US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate the Kashmir conflict between Pakistan and India marked a turning point. For starters, no American president has come out so strongly in favor of resolving the Kashmir dispute. The premise is simple: the failure of parties to take basic steps toward de-escalation and conflict resolution means international intervention is inevitable.
The offer was an important step in establishing that an international approach is now required to end this long-running conflict. Jack Rosen, president of American Jewish Congress, has called for an active American role in this regard.
The arguments for an American intervention to settle this seven-decades-long conflict are strong. Writes Rosen, “We have forged trading and security alliances with both India and Pakistan over the decades. Each country has a large diaspora in the United States. While nuanced diplomacy has ensured that the United States has not faced a zero-sum game between the two, it is time the United States use its moral and strategic leverage to get both sides to the table to address the issue of Kashmir once and for all. There are humanitarian, legal and security interests in such intervention.”
On August 26, 2019, on the sidelines of the G-7 summit meeting in France, Prime Minister Modi met President Trump and made a strong public pitch against such an intervention, and argued that India can talk to Pakistan and contain the conflict. Ironically, even here, the Indian premier failed to offer any concrete roadmap as to how he will do this. Pakistan says the time for talking to India in a bilateral setting is over and that years of such attempts have yielded no results. India wants to buy time, not resolve the problem.
The days when India received a wink and a nod from the world on what it does in Kashmir are over. Modi faced questions from Trump and other world leaders at G-7 on Kashmir. It is interesting that none of the P-5 members entertained India’s requests to cancel a formal Security Council meeting on Kashmir on August 16, 2019, which went ahead despite Indian objections. This was “a big deal”, according to veteran CNN journalist Richard Roth, a longtime UN-watcher.
Council members met for 90 minutes, without India and Pakistan attending. Some members felt a statement at this point would be critical of India and favour Pakistan and could escalate tensions. Others felt that the two countries should first try to resolve it bilaterally. There was no agreement on a Council statement to the press, which is “the lowest-level of Council action,” said Roth later. “Still, just dusting off the diplomatic cobwebs was by international standards a big deal,” he wrote for CNN.
It is clear India is still counting on the goodwill of major powers to keep Kashmir off the international agenda. And the powers appear willing to give India time to set its house in order and prove it can diffuse the situation. But what is also clear is that the world is running out of patience when it comes to Kashmir conflict and the growing political and religious extremism in India. It appears that Kashmir is changing India in ways the world does not like.
And then there are the theories that India is using Kashmir for larger objectives, linked to Afghanistan and Trump’s 2020 midterms. There are signs that India’s sudden escalation of tensions in Kashmir in August 2019 was linked “to the economic slowdown that India is currently facing […] a much-needed diversion for the government,” according to Geeta Pandey, founder of one India’s largest charitable organizations, writing for BBC.
There is also a link to Afghanistan. Creating a distraction for Pakistan just when Islamabad is on the cusp of a major peace push in Afghanistan jointly with Washington seems to serve Indian interests. An unstable Afghanistan keeps Pakistan in turmoil, which is an objective for some Indian leaders. Also, there are whispers in American lobbyist circles that India may not want to see President Trump emerge from the midterm election stronger. Missing the Afghan peace bus is one way of ensuring this. Another is the growing evidence that the Indian lobby in Washington is joining hands with Trump opponents, including likeminded lobbies that have different views on Afghanistan and JCPOA. If true, this makes sense considering that the Trump administration is the first US government in decades to question India’s unfair trade practices against American companies and products.
India should take a strategic decision to resolve the Kashmir conflict and end the zero-sum game with Pakistan. India can reverse or freeze its decision to end Kashmir autonomy, accept President Trump’s mediation offer, involve the UN Security Council, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris, and pave the way to a referendum and other conflict-resolution mechanisms. If Islamabad does not respond positively to these steps, then India can hold its neighbour responsible. But it is not possible to endlessly delay dialogue and conflict resolution on various pretexts.
India is at a crossroads in its modern history. It faces unprecedented global isolation on Kashmir. The UN and the global media do not recognize India’s annexation of the disputed region. The international academia is drawing comparisons between Indian Prime Minister Modi and Milosevic – and Hitler.
India has a chance to make things right. And it should start in Kashmir.
The writer is a journalist focused on national security and human rights.
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