It was barely six months and Pakistan once again failed the diplomatic war with India. In February to March 2019, Pakistan failed to drum up enough diplomatic support after India’s airstrike in Balakot, deep within Pakistani territory on what India alleges was a terrorist camp. The attack came days after a suicide strike inside the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on a paramilitary convoy claiming the lives of more than 40 Indian security personnel. Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, proscribed by the UN, claimed the attack.
Five months later, in August 2019, Pakistan found itself in a similar situation. The raison d’etre of Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach against India was the Indian government’s act to revoke a constitutional provision which granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, special privileges. With this act, Jammu and Kashmir is now fully integrated into India, shorn of some special provisions like the restriction of people outside the state to own property there. Simultaneously, the government also bifurcated the state and made the pre-dominantly Buddhist Ladakh region a separate entity. Both entities that resulted were granted union territory status to be governed by the central government.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah both assured that Jammu and Kashmir would be granted statehood again, with its own legislature, at an appropriate time. Analysts argued that the legalese were correct, as the constitutional provisions of Article 350 and Articles 35 (A), which marked the relationship between India and the state for decades, were meant to be interim measures, never to exist in perpetuity. However, the method in which the provisions were enacted — amidst a complete shut down in the valley replete with curfew — had been questioned.
India always maintained that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of its territory and termed the act as a purely domestic affair. Pakistan, which occupies the other half of the territory of the erstwhile princely state, and lays claims on religious grounds to Indian Kashmir, however went ballistic. Prime Minister Imran Khan used belligerent language, seldom heard of from heads of governments. Pakistan also downgraded diplomatic ties with India, sent back the Indian Ambassador Ajay Bisaria, suspended bilateral trade, halted bus and train services between the two countries, and called for a boycott of all cultural ties with India.
Pakistan had also been upping the diplomatic ante while ruling out a military action against India. While Khan held a series of phone calls with heads of governments, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi rushed to Beijing. Pakistan threatened to take the matter to the UN Security Council, citing legalese as Kashmir was “disputed territory”. On its insistence, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to “exercise restraint”. His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that over the past few days, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan “has observed and reported an increase in military activity” along the highly militarized Line of Control. The UN, however, poured cold water on Pakistan’s intentions. For one, the spokesman refered to “the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Shimla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means”. The Shimla Agreement rejects any third-party mediation on the issue of Kashmir. Secondly, even while Pakistan through China’s support did manage to get the UN Security Council to discuss Kashmir after a hiatus of 50 years, it was a closed-door discussion where neither India nor Pakistan were allowed to be present. Three of the permanent and 9 of the non-permanent members of the council said the matter was bilateral, and there was no consensus for any joint statement following the meeting. In short, the meeting actually amounted to nothing.
Pakistan also reached out to the US. The issue of Kashmir, amongst others, was discussed when Khan recently visited the US, which he cited as a success. Analysts saw this as a trade-off for Pakistan’s consent to facilitating a peace deal between the US and the Taliban for an honorable US exit from Afghanistan, where it has been fighting its longest war. US President Donald Trump raised hackles in New Delhi with his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue during Khan’s visit. India has always maintained that Kashmir is an internal matter and only bilateral channels would work with Pakistan.
India had also been doing its own diplomatic outreach. It reached out to all five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council immediately after the Presidential ordinance was passed revoking the constitutional provisions. The US said in a statement, “We are closely following the events in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We take note of India’s announcement revising the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and India’s plan to split the state into two union territories.” US state department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said, “We note that the Indian government has described these actions as strictly an internal matter” but said that US was “concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities.” “We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control,” she added.
Russia, which has been deepening its relations including in defense with Pakistan, unequivocally backed India’s stand. With an arms deal of USD 5.5 billion underway, Russia stood with its traditional ally. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “We proceed from fact that the changes associated with the change in the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its division into two union territories are carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India.”
There were mixed responses from the UK, where a large Kashmiri diaspora resides. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said, “We are following developments closely and support calls for the situation to remain calm.” The statement was made in reference to the issue which led British MPs to express both “grave concern” and “strong support”.
The chair of Britain’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir wrote to the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab to flag human rights concerns and ask if the UK will be raising the issue at the next UN Security Council in September, as reported by the Press Trust of India. Others in the group hailed India’s move to scrap the constitutional provision.
Even though the calls to lift the clampdown that the valley is facing are justified, choice of words like “genocide” is misplaced and far-fetched. Across the globe, far worse atrocities are unfolding with the international community turning a blind eye.
