By Tom O’Connor On 8/5/22 at 5:04 PM EDT
With the international community’s eyes on Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and a burgeoning crisis between China and Taiwan, Pakistan’s envoy to the United States told Newsweek that high tensions across his country’s disputed border with India risked sparking yet another crisis.
Friday marked the third anniversary of India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, a move that repealed the special, semi-autonomous status of the India-administered stretch of the disputed Kashmir region. New Delhi has argued the step was necessary to improve the situation of the embattled province beset by decades of insurgency, while Islamabad has rejected the move as an illegal change to a long-running feud with an international dimension.
And though the decision continued to stir frictions between two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan said there has been a dangerous indifference to the issue on the part of the international community.
“Because of several developments in the international realm, for instance, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region,” Khan said, “the United States or other permanent members of the U.N. Nation Security Council have not been able to devote much attention to Kashmir.
“So there’s this continuing spell of inattention, which makes Kashmir a blind spot for the international community. This is perilous because, after all, Kashmir is located in a very sensitive region, and in this neighborhood, there are three nuclear powers, Pakistan, India and China.”
And all three of these powers lay claim to part of the broader Kashmir region, a sprawling swath of Himalayan territory at the heart of several major wars since the end of the United Kingdom’s colonization of the Indian subcontinent three-quarters of a century ago. The fate of Kashmir and its mostly Muslim population led by a Hindu ruler, sparked the first large-scale conflict between India and Pakistan, who would go on to fight three more wars and continued to clash in recent years, with an uneasy, rare ceasefire reached only in February of last year.
China, which has fostered close ties with Pakistan, lays claim to Kashmir’s far east, where another disputed boundary exists between what India calls Ladakh and China calls Aksai Chin. The two powers fought a war over this region 50 years ago and clashes have resurfaced in recent years, most notably in a series of skirmishes that turned deadly in 2020, months after India incorporated Ladakh as a separate Union Territory alongside Kashmir, officially called Jammu and Kashmir.
On the third anniversary of the move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Friday that “China’s position is clear and consistent” on Kashmir.
“The Kashmir issue is an issue left over from history between India and Pakistan,” Hua said. “This is also the shared view of the international community. We stated back then that parties concerned need to exercise restraint and prudence. In particular, parties should avoid taking actions that unilaterally change the status quo or escalate tensions.
“We call on both India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve the dispute through dialogue and consultation.”
Friday’s anniversary drew some international attention elsewhere as well. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes 56 U.N. members states as well as the U.N. observer State of Palestine, issued a statement condemning India’s “illegal and unilateral actions taken in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, which were followed by additional unlawful measures including illegal demographic changes.”
“Such illegal actions can neither alter the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir,” the OIC added, “nor prejudice the legitimate right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.”
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Shri Arindam Bagchi argued that the statement “reeks of bigotry” and accused the OIC of pursuing statements “at the behest of a serial violator of human rights and notorious promoter of cross-border, regional and international terrorism” in a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan.
“The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is and will remain an integral and inalienable part of India,” Bagchi said. “As a result of long-awaited changes three years ago, it today reaps the benefits of socio-economic growth and development.”
And as a number of those in Pakistan and India-administered Kashmir took to the streets to commemorate “Exploitation Day” in opposition to the Indian government, Indian Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha inaugurated the newly renovated Bakshi stadium and announced Friday that August 5 would be known as “Bhrashtachar Mukti Diwas” or “Corruption-Free Day” after a series of initiatives to bring public services online.
But unrest has also continued to brew within Kashmir itself, especially in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to demonstrations Friday in which protesters opposed to India’s special status repeal and subsequent crackdown clashed with security forces, insurgents have continued to conduct gun and grenade attacks.
New Delhi has accused Islamabad of sponsoring militant groups in the region, but Pakistan has denied the charge and accused India of committing human rights abuses against Jammu and Kashmir’s 12 million people, most of whom are Muslims.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry summoned India’s charge d’affaires in order to issue a “strong protest” over “the series of illegitimate measures taken by Indian order to unilaterally alter the internationally recognized disputed status of the territory and to accentuate its brutal military occupation.”
Khan told Newsweek that, in the absence of international action on Kashmir, “the situation has deteriorated further.”
The United States, meanwhile, has stayed relatively quiet on the issue, viewing it largely as a bilateral matter. Washington did, however, support greater diplomacy between Islamabad and New Delhi.
“Our policy on Kashmir has not changed,” a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek. “We continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern.
“The pace, scope and character of any dialogue is a matter for India and Pakistan to determine.”
Yet, even with last year’s ceasefire holding along the border and a change in Pakistan’s government ousting then-Prime Minister Imran Khan for current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in April, engagement between India and Pakistan remained scant.
“It takes two to tango,” Khan said, “and Pakistan has always been willing to engage in India. We have pursued that option very proactively, and we haven’t succeeded so far. So I think that remains a preference for us.”
Beyond the bilateral dynamic, the Kashmir conflict also has multilateral dimensions, especially in the United Nations Security Council resolutions defining the territory as disputed. Khan said he hoped for a U.N. effort to foster discreet conversations on the issue and provide a platform for dialogue among representatives of India, Pakistan are the people of Jammu and Kashmir since “they are the primary stakeholders.”
As for the strained relationship between Islamabad and Washington, whose partnership was forged throughout the Cold War in conflicts such as the mujahideen resistance against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in the 21st century “War on Terror,” Khan said he hoped to bring ties back on track.
The same “War on Terror” that brought the U.S. and Pakistan together has also driven a wedge between them as Washington has expressed concerns regarding the presence of militant groups on Pakistani territory. The country’s relationship with the Taliban has also been scrutinized in Washington, even as the group increasingly established itself as an independent actor in the wake of its takeover of Afghanistan following the U.S. military withdrawal a year ago.
“When we talk about a reset, what we would be looking at is understanding the parameters of our relationship post-August 15, 2021,” Khan said, “because we were partners in the war against terror and that defined the relationship between the two countries, but now we need to move to non-security issues as well.”
And Khan, who formerly served as Pakistan’s ambassador to China, said that Pakistan’s close ties with the People’s Republic should not prove an issue, even as tensions between Beijing and Washington soar over what has already been described as the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis.
“We want to maintain these relations with China, but we want to have a very strong robust relationship with the United States,” Khan said. “We do not want to make binary choices, nor is the United States saying in its formal statements that it expects other nations to make binary choices.
“We do understand that there is this very, very stiff competition between China and the United States, the Western bloc, and I think that—I hope that—they will be able to work towards a win-win solution to the problems.”
Newsweek has contacted India’s embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment.