Pakistan, India and the United Nations

December 10, 2008











India has asked the United Nations Security Council to blacklist the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Pakistani charity which it says is a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed by New Delhi for the attacks on Mumbai. But how far is India prepared to go in engaging the Security Council, given that it has resisted for decades UN invention over Kashmir?

Indian newspapers have suggested that India invoke UN Security Council Resolution 1373, passed after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and requiring member countries to take steps to curb terrorism.  The latest of these calls came from N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of Indian newspaper The Hindu, who said India must respond to the Mumbai attacks “in an intelligent and peaceful way”.  

So is India preparing to break a long-standing taboo about United Nations intervention?  It first turned to the United Nations in 1948, after India and Pakistan began their first war over Kashmir. The Security Council mandated a ceasefire and India’s then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also promised a plebiscite in the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir (comprising land now held by India, Pakistan and China) to allow the people to decide whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan.

Since then the UN Resolutions have become one of the major bones of contention in the tortuous relationship between India and Pakistan. Until relatively recently, Pakistan insisted that India make good its pledge to hold a plebiscite, while India insisted this had been superseded by the Simla accord following the 1971 war, in which the two countries agreed to resolve all their disputes bilaterally.

Before anyone leaps to judgment on this, I’d recommend reading the exact wording of the UN Security Council Resolutions. Here is the PDF link to the April 1948 resolution, which makes clear that Pakistan must withdraw fighters first from its side of Jammu and Kashmir, followed by a progressive withdrawal of Indian troops, to allow a plebiscite to take place.  It also says that the choice for the people of Jammu and Kashmir was whether to join India or Pakistan; independence — at least as far as the Resolution goes — was not an option.

For those who comment regularly on this blog, I’m aware this is a two-paragraph simplification and am happy to follow up in the comments section. But for the purposes of the present day, what are people saying?

“If you are scared to refer to it (the UN Security Council) because somebody else will raise Kashmir, then you have got into a defensive state of mind and have lost the battle even before you have started,” The Hindu quotes N. Ram as saying.

In her excellent (French-language) blog, le Figaro correspondent Marie-France Calle notes that while internationalising the Kashmir issue is taboo for India, the country is no longer what it was after the December 2001 attacks on the Indian parliament brought it close to war with Pakistan.  The country has matured and India has acquired an international status that it did not have in 2001, she writes. “And because India has matured, there is talk of Delhi going to the United Nations Security Council to put pressure on Pakistan, rather than acting unilaterally.”

The problem for India, however, is that it is reluctant to see any development which reduces its relationship with Pakistan to the Kashmir problem. It argues that Kashmir is a pawn used to pin down Indian troops to prevent Pakistan from having to defend its long border against its much bigger neighbour.

And in that context, it is worth reading the comments made by Pakistan’s United Nations envoy (given to me by Lou Charbonneau, my Reuters colleague at the United Nations). The envoy condemned the Mumbai attacks, quoting an op-ed for the New York Times written by Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. The envoy also said:

 ”In Kashmir, Pakistan is exercising restraint in international forums, and this is how we would have liked to see the aftermath of the Mumbai incident as well. We are all aware that the Kashmir situation is the root cause of problems between India and Pakistan. Would it not be a good time to do away with the root cause by pledging to resolve not just with words but with deeds and action as we have done today in Pakistan and get this problem away from us all. How should we proceed?”

So can India, and will India, go to the United Nations, and run the risk of seeing the Kashmir problem internationalised? The Hindu says that “India’s diplomatic and political capabilities would be tested in the coming weeks”, a comment that could be equally applied to Pakistan’s diplomats.

(And as an aside to regular followers of this blog. I’m deliberately not addressing the question of how China would respond to any appeal to the Security Council, as this seems to belong in a different post. But what do you make of this op-ed in the People’s Daily about what it sees as a growing strategic partnership between India and Russia?)

(Photo:fishermen in Kashmir/Fayaz Kabli)


Comments are closed.