How about mediation on Kashmir?

US President Donald Trump’s remarks on June 22 during Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the White House have created a storm. Trump replied when Khan requested for his help in resolving the vexed Kashmir issue: “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago when he asked me whether I would like to be a moderator or mediator on Kashmir.” He was referring to their meeting in Japan in June on the sidelines of G-20 Summit.

This was promptly denied by our foreign minister who said that India would not entertain third party mediation on Kashmir. On August 2, Trump clarified that it was for Prime Minister Modi to accept his offer of mediation, adding that Khan and Modi were “fantastic people”.   The question is why is India always turning down offers of mediation on the Kashmir dispute, over which we have lost at least 45,172 lives since 1988? The number of dead includes civilians, security forces and terrorists killed, and is reported by the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

The official reason India gives is that the July 2, 1972 Simla Agreement between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the 1971 War precludes third party mediation. This is not strictly correct. Clause one says that both governments would put an end to conflict and confrontation. The methodology is given in six sub-clauses. The first one is following the UN charter while the second clause reads as follows: “That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. (italics mine). Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.”

The question is why is India always turning down offers of mediation on the Kashmir dispute, over which we have lost at least 45,172 lives since 1988? The number of dead includes civilians, security forces and terrorists killed, and is reported by the South Asia Terrorism Portal. The official reason India gives is that the July 2, 1972 Simla Agreement between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the 1971 War precludes third party mediation. This is not strictly correct.

India maintains that the Simla agreement had offered the “solution”. What remains are only modalities of implementation. Hence we do not need a third party to talk over the issue. Only the implementation remains. As the late P N Dhar, the then Prime Minister’s Secretary and an eye witness had said in “Indira Gandhi, The Emergency, and Democracy” (2000) and also through an article in Times of India (April 4, 1995): “Some Pakistanis maintain that recent events in Kashmir have overtaken the agreement, while Indians insist that the dispute should be resolved through bilateral negotiations, as stipulated under it. This debate misses the crucial point that the Simla Agreement provided not only a mechanism for the solution of the Kashmir problem but also envisaged the solution itself”. Dhar mentions the step by step approach ORALLY agreed upon by Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto leading to the accord, despite last minute hitches. The oral agreement was on the gradual use of the Line of Control (LOC) as de facto border and later as the international border.

Pakistani officials have challenged this. Ambassador Khalid Saleem claims that it was the Soviet Union which had motivated India and Pakistan to hold talks in Simla. The US, according to him, showed no interest. He was the “note-taker” when the Soviet Ambassador met Bhutto on 27 June 1972 with a letter from the Soviet leadership. Bhutto had earlier visited Moscow during 16-18 March 1972 to meet the then leader of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev. Following this, Indira Gandhi’s envoy D P Dhar, (the former Indian ambassador to Moscow) visited Pakistan to prepare the ground for Simla. Saleem claims that the first violation of Simla agreement was in 1982 when India occupied the Siachen glacier. He also says that Pakistan has been continuously requesting India to hold bilateral talks with limited success.

We need to remember that all major disputes in history were resolved with outside mediation. We did not have any problem in choosing the World Bank to successfully conclude the 1959 Indus Water Agreement with Pakistan which is still standing. Nor did we have any objection in accepting the Soviet Union to bring about the 1966 Tashkent Agreement with Pakistan.

“Bharat Ratna” C Subramaniam was so exasperated with this stalemate that he wrote a letter on October 2, 1997 to Prime Minister I.K Gujral suggesting the use of neutral nations to find a solution. In January 2002, the Vajpayee government went to the extent of denying a stop-over visit to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on his way from Tokyo after the “Donors Conference” because he had mentioned about a possible role for the international community in the Kashmir solution. The present BJP government has practically severed all relationship with Pakistan on the ground that terrorism and talks do not go together. They have gone to the ludicrous extent of refusing any talks even with the Valley residents. How then could be have any fruitful “bilateral negotiations”?

We need to remember that all major disputes in history were resolved with outside mediation. We did not have any problem in choosing the World Bank to successfully conclude the 1959 Indus Water Agreement with Pakistan which is still standing. Nor did we have any objection in accepting the Soviet Union to bring about the 1966 Tashkent Agreement with Pakistan. Bitter rivals Israel and Egypt came together for the 1979 Camp David Accord hosted by President Jimmy Carter, thereby bringing lasting peace between them. 

The UN sponsored “Proximity Talks” between the US, the Soviet Union and the Mujahideen resulted in the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988. Palestinians and Israel came together at Oslo, leading to the Rabin-Arafat agreement in 1993. The stalemate between Irish militants and Britain was broken only by US Senator John Mitchell, paving the way the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

On the other hand, bilateral talks between two governments introduce structural rigidity in negotiating positions, with each side reiterating known stands, leaving no margin for adjustment. A third party is not bound to follow this. Each party can go beyond the contours of their official brief and propose new ideas.

Those interested should study Geir Dale’s (Centre for Conflict Management, Norway) case study of the Oslo Accord. There is no reason why India and Pakistan cannot do this, taking advantage of the clause “Or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them” in Clause 1(2) of the Simla Agreement, thereby ending bloodshed.

(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat)