India Should Consider Mediation On Kashmir
There is rarely a dull moment with President Donald Trump. He relishes his role as the world’s most powerful leader to stir things up. Trump’s offer to facilitate a resolution of the Kashmir dispute led to a strong protest from India. What particularly incensed Indians is that Trump said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested him to play the role of mediator or intermediary between India-Pakistan. This deviates from India’s long-held position against third-party involvement.
It also hurt Indian pride that Trump made his offer of mediation public during his press conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House. Trump’s self-promoting style and craving for attention can ruffle feathers. But sensitivities aside is an external involvement in the thorny dispute of Kashmir such a bad idea? Ending the dangerous standoff between India and Pakistan should be foremost on everyone’s mind.
Which is why it is hard to understand India’s reluctance to external mediation? Why resist internationally brokered talks if they deliver what bilateral approaches hasn’t in 70 years. There is a need for fresh thinking to undo nearly three generations of insensibility. While the Shimla Agreement of 1972 or the Lahore Declaration of 1999 layout the mechanism for bilateral talks, they haven’t helped in moving the dispute resolution or peace process forward.
It may be worth examining some positives that could emerge from international involvement in the dangerous dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
First, India shouldn’t look at external involvement as rewarding Pakistan for its hostility and belligerence. The international community can make a difference in moving the needle on frozen relations between two countries in an area described by former president Bill Clinton as the “most dangerous place in the world.”
Why not build on the precedent set by Clinton when he helped to remove Pakistani troops from Kargil or the Trump’s administration involvement in diffusing the post-Pulwama crisis? For India, international guarantees can ensure that Pakistan upholds its part of an eventual Kashmir deal.
Second, it would help move the discussion beyond historical debates on the origins of the Kashmir dispute. Blaming Viceroy Mountbatten, Maharaja Hari Singh or the induction of Pakistani irregulars in Kashmir is hardly relevant now. The world is tired of Pakistan bemoaning broken Indian pledges for plebiscite over Kashmir. Equally, India’s relentless strategy to blame Pakistan’s support of cross-border terrorism for its own failure to bring lasting peace and good governance in Indian Kashmir has run its course with the international community.
Third, mediation won’t change the realities on the ground. Pakistan cannot match India in economic, political and military terms. There are indications that Pakistan has finally realised that it can’t force a military outcome in Kashmir in its favour. Although not officially recognised, the Line of Control (LOC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir is the de facto international border between India and Pakistan.
But India must also accept that it has a stake and responsibility in finding a resolution to the Kashmir dispute and reduce regional tensions. It can’t go on ignoring the genuine estrangement of the people of Indian Kashmir from years of misrule and repression. But those who insist on fighting for an independent or self-governing Kashmir are living in a fantasy.
Fourth, the power-centric approach to the conflict by India and Pakistan has failed to improve relations between the two countries or resolve Kashmir imbroglio. The induction of weapons of mass destruction has complicated matters further. There is an urgent need for international involvement to prod India and Pakistan to end their proxy wars replaced by security cooperation.
The short-term aim is to secure the border and ensure that terrorists can’t perpetuate the environment of fear and violence. The longer-term goal would be demilitarisation of the region and reduction of troops, which would remove a major cause of friction with the local population.
Fifth, India and Pakistan must focus on the over 20 per cent of their population that have to live on under $1.25 per day. They can learn from countries who have maintained trade and economic relations despite territorial conflicts and political differences. Focusing on increasing direct and regional trade instead of defence spending can benefit both countries particularly Pakistan. We know that defence spending continues to be multiples of the amount spent on health and education in Pakistan. It has consigned millions to abject poverty and the country to near economic ruin.
Finally, if bilateral-ism hasn’t worked, why not try mediation to bring peace and security to South Asia? For the well-wishers of the region and its people, external mediation is increasingly the way forward. Instead of going around in circles, both countries must be prodded to negotiate, interact, and engage. With Modi firmly in the saddle and Khan supported by the generals, this is a propitious time to consider Trump’s offer to bring about long-elusive peace and security to South Asia.
The writer is a freelance contributor