Two events, six months apart but both featuring China and India, are on top of Delhi’s mind these days as it gets ready to swat any renewed attempt at internationalising the Kashmir dispute.
Only last week, UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued a first-ever report on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, demanding an independent international investigation. In the last few weeks, UN experts have also scolded India on the Thoothukudi Sterlite industrial dispute and the severe trolling that journalist Rana Ayyub has been subject to.
But as the BJP stoked the fire in the Kashmir valley – which its erstwhile coalition partner, the PDP, has simply been unable to control – the UN renewed its interest in a region from where it had been sternly told to stay out all these past decades.
The first signs of renewed UN attention came six months ago. In New York, the military staff committee of the permanent five (P-5) members of the UN Security Council demanded that India and Pakistan give it permission to visit the UN military observer group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) as well as the Line of Control that divides the two Kashmirs.
Guess who was the rotating head of the military staff committee at the time? China.
Guess who asked the most intrusive questions by the military staff committee about human rights violations inside the Kashmir valley and the continued ceasefire violations between the Indian and Pakistani armies along the Line of Control? The United Kingdom.
India stopped recognising UNMOGIP in 1972 after it signed the Simla agreement with Pakistan, saying that a UN role was henceforth both irrelevant and redundant. UNMOGIP was set up in 1949 to monitor the ceasefire between India and Pakistan.
In July 2014, weeks after the Modi government came to power, Delhi threw out the UNMOGIP from its fancy Tilak Marg property in the heart of Delhi, saying it could not stay there, rent-free, any longer.
The UN insisted, however, that UNMOGIP remain, even nominally, because no resolution had been passed for its dissolution. So an office in Srinagar remains, although hardly anyone lives there. Of course, in Pakistan, there is a full office in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
So, when the military staff committee of the P-5 requested that India and Pakistan allow a delegation to visit both countries, India flatly said ‘No’. Pakistan said ‘Yes’ and allowed a delegation to visit in April this year.
Unsurprisingly, the UN interest in Kashmir has spiked at about the same time when India’s good friends in the international community, the US and Russia, have been separately distracted by other matters at hand.
Donald Trump started well – in India’s eyes – with spanking Pakistan for supporting terrorism in Afghanistan until he came to the conclusion like several of his predecessors that Rawalpindi is part of the solution just like it is part of the problem. Vladimir Putin remains obsessed with furthering Russia’s great power status, from Syria to hosting a picture-perfect World Cup.
The UN, watching the world turn increasingly turbulent, saw its chance and took it. Kashmir was in a state of chaos. When an eight-year-old child was gangraped in Kathua in Jammu region, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson demonstrated unhappiness.
The PDP has been seen as complicit in allowing the BJP, nay the RSS, in pushing its Hindutva agenda in the Valley. The centre’s decision to pick an interlocutor, the mild-mannered Dineshwar Sharma, is seen by people as too half-hearted a move; he isn’t given the power to enforce anything. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav continues to outrank him in several ways.
Fast forward to the present moment. When Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui floated a trial balloon, pushing for an India-China-Pakistan trilateral, he was quickly told by the ministry of external affairs to immediately stop.
Remember the Chinese rotating presidency of the military staff committee of the P-5 six months ago? Could it be too much of a coincidence that China is taking an enhanced interest in India-Pakistan issues because it wants to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is a rising power?
The Chinese push comes when memories of Doklam are still fresh in India’s mind. Some say the Chinese ambassador’s proposal must be seen as exactly that, a proposal. He knows India isn’t going to bite. But in the wake of the Wuhan and Qingdao meetings between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping, he, perhaps, feels there’s no harm in pushing the envelope.
What is significantly more important is the P-5 push at the UN to embarrass India and internationalise Kashmir. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Pakistan can demand a discussion on Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s report.
Of course, India is a much stronger nation than it was when last embarrassed on the human rights front in the mid-1990s. But the Narendra Modi government hasn’t helped its own case by taking the short-sighted view on Kashmir. Instead of offering dialogue, again and again and again and attempting different ways to apply the balm, the BJP insists on a tough approach.
The only way to shut the door in the face of an interfering UN is to settle your own house. Investigate Shujaat Bukhari’s murder. Bring the guilty to justice in the Kathua gangrape and murder. And reach out to all Kashmiris, including the Hurriyat. Simultaneously, open the door to dialogue with Pakistan – trade, travel, open borders.
Apply the salve. Talk.