Don’t reopen Kashmir file

July 26, 2014
 
 
India’s UNMOGIP itch is nothing new — the sense of frustration that the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, which was established originally by the UN Security Council under Resolution 39 in 1948 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in J&K, is an anachronism, and worse still, a constant reminder that Delhi is accountable to the world body on its good conduct in a slice of land that it considers an integral part of the country and, therefore, a perceived infringement on its sovereignty and an irritating reminder that the Kashmir issue remains a quiescent wound, no matter our belief to the contrary. 
 
An itch is sometimes best left alone, as scratching it may feel good but can precipitate a worse condition. So, Delhi tolerated the UNMOGIP itch by ignoring it — by pretending all these years since the Simla Agreement that it didn’t exist and Kashmir problem is a bilateral issue with Pakistan. And, typical of the Indian DNA, Delhi nonetheless allowed the UNMOGIP to function out of a magisterial government bungalow in our capital city. 
 
Many a time the thought did cross the mind: Why not ask the UNMOGIP team to quit India? But the prospect of corresponding with the UN Security Council regarding a matter that related to the Kashmir issue made Delhi nervous. Hence the decision to tolerate the itch — that is, until the month of May when the Ministry of External Affairs decided to test the waters. 
 
Curiously, it fell on a ‘lame duck’ government to take the difficult decision. Did it feel it had nothing to lose anyway? Or, did it want to create a foreign-policy-headache for the next government? It’s unlikely the UPA government consulted the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] before asking the UNMOGIP to vacate the government bungalow in Delhi. 
 
In fact, the Narendra Modi government ‘de-classified’ the information after a media ‘leak’, here, which was most likely a calibrated move, since at some point it becomes prudent to sensitize the public opinion on an issue that concerns the jugular veins of foreign policy. 
 
Of course, the UPA government behaved naughtily by stroking the itch with a soft feather and leaving it to the Modi government to take the momentous decision whether to get on to business using the fingers and if need be the nails. The point is, asking the UNMOGIP to vacate a government bungalow is merely being discourteous and, arguably, is a cowardly act, because Delhi is showing its displeasure over the team’s presence on Indian soil without being gutsy enough to say so openly or plainly ask the team to get out.
 
This is where the catch lies. It’s now up to the Modi government to get on to real business. And any procrastination might be seen as ‘appeasing’ Pakistan (and the Hurriyet) and, worse still, being untrue to its cultivated image of being ‘tough’ on vital national issues. 
 
This has become a cat-and-mouse game. Ignoring the signal from Delhi in May, pretending he didn’t understand its hidden meaning, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon went ahead and announced the appointment of a new team leader for UNMOGIP in July — presumably, after taking Delhi’s concurrence, which ought to be the customary proceedure. 
 
Put differently, UPA meekly submitted to Ban’s decision, because that was when it could have raised its head above the parapet and said boldly that enough is enough and we’re done with the UNMOGIP. Most probably, it was the UPA that was involved. But, never mind who was ‘involved’ here, the question is what happens next? 
 
Ban, of course, has deputed his peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to visit Delhi. Interestingly, the topic of the UNMOGIP’s premises in Delhi came up at Ladsous’s talks yesterday but the government steered clear of the generic issue — the UN team’s ultimate destiny on Indian soil. Evidently, the Modi government is brooding. (here). 
 
It’s a tough call. What are the implications if India were to make a formal demarche with the UN Secretary-General to wind up the UNMOGIP saga? The sequence of events would conceivably follow on these lines — Ban refers the Indian demand to the Security Council, which will be called upon to discuss the matter and hear from all sides, including Pakistan, and the Kashmir file gets reopened, because Pakistan is most certainly going to submit that India has refused to abide by the UN resolutions on the subject. Which, of course, creates an awkward moment, since India is keenly establishing on a parallel track its impeccable credentials to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.  
 
Of course, everything depends on how the permanent members of the Security Council would view the paradigm. None of the P5 has been called upon to take a public stance so far on UNMOGIP. There is, undeniably, some strategic ambiguity on the issues involved. 
 
Second, the two main protagonists — India and Pakistan — are nuclear powers today and issues of war and peace between them or involving them is the world’s business, too. Third, the regional security situation in South Asia happens to be acute and in the Western opinion at least there is a rooted belief that unless Kashmir issue is resolved through international mediation, an enduring settlement in Afghanistan won’t be possible. 
 
Suffice to say, while India certainly has its point of view that UNMOGIP has outlived its utility, others may not see things quite that way. In fact, prominent South Asia hands in the US have strongly advocated international mediation on Kashmir (involving not only Washington but also influential capitals such as Beijing and Riyadh), since left to Delhi and Islamabad, the festering wound will continue and it will pollute the Hindu Kush with foul air. 
 
Books have been written. See The Limits of Influence – America’s Role in Kashmir by Howard Schaffer; Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back by Bruce Riedel. 
 
Some may argue that the international climate is conducive for India today, since it is an emerging power and so on and the Indian market holds big charm to the great powers. But that’s whistling in the dark. Then, there are some others who go to the extent of interpreting that the US is nowadays supporting India’s stance on Kashmir — a serious assumption, indeed.  
 
To my mind, however, if the Kashmir file that has been lying dormant in New York gets reopened, all bets are off. The prudent course will be to make headway with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue bilaterally and reach an understanding on what is realistically possible, whereby the UNMOGIP really becomes redundant. 
 
As of now, Pakistan will oppose tooth and nail the drawdown of the UNMOGIP, and the plain truth is that its views have to be seriously taken into account by the Security Council. Arguably, the incipient tensions on the LOC in the recent period have not appeared accidentally. Indeed, the UNMOGIP team has been filing reports to New York on these tensions, too, and they not only do not exactly corroborate that the Kashmir issue has been settled, but could also be tabulating India’s ceasefire violations, if any.