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Mediating on Kashmir

A third party mediation on Kashmir can move forward only if there is a mutual will to settle the issue, writes Meenakshi Iyer .

india Updated: Dec 02, 2006 18:49 IST

Apart from a slew of proposals offered by Pakistan on solving the Kashmir issue, the option of third party mediation, it seems, still remains the one actively pursued.

While Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri has been making the right "peace" noises, his ministerial colleague, Junior Finance Minister Omar Ayub Khan, has suggested that an "external agency like UN should be roped in" to watch the progress.

In the past, a case for third party mediation was also made out by former Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry who wanted the international community to convince India about this option.

And very recently, the issue was taken up by the Pakistani media during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Islamabad.

They went to the extent of asking Hu as to what role Beijing had in mind to resolve the issue between the two neighbours.

The demand for third party mediation has been made from time to time despite knowing too well:

• India's consistent opposition to the presence of a third actor in the bilateral talks and;

• Reluctance of world powers in pursuing an active role in Indo-Pak peace talks.

China's reluctance was evident lately. Addressing a joint press conference with President Pervez Musharraf during his recent trip to India and Pakistan, President Hu said the two nations were "China's close neighbours and Beijing sincerely hoped to see peace and stability in the subcontinent".

China's refusal to take sides on the Kashmir issue has left a lot of people quite miffed in Pakistan.

"China has distanced itself from committing, at least overtly, to a 'substantive' and 'meaningful' role that it could play towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India," says Pakistan's leading paper Daily Times.

"Pakistan used to call China its 'all-weather friend' because it leaned clearly in favour of Pakistan since 1962...Now Pakistan says China is still its all-weather friend after hearing from the Chinese they don't want to take sides on Kashmir."

Clearly, people in the Pakistani establishment have been worried by the perceived improvement in ties between China and India, made more apparent after Hu's latest visit to the subcontinent.

As for China, the fact is that it has never shown a willingness to mediate, even though it has stood by a pro-Pakistan line on Kashmir.

Even United States, Pakistan's cold war ally and the UK have consistently refused to intervene in the nuclear-armed neighbours' bid to resolve the issue over Kashmir, and left it to New Delhi and Islamabad to tackle it bilaterally.

Experts argue that Kashmir cannot be compared to the Indus Water Treaty issue, where a World Bank expert has been mediating. Water and territory, they argue, cannot be weighed on the same scale. 

India's reluctance towards holding trilateral talks on Kashmir stems from many reasons, according to security analysts.

"Why Indians are so sensitive to the Kashmir issue that they will not agree to either US or international mediation is because... India is afraid that it might follow the fate of the... Soviet Union and fall apart.

"They fear and with some reason, that should India be weakened, Kashmir would be the first territory lost," Says Victor Gobarev, a Washington-based security policy analyst.

The Indian government has to look at Kashmir's case in conjunction with the national policy (devolution of power), as any concessions to Kashmir might open the floodgates in other states.

It is also widely believed in India that concessions to Kashmir will trigger a communal backlash.

Moreover, a third party mediation or facilitation on Kashmir can move forward only if there is a mutual will to settle the issue for once and all, but sadly this doesn't seem to be the case.

As of now it is just wait-and-watch for India and Pakistan, till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Islamabad early next year leads to some forward movement on Kashmir.