The rest of the world must often wish that ‘Kashmir’ was a type of long strand wool and referred to as nothing else. One of the hopes that international diplomats have is that the often endless rhetorical tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan over Kashmir would slowly fade away as the two countries came to a more balanced relationship. A fond desire that the recent United Nations session indicates will remain unfulfilled for some time to come. Indian foreign minister SM Krishna felt obliged to respond to what was a standard, boilerplate comment on Kashmir’s status embedded in the general assembly speech of the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. As a result, both governments not only invoked their right of reply, they invoked their ‘right of reply to the other’s reply’. The result was a session that went on to sunset and had other delegations rolling their eyes.
To an extent this is a relapse. India and Pakistan, over the past few years, had become less prone to such banter. Each side gave the same old tired lines, but the responses became fewer. This reflected a simple fact: India’s de facto stand on Kashmir has been quietly gaining the upper hand in international circles. New Delhi used to respond hysterically to perceived transgressions of its territorial claim — maps by mountaineers, stray lines in novels and comments by obscure academics — because it feared a Security Council action in Pakistan’s favour. Since then, a UN Secretary General has spoken of past Kashmir resolutions as obsolete. A majority of the permanent five members privately believe that the Line of Control (LoC) being transmuted into a border is the only reasonable way forward. When former US President Bill Clinton, thanks to Pakistan’s Kargil blunder, declared that the LoC could not be redrawn “in blood”, the game was pretty much over.
Unfortunately, India seems to occasionally forget how much progress it has made in making the Kashmir territorial status quo into an international diplomatic status quo. Mr Krishna’s responses had an echo of an older, more unsure India. It reminds the world of a time when India was uncertain of its global standing. This, unintentionally, undermines the country’s Kashmir policy in a much deeper sense than any Pakistani speech ever could.