INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON KASHMIR: STABILITY OR RESOLUTION?

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Dr. Sumeera Imran /Assist Prof. FCS, NDU

The international community has adopted a bystander approach, cheering from the side lines emphasizing bilateralism, while avoiding conflict resolution in Kashmir. As a rule, regional conflicts’ intensity is measured by their potency to shape great powers’ global security interests, which in turn determine their speed, frequency and rigidity of response to regional conflicts.

Viewed realistically, in an unequal power equation, territorial, ideological and ethnic conflicts serve as prime venues for great powers’ promotion of global security interests. Alternatively, regional conflicts have benefitted small powers in amassing diplomatic, military and economic support internationally. In a nutshell, the form and substance of international response to regional conflicts is shaped by the big and small powers’ convergence of security interests.

In terms of intensity and consequence, the Kashmir dispute equals the Middle Eastern conflict. Hampering economic collaboration, the dispute has resulted in poor Human Development Index (HDI) in South Asia. Serving as the global nuclear flash point, India and Pakistan nuclear credentials have complicated conflict resolution. Radicalization along ideological identities and issues of international and regional power balance have complicated the situation even more. Conventional wars, nuclear crises and India-Pakistan military standoffs, however, require a quick resolution of the conflict. Peace dividends of conflict resolution are of un-parallel significance as are the horrendous consequence of the absence of peace.

Sino-Indian stand-off in Galwan has revived world attention to the dispute in Kashmir. Indian revocation of Article 370 and Article 35-A propped up diverse responses from the international community. China condemned Indian abrogation and the US offered to mediate on Kashmir. Traditionally, the US and China global security interests have guided the Kashmir policy. Sino-US global security objectives have pinned on maintenance of the status-quo on Kashmir. The Sino-US global security objectives have shaped their Kashmir policy. Promising to resolve what he referred to as a ‘tar-pit,’ in the election campaign, President Obama actually avoided the Kashmir conflict after assuming power. Although by a sheer slip of tongue rather than a consciously crafted strategy, US president Donald Trump plunged into that ‘tar-pit,’ by offering to mediate on the cob-web of the Kashmir conflict. Unleashing a pandora box, Trump’s offer allowed Indian opposition parties’ to create uproar, accusing Modi of compromising on Indian national interests. Congress and opposition parties demanded inquiry of the offer for mediation.

A presidential ordinance before long abrogated Article 370 and 35-A and nullified Kashmir’s special status. Presidential ordinance soon became the act of parliament, given BJP’s majority in Indian Lok Sabha. The abrogation of Article 370 made Ladakh part of the Union territory, inviting Chinese fear of creating an autonomous Buddhist region adjacent to Tibet. Trump’soffer of mediation opened up a pandora box of strong opposition in Indian Lok Sabha. Resolute criticism unleashed on Modi for compromising on Indian national security objectives and territorial integrity. Reflecting the urgency and complications involved in conflict resolution, the propensity of nuclear confrontation in South Asia remains high in Kashmir. Joe Biden administration has declared no change in its historic Kashmir policy, while China has resented Indian unilateral change in the region’s status.

Great powers’ involvement in regional conflicts has been fluid, fluctuating with the change in their national security interests. Broad contours of national security objectives have shaped Sino-US Kashmir policy in the past. Great powers’ involvement has inflicted more injury than cure, exacerbating regional tensions. Great powers’ alignment along opposite poles has increased India-Pakistan bilateral hostilities on Kashmir. Sino-US insistence on Indo-Pakistan bilateral approach for conflict resolution rather than the UN framework has created the impasse on Kashmir.

US interplay of global power politics has granted a new life to the chessboard of South Asian politics. The region holds multidimensional significance for the US and China international, regional, economic, political, and geostrategic interests. Within this context, Sino-Indian border skirmishes in the Himalayan border, involving Beijing’s alleged occupation of territory in Galwan has revived international focus on the conflict in Kashmir. How has the international community viewed the conflict? What isthe latest transformation in the conflict? What are the prospects for its resolution?

The problem of Kashmir is acute: it has involved a complexity of its own. It’s a multidimensional conflict involving repercussions for regional and global peace. Kashmir happens to be a contested Asian region between threenuclear powers of India, China and Pakistan. The dispute has linked to the larger question of war and peace, dominating security concerns of South Asia for more than 70 years. The problem has fuelled weapons and nuclear proliferation in and around South Asia, holding repercussions for global and regional peace.

India- Pakistan wars and several crises have added to the complexity of the conflict. Regional contestants’resolve with respect to their claims and resilient positions make resolution a formidable task in case of the Kashmir conflict.

To understand the international perspective, we need to understand a few ground realities, in the backdrop of which the international community has viewed the conflict.

