On world stage, India’s stand on J&K, Pak terror vindicated
The lack of a single reference to the Kashmir issue or Pakistan in Modi’s speech at the UNGA also made it clear that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the reorganisation of the state were no longer up for discussion with Pakistan.Updated: Sep 30, 2019, 00:38 IST
Well before Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his week-long visit to the United States (US) to participate in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), officials had made it clear the trip would be all about positioning India to play a larger role on the global stage to tackle issues ranging from climate change to terrorism.
By the time the visit ended on Friday with Modi’s speech at the UNGA, Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar had firmly sent out the message that the recent change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir was an internal matter that was not open to mediation by any third party, and that all outstanding issues with Pakistan would be handled bilaterally, but only when Islamabad stops using terrorism as a tool of state policy against New Delhi.
This came in the face of efforts by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to internationalise the Kashmir issue and repeated offers by US President Donald Trump to act as a mediator if both countries wanted it. Khan even went to the extent of warning of a possible nuclear exchange because of the current tensions and a “bloodbath” in Kashmir once India eased the restrictions there.
The lack of a single reference to the Kashmir issue or Pakistan in Modi’s speech at the UNGA also made it clear that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the reorganisation of the state were no longer up for discussion with Pakistan. Even during his speech at the “Howdy, Modi!” event that kicked off his US visit, Modi had made it clear, without naming Pakistan, that only one country was opposed to the changes in Kashmir and was also supporting and sponsoring terrorism against India.
Modi’s remarks were, in a way, a nod to the world community’s acceptance that the changes in Kashmir had been made by India to boost development and tackle the security situation, and were, therefore, an internal matter. The only two countries that have not accepted this position are Pakistan’s close allies China and Turkey.
In contrast, Khan raised the Kashmir issue at all his public appearances in New York and devoted more than half of his nearly 50-minute speech at the UNGA to the subject. However, there appeared to be few takers for Khan’s message that tensions between India and Pakistan could trigger a nuclear exchange if the world community failed to intervene in the Kashmir issue, get India to roll back the changes and give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination.
The White House readout following the Modi-Trump bilateral meeting made no reference to Pakistan’s demands and only said the president had “encouraged Prime Minister Modi to improve relations with Pakistan and fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people”.
The security restrictions and communications blackout in the Kashmir Valley have become a matter of concern for the US and other Western nations, which have made several calls for them to be eased or lifted in recent weeks. Public remarks by leaders and officials of these countries have made it clear that they want to see India delivering on its promises to gradually ease the restrictions in Kashmir and begin outreach to local political leaders, most of whom are currently detained.
During a briefing on Thursday, Alice Wells, the Trump administration’s point person for South Asia, pointedly called for “rapid action” in lifting the restrictions and releasing the detained people.
“We look forward to the Indian government’s resumption of political engagement with local leaders and the scheduling of the promised elections at the earliest opportunity. As President Trump emphasised, Prime Minister Modi made a commitment that the recent changes to the status of Kashmir will improve the lives of the Kashmiri people, and we look to him to uphold this promise.” she told reporters.
There was also buy-in for India’s position on Pakistan’s support for terrorism, with Wells saying that Washington wants Khan to prevent cross-border terror and fulfil Islamabad’s “stated commitment to combat militant and terrorist groups without distinction”. She also said that a “constructive conversation” between India and Pakistan will hinge on Islamabad’s seriousness in ensuring terror groups do not engage in cross-border infiltration and prosecuting UN-designated terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.
However, Trump struck a discordant note when he did not endorse India’s position that Pakistan is the hub of terrorism in the region, saying instead that Iran was the “number one” terror state and “would have to be at the top of the list”.
Experts believe Trump’s remarks, and his repeated references to Khan as a “good friend” who can work things out with his other “good friend” Modi, are aimed at keeping Pakistan on the side of the US in future negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan.
However, Indian officials noted that Trump had not taken up Khan’s demand for mediation, and said he would arbitrate only if both countries want it. The Indian officials said it was not possible to stop Trump from bringing up the issue of mediation, but drew satisfaction from the fact that they were able to talk to him about India’s experiences in dealing with Pakistan.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told a news briefing in New York that India had never shied away from talking to Pakistan but the peace overtures made by Modi over the years were never reciprocated.
With Modi’s visit to the US now over without any push back against the changes in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government faces the onerous task of winning over the Kashmiri people by easing the restrictions and implementing a comprehensive security plan that prevents both any eruption of protests and counters terrorist groups in the region.