Why does India resist third-party mediation on the Kashmir issue?

The question is thrown up because of an exchange, minor and casual for the United States but apparently vital and embarrassing to India, between US President Donald Trump and Pakistani leader Imran Khan. Mr Trump’s comment was: “I was with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi two weeks ago. We talked about this subject and he actually said: ‘Would you like be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said: ‘Where?’ He said: ‘Kashmir’.’


This is quite specific and unambiguous. The obvious thing for India to do, assuming Mr Modi did not in fact say this, or even if he said it differently, was for Mr Modi to speak and clarify or deny. He chose not to do this, apparently, because it would be seen as snubbing Mr Trump. The denial came from the foreign ministry and there, the matter has rested.


But to return to our question, what could be the possible reasons for our not wanting mediation on Kashmir, while Pakistan repeatedly seeks it? And why is even talk of mediation seen as an important national issue on which the opposition thinks it can embarrass the government? Let’s examine the matter.


The first reason why India resists mediation could be that India is sovereign and independent (as is Pakistan) and does not need another power to intervene. This could be for reasons for pride and honour or for reasons for suspicion and a lack of trust. This is the “none of your business” argument.


The second reason could be that international mediation or intervention has already been tried and it has failed. After Pakistan’s invasion and capture of what we call Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to the United Nations for justice. This happened in the period in which America set great store by the “right to self-determination” worldwide, as Europe was decolonising and the second world war had left many nations occupied by the victorious forces.

Illustration by Binay Sinha
Nehru promised Kashmiris a plebiscite which did not materialise because, according to our narrative, the conditions were not met. Older readers may be familiar with the sequence, in which the Security Council asked Pakistan to vacate or demilitarise PoK, which it did not do, blocking the other parts of the sequence leading up to the plebiscite. A few Security Council resolutions ensued but the thing died because of a lack of movement.


The third reason is that there is already a framework for resolving the Kashmir dispute. Former PM Indira Gandhi defeated Pakistan in war and forced ZA Bhutto to commit to bilateral resolution of all disputes, including Kashmir. The Simla Agreement remains the accepted framework.


The fourth reason for our resisting mediation could be that India prefers the status quo to a resolution. We have seen brave words from our Parliament, which resolved 20 years ago to take back PoK from Pakistan, but there has been no movement on this under three governments. Indeed, unofficial Indian ‘solutions’ to the Kashmir dispute usually tend to favour converting the Line of Control (LoC) into a border, while it is Pakistan that keeps pushing for something more. It seems that we appear to prefer the status quo. If this is so, it also indicates that we believe our case is weak and we do not want to risk losing the status quo.


The fifth reason could be that we have already secured mediation or intervention on that part of the Kashmir dispute which we are focussed on: Cross-border terrorism. America has been vocal under this administration about Pakistan acting against groups that create mischief in Kashmir, like the Lashkar-e-Tayibba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The recent locking up of Hafiz Saeed is linked to this pressure from the US. India wants the world to know what is happening on the terror front in Kashmir and seeks intervention in terms of pressure on Pakistan. India keeps nudging multilateral bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force to act against Pakistan on the issue of violence in Kashmir. What we do not want is intervention on the other aspects of the dispute, particularly the human rights violations by the armed forces and the suppression of democracy.


This strategy appears to have worked in our favour. Violence in Kashmir dropped 90 per cent between 2002 and 2014. It picked up again under this government but is still well under the historical highs before the incident of 9/11. It may amaze readers to know that only 25 years ago, it was India that was repeatedly asking Pakistan for talks while they showed no interest. Today, it is the opposite.


There is no real pressure on India to move to address the dispute because we are securing from Pakistan what we want through other means.


Internally, there is no honest assessment in India about what the Kashmir issue is, or where its locus is. The blindingly obvious fact is that the problem and the solution to it is in Kashmir and not in Pakistan. If India were to resolve this with its own citizens, there would be no role for Pakistan or anyone else. But we have chosen instead to believe that the problem is limited to that of terrorism and when or if it is managed there is nothing else to talk about.

And it is true that first because of the divisions of the Cold War, then a total lack of interest from boredom and more recently because of India’s rise as an economic power, the global community has not been able to step in or keen to step in. All this has helped us avoid the attentions of the world and continue with our internal Kashmir policy.


The fallout of the Trump-Imran meeting in India will convince outsiders that we fear intervention because of some weakness. This may be untrue but it is the message we have sent out.

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