Diplomacy is the skill and art of negotiation to resolve an issue irrespective of whether the issue is universally acknowledged as complicated and complex or regarded by some as quite trivial. Multilateral diplomacy involves more than one state or organisation in de-escalating tension and averting war between conflicting states. The failure of diplomacy would mean war – as was the case in January 1991, when a US-led multilateral force attacked Iraq because of its occupation of Kuwait. The UN-led diplomatic efforts to convince Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait had failed. The outbreak of Gulf War unleashed unabated misery for the people of Iraq for years.
Yet, diplomacy cannot play an effective role in the process of conflict management and resolution unless the stakeholders possess the political will and determination to proceed in that direction. The Kashmir conflict escalated to new heights when on August 5, this year, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah presented in Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian parliament) a presidential ordinance titled Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A. These Articles guaranteed a special status to Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union and protected the identity of its people by denying Indian nationals the right to buy property, vote in elections and seek official employment. Article 370, which was a constitutional link between India and Jammu and Kashmir, was scrapped. The Act was passed in the Rajya Sabha where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lacks majority and in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian parliament) where BJP has two-thirds majority but the presidential ordinance couldn’t be placed before the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly because it doesn’t exist, and the territory is under the governor’s rule for the past couple of years.
More than a month has passed since India revoked the so-called special status of the occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Since August 5, there has been no let up in Indian punitive measures particularly in the Muslim-dominated Valley of Kashmir. This has aggravated the plight of local people and deepened a grave humanitarian crisis.
Can multilateral diplomacy help defuse the dangerous stand off between India and Pakistan, which has gone on since August 5? To what extent is Islamabad able to exert pressure on New Delhi through the international community to reverse its unilateral measure, namely ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and transforming the Valley into a huge prison camp? What are the gaps in Pakistan’s diplomacy as far as Kashmir is concerned and to what extent can the Modi regime be influenced by international diplomatic pressure over its Kashmir policy? These are the questions being raised since August 5, particularly in the context of rising tension and escalation in the region over Kashmir.
One can figure out three different dimensions of multilateral diplomacy in the context of the prevailing crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. First, Pakistan’s strategy to neutralise Indian diplomatic drive launched by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to reiterate Indian position arguing revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A as its internal issue and to accuse Islamabad of exploiting the situation and motivating its people for Jihad against India. So far India has not been successful in its tactic to squarely hold Pakistan responsible for curfew, communications lockdown, use of pellet guns, extra-judicial killings and arrests of Kashmiri youths. Despite curbs, the Indian, Kashmiri and international media are reporting widespread human rights violations committed by the Indian security forces against Kashmiris. This has tarnished India’s image as a democracy.
Second, so far despite its diplomatic offensive since August 5 to engage major international actors in condemning India’s brutal suppression of Kashmiris’ drive for emancipation, Pakistan has not been able to call a special or emergency special session of the United Nations to discuss the explosive situation in the Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir because it lacks the backing of powerful international actors. The Security Council held only a consultative meeting on Kashmir last month and didn’t pass any resolution. Knowing that India’s case on Jammu and Kashmir has become quite weak after August 5 because of India’s unilateral scrapping of Article 370 leading to a continuous curfew and other punitive measures to deprive Kashmiris of basic freedoms, Pakistan certainly has an opportunity to put India on the defensive. So why is no permanent member of the UN Security Council willing to sponsor a resolution condemning India’s August 5 act and to demand an end to human rights violations, including withdrawal of it’s around one million strong military and para-military forces from the disputed territory? Pakistan’s diplomatic failure to keep the Kashmir issue alive in the UN and on other multilateral forums is responsible for its inability to mobilise meaningful international support in favour of the beleaguered Muslim population of the Valley.
One way Pakistan can strive for a just solution of the Kashmir conflict is to convince the UN Security Council and the General Assembly to deploy a sizeable international peace keeping force in Jammu and Kashmir while placing the disputed territory under the supervision of the International Trusteeship Council (ITC) for ten years. Such a proposal would require consensus among the members of UN Security Council, including India, which is a non-permanent member and the withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani forces from their respective areas of Jammu and Kashmir and their redeployment along international borders. Such a solution will greatly help alleviate the plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It will improve their socio-economic conditions, dismantle the Line of Control, and promote economic development and good governance.
The ITC has presently no territory under its supervision and placing Jammu and Kashmir for 10 years under its control can eventually result in making it an independent state. Third, diplomatic isolation of India may be evident in the annual session of the UN General Assembly if New Delhi fails to reverse its August 5 act, particularly the lockdown of the Valley and the ongoing human rights violations. It is clear that voices are being raised even in India against the BJP-led Hindu fanatic government over its measures targeting religious minorities and Kashmiris. Amnesty International India has heavily criticised inhuman and brutal policies of the Modi regime since August 5, and has demanded withdrawal of measures which tend to make the lives of Kashmiri Muslims miserable.
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It is unlikely, however, that multilateral diplomacy will end the plight of Kashmiris by itself. The change in the Indian public opinion, particularly its civil society might, however, compel the BJP government to reverse its policies in Jammu and Kashmir. Furthermore, the legal battle which is going on in the Indian Supreme Court challenging the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A will also decide the fate of the August 5 act. If the Indian judiciary fails to render justice and becomes a party to the unjust acts of the Modi regime, one should expect further escalation of the conflict in the Muslim-dominated Valley of Kashmir.
For Pakistan, the Indian unilateral abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A may have given a valuable opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue; expose the massive violations of human rights in the Valley by the Indian security forces and exert pressure on New Delhi to restore the special status and identity of Jammu and Kashmir. If Pakistan loses the diplomatic war with India, there will only be a remote likelihood of liberating Kashmir from illegal Indian occupation for at least a couple of generations. In the days to come Pakistan needs to transform its efforts at multilateral diplomacy on Kashmir.