Forget those tennis volleys; the verbal salvoes have returned. India and Pakistan have moved back to their 20th century positions on Kashmir, virtually erasing a decade of incremental progress that had brought the contentious issue off the boil and closer to resolution.
India’s external affairs minister S M Krishna on Thursday asked Pakistan to “vacate” its “illegal occupation of certain parts of Jammu and Kashmi” before advising New Delhi “how to go about doing things in Kashmir,” after Islamabad sought US intervention on the issue and questioned the state’s accession to India.
The sharp escalation in tone and rhetoric came even as foreign ministers of the two countries attended events and held meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York amid unprecedented crises which have shaken both countries — the biblical floods, terrorism, and insurgencies across Pakistan, and the violence in the Kashmir Valley in India.
Apparently emboldened by the renewed civil unrest in the Valley, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday sought international intervention to resolve the issue, invoking specifically the US role in the Middle East as a precedent.
“We call upon the US particularly, which is pressing so responsibly for peace in the Middle East, to also invest its political capital in trying to help seek an accommodation for Kashmir,” Qureshi said at a think tank meeting in New York, before galvanizing the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to issue a 12-point declaration seeking, among other things, self-determination for Kashmiris.
In Islamabad, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman upped the ante by asking New Delhi to stop treating Kashmir as an integral part of India and seeking a solution within the ambit of Indian Constitution.
The escalation, coming at a time when Pakistan’s civilian dispensation is at its weakest and the country’s military is expanding its influence (and readying for a return to power, according to some reports), not only torpedoed any meaningful exchange between the two sides in New York, but also provoked the usually Krishna to strike back.
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, they are in illegal occupation of certain parts of J&K. I think that it is desirable that they vacate that first and then start advising India about how to go about doing things in Kashmir,” Krishna told a television news channel.
His choice of words — referring to Pakistan-held Kashmir(PoK) by its undivided J&K appellation — suggested that New Delhi was ready to return publicly to its official position of claiming all of the undivided, pre-independence J&K state if Islamabad chose to go on the offensive.
Although neither country has officially resiled from their stated positions, more recent solutions proposed have centered on a status quo with soft borders and minor adjustments along the current borders.
Krishna also sought to portray the civil unrest in the Valley as an example of domestic strife rather than a separatist insurgency as Pakistan is seeking to depict to the international community.
“The government of India is fully conscious about its responsibilities. There are institutional mechanisms and individual mechanisms, which will be put in place so that the genuine grievances of the people of Kashmir will be addressed. It happens in other parts of the country also. Whenever such strife is there we do the same mechanism so we will follow that,” he said.
Islamabad’s decision to escalate the Kashmir issue and bring it centerstage comes at a time the country is squarely in the cross-hairs of the international community, with President Obama saying the cancer of terrorism is squarely in Pakistan and has to be contained there. By pushing its Kashmir agenda, Pakistan is returning to its “root cause of terrorism” theory that had been discredited over the past decade.
The US itself is in no mood to intervene, its official position being it will mediate if both sides so desire (as in the case of Middle East). That is unlikely to change ahead of President Obama’s visit to India in November, ahead of which several key Indian cabinet officials, including defense minister A K Antony, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, will arrive in Washington over the next fortnight.
Even otherwise, New Delhi position is that it will brook no intervention or mediation’ it believes existing bilateral agreements and mechanisms are sufficient to address the issue. But for now, even that is in disarray after the latest verbal escalation.