Last week, Pakistan celebrated the return of the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after more than 50 years, notwithstanding the fact that the private discussion behind the closed doors did not yield much in concrete terms for the Kashmiris facing Indian oppression.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had written a letter to UNSC President Joanna Wronecka to “bring to her attention” the grave situation in Indian-administered Kashmir after its annexation and asked her to convene an urgent session under the agenda item “India–Pakistan Question.” This was done under Article 35 (Chapter VI) of the UN Charter. The meeting was, however, made possible through Chinese support. China, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, also called for a meeting, ensuring that it actually happened.
Qureshi and Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN in New York Dr Maleeha Lodhi in their various public appearances since the closed door meeting of the Council seem to be taking pride in the fact that the meeting was held despite Indian tactics to stop it. True, this is something to be proud of given India’s huge diplomatic clout.
In Pakistan’s view, the meeting helped reaffirm the international aspect of the dispute
According to UN News: “The Security Council considered the volatile situation surrounding Kashmir on Friday, addressing the issue in a meeting focused solely on the dispute, within the UN body dedicated to resolving matters of international peace and security, for the first time since 1965.”
There was, however, no formal press statement issued by the Security Council after the session. Press statement, or more formally called ‘Press Element’ in the UN lingo, is often considered as the ‘lowest level of action’ by the council on behalf of all 15 members. More serious actions are presidential statements and adoption of resolutions.
Diplomatic insiders revealed that US, France and Germany blocked the issuance of ‘Press Element,’ which would have in any case been troubling and hurtful for the Indian government that has turned the Valley into a jail, putting at least 4,000 in prisons (since August 5) under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows imprisonment for up to two years without charge or trial; telephone and internet services have been shut down and there is a curfew in place. The three countries were in particular worried that they could be seen as sympathetic towards Pakistan if a statement was given at the end of the session.
Everything was then left to the Chinese Permanent Representative at the UN to get a sense of what happened behind the closed doors as he chose to speak to reporters in the lobby outside UNSC chambers at the end of the meeting. According to him, all members expressed “concern” about the situation and asked both sides not to take any further step that could aggravate the situation. There was clearly no condemnation of India’s illegal actions.
Yet, Pakistani leaders found succor in the fact that the meeting took place at all and that there was a discussion on the issue, which, for them, by implication meant that the world’s top peace and security body was concerned about the matter. In Pakistan’s view, the meeting helped reaffirm the international aspect of the dispute and rejected the Indian claim that Kashmir was its internal matter.
Dr Lodhi, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said: “The voice of the Kashmiri people has been heard today in the highest diplomatic forum of the world.”
That much is fine as long as long as the purpose is to keep the issue alive at international forums. But to achieve something meaningful for the Kashmir cause Pakistan will need to make a stronger effort. Launching the effort with a defeatist mindset that “no one would be welcoming us with garlands” at the UN is neither helpful for Pakistani initiative or for the morale of suffering Kashmir.
There are no two ways about the fact that disputes like Kashmir have remained unresolved because of great power politics, but that by no measure allows us to make efforts with lesser intensity. For instance nowhere in Foreign Minister Qureshi’s letter to the Security Council president, which was circulated among the members and formed Pakistani government’s input at the meeting in the absence of Dr Lodhi – who had not been allowed to attend the meeting -, the Council was requested to call for restoration of pre-August 5 status of the Occupied Valley. Similarly, the diplomatic outreach was not at its best other than Qureshi’s visit to Beijing and PM Khan calling President Trump (that too hours before the meeting got underway). There were 13 other members and most of them were contacted by the foreign minister over the phone, which continued till a little before the start of the meeting, and the last of such contacts happened a few days afterwards, when Qureshi spoke over phone with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.
There is definitely no question about Pakistani sincerity for the struggle of Kashmiris for independence, but the scale of effort is lacking something.
Luckily for Pakistan, there is greater sympathy in the world for Kashmir this time. And for this we need to credit the international media that has kept the issue in spotlight and not our political leadership or diplomats. Such an opportunity will not come again soon, therefore, the leadership and diplomacy needs to step up and benefit from the favourable environment. Can we wait for another 70 years for media’s focus to return to the dispute?
In the latest development President Trump spoke to both PM Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a tweet, he later said: “tough situation, but good conversations!” He is expected to continue his conversation with Modi over the weekend when they meet at the G7 summit in Biarritz and explore the possibility of mediation between the two South Asian archrivals – something India has been rejecting so far.
The writer is a senior researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org