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Voices of dissent

Karan Thapar

Was the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States of America and the United Nations an “outstanding” success, or has Kashmir been internationalised to India’s disadvantage? It’s an intriguing question, and the answer is neither clear-cut nor uncontested. However, most analysts would agree the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hyperbole is unwarranted.

I would answer by separating two issues: India’s assertion that the change in Kashmir’s status is an internal matter, and international concern about the communications lockdown and allegations of human rights abuse. If you see the two separately, you will come to a better understanding of the visit’s overall outcome.

With few exceptions, the world has accepted India has a right to change the constitutional status of Kashmir, and it’s not a matter for other countries to comment on. Turkey’s and China’s criticism is explained by the fact that they are Pakistani allies. The stinging statement by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) Kashmir Contact Group is probably not even taken seriously by its 57 members. But there are two voices of dissent that should worry India.

The first is Saudi Arabia. It endorsed the OIC Contact Group’s statement, thus placing a question mark over India’s improving relations with Riyadh. The other is Malaysia. Its prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, told the General Assembly that India has “invaded and occupied” Kashmir. He added whatever its reasons for acting, “it is still wrong”. This was said just weeks after a long meeting with Prime Minister Modi in Vladivostok.

Nonetheless, I would conclude Modi has persuaded the world the change in Kashmir’s status is a domestic issue and not a matter of international concern. Imran Khan’s publicly expressed despair and disappointment over the response he got at the UN clinches this point.

However, it’s a different story when you turn to international concern about the communications lockdown, detentions and allegations of human rights abuse. This is a major story for the western media, and it’s uniformly and unreservedly critical. The New York Times called it “India’s folly” and “dangerous and wrong”; the Guardian says it is “incendiary… shocking and perilous”; the Observer has dubbed it “a very Indian coup”, adding Modi is “squarely in the wrong”; the Washington Post bluntly states Modi has “stained” democracy.

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “allegations of human rights violations are deeply concerning”. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, asked India “to restore the rights and freedoms of the population in Kashmir”.

However, the most outspoken was the United States. Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary for South Asia, said: “The United States is concerned by the widespread detentions … and the restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.” The White House not so subtly rubbed this in. It claimed in his meeting with Modi in New York, Trump “encouraged him to improve ties with Pakistan and fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people.”

I would go one step further. On the issue of Pakistan-based terror, Modi does not have Trump’s full support. Trump called his Houston speech “very aggressive”. He believes Iran, and not Pakistan, is the epicentre of terror. For him, Khan is as good a friend as Modi. Most tellingly, when questioned about Khan’s admission the Pakistan army trained al-Qaeda, Trump claimed he hadn’t heard Khan speak. He clearly isn’t willing to hold Pakistan responsible in the way India would like him to.

So what does this add up to? I find it hard to deny Kashmir has been internationalised. It actually began with the informal meeting of the Security Council in August. Second, even though most countries haven’t criticised the change in Kashmir’s status, they still regard it as disputed territory. Finally, even if they agree the solution has to be sought bilaterally, they’re also encouraging India to get on with it. Now a lot depends on what happens when the clampdown in the Valley is

(HT Media)

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