Did Pakistan Just 'Internationalize' Kashmir?

Pakistani newspapers showing front page coverage of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meeting US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Most times President Donald Trump opens his mouth, he either puts his foot in it or ends up creating enough mirth for others to overcome the boredom of a dreary day at work (‘COVFEFE’). Having seen his record over the past 30 months, India should ideally view his comments on Kashmir and the offer for mediation as one of the above.

Yet, there has been quite the ‘covfefe’ around the Indian political firmament, with the opposition parties perceiving his offer of mediation as a tectonic shift in the country's stand over conflict resolution with Pakistan, till now governed by the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration that came into force in 1972 and 1999 respectively.

These reactions have toed the party line with the Congress wanting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come clean, the National Conference describing it as just another foot-in-the-mouth incident at the White House and the PDP already assuming that Trump’s offer marks a huge policy shift and should be taken forward.

The government, on its part, issued a categorical denial that Modi had even spoken about Kashmir to Trump, let alone asking him to act as a mediator or arbitrator on Kashmir as the US President claimed during his media interaction at the Oval Office in the presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Of course, there is also Shashi Tharoor from the Congress who believes that Trump was talking through his hat and was probably not at the receiving end of a proper briefing over how India perceives any international mediation on the Kashmir issue. Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley captured the essence of these variations in his tweet claiming that it was some sort of a “separatist psyche” that was unacceptable to “new India”.

Even as our politicians are playing politics with the statement, some attempting to corner Prime Minister Modi and others trying to reclaim their relevance in the game, the fact that appears to have been ignored seems to be the fact that Pakistan has managed to bring Kashmir back on the world stage.

Over the past seven decades, there have been innumerable instances where the United Nations stepped up to mediate between the two countries that have fought three full scale wars and a proxy war in Kargil since Independence. The first of these was at India’s behest in 1947 when the UN Security Council passed resolution 39 (in 1948) and established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to mediate.

A year later, the McNaughton proposals were framed by this body under which it was proposed that India and Pakistan would withdraw its forces from the frontier and the administration of the Northern Areas would remain with the local authorities under UN supervision. Pakistan accepted these suggestions while India rejected them initially before acceding to it in 1950 after the US suggested holding a plebiscite to resolve the matter.

These mediation efforts only ensured that there was a ceasefire line that would be supervised by UN observers through the formation of a UN Military Observers Group that took over the objective from the UNCIP. Its role was to observe and report any ceasefire violations.

However, post the 1971 conflict, India and Pakistan signed the Shimla accord that clearly defines that only bilateral negotiations would be used to settle differences between the two countries– which is what the opposition leaders are now pointing out and seeking clarification on from the BJP government.

Though there are divergent views coming from the Trump administration over the statement from POTUS, the fact remains that this is a googly that India would’ve rather not faced, given the concerted diplomatic efforts made by New Delhi to corner a larger role on the world stage through engagements with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It is important that New Delhi call Trump’s bluff; else the perception that it was Prime Minister Modi who was caught on the wrong foot could get stronger. A categorical statement from Modi clarifying India’s position is the simplest way to consign this controversy to history at the earliest.