How the government internationalised Kashmir

Far from converting it into a domestic issue, the government’s actions have internationalised Kashmir. Even an obscure European politician feels emboldened to offer himself as a mediator
Their visit was sponsored by an NGO of uncertain origin and still more uncertain funding, but which nonetheless enjoys considerable influence in the corridors of power in New Delhi(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Their visit was sponsored by an NGO of uncertain origin and still more uncertain funding, but which nonetheless enjoys considerable influence in the corridors of power in New Delhi(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Published on Nov 02, 2019 08:09 PM IST
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On July 22, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, met the Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, in Washington. At a press conference after their meeting, Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan in solving the Kashmir dispute. “If I can help, I would love to be a mediator”, he said. Trump even claimed that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to step in to help. “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago”, he remarked, “and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’. I said, ‘Where?’ [Modi said] ‘Kashmir’”.

Trump’s claims were immediately denied by our ministry of external affairs. Three weeks later, on August 5, the Government of India abrogated Article 370, downgraded Jammu and Kashmir from a full-fledged state into a mere Union Territory, jailed thousands of Kashmiris, shut down the Internet and phone lines, flew tens of thousands of additional troops into an already heavily militarised Valley, and imposed a night-and-day curfew on its hapless population.

The abrogation of Article 370 was in the ruling party’s election manifesto. However, this had been the case since the early 1990s. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been in power from 1998 to 2004, and again from May 2014 to May 2019, without having to act on that pledge. Why now? Several commentators were of the view that it was Trump’s offer to mediate that had prompted this act, which (they claimed) would henceforth make Kashmir a wholly domestic issue, shutting out Pakistan entirely, and making it impossible for any foreign leader or nation to seek to meddle in its affairs either.

Whether or not Trump’s offer to mediate was one of the reasons why Article 370 was abrogated only the prime minister and home minister know — and they are not about to tell us. Notably, in another meeting with Khan—on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in late September — the American president again offered to mediate. One reporter quoted the American president as saying, “I am ready, willing and able [to mediate on Kashmir]. It’s a complex issue. It’s being going on for a long time. But if both want it, I will be ready to do it.” Another reporter quoted Trump as follows: “Want to see everyone treated well in Kashmir; I can be a good arbitrator.”

A 100 days after Trump’s original offer, the The Indian Express reported a fresh offer from a foreign politician to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. His name is unlikely to be a household name in India; but then it isn’t exactly a household name in his own country either. For the record, he is called Bernhard Zimniok. He represents the German far-Right (indeed quasi-fascist) party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Zimniok was one of the 20-odd Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who recently visited Kashmir. Their visit was sponsored by an NGO of uncertain origin and still more uncertain funding, but which nonetheless enjoys considerable influence in the corridors of power in New Delhi. For, before visiting Kashmir, these MEPs were hosted, separately, by the national security adviser, the minister of external affairs, and most remarkably, the prime minister.

The visit by these European MP’s sparked a great deal of critical commentary in the press, and on social media. Questions were asked as to why, when Indian members of Parliament were prevented from entering Kashmir, these foreigners were given this State-sanctioned (if not, State-sponsored) tour of the Valley. Even the BJP’s own Subramanian Swamy was moved to denounce the invitation as “immoral” and a “perversion of our national policy”.

I suppose the trip’s organisers must have hoped that it would help soften India’s image abroad. After the barrage of hostile criticism in the western press of our government’s repressive policies in Kashmir, after hearings in the US Congress on our government’s dismal human rights record, perhaps — at last — there would be some Westerners who would say sweet things about our government. The organisers may have hoped that the fact that a majority of the MEPs belonged to far-right parties, characterised by extreme Islamophobia, would make them sympathetic to the ruling regime’s Hindutva belief system, and hence, give them a free pass on Kashmir.

Instead, what has happened is that the red-carpet treatment they received has given these fringe politicians from Europe an exaggerated sense of self-importance. How else can we explain the comments of the aforementioned Zimniok of Germany’s AfD?

As quoted by Shubhajit Roy of The Indian Express, Mr Zimniok said: ‘If Pakistan and India make a new attempt to normalise their relations, I believe that the European community should, if desired, act as an honest broker and mediator.” He further amplified: “Should India and Pakistan also seek a solution to the deadlock, I and my colleagues from the AfD, who I was travelling with, will promote and deploy for it. If both sides are keen in incorporating us a neutral mediator, we must not stand aside.”

It now seems clear that, far from converting Kashmir into a domestic issue, the Government of India’s actions on and since August 5 have internationalised it as never before. When — back in July — Trump offered to act as a mediator on Kashmir, it was because of the office he held. As the president of the richest and most powerful country in the world, he believed he had the locus standi to intervene in a dispute between two poorer countries — especially when each was armed with nuclear weapons. Now, however, even an obscure European politician is emboldened enough to offer himself as “an honest broker and mediator” between India and Pakistan.

The government must have egg on its face; but then it asked for it. This is the kind of thing that happens when one outsources India’s foreign policy to a shady NGO.

Ramachandra Guha is the author of Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World
The views expressed are personal

    Ramachandra Guha is a historian based in Bengaluru. His books include India After Gandhi, A Corner of a Foreign Field, Environmentalism: A Global History, and Gandhi Before India. He tweets as @Ram_Guha

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