First, relates to the fact that it’s a ‘dispute left over from history’ and hence

  1. represents the incomplete agenda of partition.On Pakistan’s side, its inclusion in Pakistan will symbolise the completion of the Two Nation Theory. Muslims outside Pakistan’s boundary may reflect an incomplete materialisation of the idea of Pakistan. On India’s part, inclusion of Kashmir reflects the success story of India’s secular identity. Kashmir, therefore, has become a part of the two state’s respective national identities.
  2. Kashmir plays a pivotal role in India and Pakistan’s political identities—an integral part of the two states’ domestic politics. Political parties have tended to make electoral gains on the Kashmir dispute’s living legacy.
  3. Kashmir has acquired an immense military dimension.The dispute has reflected on India-Pakistan’s military might and strengthen ofthe two states’ armies. 
  4. Three states have held rivals claims on Kashmir’s geographical boundary. Two of them have controversial relations against the third. China holds substantial territory (in Ladakh) claimed by India. India holds claims on regions historically subordinated to the rulers of Kashmir, controlled by Pakistan. 
  5. Finally, the contemporary dimension involves the stirrings of a national self-determination movement since 1989.The young generations have tend to ASPIRE LIBERATION encashing on direct linkage of Central Asia as a self-sustaining tourist destination.

Current Scenario:

India annulled Article 370 and 35Aon August 5, 2019, which granted the state a special statussince 1949, authorized by India’s Constituent Assembly. The Articleformalized the state’s terms of accession to the Indian Union, requiring state assembly’s prior approval for administrative changes. A Presidential Orderempoweredthe state government to regulate the rights of permanent residence, prohibiting non-residents from owning properties in Jammu & Kashmir.

The BJP had long aspired to repeal Article 370 on the pretext of promoting national integration and greater control. Making repulsion part of its electoral plank, the BJP vowed to bring in economic development and greater administrative control.

Imposition of direct presidential rulehad paved the way for constitutional changes inAugust 2019. Failure ofBJP-People’s Democratic Party coalition resulted in imposition of direct federal rule in 2018. Differences had developed on the use of force in addressingsecurity situation in Kashmir. Following the rift, direct presidential rule was imposed dismissingstate assembly rule.Indian government exploited absence of the state assembly to annul Article 370. ‘Special status’ had long been hollowed out; the state of J&K suffered from inferior status amounting to constitutional abuse. For long, the state assembly in actual practice had become pliant to New Delhi’s influence.What’s the transformation now?

India has bifurcated the state into two ‘Union Territories:’a) Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory (UT) that will have its legislative assembly b) Union Territory of Ladakhthat will have no state assembly and will be controlled directly from New Delhi.

Indian move has limited the administrative powers of both the Union Territories.The federal government has repealed 150 laws made by the former state assembly that included prohibitions on leasing land to non-residents. The government restricts state assembly to make new laws on policing or public order, ceding all security affairs to central control.Governors,controlling all administrative districts will report directly to India’s Home Ministry.Provisions of Indian Penal Code have become applicable including numerous new federal laws.

India has altered the status quo of a disputed territoryrecognized so under the UN.Indian move has sparked controversy internationally. How has the international community responded to Indian actions? 

UN STANCE:

The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Gottereus stated that Kashmir will be addressed in line with the UN Charter and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Lately, he offered services to meditate on Kashmir and urged India to resolve the matter as per UNSC resolutions.

China’s Policy Stance:

China’s Stance on Kashmir has been interpreted at various levels.

At one level: China has adopted a formal declared position on Kashmir, interpreting the dispute as ‘an unfinished agenda left over from history.’

At another level: China has also demonstrated ‘security support’ during periods of Pakistan’s confrontation with India on Kashmir. Beijing has provided steady and substantial support for development of Pakistan’s military-industrial capabilities.

China has emphasized adoption of the bilateral approach for dispute resolution on Kashmir. China’s latent interests, however, have aspired substantive dispute resolution along the present LoC.The dispute has served Chinadiplomatic leverage vis a vis Washington and New Delhi.

China and Russia both emphasized to settle the dispute in accordance with the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions on Kashmir. Russia has referred to the UN resolutions on Kashmir for the first time. France termed it India’s internal affair. Macron’s political support for India garbbed defence deals and military purchases. EU, UK, and Japan adopted lukewarm approach on Kashmir.

US Policy Stance:

America’s Kashmir policy has, however, marked no change in the aftermath of Indian abrogation of Article 370. The State Department declares no change in America’s Kashmir policy as it considers both Jammu and Kashmir a territory disputed between India and Pakistan.The US urged Indian government to restore normalcy, comply with legal procedures and show respect for individual rights, and hold direct talks to resolve the dispute.

The Biden administration remains cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivities on Kashmir. For the first time,US officials have discussed the Kashmir problem in speeches and informal addresses. In a way, the US offer to mediate on Kashmirhastened abrogation of Article 370. Trump offer to mediate led to Indian opposition’s uproar in the parliament. Many Indian observers began to question the wisdom of Modi’s confidence in the US as a partner, which led to Modi’s hasty decision to abrogate Article 370.Modi – Trump meeting along the side-lines of G7 summit quelled the US offer, when Trump declared Kashmir to be settled bilaterally. However, Trump administration’s mild criticism further emboldenedhuman rights violations in Kashmir.

