The Diplomat's Take

The constitutional changes relating to Jammu and Kashmir of August 5, 2019 attracted attention in many parts of the world, varying in degree and nature. A year has now passed and an assessment of how important global players reacted to the amendments and events associated with them, can be realistically made and conclusions drawn on how these powers are likely to conduct themselves in the future on these issues. But before that is attempted a word of a different, but relevant matter.

Anniversaries bring forth a range of emotions and the anniversary of the changes will no doubt do the same in Jammu and Kashmir, and the rest of the country. However, in political and diplomatic matters feelings and sentiments should never obscure reason, logic and clarity of thought; they should never cloud judgment. Evaluations should not be based on false expectations. This is especially applicable to political and civil society leaders and analysts.

In keeping with its constitution India took the stand, in its interactions with the international community, on the changes, that they pertained to country’s domestic jurisdiction. They had no connection with the Jammu and Kashmir issue in which Pakistan is a party because it continues to occupy Indian territories. On the other hand, Pakistan went into overdrive asserting, in keeping with its basic position, that the Indian step violated the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It asked the United Nations to intervene. China also took the position that unilateral changes should not be made. It asked for informal consultations of the UN Security Council on these developments.

Poland held the chair of the UNSC in August 2019 which rotates on a monthly basis among its members. China pushed Pakistan’s plea and the Council decided to hold informal consultations on the changes as well as on the administrative measures taken including the lockdown communications blockade and the detention of leaders and political workers. Informal consultations are held on a private basis to essentially ascertain if the UNSC wishes to take up a matter formally and, if so, on what basis.

It has been Pakistan’s consistent endeavour to get the UNSC to take an interest in the J&K issue and invoke the resolutions. The fact is that the last formal UNSC meeting on J&K took place in 1965. There has been no appetite in the international community to intervene in matters relating to the status of J&K, leave alone mediate, between India and Pakistan. Some countries and leaders occasionally mention that they are willing to do so but only if both countries are prepared for such mediation. They do not pursue these pronouncements further when India, as it always does, states that it is committed to resolving all matters with Pakistan on a bilateral basis in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration and in an atmosphere free from violence. This was witnessed when President Donald Trump offered to mediate. Consequently, for the major powers fundamental position has largely been, since the past many decades, that India and Pakistan must resolve their differences on J&K bilaterally.

The major powers do become diplomatically active whenever they perceive the possibility of large-scale India-Pakistan armed hostilities because India is a nuclear weapons state and Pakistan too possess nuclear weapons. They try to temper the tensions but this process, despite Pakistan’s endeavours, never goes into an attempt to mediate on J&K for India does not and will not accept a deviation in its policy that all outstanding India-Pakistan issues have to be resolved bilaterally between the two countries. There is nothing that will bring about a change in this situation.

The informal consultations held in August 2019 only confirmed this approach of the international community on mediation or invoking the resolutions. Reports that emerged from the meeting amply indicated that apart from China no other power indicated any opposition to the constitutional changes. The other countries simply urged both India and Pakistan to addresses their differences bilaterally. Two other Chinese attempts in subsequent months to raise the issue in informal consultations have also been dismissed by the other members.

While India took the position that the administrative measures were necessary to prevent loss of life there was disquiet and criticism expressed by some governments at the detentions, stoppage of communications and the curfews. This did not reach the level that it got translated into any concrete measures against India. It is only if that happens that countries begin to get concerned. They tend to take statements in their stride. India also did not pay much attention in the initial months, after the constitutional changes, to the adverse reaction of global liberal opinion on the lockdown and the restrictions. Certainly, it did not engage it. As the situation eased after some months this criticism got muted but did not go away altogether.

The bureaucracy of the United Human Rights Council also issued reports on the human rights situation in J&K prior to and after the constitutional changes. India strongly refuted these inter alia on the ground that they overlooked the continuing violence in the state sponsored from across the border. In this context it has to be realised that the international community’s acceptance of violence from groups against states is now very low.

As the world slipped into the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic the bandwidth of the major powers has become severely restricted, the focus is now on preventing and finding cure to the virus. It is also on US-China relations. Within the region and beyond too India-China relations are occupying attention. No room is left for other issues.