Developments in Kashmir set off chain of global reactions

By Shantanu Roy-Chaudhary

With the Narendra Modi-led government revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, the ”˜most dangerous place on earth,’ a remark made by former President Bill Clinton, has again become the centre of attention in South Asia

With the Narendra Modi-led government revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, the ”˜most dangerous place on earth,’ a remark made by former President Bill Clinton, has again become the centre of attention in South Asia. The changes announced include reorganisation of the state into two Union Territories (UT) ”“ J&K, and Ladakh ”“ to be administered from New Delhi. With Pakistan trying its best to internationalise the issue, reactions of governments and international organisations from around the world have been interesting.

The ”˜Kashmir issue’ being a thorn in India”“Pakistan ties since independence, it is no surprise that the harshest criticism came from Pakistan, which condemned and rejected the Indian government’s move and vowed to exercise “all possible options” to counter India’s “illegal” and “unilateral” step. The Pakistan Foreign Office in a statement said “Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory” and “No unilateral step by the Government of India can change this disputed status, as enshrined in the United Nations Security Council resolutions”.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called the Indian government “fascist” and “supremacist,” comparing it to those who ruled Nazi Germany. Pakistan stopped all trade and rail links with India and downgraded diplomatic ties, sending back the Indian High Commissioner and informing India they would not be sending their High Commissioner-designate to India.

According to reports, Pakistan has announced plans to fast track projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This is seen as reversal in policy and a move to enlist China’s support over Kashmir. Over the past year, Islamabad has cut funding for CPEC projects with ministers publicly stating that these need to be reviewed. There is no doubt that Pakistan is doing all it can to gather support for its claims on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s envoy in the United States said this development could affect the Afghanistan peace talks with the Taliban, as troops could be redeployed from the Afghan to the Kashmir border. This led to the Taliban rebuking Pakistan and asking them not to turn Afghanistan into the “theatre of competition between other countries”. Although the Pakistan embassy in Kabul clarified that Kashmir would not affect the peace process in Afghanistan, it will be interesting to see if they manage to leverage this against the Americans for their support in the future.

The rest of the South Asian neighbourhood has been largely supportive; the Maldives said “it is the right of every sovereign nation to amend their laws as required”. Bangladesh said the revocation of Article 370 is an internal matter and Bhutan hailed the decision as bold, courageous and forward-looking and purely an internal matter. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister welcomed creation of the Ladakh UT, tweeting it would be the first Indian state with a Buddhist majority.

China initially voiced serious concern, asking both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and avoid actions that “unilaterally” change the status quo and exacerbate tensions between the two countries. China’s position on the Kashmir issue is that is it a legacy of history between India and Pakistan, which is largely the consensus of the international community. However, on India’s decision to turn Ladakh into a UT, which involves territory of the western section of the Sino-Indian border, China called it “unacceptable”. China has claimed Ladakh due to the continuing dispute over Aksai Chin. The foreign ministry said “China always opposes India’s inclusion of Chinese territory in the western section of the China-India boundary under its administrative jurisdiction”. China’s position thus swung from calling both India and Pakistan to resolve historical grievances to blaming India directly for creating tensions and questioning the interests of China. These, however, were remarks by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, which is a relatively low-key reaction in diplomatic terms.

Pakistan has not been fruitful in trying to isolate India at the UN over its abrogation of Article 370. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked the 1972 Shimla agreement in his response to Pakistan’s complaint. This agreement states that India and Pakistan will settle their issues peacefully and bilaterally.

Pakistan however, through its “all weather ally” China, managed to get the Security Council to hold a rare closed-door meeting on Kashmir, the first since 1965. India’s Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin spoke after the meeting, firmly saying “matters related to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, are entirely an internal matter of India”.

Responding to the developments, the United States stated that there was no change in the country’s policy on Kashmir, which is a bilateral issue and it is up to the two countries to decide on the pace and scope of talks on the issue. Washington said India’s decision was strictly an “internal matter” and appealed to both India and Pakistan to maintain peace in the region.

In an effort to reduce tensions, over a telephone conversation, President Donald Trump urged Imran Khan to “moderate rhetoric” with India over the situation in Kashmir.  Pakistan recently approached the US to intervene over Kashmir.

Russia supported India’s decision and said the abrogation of Article 370 was carried out “within the framework of the Constitution”.

The British government expressed concern over the Indian decision. A group of British Muslim MP’s from the Labour Party issued a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding the UK “strongly condemn” the actions of the Indian government. A Conservative Party MP hit back accusing the Labour Party of breaking Britain’s long-held position that any matter concerning Kashmir is a “strictly bilateral issue”.

France reiterated that Kashmir was a bilateral issue and steps should be taken to establish “lasting peace,” and supported India’s stand at the UNSC closed-door meeting.

For Pakistan, the biggest shock came from the OIC, which represents 57 Muslim-majority countries around the world. The Organisation of Islamic Countries raised rhetorical objections to “human rights violations” in the Kashmir Valley but refused to get drawn in the diplomatic battle between Pakistan and India over the latter’s decision on Kashmir. Individually, the UAE backed India, Turkey called for dialogue between India and Pakistan, and President Recep Erdogan offered to mediate on Kashmir, an offer India turned down. Iran’s armed forces chief of staff cautioned India and Pakistan to avoid any “hasty decision,” while Malaysia urged all stakeholders to abide by relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

(This article has been used by the courtesy of SOUTH Asia Monitor. org. The writer specialises in the international relations of South Asia)

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