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International reaction to abrogation of Article 370: Muted response

Published : Sep 13, 2019 06:00 IST

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Watching Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the nation on the Kashmir issue, at an electronics showroom in Karachi on August 26.

Watching Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing the nation on the Kashmir issue, at an electronics showroom in Karachi on August 26.

An anti-India protest in Islamabad on September 5.

An anti-India protest in Islamabad on September 5.

The international community continues to treat the Kashmir dispute as a bilateral issue, and Pakistan’s efforts to raise it in international forums have met with little success.

The world seems unmoved by the plight of the Kashmiri people who have remained virtually locked up in their homes for almost a month. Pakistan’s efforts to raise the issue in international forums have met with little success so far. The international community continues to treat the Kashmir dispute as a bilateral one to be solved through dialogue between the two countries. Although President Donald Trump once again offered to mediate on the “explosive” Kashmir issue if asked by both countries, he has so far bowed to India’s wishes. Before attending the G7 summit which began in France on August 24, Trump reiterated his offer to mediate on Kashmir, describing it as a “very complicated place” where Hindus and Muslims do not “get along so great”.

However, after a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G7 summit, Trump conceded that Kashmir was a bilateral issue. He told the media that Modi had assured him that the situation in Kashmir “is under control”. Modi, on his part, emphasised that all issues between India and Pakistan were bilateral and could be resolved through discussions.

The Trump administration and, for that matter the West, had its attention focussed more on Hong Kong than on Kashmir. China had not bothered to send its military to Hong Kong. The two-month-old protests in Hong Kong had turned increasingly violent. Hong Kong is a global economic hub. In comparison, Kashmir is insignificant in the eyes of the global elite.

All the same, the U.S. State Department urged the Indian government to restore normalcy at the earliest in the Kashmir Valley. “We urge respect for individual rights, compliance with legal procedures and an inclusive dialogue,” a State Department official told the media in the third week of August. The Americans have once again urged India and Pakistan to hold direct talks to resolve the dispute on Kashmir.

Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic front runners for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, strongly criticised the Indian government’s handling of the situation in Kashmir. Speaking at the 56th Convention of the Islamic Society of America, Sanders said that India’s move to change the status quo in Kashmir was “unacceptable”. He demanded that the communication blockade in Kashmir be lifted and that the U.S. government speak out boldly in support of international humanitarian law in Kashmir.

U.N.’s stance

The United Nations Security Council has also adopted a lukewarm attitude on the Kashmir issue. It has not called for a formal meeting or issued a statement. The U.N. has reiterated its stance that it wants India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally. A closed-door private meeting of the 15-member Security Council was held in mid August at the request of China, which too has territorial claims on the disputed region. It was for the first time in more than 50 years that the Security Council held a meeting, albeit informal, on Kashmir.

China and Russia want India and Pakistan to settle the dispute in accordance with the U.N. Charter and Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. It is also the first time that Russia has referred to the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir. India’s Ambassador to the U.N., Syed Akbaruddin, told the media that the efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally “had very broad acceptance globally” and that New Delhi did not need “international busybodies to try and tell us how to run our lives”.

Pakistan’s letter to UNHRC

Pakistan plans to bring up the Kashmir issue before the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva. Islamabad wants the UNHRC to pass, in its 42nd sitting beginning in the second week of September, a resolution on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir by India. The Pakistan Foreign Minister has written to UNHRC chief Michelle Bachelet stating that India had turned Kashmir into the most militarised zone in the world by deploying 8,80,000 personnel there. In his letter to the 47-member body, he has also cited cases of torture, blinding and forced renditions of Kashmiris. The Pakistan government has decided to deploy the former Pakistan ambassador to the U.N., Tehmina Janjua, to highlight the Kashmir issue in Geneva.

The overwhelmingly deafening silence of the interna tional community on the Kashmir issue has rattled the Pakistani leadership. Many Pakistanis blame their government for its failure to mobilise international public opinion on Kashmir after India upended the special status of the State in a dramatic political move in early August. The opposition claims that Imran Khan has completely surrendered to India on the Kashmir issue. As it is, national unity in the country has been frayed after the two main leaders of the opposition, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, along with senior office-bearers, have been put behind bars on specious charges since Imran Khan took over.

The Indian government’s move on Kashmir could seriously influence the future course of Pakistan’s politics. Public opinion in the country, as is evident, is deeply enraged by India’s actions in Kashmir and could boil over. Militant groups are again asking for a free hand to operate in Kashmir. Since independence, the Pakistani political and military establishments have been telling the people that they will fight until their last drop of blood to liberate Kashmir from India.

The way the Kashmir issue has snowballed could adversely impact the functioning of the deep state in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army leadership is in a quandary as war between two nuclear-armed neighbours is not a realistic option. Kashmir has been a cause celebre for the Pakistan military establishment, and the huge defence budget the army has been allotted year after year cannot be justified if the Kashmir cause is deemed to be a lost one.

