"President House , New Delhi, India, Palace, Gards, Military, President Guards" by Ankur gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

"President House , New Delhi, India, Palace, Gards, Military, President Guards" by Ankur gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Will Kashmir be back on international agenda?

26 August 2019

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The original article by Talib Haider at SBS Urdu can be found here.

While India calls it an internal matter and US President has asked both parties to show restraint, Pakistan has decided to take the Kashmir issue to the International Court of Justice. Australian academics share their views on the possible outcomes for the disputed region and the role of international players in bringing peace to the region.

As the situation unfolds Pakistan has decided to take the issue of Kashmir to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Talking to a Pakistani TV channel, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the legal aspects have been considered before deciding that the matter will be taken to ICJ as soon as possible.

“An in-principle decision has been taken to take the issue of disputed Kashmir to the International Court of Justice.”

The decision of the court is not binding unless the two parties involved agree beforehand.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump asked the two leaders of Pakistan and India to show restraint over Kashmir issue.

Australian academics on South Asian matters express concern over the current situation but some are hopeful that diplomacy is the way forward. How Australian academic experts view the Kashmir issue

Talking to SBS Urdu, Dr Claude Rakisits, Honorary Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, Australian National University in Canberra says that the recent decision by India to remove article 370 and 35A came as no surprise but people in Kashmir “were not expecting this.”

“I think he [India PM Narendra Modi] wanted to finalise the whole issue of Kashmir and try to separate it from Pakistan. So by splitting it in two territories, one that will be directly controlled from the centre with no legislature and the other one Ladakh. By removing 35 A it allows non-Kashmiris to go into Kashmir to buy the property and things that were not allowed [previously].

“The big worry for the locals in Jammu and Kashmir is that they think it could be a way to dilute the Muslim majority areas certainly in the valley.”

Dr Ashutosh Misra, an adjunct fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Queensland and the CEO of Institute of Australia India Engagement, says that the removal of articles was a decision “worth taking.”

“We have seen the hardship of the people in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) only getting from bad to worse in the last seventy years. If the human conditions have not improved and the killings continue then something is wrong in Kashmir.

“So in that context, there is no harm in trying new measures to bring peace and development in J&K.”

Dr Misra says that the lockdown in Kashmir has not happened for the first time and we have seen such lockdowns on both sides of this nature.

“We have seen section 144 being imposed, curfew as well as troops marching on the streets, people have been confined in their homes, leaders have been put under house arrests, so this is not the first time that we have seen such a clampdown and it was quite understandable given the sensitivity of the decision which the Modi government was contemplating.

“It was necessary and it has been able to prevent conflict and violence. I have heard that the restrictions will be eased bit by bit and soon normalcy should return to the Kashmir valley.”

“The removal of articles 370 and 35A will not help the Kashmiris in any way,” says Dr Zahid Ahmed, research fellow and South Asian affairs expert on peace and security at the Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University in Melbourne.

“When you think of the Kashmiris living in J&K, I don’t think this decision is going to have any positive impact on the situation there and we can visibly see some signs of that already happening.

“Removal of Kashmir’s special status was always a promise of BJP to its voters. One aspect which is quite prevalent in India is the rise of Hindu nationalism which was clear in the previous Indian elections and in recent 2019 elections which were won by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Sadly, this has resulted in continued attacks on religious minorities including Muslims and Hindus.

Pakistan’s plan is now to take up the matter to the International Court of Justice.

But Dr Rakisits says that might lead to a different situation for the South Asian nation.

“If Pakistan does go to the ICJ, then the Pakistan-administered Kashmir will also be up for discussion which currently is not the case.”

Earlier Pakistan requested the UNSC to look into the matter resulting in a consultation meeting which ended without any statement being released.

“Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir has not changed at all. It wants India to hold a plebiscite and let the Kashmiris decide whether they want to stay with India or go with Pakistan.” Dr Ahmed says.

“Pakistan is still pushing for the same thing to happen and asking the international community to intervene.

“The first decision it made was to go to the UN where the Kashmir issue had lost its significance in the past four decades.”

Earlier this year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report on ‘the situation of Human Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.’

“According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), around 160 civilians were killed in 2018, which is believed to be the highest number in over one decade.” The report added.

The report claimed that the security forces [in Indian-administered Kashmir] allegedly used live ammunition and pellet-firing shotguns to disperse protesters resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

India termed the report a “continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative” on Indian-administered Kashmir while Pakistan welcomed the report.

