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Why Pakistan Avoids Bilateral Dialogue

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s call in Washington on Thursday for “third party mediation” to resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan was more intended for his political constituency back home than for seriously mobilizing US intervention. Of course during his meeting with US President Barack Obama he raised the Kashmir issue; of course, Kashmir figured in the joint US-Pakistan statement; but there was nothing in the meeting and the statement that suggested any discussion on third party mediation or a positive US reaction to the idea. US stance on Kashmir has always been that the Kashmir issue has to be resolved bilaterally by the two nations. If Sharif was hoping for any change in the stance he had probably chosen a wrong moment. The US and its allies in Europe are grappling today with serious strategic and economic issues. The US is militarily engaged in Afghanistan and considering to extend the engagement from the deadline earlier decided. The US and allies are fighting a war to wipe out the Islamic State which has seized a number of significant strategic spaces in the Middle East.

Sharif had raised the Kashmir issue also in his recent meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He spoke on it in the UN General Assembly a few days later. Last year too, Sharif raised the issue at the UN General Assembly. Pakistan has been pressing for holding of a plebiscite in the state on the plea that the “fundamental right to self-determination” was denied to Kashmiri people. There are three reasons why the international community has not paid much attention to Pakistan’s projection. The first reason is that any international intervention is possible only through the UN. UN involvement in Kashmir began in 1948, when Pakistan made its first attempt to seize Kashmir from India. Between 1948 and 1971 the UN Security Council passed 23 resolutions on the resolution of the Kashmir conflict, but they were all recommendatory in nature and could not be enforced without the consent of both the countries. For all practical purposes, UN involvement ended with the signing of the Shimla Agreement by India and Pakistan in 1972 in the wake of the third war between the two nations in 1971. The Shimla Agreement secured the commitment of the two nations to solve the Kashmir dispute in a bilateral framework.

Secondly, the international community is fully aware of the proxy war Pakistan has been carrying on against India in Kashmir using terrorist organizations. Pakistani army and political leadership has allowed their soil to recruit, train, arm and fund terror organizations that have become so bold and brazen that they are attacking targets within Pakistan. The proxy war carried on by Pakistan has made the cause of “right to self-determination of Kashmiri people” look not as legitimate. It looks engineered and manufactured by Pakistan. To the international community, it is also apparent that Pakistan wants to foment unrest and armed insurgency in the Indian part of Kashmir entirely with the interest of grabbing that part too, in addition to the part it snatched from India in 1948. The cause of right to self-determination of Kashmiri people is in real fact the cause of merging the Indian part of Kashmir into Pakistan and making the whole of Kashmir a province of the country. So when Sharif says: “Our support and advocacy of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is our historic commitment and duty,” and “the valiant people of the disputed state had neither abandoned hope nor given up their legitimate struggle for self-determination,” the US and European leaders do not fail to understand that Pakistan’s design for territorial expansion is at the heart of the problem. If Pakistan can get the whole of Kashmir, its army will not be very far from Delhi.

Thirdly, India has always rejected any UN or third party intervention on the Kashmir issue, maintaining that all outstanding matters in the Indo-Pakistan ties should be resolved bilaterally in accordance of the spirit of the Shimla Agreement. The UN and the US and European nations have long held the view that the outstanding issues should be settled bilaterally. And at several points in history since the signing of the Shimla Agreement, leaders of both countries have met to resolve issues bilaterally. However, every time the two nations seem to be making some progress in that direction, Pakistani political leadership raises some issue or the Pakistani army does something objectionable on the Line of Control and the dialogue stops. The reason is clear: Pakistani leadership knows they cannot get international intervention in Kashmir; they know they cannot get the Indian part of Kashmir by talking to India bilaterally. They have a big stake in creating a stalemate. That way alone they stay politically significant at home by milking pro-Kashmir and anti-India emotions.

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