Only China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, took a rather strong stand. However, much of China’s response had to do with the Ladakh sector. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying objected to the formation of Ladakh as Union Territory, highlighting China’s claims over the area. “China always opposes India’s inclusion of Chinese territory in the western section of the China-India boundary under its administrative jurisdiction,” she said. “This position is firm and consistent and has never changed. The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect.” She urged the Indian side “to be cautious in its words and actions on the boundary issue, strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached between the two sides and avoid any move that further complicates the boundary issue.”
India and China have a 3,488-km Line of Actual Control between them and have held 21 rounds of Special Representatives talks so far to resolve the boundary dispute. While India’s Ministry of External Affairs immediately issued a rebuttal to the statement, more recently its External Affairs Minister had been doing the explanation on his recent trip to Beijing.
From amongst SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations, of which Pakistan is a part, Buddhist majority Sri Lanka hailed the move to make Ladakh a separate federal entity, while Muslim Maldives maintained that it was India’s domestic matter.
A little further away, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) member Thailand’s Ambassador to India Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi said that the annulment of special status to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is an “internal affair” of India. During an interview with ETV Bharat, Gongsadki said, “Thailand does not interfere in the internal affairs of our friendly countries. Our stand has always been that we hope that the parties concerned would be able to resolve any issues between them in an amicable and peaceful manner. We do respect the internal affairs of India.”
The greatest let down for Pakistan perhaps has come from the Muslim world, relations with which it has always tried to leverage to get the better of India. In a season where the annual Islamic pilgrimage of Haj is taking place, Pakistan has been screaming itself hoarse calling out to the ummah or the global Islamic community to intervene.
Post after post, the social media accounts of both Khan and Qureshi spoke of telephone calls and photo ops with various leaders of Muslim states — Turkey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Arab Emirates (UAE). Except for Turkey, and to a lesser extent Iran, however, no other state responded strongly to India’s actions.
Perhaps the unkindest cut for Pakistan came from the two countries it wanted to feel particularly close to — the UAE and the KSA. On the very second day of India’s move, the UAE ambassador to India Dr. Al Banna was quoted by the UAE publication Gulf News as saying that from his understanding, the reorganization of states was not a unique incident in the history of independent India and that it was mainly aimed at reducing regional disparity and improving efficiency. He viewed this latest decision related to the state of Jammu and Kashmir as an internal matter as stipulated by the Indian Constitution. He added, “We expect that the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace.” The UAE officially released another statement by its Minister of Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash which repeated the same homilies on the necessity of maintaining peace in the region, to look after the welfare of the people concerned and to settling difference through dialogue.
The KSA released a statement only after Khan posted multiple times about his phone call on Kashmir with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi Press Agency carried a statement which said that the Kingdom was following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. “While expressing its concern over the latest developments, the Kingdom affirms that the settlement of the conflict is through peaceful settlement in accordance with the relevant international resolutions, and calls on the parties concerned to maintain peace and stability in the region and to take into account the interest of the people of the region,” the statement said.
Reading between the lines of these bland statements, it is not rocket science to understand that states were politely refusing to take sides in the matter. And Pakistan had little say, as it is dependent on the countries for loans, investments, and much needed remittances to tide over its financial emergency.
On August 12, the Kingdom of Bahrain announced that it was cracking down on a group of Pakistanis who had protested against India’s move following Eid prayers. A visibly frustrated Khan questioned on Twitter if the world would “watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?” Qureshi summed up the situation well, stated in a press conference in Muzaffarabad that the UN Security Council was not waiting “with garlands” to resolve the Kashmir issue, warned that any of the P5 nations could play spoiler, and said that Muslim countries, especially Arab countries, had financial interests in India.
This however is only one of the factors, though possibly the most important. Analysts like Michael Kugelman of the Washington DC based Wilson Centre said, “The world’s key capitals value their partnerships with New Delhi since India has tremendous market opportunity, which is why they don’t want to rock the boat.” Pakistan on the other hand is dependent on the largesse of some of these very countries which seek investment opportunities in and from India.
Equally important, however, is Pakistan’s image problem. Its backing of terror groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, acknowledged by Khan on his recent visit to the US, is the reason for the reluctance of countries to side with it. India, on the other hand, is increasingly importing its soft power, even as its economic clout increases.
Then there is Kashmir’s irrelevance. Even though the calls to lift the clampdown that the valley is facing are justified, choice of words like “genocide” is misplaced and far-fetched. Across the globe, far worse atrocities are unfolding with the international community turning a blind eye. And the Muslim world has far more pressing matters to attend to, plagued as it is with sectarian and ethnic conflicts. With its maximalist position of suspending trade ties and downgrading diplomatic relations with India, Pakistan only seems to have put itself in the corner. For India is not about to revoke its decisions.