Mr Misra says there is no denial of killings in the Indian-administered Kashmir but overall context should be taken into consideration.

“I don’t deny there have been civilians that have been killed, there have been army officers that have been killed as well as separatists too, and so whole lots of killings have taken place since 1990 and before that.

“But we cannot see it in isolation of what has transpired in the last 70 years. In my view, with the amendment in 370, I think these things will be addressed and I think some people are quite hopeful.

“At the Indian side of Kashmir, there is a vibrant democratic process in place. There have been cases in which the proceedings have been held against these types of violations.”

China has shown concern over the recent decision over Kashmir by India.

“China’s position on the Kashmir issue is clear and consistent. It is also an international consensus that the Kashmir issue is an issue left from the past between India and Pakistan.

“The relevant sides need to exercise restraint and act prudently. In particular, they should refrain from taking actions that will unilaterally change the status quo and escalate tensions.” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in response to the removal of article 370 and 35 A.

On the announcement of Ladakh as Union Territory by India, China said that such practice is “unacceptable.”

“Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law.

“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.” Ms Hua Chunying said.

Dr Claudia Astarita is International Relations Analyst for South Asia at CeMiSS, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, in Rome and Fellow at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne.

She says that “we are at a turning point.”

“Kashmir is not going to remain a domestic issue of India only but it will soon go back on the international agenda mainly because the international community cannot afford to create a habit for every revisionist country to do exactly what they want to change international equilibrium, to change the current status quo and preserve their interests.

“It is a matter of fact that PM Modi was intended at reducing the influence of Muslims in the Indian-administered Kashmir and as a consequence, Pakistan will fight with all its forces to avoid the consolidation of the new emerging status quo.

“Now Islamabad has decided to take the Kashmir case to International Court of Justice, but Pakistan does not have many options available unless if not the one of trying to keep the level of attention very high on Kashmir.

“If the new Kashmir situation would be accepted it would be another defeat for the international community, once again will prove that it can do nothing to block rising revisionist, arrogant, and hyper-nationalistic powers.”

Meanwhile, the US President has continued to stress upon his role for mediation between Pakistan and India. President Trump will be visiting Biarritz, France this weekend and possibly will discuss Kashmir issue with PM Modi.

“Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus, and you have the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great. And that’s what you have right now.” President Trump said at a White House media briefing earlier this week.

However, Dr Ashok Sharma, an expert on the US - India affairs, from the UNSW Canberra at Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), says that “India is not ready to accept any international mediation over Kashmir.”

“I don’t see the US playing any role because India will not welcome it. Also, the US and India relationship is elevated to a different level. It is a very strong strategic partnership which is now looked in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Pakistan and India have fought several wars over Kashmir since their inceptions with armed conflict taking place as recent as February 2019 when India used aerial attacks in Balakot area of Pakistan in response to the Pulwama incident in Indian-administered Kashmir resulting in the deaths of 44 Indian soldiers.

Pakistan - India over Kashmir

1947 – Tribals from Pakistan attack Kashmir / Maharaja of Kashmir signs accession treaty with India

1947 - 31 December - India referred the Kashmir problem to the UN Security Council and agreed for a plebiscite

1965 – War between India and Pakistan takes place over Kashmir

1971 – War between Pakistan and India (East Pakistan becomes Bangladesh)

1972 – Simla Agreement (both sides to settle their differences through negotiations ‘bilaterally’)

1999 – Kargil War

Will the two nuclear-armed nations take up arms again over Kashmir?

“I don’t think so,” says Dr Sharma.

“After the Kargil war, there is a nuclear deterrence which continues to stop the nuclear powers to go to war. There may be some exchange of firing on the Line of Control but I don’t see any full-fledged war which we witnessed before Kargil.”

However, Dr Rakisits cautions that any militant activity in the Kashmir region could trigger either side to take action especially India.

“It will remain at this level if nothing more happens but for example, if there is a terrorist act by LET (Lashkar-e-Taiba) or JEM (Jaish-e-Muhammad) along the lines of what happened in February this year, then I suspect that India will retaliate in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. There will be a military response from India because there is a tremendous amount of pressure on PM Modi to do something.

“Let’s not forget what happened after February this year looking at the military interaction between India and Pakistan, Pakistan came on top.

“This PM Modi would not have liked so I suspect that he would very much like to retaliate but he needs an excuse and the excuse will be a terrorist act.”

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