Recent occurrences in Kashmir—starting with the terrorist attacks in Pulwama, the subsequent military escalation between India and Pakistan, and the de facto repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution—have refocused the attention of the international community towards South Asia. While the spectre of ‘internationalisation’ has long ruffled feathers in New Delhi, and perhaps even among Indians more generally, Indians have seldom asked why this remains the case. What is it about the nature of India’s historical engagement with the international community that elicits such recurrent bouts of popular anxiety?
Liberal scholars of international relations commonly attribute a strong moral valence to the international community. Their arguments, propounding the merits of a political globalisation, anoint it as the repository of universal reason and a bulwark against the transgression of interstate norms, and thus, in most cases, the preferred arbiter of the fate of nation-states. Washington Think-Tanks would also see their role as particularly indispensable in the perilous cauldron of nuclear South Asia.
If this is the case—aside from conspicuous undertones of imperial justice—why does New Delhi disapprove of the active intervention of the international community on bilateral issues with Islamabad? In fact, a détente in India’s fractious relationship with Pakistan would allow the former to refocus its energies towards the pressing task of economic growth and poverty alleviation domestically, while also countenancing a much-needed re-orientation of its geo-political gaze towards the North-Eastern Frontier and China. Moreover, if India is certain of its own moral standing and legal claim to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, why fear a trial in front of a community of its peers?
The muted but pervasive reaction on Kashmir—recently manifest in Congressional hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives and the visit of members of the European Parliament to the region—seemingly undergirds this line of argumentation. International scrutiny, Western audiences would argue, is supposedly rendered unavoidable by the necessity to ensure the protection of human rights and prevent the squabbling nuclear powers from plunging into war.
However, have members of the international community dared to account for their complicity on the matter? The following three cases show how third-party interests, geo-political intrigues and ‘grand strategies’ have served to impair the possibility of a bilateral resolution between India and Pakistan. First, the most well-known example in the subcontinent is the unwillingness of the U.N. Security Council to enforce the terms of Resolution 47 on Jammu and Kashmir that demanded a retreat of Pakistani raiders from the region before a fair and impartial plebiscite could be held. Despite the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, having procured a legal and binding ‘instrument of accession’ from Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, the fate of the princely state was voluntarily yielded to democratic means.
However, as U.N. Security Council Resolution 47 had earlier observed, for a plebiscite to be held, the demographic composition before the conflict began in October 1947 had to be restored. But members of the diplomatic corps in the U.S. and the U.K.—who were thoroughly unimpressed with Indian Non-Alignment—chose to ignore these considerations and instead legitimised Pakistan’s aggression in return for the latter’s overt commitment to military alignment against the Soviet Union. As time passed by, the possibility of a plebiscite became untenable, as both states sought to consolidate their gains rather than risk the political fallout from yielding territory they had so vociferously claimed to be fundamental to their respective national imaginaries.
Secondly, even after the events of 1947, the two countries have had some productive headways on Kashmir. However, in most of these cases, the realisation of a solution has been scuppered by external developments. For instance, as early as 1953, Mohammed Ali Bogra and Jawaharlal Nehru had issued a monumental joint-communique on Kashmir, stating: “The Prime Ministers are happy to record this large measure of agreement on vital matters affecting their two countries and they trust and believe that success will attend their efforts.” Later, addressing a press conference, Bogra stated that “a solution was now in sight” and that the time had come to “bury the hatchet”. Similarly, Nehru stated his optimism before Parliament, declaring that he was ready to “settle every problem that had unfortunately embittered relations”. He also pledged to solve preliminary issues by setting up a committee to formalise dialogue, and work out the induction of a plebiscite administrator by April 1954. Much was still to be desired, but the prospects for rapprochement had rarely been better.
This dialogue and goodwill, however, was brought to a swift end by the decision of the Eisenhower administration on 25th February 1954 to grant military aid to Pakistan (to curb Soviet advancement in the Middle East). Nehru lamented that all the amicability gathered in Indo-Pak relations towards a possible solution on Kashmir was now “removed from reality”, and needed reconsideration. India could “take no risks now” and it was important to “retain full liberty to keep such forces and equipment in the Kashmiri state” that would be deemed necessary to counteract this heightened threat. This also was the final nail in the coffin for the prospect of international arbitration on Kashmir as the U.S. had willingly and rather brazenly conceding its tenuous neutral status. American observers operating in Kashmir on behalf of the U.N. were consequently expelled. In the long-run, this has created a challenging quandary as Pakistan’s material asymmetry has provoked a predilection for preferential third-party intervention that could embolden its case and provide greater leverage, while India has been largely sceptical of the ability of external parties (particularly great powers) to act as impartial arbitrators.
Thirdly, an appraisal of mediatory practices in post-terror attack crisis situations also exemplifies the fleeting interests of the international community in South Asia. For example, after each instance of belligerency by the Pakistani military or Pakistan-based terror outfits—the Kargil War, the Parliament attack, the Kaluchak massacre, 26/11, attacks in Pathankot, Uri, and Pulwama, to name a few—nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. have stepped in to cool tempers and help de-escalate. Since the ‘original sin’ or the act of terrorism has already been committed, their actions are typified by repeated calls for restraint from India and attempts to draw nominal concessions from Pakistan (such as having terrorists on ‘house arrest’).
However, once the immediate crisis is over, no effort is made on their part towards a long-term solution that includes the formulation of practicable bilateral/multilateral mechanisms to stop cross-border terrorism, and a fact-finding and judicial forum to hold perpetrators to account. The complete absence of ‘institutionalised justice’ being capably administered has led to several unwanted long-term consequences, such as an increased risk appetite for nuclear inadvertence and escalation. In such an atmosphere of distrust, responsible third-party intervention could potentially help reassure both states of each other’s compliance to agreed frameworks. But as things stand, the Indian security establishment has little choice but to use military manoeuvres (surgical and air strikes) to restore effective deterrence capacity. This, unfortunately, does not bode well for regional stability.
Media reports and political commentaries on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy towards Pakistan are often characterised by a heightened degree of social consternation, paranoia and fear. Sources point to a new ‘assertive’ or even ‘coercive’ turn in Indian strategic thinking and attempt to attribute causality to either the aggressive propensities of Hindu nationalism—a break from India’s Nehruvian moorings—or a rising material power’s diminishing reticence to exercise national power and partake in realpolitik—both scourges of Wilsonian-liberals. Unfortunately, what these narratives ignore is the gross inability on part of the international community to act on its purported commitments to international justice that has subsequently led to this ‘disenchantment with diplomacy’.
Moving forward, while it is likely that the international community would still be a stakeholder in any long-term solution between India and Pakistan, its collective approach to the region needs dramatic revision if such an end is to be achieved. So far, a parochial emphasis on the regional equities and the shallow appeasement of ‘liberal-minded audiences back home’ has only served to entrench intractability in the region. The limits of insincere declarations couched in moral sanctimony and rectitude have therefore been apparent.
Instead, the international community must take accountability and re-appraise its commitments. It must act as a catalyst for regional integration, conciliation and the global eradication of terrorism as a legitimate tool of statecraft. The fruits of such sustained labour could be realised sooner than expected, as both India and Pakistan begin to appreciate that only sustained peace can deliver to their peoples—through the realisation of their human potential—the latent and immense possibilities of Swaraj.
Views are personal.
Ameya Pratap Singh is an international relations scholar with degrees from the London School of Economics and Cambridge University. He is currently a PhD candidate at Oxford University.