Kashmir Thorn in Indian Diplomacy

Kashmir is a thorn in diplomatic neck of New Delhi. It has been cause of pain and agony  since January 1, 1948, when the dispute over the future of this state was taken by Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to the United Nations Security Council.  Same does not hold true about the North East that has been in the grip of insurgency for past over sixty years. This region consists of seven states Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland connected to the rest of India by a narrow strip of land known as siliguri corridor or as British used to call it Chicken’s Neck. The demands articulated in these states for total independence or greater autonomy is not much different than those raised in Jammu and Kashmir.

Seen in the right perspective the problem of the North East has been and continues to be a ‘domestic’ problem for New Delhi and   at no point of time has it assumed an international dimension. The North East problem never has been a cause of concern New Delhi at international level except some occasional pinpricks from Beijing claiming whole of Arunachal Pradesh.

The reason for Kashmir continuously shadowing India’s foreign policy has been the historicity of the dispute. It had pivotal position in Indo-US relations at a time in the words of Thomas P Thorn, ‘when South Asia despite being home of one third of global population was not counted as immediately relevant to American security.’ And ‘Washington bureaucracy’ never found a real home in this region’. The truth remains during the cold war the United States was actively interested in Kashmir ‘largely in pursuit of its objective of playing the “role of security manager in the region”. There can be no denying that after 1965 India-Pakistan war over Kashmir its policy in the region changed and its interest in Kashmir dropped ‘dramatically’. The reason for this was that it looked at this war against its economic and political objectives in the region. Shift in its policy was also caused because of its rapprochement with China. Since then there has been a sea change the global scenario and US thinking about the region has also changed. It no more considers the region as ‘irrelevant’ for its security.

The history of Indo-US relations over Kashmir is as chequered as the dispute itself. The situation as obtained in 1965 or during the 1971 war between arch rivals and key South-Asian players has undergone a paradigm shift. The drift in this policy started after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and since then it has had many troughs and crests.  In 1989, in the wake of uprising in Jammu and Kashmir the relations between India and Pakistan once again suffered a nose dive and the tension between the two neighbors was mounting “Washington was unwilling to insert itself into the squabbles of the sub-continent but was determined to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.” In 1993, the United States was as louder on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute as it was at the time of co-sponsoring and supporting the resolution on Kashmir during the cold war period. The statements of Under Secretary of State Rabin Raphael and President Clinton calling Kashmir as most ‘dangerous’ conflict zone in the world and comparing it with major global disputes in his addresses in the United States were a great challenge to Indian diplomatic corp. in the United States. The United States truly in the post 9/11 era has been playing low on Kashmir but it continues to recognize the centrality of this issue to the peace in the region. On Obama’s visit to India the New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof who was in New Delhi at the time of President’s trip in his article titled ‘Obama Nudges India to lead” talking about importance of resolution of the Kashmir problem wrote, “Obama nudged India a couple of times — always in the context of effusive praise, so as not to raise Indian hackles — and both were important. One was about improving Indian-Pakistani relations. The truth is that if we want to save American lives in Afghanistan and reduce militancy in the entire Af-Pak region, we need progress between Pakistan and India on Kashmir. A peace deal on Kashmir (which is not utterly inconceivable) would cut the legs out from under Pakistani militancy, and it would also let the Pakistani military focus on its western border rather than its eastern border”. (November 8, 2010) The observation made by Kristof when seen in the light of various articles published in the Foreign Policy during past couple of years it seems reflection of considered view of American think tanks including those close to the White House. It is true Washington has been persistently asking Islamabad and New Delhi to resolve Kashmir bilaterally but it at the same understands the limits of bilateralism with failed history of talks between the two countries- thus looking for a role behind the scene.

The pinch on Kashmir from Washington ostensibly is not that intense as it used to be  but there are other forces at play that have been causing concern to Indian diplomatic missions abroad and leaders in New Delhi. A few days back the supreme leader leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei impressed upon the Muslim Ummah to sympathize and provide assistance to Kashmir.  In his message to Haj pilgrims reminded Muslims all over the world of their duties to provide “ help to the Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir.”   The statement made by Iranian religious leaders was looked at by New Delhi as “unpalatable”. 

And Indian’s External Affairs Ministry issued a ‘strong demarche to Iran’s Charge D’ Affairs Reza Alaei and expressed India’s ‘deep disappointment and regret’ over the remarks.” In recent history of India-Iran relations, it is for the first time   sourness has crept in their relations. Iran like most other members of the OIC has been recognizing Kashmir as disputed state and is member of the core group on Kashmir but after 1993, when President Bill Clinton had evinced interest in Kashmir it had been maintaining a low profile. It virtually had distanced itself from Kashmir till the recent uprising that was widely covered by its official satellite television – now banned in the State.  In early nineties when relations between the two countries had started on an optimistic note of cooperation in the field of development and matters of strategic  concern to both the countries Iran had offered mediatory role for resolution of Kashmir dispute.

In 1993, Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto decided to withdraw resolution on human rights violation in Kashmir from the United Nations at the behest of Iran. New Delhi celebrated the occasion as diplomatic victory over Pakistan and many in Islamabad denounced it as Benazir’s diplomatic waterloo. Whether Iran moves beyond the statement made by its religious leader and plays a pro-active role in the resolution of Kashmir will be too early to say. It is true that the appointment of an envoy on Kashmir or it   ritualistically passing every year a resolution demanding right to self-determination has not been ruffling much of feathers in New Delhi but Iran’s stance that India looked forward as a an important strategic partner in the region is causing concern.

China’s Kashmir policy more particularly about the staple visa has been a source of embarrassment for mandarins in the South Block. The past two years debates and development sufficiently suggest that China’s Kashmir policy is not only becoming cause of concern for New Delhi but slowly and steadily this problem is gaining centrality in the Sino-India relations. India’s External Affairs S. M. Krishnan during his meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in China  that the host country needs to be as sensitive about Kashmir as India is regarding Taiwan and Tibet. India needs China support for a berth as a permanent member in the UN Security Council as it needs of America. Besides India seat in the group empowered with veto Kashmir would be another major subject that is going to come up for discussion as and when India and Chinese Prime Minister’s meet.

It could be summed up that Kashmir is no more confined to the realm of India and Pakistan relation but is faster assuming centrality in India’s relations with its other neighbors and beyond.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)