Why the world isn’t talking about Kashmir

Published: May 11, 2017

A masked Kashmiri shouts anti-Indian slogans beside a burning police vehicle in Pampore on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP

Today, the trend lines for Jammu and Kashmir are quite troubling, to say the least.

Nearly a year after Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, a young Kashmiri militant with a large following, anger hasn’t abated. Tension has risen in recent days after a video surfaced on social media that appeared to depict Indian security forces using heavy-handed tactics against a civilian. On April 24th, assailants gunned down a local politician in Kashmir, Abdul Gani Dar. Students have regularly clashed with security forces.

When Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh this week, according to local media reports, New Delhi declined her call for a dialogue process to begin right away, suggesting that such an idea was unrealistic “while there is stone-pelting and militant violence”.

Deepening tensions in Kashmir could further aggravate frayed relations between India and Pakistan. Delhi could denounce Pakistan for orchestrating the unrest, while Islamabad could lambast Indian security forces for their brutalities.

In effect, Kashmir has never been a bigger nuclear flashpoint than it is today. And yet, the world has said or done relatively little in response. To be sure, recent tensions have generated banner global news headlines, as well as a scathing New York Times editorial.

Still, on the whole, the international community has paid the simmering Kashmir dispute little to no mind.

A logical question – and certainly one to which Pakistanis incessantly demand an answer – is why.

Three possible explanations come to mind.

America’s attention is elsewhere

First, there are too many other crises convulsing the globe that are perceived by the West to be of more direct relevance. In the United States (US), the Donald Trump administration confronts a dizzying array of foreign policy challenges, from Russia and Syria to China and especially North Korea.

It’s quite simple: Washington accords the most attention to issues that affect it the most. And Kashmir doesn’t make the cut. Threats to US treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific and concerns about terrorist attacks on US interests register more emphatically on the radar than do concerns about a faraway, localised dispute – even one with nuclear dimensions.

Pakistan’s credibility deficit

Second, Pakistan, the one major player fervently attempting to attract the international community’s attention, has failed to do so. Several reasons may explain why.

One is that Islamabad lacks regular access to global forums that it can use as a platform to highlight Kashmir for a world audience. On the few occasions when it does enjoy such access – such as at the annual United Nations (UN) General Assembly meetings – its plaintive calls for more focused attention on Kashmir have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Additionally, Pakistan – despite very real progress in counter-terrorism, democratisation, and economic growth – suffers from a global credibility problem. Pakistan is burdened by ugly legacies (read Abdul Qadeer Khan’s sharing of nuclear secrets and Osama Bin Laden’s long stay in Abbottabad) and problematic policies (think Pakistan’s decades-long dangerous dalliance with terrorists).

Consequently, many within the international community are hard-pressed to sympathise with Pakistan’s complaints about Kashmir. And the few nations willing to formally support Pakistan’s position on Kashmir (hello Beijing) aren’t about to launch global advocacy campaigns on Islamabad’s behalf.

Not a dispute many want to wade into

Third, even if the dispute made its way on to the international community’s radar, it’s hard to imagine any country wanting to wade into it. Yes, candidate Trump on the campaign trail and President-Elect Trump in a bizarrely convivial telephone conversation with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif suggested that he welcomed the possibility of mediation. So did Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. But we should treat such pronouncements as conciliatory rhetoric, not statements of intent. They also likely referred more to addressing India-Pakistan tensions in general than to Kashmir specifically.

Given how ugly and messy and complex the Kashmir dispute is, most nations won’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Great Britain, Russia, the US, and any other potential mediator won’t be interested – unless their involvement were framed as trying to get the two countries to talk more broadly, and not about Kashmir. Another factor here – one particularly salient with Washington, given its intention to strengthen relations with India – is not wanting to antagonise New Delhi by opting to formally intervene in a dispute that New Delhi believes is strictly off-limits to outsiders.

Can the international community’s relative silence on Kashmir also be attributed to deft diplomacy by Delhi to secure the agreement of global actors not to speak up about the issue?

That’s certainly a possibility. However, Indian diplomats posted in the West are already working on many high-priority matters. India’s high-level direct interactions with the Trump administration so far have engaged a full plate of issues, from defence cooperation and the H-1B visa program to a possible trip to Washington by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

We can assume that the relative lack of global attention to the Kashmir crisis has more to do with factors tied to the international community than to any diplomatic lobbying efforts carried out by India.