US sporadic attempts to intercede in Kashmir involve a short-lived mediation effort by the US and Britain included six rounds of talks in 1961 and 1962. India indicated that it would not relinquish control of the Kashmir Valley. US President Bill Clinton’s diplomatic engagementaverted a potential nuclear exchange in 1999. After 2001, Kashmir began to be linked with Afghanistan that conflict’s resolution will improve the US prospects of success in Afghanistan. US presidentsbecame avert to interlink peace in Afghanistan withthe US policy on Kashmir.

Biden administration’s South and Central Asia policy indicatesno change of policy stance on Kashmir. The new policy shows shift from Pakistan and Afghanistan focusing on China, with greater reliance on New Delhi. The US has sought India to help counter China’s growing influence in South and Central Asia. With respect to India-China dispute, the State Department has assured New Delhi that it closely monitors India-China border situation, andthat it tabs Beijing’s ‘attempts to intimidate its neighbours.

However, in a regional parityPakistan remains an ‘essential partner’ for any peace process in Afghanistan.’ Yet the US difference in approach towards South Asian rivals is evident. Biden telephoned Modi on assuming office; Antony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State called his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterating US desire to strengthen ties with Pakistan. Biden administration has expressed the desire to rebuild relations and start a more productive partnership. As highlighted by the new US Defence Secretary Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, the US interests have pinned on three issues:

US-Pakistan cooperation in the Afghan peace process,

Pakistan’s support for regional stability,

US-Pakistan potential to expand trade and commercial ties.

The US interest prevails on maintenance of stability in India-Pakistan relations –an interest Washington holds in common with China in the region. ’US-India strategic partnership has bipartisan approval and support from the Congress.The US has assured India of support for ‘friends and allies’ in the region. Indo-US bilateral trade, Indian market potential and Indian diaspora in the US are significant stimuli to bolster India-US relations. Global terrorism, defence of democracy counter global terrorism drive are the US priority considerations in forging alliance partnership with India.

Although it can be argued that human rights will receive a lesser priority in the Biden administration.robust and largely uncritical support for India may be eroding. Democratic lawmakers, in particular, have been angered by India’s domestic policies.Indian Parliament’s passage of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has added a religious dimension to the state’s naturalization process, triggering widespread violent public protests.House Democrats have started to questionIndia’s commitment to shared human rights values, bearing ominous signs of India increasingly becoming a partisan issue in the US foreign policy consensus.

What are Pakistan’s expectations from the US on Kashmir?

  • Biden administration must urge India to stopsystematic human rights violations in Kashmir.
  • itpressurize India to help resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner in accordance with UNSC resolutions.

India has demurred from mediation on Kashmir for three reasons:

(1) It holds suspicions about the motives of western powers and the international organizations under their influence;

(2) India believes that its image as a regional leader isin no need of assistance;

(3) India fears that mediation will empower the weaker and revisionist party to benefit.

4) India overruled prospects for third-party mediation on the pretext of bilateralism of the Shimla Agreement. In the agreement India and Pakistan “resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed.”The 1999 Lahore Declaration had reaffirmed the bilateral nature of the issue. Since 1972, India has generally shunned third-party involvement on Kashmir, while Pakistan has continued efforts to internationalize the dispute.

For years, Kashmir has not really been on the international agenda, as long as it appeared to be confined to the distant Himalayas, and not prone to drift into an open war between Pakistan and India. For India, the less the international community was talking about Kashmir, the better. Pakistan tried repeatedly to internationalize the issue.

India won this war for several reasons: the Kashmiri independence movement never found a charismatic leader. Second, India’s thesis about self-determination was found acceptable by many states. Most have remained unwilling to evaluate the merits of a plebiscite in Kashmir. –more eager to accept India’s view that self-determination was legitimate against colonial rule and not a proper recourse against independent nation states of multicultural origin. China was directly concerned because of Tibet and Xinjiang: Russia because of Checnya etc. Other powers favored the status quo in order to avoid the possibility that the pandora box of self determination will open an era of trouble far away from Kashmir. For all of them East Timor was an exception rather than a rule.

Nuclearisation drew the attention of the international community to the dispute on Kashmir. It brought the intense history of Indo-Pak relations and the low intensity war on Kashmir under a different light. How would the nuclear thresholds will be defined at the operational level has turned Kashmir into a nuclear flash point—the world’s most dangerous zone.

9/1, added to the complexity of the Kashmir problem. New Delhi has urged no double standards on terrorism can be accepted. Jihadhisare to be eliminated both in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Indian diplomacy has drawn international attention to terrorism in Kashmir without wanting the international community to pay attention to the cause itself. Islamabad has resorted that Indiafalsify labelling a genuine freedom struggle as terrorism in Kashmir.

Thus, the international response has under the new circumstances become much more fraught with risk than before: the old paradigm appears to prevail. The international community at large and the US in particular are not concerned with the Kashmir issue per se, or the fate of the Kashmiris. They are concerned with the risk of war—conventional or nuclear. With India, China and Pakistan eye ball to eyeball, any move towards dialogue would be encouraged without promoting any specific solution. For the international community, Kashmir appears as a trouble spot in a sensitive location which has to be quietened down if not fully resolved.