Since August 5, the Ministry of External Affairs’ corridors in the South Block has been buzzing with activity. Top functionaries of the MEA have had unusually long business hours and have entertained a record number of visitors in the last couple of months. While abroad, Indian missions across the world have also been burning the midnight lamp since August calling upon host nations to give lengthy briefings. The MEA is also dispatching several high-powered delegations abroad to giving briefings to several important global forums.
This increased charter in the MEA is being attributed to the massive diplomatic offensive that was initiated by the Foreign Ministry following the decision by the Union Government of India to abrogate Article 370 & 35A in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.While the NDA Government had little to no opposition in the country for the abrogation of Article 370 and repelling of special status granted to J&K, the Government feared that there maybe strong backlash to the move from across the Globe. Thus the MEA was tasked with mounting a diplomatic offensive to preempt any possible diplomatic fallout and to subvert Pakistan’s ambitious misadventures following the change of status quo in the Valley.
The offensive, according to sources in the MEA, is being led by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is himself an experienced diplomat, who during his tenure as an IFS officer has served as the country’s Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the US and China. The EAM is being ably assisted by the Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale. It is believed that at least 50 major nations have already been briefed by top diplomats of the MEA as part of the reach out program.
The diplomatic offensive, which was crafted out by several experienced diplomats of the country, has paid rich dividends to India. Almost all of the power centres have recognised India’s right to abrogate Article – 370 and have snubbed Pakistan’s appeals for intervention in the Kashmir issue. With China being an exception, almost every other country has termed Kashmir a bilateral issue that needs to be restored peacefully through meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan.
India’s argument of bettering life of Kashmiris through abrogation of Article – 370 has surprisingly found traction with global powers. Even almost every constituent member nation of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Co-operation) have given birth to India’s argument. These arguments finding traction even with OIC nations, which have traditionally supported Pakistan, has meant that Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts to isolate India and internationalise the Kashmir issue have all but completely eroded.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
One of the first nations to have been briefed right after the announcement of the abrogation of Article – 370 was the United States of America. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had on August 5 himself briefed the US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster explaining India’s position on the abrogation of the Article 370 & 35A of Indian Constitution.
The US has since supported India’s efforts and the Government’s exercise in the Valley. The US State Department has recognised India’s sole Governance rights in Jammu and Kashmir and has given a wide berth to India’s diplomatic efforts in undermining Pakistani misadventures. US Diplomats at various levels time and again terming the abrogation of Article 370 and revoking special status in J&K as an entirely internal matter and calling for restraint on part of Pakistan in maintaining peace has meant that Pakistan’s influence over US’ foreign policy has definitely waned.
The State Department though has called for eventual but early restoration of communication and recognition for human rights and actors in the Valley. While the South Asian Desk of the State Department which overlooks India has prioritised restoration of communication and is known to be pushing got this agenda with the MEA, it’s principles are learnt to have agreed with India’s advocation of phased restoration as a matter of security concerns in the valley. The US has also backed India at the UN effectively thwarting China-Pakistan’s joint efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
While the State Department officially maintains unabated support, fault lines have emerged in US’ policy in the matter following a series of questionable actions from the White House (WH).
US President Donald Trump, terming himself an able arbiter and mediator besides being a good friend of PM Modi and Imran Khan, has on multiple occasions offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. He even claimed that PM Modi had personally requested for his mediation in July, 2019 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, a claim that was almost immediately shot down by the MEA with a full rebuttal.
PM Modi, EAM S Jaishankar and the MEA have all in clear terms explained to President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan, and that any solution would be worked out through a dialogue between the two countries without any involvement of third parties whatsoever. While this ambiguous policy followed in Washington might seem worrying, it has to be noted in spirit that US’ foreign policy is no longer cast in stone and is now in fact shaped based on rhetorical late night and early morning tweets. The State Department though will definitely continue to back India’s move and support the country’s agenda in dealing with J&K. The State has traditionally taken due note of militancy and violent insurgency in the Valley. It has also tied down these irritants to Pakistan, thus giving India a high ground.
The Government though needs to tread the ground carefully from hereon. While the State Department will be on India’s side, the reaction of US’ lawmakers remains largely unknown. Except for the Indian caucus not many Congresspersons have stood by India’s move. The Government’s move to blockade communications and restrict public movement in the Valley is bound to give grounds for human rights advocates within the Congress. Backed by anti-Indian factions, there might a strong push to initiate action against India, thus the Government will have to work expediently to chart a restoration roadmap that will have face value recognition for human right concerns raised by multiple factions.
While the US took its time to recognise India’s constitutional move in the Valley, Russia, India’s long time strategic partner, however recognised India’s right outright after the announcement of the abrogation. Russia’s Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev signalling Kremlin’s support had said that his recognises India’s sovereign decision and has termed the Kashmir issue an internal matter of India.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry also recognised India’s rights stating that Kremlin’s position on the issue is totally identical to India’s position. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi highlighted the importance of easing tension and had further noted that there was no alternative to a bilateral political and diplomatic settlement of any differences between Pakistan and India. Kremlin has walked a step forward and asked Pakistan to respect the 1972 Shimla Accord and Lahore agreement.
While Kremlin stood in unison with New Delhi, the action of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, however, has raised concerns in the MEA. Russia following a closed door consultation of the UN Security Council on the Kashmir issue had demand that India follow UN charter and the security council resolutions passed on the issue in the past.
French President Emmanuel Macron has himself endorsed his country’s complete support to India terming the Kashmir resolution a sovereign decision of India. On the larger Kashmir issue, President Macron termed it a bilateral matter and called upon Pakistan and India to peacefully resolve the tensions through dialogue.