The takeaway is that the world won’t be clamouring to help ease tensions in Kashmir. This means the world could eventually find itself in a difficult position if the unrest were to increase and explode, and especially if it were to bring India and Pakistan to the cusp of another conflict. Then, at this point, external actors may feel compelled to play the role of a fire-fighter – to try to defuse tensions and bring a dangerous situation under control.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Washington has excelled when playing the role of a crisis manager in the India-Pakistan dispute. Analyses of two recent case studies – the Kargil conflict in 1999 and the border confrontation in 2001 after an attack on India’s Parliament building – demonstrate how the US mediation efforts helped de-escalate tensions.

As a general rule of thumb, pre-emptive efforts to forestall conflict are more prudent than reactive, crisis-period interventions. And yet, in recent years at least, the US has managed to pull the latter off relatively well on the subcontinent.

Still, the main conclusion is sobering for those that want Kashmir placed front and centre on international policy agendas. The international community has stayed on the side-lines, and it’s likely to remain on the side-lines.

Ultimately, Kashmir will have to fend for itself.

In an ideal world, key local stakeholders in Kashmir and authorities in New Delhi would take matters into their own hands and find the right incentives to establish some sort of dialogue that brings a measure of calm.

Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world. There’s good reason to believe that with neither the international community nor actors in the region willing or able to make a difficult situation better, extended, and deepening, tensions are all but inevitable.

This post originally appeared here.


Michael Kugelman

Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He tweets @MichaelKugelman (twitter.com/MichaelKugelman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • AwakeIndia

    India will never give Kashmir, what it may happen. Kashmir had Hindu king since ages.Recommend

  • Slumwood Fantacy

    If India ever loses Kashmir,it will be win for religious fanatics and terrorist.India and world will never want that to happen.A bunch of 5 districts people can not dictate the wishes of 1.31 billion people.Recommend

  • Feroz

    Two main features of the Kashmir dispute have been overlooked by the author. Kashmir is a dispute about territory but converted by Pakistan into a Muslims verses all religions issue there. There are Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists also among subjects of Kashmir. Driving out the Pandits from the valley damaged the very little goodwill there was. There is no appetite for another Islamic country anywhere in the globe today for reasons that can remain unsaid.

    The only freedom not available to the people of Jammu and Kashmir is to indulge in violence and destroy public property. What other freedom is not available has never been elaborated. Those voting in elections in Kashmir are Kashmiri, those ruling are also Kashmiri. There is no place for terrorism in Kashmir, doubt any support will come for the purveyors of violence there.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    as if the World has nothing else to do .
    The entire problem in Kashmir is a creation of Pakistan, why should world care about it now.Recommend

  • Crtical

    World isnt talking about Kashmir because they now know the reality…

    Only 5 district out of the 22 are shouting for separatism and ironically,they are dominated by Sunni Muslims….

    Poonch has 90 per cent Muslims, Kargil has 90 per cent Muslims, Kargil
    city has more than 99 per cent Muslims…there was not a single protest.

    12% of Kashmir composed of Shia, Gujjar, Pahadi Muslims..can you tell us one separatist leader from them?

    It was the locals who informed the movement of Pakistani army both in 1965 and 1999…

    None of the Hurriyat leaders stand for elections,the only one who did lost by heavy margin…. The Kashmiris who write for civil services and IITs are being threatened by local populace…A girl musical band had to disband themselves as they were threatened by islamist..

