As far back as 2003, only a couple of years after the attack on the Indian Parliament, India and Pakistan minced no words about their interests in Kashmir. At the UNGA 58th session, India was blunt in expressing its belief that no state that itself sponsored terrorism should be permitted to be a part of a global coalition against terror and that, for its own part, there would be no negotiations with terrorists. The day before, Pervez Musharraf described the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as the most dangerous dispute in the world – leveling accusations of India brutally repressing the demands of Kashmiris for self-determination and violating their human rights. To this and Pakistan’s claim of India failing to implement the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions dealing with Kashmir, India insisted that Kashmiri participation in the State Assembly Elections was an unequivocal expression of self-determination.
The steadfast commitment to the composite dialogue process hailed as “irreversible” and “uninterruptable” by the UPA which came to power in 2004 saw Pakistan cool down its rhetoric in the UNGA, making no overt mentions of human right violations or failure to abide by UNSC resolutions – and arguably the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination as well. The year 2005 saw Pakistan adopt a similar position even as India entirely omitted mentioning Pakistan or Kashmir at the 60th UNGA session.
This period of mutual restraint however lasted only until the 26/11 (Mumbai) attacks in India. Even after the 26/11 attacks, however, while the Composite Dialogue process was suspended there was no outburst from India until the 65th UNGA session in 2010. There India explicitly stated that Jammu and Kashmir are the targets of Pakistan sponsored militancy and terrorism; even stating somewhat undiplomatically that Pakistan could not impart to it lessons on democracy and human rights. That same year, Pakistan strongly condemned the killing of Kashmiris by Indian security forces and called upon the international community to persuade India to end its ‘repression’ in Kashmir.
Ever since then there has been a steady escalation of rhetoric at the UNGA. India made clear at the 66th session (2011) that there cannot be selective approaches in dealing with terrorist groups or the infrastructure of terrorism and that it needs to be fought across all fronts. Pakistan for its part continued with its age-old position of human rights, the aspirations of the Kashmiris, and UNSC resolutions. The 67th session (2012) saw Pakistan say that Kashmir remained a symbol of the failures rather than the strengths of the UN system. At the same session India affirmed that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and stressed the need for the international community to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism while dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism.
It was the 68th UNGA session in 2013 (the Congress-led UPA’s last year in power) when India pulled no punches and flatly labeled the epicenter of terrorism in South Asia as being in Pakistan. India expressed clearly that the terrorist machinery drawing its sustenance from Pakistan had to be shut down and that it could not continue to allow territory under its control to be utilized for purposes of inflicting terrorist attacks elsewhere. In stating that there could never be a compromise with India’s unity and territorial integrity, India categorically rejected Pakistan’s core demands. Pakistan reiterated its traditional demands saying that the Kashmiri people’s suffering could not be “brushed under the carpet” simply because of power politics.
The ascension of the Narendra Modi-led BJP to power in 2014 led to expectations of a much more muscular Indian foreign policy especially vis-à-vis Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif’s acceptance of Modi’s invitation to attend his swearing in ceremony followed the civilian governments so-called desire for a ‘new beginning’ with India. The cancellation of scheduled foreign secretary-level talks after the meeting of the Pakistani High Commissioner with the Hurriyat Conference (a Kashmiri separatist group) sparked mixed reactions. Some have said this was a knee jerk reaction, which will strengthen the military while weakening the civilian government. It is, however, hard to see how the cancellation of diplomatic talks with India would hurt the civilian government which is instead facing flak domestically on issues such as poor handling of the economy and corruption. Others consider talks with Pakistan as a wasteful activity that has not brought India any benefits thus far and therefore view the recent development positively.
At the UNGA’s 69th session in 2014 Pakistan chose to bring up the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s statement was couched in terms of India being an occupying power in Kashmir, and that the abuse of Kashmiri fundamental rights necessitated a response. As compared to previous sessions however, Modi’s statements at the 69th session have been remarkably restrained. India acknowledged the need to have a peaceful and stable environment given how any nation’s destiny is linked to its neighborhood. Modi expressed a desire to engage in bilateral dialogue with Pakistan but made clear that this could not occur in the shadow of terrorism.
One theory seeking to explain the cancellations (as propounded by MK Bhadrakumar) roots the decision to the supposed lack of a roadmap in Modi’s dealings with South Asian nations. Bhadrakumar locates this act in a larger Indian scheme (with an RSS push) to abrogate Article 370. It would however be timely to examine another theory explaining India’s actions. The important purposes served by continuing dialogue with Pakistan (notwithstanding provocations) have been established on many occasions. The question that remains following the cancellation of the recent talks is why this particular occasion was chosen to cancel the talks considering how the interaction with Hurriyat leaders (having continued for over two decades) is nothing new.
Were India keen to send a message, it could have done so when its mission in Herat was attacked or in response to any of the many provocations it has received along the LoC. Modi in his address to soldiers in Leh in August condemned Pakistan for engaging in a proxy war of terrorism as well. However this time round was different. Sharif in his visit to India was cautioned to not meet the separatists and did not. The Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit was similarly cautioned, being told that the High Commissioner had to choose between meeting the separatists or the government. Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary it is also a fact that ceasefire violations have been increasing in number. Following the cancellation, the gravest violations of the ceasefire across the LoC since Modi came to power have occurred. India has labeled these a “serious and extremely provocative.”
The Herat attack may have featured Pakistani involvement (however this was only in a relatively indirect manner). Border skirmishes are not a new activity and given the inherent capability to respond to cross-border attacks they can be dealt with politically. Directly interfacing with known separatist elements in preference over the Indian state, however, constitutes meddling directly in internal affairs – which Modi felt could not be allowed to pass unchecked. In light of NATO’s Afghanistan drawdown and India’s concerns of a spillover of violence into Kashmir, India’s concern with getting across the signal that Pakistan cannot deal with non-state actors and interfere in India’s internal affairs is quite vital.
Were India to experience an attack anything close to 26/11 in scale or seriousness, Modi would be compelled to respond. While the Pakistani Army has upped the ante along the border with ceasefire violations, the government’s public admission that its decision for talks with the Hurriyat reflected poor timing have aided in opening the resumption of dialogue. With Modi now slated to meet Sharif in Kathmandu instead of New York, we shall soon find out whether the scuttle room Modi has created for himself will be a boon or act as a lightning rod for history to find fault with him.
This article was originally posted in South Asian Voices.