PM Modi is learnt to have explained President Macron India’s position and the the eventual roadmap to restore calm in Kashmir. President Macron during a joint statement with Pm Modi following their bilateral on the sidelines of the G-5 summit said “PM Modi told me about the recent decision taken by India and that it is in their sovereignty. PM Modi told me everything about Kashmir and the situation in J&K. I said Pakistan and India will have to find a solution together and no third party should interfere or incite violence.”
Speaking on the larger issue of alleged human rights violation in the valley, President Macron said “France will remain attentive to ensuring that the interests and rights of the civilian population are duly taken into account in the territories on both sides of the Line of Control.”
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
India has found support in Britain, a large and important base for Pakistani’s, with the Downing Street saying that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear it that the UK views the issue of Kashmir as one for India and Pakistan to resolve bilaterally.
During a call by PM Modi to congratulate Prime Minister Johnson on his elevation the leaders had discussed the current situation in Kashmir in great detail. In the subsequent bilateral meeting in France on the sidelines of the G-7 Summit, PM Johnson underlined the importance of resolving issues (Kashmir) through bilateral dialogue.
The only P5 nation to have repelled India’s change of status quo in Kashmir is it’s neighbour China. The country has not only called out India’s efforts to abrogate Article 370 and 35A, but has also voiced its dissent in India’s decision to bifurcate the state into Union Territories. China has for a long claimed parts of Ladakh as its own territory which it says is illegally occupied by India. The Communist country has also disowned the border resolution agreements in these regions.
The country’s Foreign Office has since the abrogation stated that the pressing priority is that the relevant party (India) should stop unilaterally changing the status quo and avoid escalation of tensions.
Addressing India’s decision to bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories with Ladakh as an UT without legislative, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said, “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. This firm and consistent position remains unchanged. Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force. We urge India to exercise prudence in words and deeds concerning the boundary question, strictly abide by relevant agreements concluded between the two sides and avoid taking any move that may further complicate the boundary question.”
China is also playing ball with Pakistan’s effort to internalise the Kashmir issue and has helped Pakistan to rake up the Kashmir issue in international stages and forums. It was China which helped Pakistan’s efforts to bring Kashmir to the UN Security Council. While both the new found partners did succeed in getting a closed door consultation of the Security Council on the issue, the Permanent Members stood in unison with India and came short of even issuing a formal statement on the matter.
The United Nations Organisation (UNO)
India’s constitutional move has failed to find much traction with the UN. While PM Modi himself addressed the UN General Assembly in September and talked about Kashmir and the problems plaguing the state in great lengths and UN’s Permanent Representative to UN Syed Akbaruddin have taken on the mission of briefing UN missions on the need for abrogation and the future benefits for the Kashmiri population, the UN seems largely unimpressed with India’s explanation.
The UN Secretary General Guterres has repeatedly said that the position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions. Thus pointing towards an international solution to the Kashmir dispute.
The UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has also taken cognisance of the communication blockade and restrictions on the Kashmiri population. The Geneva-based organisation has tasked a human rights experts committee to overlook the situation in Kashmir. The UN experts have time and again called on the Government of India to end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests imposed in what it terms Indian-Administered Kashmir.
In a statement issued by the expert panel, the UNHRC said, “The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality. The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”
Elaborating on the restrictions it noted, the panel said, “The Government has also imposed a curfew across Jammu and Kashmir, bringing in massive numbers of troops to enforce restrictions on the freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate, because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly. At the same time, information received suggests that there has been an increase in the arrest of political figures, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and others.”
Iran, one of India’s strong regional ally and Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, has through its Foreign Ministry said that it is closely monitoring the Indian government’s recent decisions on Jammu and Kashmir, and is carefully listening to the explanations provided by the Indian and Pakistani officials for the recent developments.
The Foreign Office has said that Iran expects India and Pakistan, as its regional friends and partners, to take effective steps to serve the interests of people of the region by adopting peaceful approaches and dialogue.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The National Security Advisor (NSA) of India Ajit Doval travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in October to earn the confidence of the oil rich state, which also isa key player in the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) forum.
Calling upon the Crown Prince MbS, the NSA is known to have explained India’s decisions at length. The NSA’s is it seems to have paid off with the KSA issuing a statement stating that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral between Indian and Pakistan. The Crown Prince’s stance that his Kingdom supports India’s position in Kashmir has come as the biggest diplomatic setback to Pakistan.
United Arab Emirates
One of the biggest setbacks to Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts to undermine India has been UAE’s support to India in the Kashmir issue. The UAE, which was traditionally a strong ally of Pakistan and is also a founding member of the OIC, has since the onset of the millennium steered itself close to India.
The UAE Ambassador to India, Dr Ahmad Al Banna, In a statement following the abrogation had said, “We (take) note of the introduction of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in the Indian Parliament aimed at replacing Article 370 with the creation of Ladakh region and the state of Jammu and Kashmir as India’s two new Union Territories.”
Explaining his country’s position in Kashmir, he said, “(In my) understanding the reorganisation of states is not a unique incident in the history of independent India and that it should be mainly aimed at reducing regional disparity and improving efficiency. The latest decision related to the state of Jammu and Kashmir should be viewed as an internal matter as stipulated by the Indian Constitution.”
Placing hope in India’s monumental decision to better the life of Kashmiris and people of Ladakh, the Arabian country envoy stated that, “UAE expects that the changes would improve social justice and security and confidence of the people in the local governance and will encourage further stability and peace.”