If it has to stay relevant in Pakistan politics, the Pakistan Army has to convince the public that it is capable of supporting the struggle of the people of Kashmir in a meaningful way. The Pakistan Army had supported the insurgency in Kashmir in the 1990s in a big way by infiltrating thousands of fighters into the Valley. But the Indian state was able to withstand that challenge and now has gone to the extent of changing the status quo that had existed since 1949 and establishing new facts on the ground.

In a political quandary

Imran Khan, described by the opposition as the army’s “selected” Prime Minister, now finds himself in a political quandary. The opposition will use the Kashmir setback to corner him and the military establishment. Opposition leaders have accused him of doublespeak on human rights issues relating to Kashmir when people are being selectively targeted by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for their political activism. There has been a spate of arrests in Gilgit-Baltistan of politicians protesting against direct rule from Islamabad. Pashtun and Baloch activists are also languishing in jails.

The Pakistani media have been facing severe curbs since Imran Khan took over. Unlike in India, where the bulk of the media have been willingly co-opted, the situation across the border is different. In Pakistan, much of the media have been coerced into supporting the ruling party by the powerful military apparatus.

One reason why Pakistan finds itself diplomatically isolated is its security establishment’s track record of supporting “jehadi” and terror groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Imran Khan’s decision to give the Army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, a three-year extension shows his dependence on the goodwill of the military establishment. Bajwa’s tenure was to end in November this year. The Prime Minister’s office said that the Army chief’s tenure was extended “in view of the regional security environment”. The opposition has credited Gen. Bajwa with playing a pivotal role in propelling Imran Khan to the Prime Minister’s office. Gen. Bajwa is reputedly an expert on matters relating to Kashmir.

In a speech to the nation in the last week of August, designed to show that the Kashmiri cause was not entirely beyond redemption, Imran Khan stressed that “Pakistan would go to any lengths” to support the cause of the “oppressed people” in the Valley. He said the time had come for Pakistan’s Kashmir policy to take a “decisive turn”. Imran Khan acknowledged in his speech that even Islamic countries that supposedly shared a very close relationship with Pakistan had not spoken out in support of Pakistan or the Kashmiri people “because of their economic interests”. He expressed the hope that these countries would eventually “come to our side”. The United Arab Emirates, once counted among Pakistan’s strongest allies, gave Prime Minister Modi its highest civilian award in the third week of August.

Imran Khan, however, claimed that Islamabad’s diplomatic campaign had paid some dividends. He pointed out the sympathetic coverage the daily struggle of Kashmiris to survive under occupation had received. “The Western media has never criticised India as much as it is doing now. I want to tell the Kashmiri people whether the world stands with them or not, Pakistan will,” Imran Khan said in his speech. Earlier, in an interview with TheNew York Times , he alleged that India might undertake a “false flag” action in Kashmir in order to take military action against Pakistan, which could escalate beyond control. “And then you are looking at two nuclear armed countries eyeball to eyeball, anything can happen,” Imran Khan said in the interview. Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, had raised eyebrows when he suggested in the second week of August that India could have a rethink of its “no first use” nuclear doctrine.

The Pakistan government is once again talking of banning civilian overflights across its territory for flights to India. The ban was only lifted in late July. Many international airlines had either cancelled or rerouted their flights after the ban was first imposed in February this year following the India Air Force attack on Balakot. The Pakistan Foreign Minister said that the final decision on banning overflights would only be taken by the Prime Minister. Pakistan has said that it is also considering a blanket ban on India’s use of Pakistani territory for the export of goods to Afghanistan. Pakistan has already suspended all bilateral trade with India.

Kartarpur Sahib Corridor

Pakistan remains still committed to the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, which is scheduled to be open for Sikh pilgrims from India in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. On September 1, Pakistan announced that it would be providing consular access to Kulbushan Jadhav, an Indian national who is in Pakistan’s custody on charges of spying. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ordered that Jadhav be given consular access.

Pakistan, however, seems to be having second thoughts on taking India to the ICJ after the revocation of the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir. Imran Khan had initially said that Pakistan would do so. Many legal experts are of the view that the ICJ has no jurisdiction on the Kashmir issue and any ICJ ruling on the subject can only be advisory in nature.

Finally, the long-awaited statement of support from the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) on the Kashmir dispute came as a respite for Islamabad. On September 1, the General Secretariat of the OIC reaffirmed its stand that the dispute on Kashmir was an international one. “The General Secretariat reaffirms the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on the internationally recognised status of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and its final disposition through a U.N.-organised plebiscite,” the OIC statement said. The OIC also demanded the immediate lifting of the restrictions placed on the people of Kashmir.

India will not be too worried about the OIC. Many of its member states have good relations with India. For that matter, they are not even able to take a meaningful stance against Israel’s apartheid policies in the occupied territories.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Sep 27, 2019.)

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