing of Gaza, in which 2,100 Palestinians, most of them children, were killed. India, along with West European countries, abstained in the vote on the inquiry. As in the case of Israel and other U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, a different yardstick is applied to India nowadays when it comes to issues of self-determination and human rights.

India seems to be taking a page out of Israeli’s book. What Israel has done in the West Bank and Gaza is being replicated in the Kashmir Valley. The next logical step will be to implement “settler-colonial” projects on the lines of what Israelis have done in the occupied territories. Many observers of the region predict that it is only a matter of time before “Hindu only” enclaves are set up in the Valley, closely mimicking Jewish colonies on the occupied West Bank. Indian security forces have been receiving training from Israel in “anti-terror” operations. Israel and India would like the world to believe that the struggle for statehood in Palestine and self-determination in Kashmir is part of the global scourge of “Islamic terrorism”.

Muslim countries quiet

Imran Khan has made personal appeals to Islamic countries for support. He personally talked to the Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, and the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed. Both of them are known to be outspoken in their views but have so far not made any statement on Kashmir, though their governments have expressed concern. Pakistan’s Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have not reacted officially, so far. The UAE’s ambassador to India, Ahmad al Banna, has said that the decision on Kashmir is an “internal matter”. The Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, has an excellent relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he calls “a brother”. The Saudis and the Emiratis have already dumped the Palestinian cause. Kashmir, too, receded from their radar quite some time ago.

Iran, which shares a border with Pakistan, has also been quiet, preoccupied as it is with its ongoing confrontation with the Americans. However, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has in the past compared the situation in Kashmir with that in Yemen and Bahrain. He said in 2017 that Kashmiris required the “support of all Muslim nations”. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Contact Group on Kashmir, which was formed in 1994 to coordinate the OIC’s policy on Kashmir, has condemned the decision on Article 370. Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Niger, Pakistan and Turkey are its members. The OIC, a grouping of 57 Islamic countries, is expected to take a strong stance against India on the issue, but the Indian government considers it a toothless and ineffective grouping.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), an international human rights NGO headed by 60 prominent jurists and lawyers, issued a statement saying that the revocation of the autonomy and special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir “violates the right of the representation and participation guaranteed to the people” under the Indian Constitution and international law. The ICJ said that the Indian government’s move also was a “blow to the rule of law and human rights in the State and India”. The ICJ statement accused the Indian government of pushing through the new changes “in contravention of domestic and international standards”. The ICJ, however, expressed the hope that the Indian judiciary would closely look into the government’s bid “to eviscerate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution”.

The ICJ noted that the Indian government had rushed through with the amendments at a time when the State of Jammu and Kashmir was under the direct rule of the Central government. The statement also referred to the two reports by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) highlighting grave violations of human rights by security forces in the Valley: “The ICJ condemns the legislative steps taken with respect to Jammu and Kashmir, and calls on the Indian government to implement in full the U.N. High Commissioner’s recommendations.” The UNHCR’s report had urged the Indian government to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law”.

In a statement on August 8, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to the dispute to refrain from taking steps “that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir”. The statement clarified that the U.N.’s position on Kashmir was based on its Charter and the relevant Security Council resolutions on the issue. Guterres also appealed to India and Pakistan to “show maximum restraint” while looking for means to resolve the 70-year-old dispute.

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