• Sitara Srinivas

How Kashmir's Special Status is Impacting India Abroad

When Home Minister Amit Shah announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, several reactions followed. These reactions, came from nation-states, political parties, and organisations, focused on the nature of the action, it’s consequences as well as the events that had led to the abrogation. Kashmir has long been a disputed issue and a source of several conflicts between India and Pakistan, and to a lesser extent China. It is also home to a movement that calls for independence or azaadi from both the nation-states. Since independence in 1947 to till date, several resolutions and agreements have taken place which today govern the present and future of the state. It is in this space that this article attempts to engage with these reactions - specifically those on the diplomatic level. It also attempts to highlight why perhaps most of these reactions were seen to be surprising, considering the nature and historical roots of the conflict and further tries to link it to the idea that this reaction should not be taken as validation for both the actions of the government, and the success of these actions at large.

With exceptions of countries like China, organisations like the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation as well as Amnesty International, the civil society and a large section of the media, the reactions were neutral - terming the conflict as one to be mediated and resolved bilaterally and the matter as one within India’s sovereign jurisdiction. Only the communication crackdown and detentions were seen as causes for concern by several countries. It thus remains critical to engage with the how and why of these reactions,

On a factual level, the actions of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government did not violate any international laws or treaties and any domestic laws. While the legality and ethicality at large of the blockades, shutdowns and restrictions was brought up as a cause of concern (and continues to be, as Kashmir moves past 160 plus days of an internet shutdown), India ensured that at the abrogation at least, criticism on the legality could not be brought up, and any sanctions that would follow were averted.

It is additionally possible that Prime Minister Modi lobbied support from several nations, to both appraise of his future actions and ensure a favourable response. Countries like Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia posted travel advisories, discouraging citizens from travelling to the states. With the Osaka G20 weeks before this action was taken, it set the ground for Modi to ensure a favorable reaction.

But more likely is the fact that states wouldn’t benefit from causing an international uproar. India currently trades with several countries and has several trade agreements under the process of being signed. Having shown uproar over the actions, or support for Pakistan, would impact these deals and agreements. There is also the delicate balance of power that exists, with countries like China and the United States wary to do anything that troubles this balance.

And at the same time, several states are facing issues of their own. With the United Kingdom dealing with a Brexit, China aware that it’s actions in Tibet and Xinjiang could be questioned and the United States mulling over peace talks with the Taliban as well as an election year, the scope for outrage has been limited with concerns only being raised on the clampdown on communications, the detention of political leaders and other restrictions.

The United Nations, for one, has reemphasized on the stance of bilateral resolution. Pakistan’s key ally China – a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council called for private closed-door meetings (the first on Kashmir after more than 50 years), which didn’t lead to much action. India’s closest P5 ally – Russia also referred to the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir for the first time. The latest meeting by the United Nations Security Council on the dispute on the 15th January, requested by China discussed the political detentions and internet restrictions. Several media organizations reported that most nations involved in the meeting were not in favour of a detailed discussion, with P5 nation France restating before the meeting that Kashmir was not being seen as an international issue, and had to be settled bilaterally.

This was the third attempt by China to raise the dispute at the United Nations Security Council. The first taking place soon after the abrogation, which saw most states reiterate their stance that the matter was an internal one and the second in December – which did not take place as the other four Permanent members (France, United Kingdom, Russia and the United States) opposed it. Premier Xi Jinping has also previously stated that Chinese support was with its ally – Pakistan. Independently, China also has a stake in this conflict, considering their occupation of the territory of Aksai Chin in Ladakh. This was reflected in the August 6th statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry where the stated that they were always opposed to the inclusion of Chinese territory (Aksai Chin) into India’s administrative judiciary. But at the same time, China did not cancel the October summit in India, with the Premier and the Prime Minister holding successful talks in Mahabalipuram, India. This could have also been because there were no changes with the Line of Actual Control or the Line of Control.

When it comes to the United States of America, there have been different reactions across the board. President Trump has offered to “mediate” the conflict too many times – most recently the 21st of January, when in conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the World Economic Forum at Davos. While the traditional US stance has been that negotiations need to be conducted bilaterally, involving the Kashmiri people, it is often rumoured that Trump’s offers to mediate the conflict, contributed to the timing. At the same time, the United States is currently in negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban and is coming into an election year. This was clear when in the month following the abrogation, President Donald Trump appeared at the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston, Texas. Other US leaders – including Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tliaib called out the government for it’s shutting down of communications and that its actions were unacceptable.

Russia was the first country to voice that the abrogation was an internal matter for India, stating that differences between India and Pakistan had to be resolved by political and diplomatic means the basis of the provisions of the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999. Historically Russia, (then the Soviet Union) vetoed in favour of India in the United Nations Security Council, when it came to resolutions that concerned India’s standing at the UNSC.

Amongst India’s neighbours, both Nepal and Bangladesh stated that it was an internal issue of India, Bhutan suggested that while being an entirely internal matter of the government of India, they saw It as a bold, courageous and forward-looking step which would both bring development to the state and stability to the sub-continent. Sri Lanka spoke in regards to the Buddhist population of Ladakh, celebrating the creation of a new Union Territory.

Members of the European Parliament were the first high-level delegation to visit Kashmir after the decision in late October. The visit termed as one aimed to present a first-hand assessment of the situation was an eye-opener by several members of the delegation with a consensus that this was an internal dispute of India’s and that the media coverage had been biased. But at the same time, most members were from right-wing European parties, the visit at large wasn’t supported by the European Union, a member was disinvited for requesting to not have a police escort when he engaged with local citizens and that rather than being an independent trip, it was arranged by the Indian government.

Only the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation expressed grave concern over the development, and called India’s moves “illegal and unilateral”. However several members of the Organization, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia reiterated that they saw it as an internal dispute of the country.

However, it must be remembered that such reactions are merely diplomatic. An essential lens through which to look at the developments would be through that of the civil society and media. Several countries around the world saw protests against these actions of the Indian Government with demands for freedom or azaadi for Kashmir. In extension the world media was critical of the actions of the government, calling the communication shutdown, detentions and restrictions human rights violations while also questioning the claim of normalcy in the state soon after the abrogation. The New York Times also carried articles by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan criticizing these actions. Additionally, the Guardian termed it as “India’s settler-colonial project” and both the Guardian and the Telegraph claimed that there would be consequences with the Telegraph going as far as to call the bloody, Al Jazeera also ran an article by Ather Zia, with the headline stating that “There is reason to fear for the safety of every Kashmiri in India.” Journalism has the freedom which often diplomacy does not, and if anything these show the two very different contexts in which the actions could be considered.

But also, if anything has been proved, it is that international reactions can’t be used as the litmus test to judge the moral or ethical right or wrong of a particular action. The fact that each nation has something to hide, or something to lose, or something that they would be called out for is today the crux of 21st-century diplomacy. Engagement with civil society and media is thus, the only accurate way to gauge how a country stands on a matter.

Views expressed are solely those of the author.

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About the Author

Sitara is a graduate in Political Science from Gargi College and has a diploma in Conflict Transformation and Peace Building from Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She currently works as the Research and Communications Coordinator at the Social and Political Research Foundation. Sitara aspires to work at the intersection of diplomacy and public policy and make research more intersectional and accessible to all. She has a deep interest in foreign policy, military, politics, and gender and one day hopes to finish all the books she's bought but never read.

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