By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
India’s air raid in Pakistan and Pakistan’s reply in kind in the last week of February, appear to have internationalized the Kashmir dispute – a development which is unlikely to be welcomed in New Delhi.
India wants no international mediation in the Kashmir dispute as it insists that there can be no dispute because the matter was settled in the late 1940s when the Maharajah of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India. India wants international intervention 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.
Changes in Situation
However, significant regional and geo-political developments since the “no mediation” stance was formulated by India decades ago, may 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-interference” 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 OUC, 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 and separate 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 in Kashmir on February 14.
For the first time since 1971, India had conducted an air raid against targets in Pakistan and Pakistan replied in kind the next day. And this re-kindled, among the Western nations, 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 was 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 such a Saudi effort 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, 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 tensions 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 if Russia would mediate in the dispute, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “If they want this, then of course.”
President Vladimir Putin telephoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 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, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin successfully mediated between India’ and Pakistan to end the 1965 India-Pakistani war. The Tashkent Agreement signed by Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan, with Kosygin as the mediator, brought peace for a while.
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.
In recent years, China and India have managed to repair their ties to an extent, primarily by expanding bilateral economic relations. Yet, the relationship is fraught with contentious issues like the Belt and Road construction in Pakistan on land by India. China has refused to vote in the UN Security Council 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 po-Pakistan stance to one of neutrality.Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping 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.
Chinese support for Pakistan’s efforts to internationalize the Kashmir issue has declined over the past few decades, observers say. China advised Pakistan against convening a special UN session on Kashmir. China has not endorsed Pakistan’s numerous calls on the UN to demilitarize Jammu and Kashmir and implement decades-old resolutions.
Beijing continues to contest India’s case that Pakistan-based Masood Azhar should be branded by the UN as a global terrorist, but it recently signed a UNSC resolution naming Azghar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad as the perpetrator of 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 and nuclear-tipped missiles to the border following a Pakistan-backed militant attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
According to reports, China helped the US and Russia coordinate mediation between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. China sent Premier Zhu Rongji to India. Similarly, Chinese officials engaged in “shuttle diplomacy” after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei served as a special envoy shuttling between New Delhi and Islamabad to urge dialogue. China is said to have unofficially urged Pakistan to arrest and prosecute some militants, which Pakistan did.
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 American prodding. Trump obliquely hinted at it in a remark in Hanoi a day before Pakistani Prime Minister announced the decision to release the pilot.
American 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.
(The featured image at the top shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his Indian and Chinese counterparts, Sushma Swaran and Wang Yi at the Wujhen Russia, India, China Trilateral in February 2019)