Following the abrogation of Article 370 and consequent integration of Kashmir, we need to change our strategy of dealing with the issue in the UN and western countries. We should assert that there is no Kashmir issue anymore and that any interference in Kashmir will be construed as interference in the internal affairs of India. The only remaining issue between India and Pakistan is terrorism, which will be dealt with by the two countries together and by the international community.
Kashmir is on the minds of many people in the world because it figures frequently in the news. Whenever something happens, the global media publishes stereotyped reports with fear being expressed about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. The refrain is that Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India and that it is being suppressed and oppressed by the Hindu majority India and that there are some UN resolutions, which are not implemented by India. The sympathy is for poor Pakistan. But, to be politically correct, the reports add in good measure that all issues should be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan. After the advent of the Modi Government, some spice about Hindutva excesses is also sprinkled. The western media has responded in the same way to the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, predicting a deterioration in the situation in the sub-continent.
The Washington press corps had invented some years ago a phrase, “Goyal Foil” to refer to a phenomenon in the daily press briefing in the White House. These briefings were very important in conveying good news and bad, before the US President began tweeting day and night. The briefings are fairly tame generally, but there are occasions when the issues get difficult for the White House spokesperson to handle. On such occasions, the spokesperson would turn to an Indian journalist, Raghubir Goyal, who had a one-man community newspaper, who used to attend the briefing without fail. The moment he got the signal, Goyal would raise his hand agitatedly to ask a question. The question would always be on Kashmir and the US policy towards the latest developments. A much-relieved spokesperson would leave the tough topic of discussion and give Goyal a standard reply on Kashmir!
At the UN, diplomats are reminded of Kashmir every time there is an exchange between India and Pakistan in one of the Committees, particularly during the General Assembly. Many of these exchanges are on Kashmir itself, but there are other issues like self-determination, peace keeping operations, human rights etc which are linked to Kashmir and our views are coloured by the situation in Kashmir. Although the UN Charter and several documents of the UN assert that all peoples have the right to self-determination, India enters a reservation on it whenever that right is mentioned in any UN document to the effect that such a right is admissible only to the territories under colonial occupation or alien domination. Pakistan objects to it in principle, but accepts it with the explanation that Kashmir is under alien domination.
Any discussion on Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) inevitably raises the issues relating to the respective positions of India and Pakistan on the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), the UNPKO established at the time of the ceasefire in Kashmir. We are of the view that the PKO had become redundant after the ceasefire line was converted into the Line Of Control (LOC) at Shimla, but since Pakistan did not agree to it, it continues on the Pakistan side of the border. We point out the futility of the expenditure on the POK, but it cannot be terminated without the agreement of the two sides involved. We often call for the abolition of “sunset operations” everywhere, but they continue at considerable cost to the UN.
Our positions in the Human Rights Council are also conditioned by our concerns about Kashmir. We insist that, apart from considering the violation of human rights by the states concerned, the UN should also take into account the human rights violations of terrorists and other non-state actors. We also object to politicisation of human rights for fear that Pakistan would allege that our fight against the terrorists in Kashmir should be treated as human rights violations. At one stage, we decided that we would not support any country specific resolutions in the Council unless they are consensus resolutions simply to eliminate politicization of human rights.
India’s preoccupation with terrorism is undoubtedly linked to the situation in Kashmir. In the pre-9/11days, India’s position on terrorism was considered as an anti-Pakistan device. This was the reason why our proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism did not gain traction in the initial stages. The UN was not able to define terrorism as Pakistan and some others sought to exempt freedom fighters from charges of terrorism. One man’s terrorist was another man’s freedom fighter and vice versa. It was only after 9/11 that the western world became aware of the source of terrorism in South Asia when they found that the terrorists forcibly liberated from the Indian jails were behind the New York bombings. It was only very recently that the legitimacy of India’s fight against terrorism was conceded.
In other words, Indian diplomats walk around in the UN with a Kashmiri rock around their necks, which constrains them to see every issue through the prism of Kashmir. Consequently, any Indian initiative at the UN is viewed with suspicion even today. Every incident between India and Pakistan gets played up for fear of a nuclear exchange between the two countries. Many world leaders wish to mediate between India and Pakistan with an eye on a Nobel Prize for Peace, which is assured if they find a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.
The recent Indian action should be followed by a bold approach to the issue at the United Nations. Instead of placing Kashmir at the centre of the Indian attitudes in the international community, India should insist that there is no “Kashmir issue” as the matter has been settled once and for all. India is constantly in a dilemma as to whether we should respond at all to Pakistan’s initiatives on Kashmir. In certain years, India had refrained from reacting to statements even at the highest level. But we are tempted to instinctively defend our position on legal and political grounds. India-Pakistan exchanges are watched with amusement and no other country intervenes in the debate. But both India and Pakistan are privately encouraged to continue to display their animosity as a necessary diplomatic exercise to reiterate established positions. A carefully orchestrated strategy is required to meet the challenge of new Pakistani initiatives in the wake of the integration of Kashmir. The stress should be on Kashmir being a symbol of India’s secularism rather than a legal or constitutional issue.
A clear message should also go to individual countries, who tend to respond to the events in Kashmir that any interference in Kashmir will be construed as interference in the internal affairs of India. The only two countries, which have made negative comments so far are Pakistan and China. Some others have expressed general concern and India has already explained the rationale of the action to friendly countries. No further public discussion on the situation in Kashmir should be entertained.