    Recently,a Kashmiri msulim army graduate was killed in ambush by terrorist and his funeral was met with stone pelting…

    If majority of Kashmir really wanted independence,the violence would have been done in all the districts not just the 5 districts which is controlled by the separatists, blocking businesses and having stone pelting as the only professionRecommend

  • Rahul

    The world has no stomach for another basket case Islamic republic.Recommend

  • Agrippa – The Skeptic

    What has Kashmir having had Hindu kings to do with the current matter?
    Having said this, the first part of your statement is correct. India will not give up Kashmir. India will not have another division of the nation on religious lines.Recommend

  • Concard_007

    This is a good reality check for Pakistanis who think they can get Kashmir by sponsoring stone pelters. Kashmir is connected by rail, road and air. India has a firm iron grip on Kashmir more than China has on Tibet. In the case of China, Tibet is far away from it’s population centers and it is located in a harsh terrain. If not for China spending massive resources both human and logistical, Tibet would have slipped right into India’s hands from the top of Himalayas. But in the case of India, Jammu and Ladakh is firmly with India. Only people in Kashmir valley like hurting themselves. Kashmir is also next to states with significant population centers. Anytime India can simply flood entire Kashmir with Indians from other states. It doesn’t take a big deal of effort for India. No matter how many days Kashmiris pelt stones, cry oppression they can never shake the foundation of Indian state’s hold on Kashmir at any point in time. Modi will definitely put an end to this before he leaves office. Make no mistake about it, he means business.

    Meanwhile we like the fact that Pakistanis are fixated on Kashmir, it suits our purpose. As the article itself explains no one even China gives a damn about Kashmir. They aren’t even willing to move some form of resolution on Kashmir despite being permanent member of UNSC with veto power. Pakistan is already irrelevant in the World. In 20 years India would have grown economically on a mammoth scale, Pakistan as usual will be irrelevant in world affairs. They can keep dreaming about involving the global community on Kashmir but that will never happen no matter how much they try.Recommend

  • angrybird

    if world starts listening to islamic terrorists and create a separate country for muslims then there wont be any other job for them and soon it will happen to them also muslim in their own country will start terrorism and demand separate countryRecommend

  • KlingOn2K

    There is absolutely no room for India to trade an inch of Kashmir – including Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.Recommend

  • Milind A

    Q. “Why the world isn’t talking about Kashmir”

    A. Because first and foremost its a bilateral issue between India & Pakistan and not an international one

    Other factors are…
    1. Pakistan has yet to fulfill the first obligatory step of vacating its part of Kashmir (Pok) as mentioned in the resolution
    2. Pakistan is stoking the conflict through its proxies
    3. A secular movement has been highly Islamised by Pakistan and terrorism is a headache to the world.
    4. Kashmiri minorities (Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs) who have equal stake in Kashmir have been mercilessly butchered by terrorists.

    There goes the Kashmir case down the drain.Recommend

  • Milind A

    How correct.. What Pakistanis don’t understand is the relationship between India & China is not black & white, as they often view theirs with others. The relationship with China has moved from enemy (1962) to frenemy (2017). The Chinese being pragmatic, its just sometime before China (who Pakistanis consider their benefactor/big daddy) makes up & kisses with India (just as US did post-USSR).. History will repeat itself and Pakistanis will run on their search for their next big daddy.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    The writer should have mentioned the main reason why the West does not care much about the killing of Kashmiris: they are Muslims. Had the Kashmiris been Christians or Jews, they would have gained freedom long ago.Recommend

  • Feroz

    The Jews and Christians are able to live peacefully with people of other religion in countries they are citizens of. They are not asking for independence or freedom in any country where they are in a minority.Recommend

  • Mehraj

    Even if you brutalise them? You are in a wrong notion it dorsnt matter who vs who if you establish a tyranical rule the resistamce is bound to happenRecommend

  • Sane

    The voice for another Pakistan in remaining India has been raised. It is going to take momentum like struggle of Kashmiris. There are 250 million Muslims in India.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    The Jews were the original terrorists when they were fighting for an independent state. As for Christians, have you forgotten East Timor and South Sudan? Both countries comprise of Christians, which is why the West actively backed a referendum in both places. It’s only because the poor Kashmiris are Muslims that they are being discriminated against.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    It confirms that the False Propaganda of Pakistan against India is not working.
    It also confirms that the opinion of Pakistan is irrelevant in the global sphere.
    Live with that.Recommend

  • rationalist

    MIchael Kugelman missed couple of very important facts on his list of reasons as to why Pakistan’s credibility on Kashmir issue is very low:

    -World has no patience on Muslim separatism and exclusivism.
    -Kashmir issue is underpinned by radical Islamists the world shuns.
    -Pakistan’s record of East Pakistan genocide, Balochistan brutal occupation and state sponsorship of Islamic terrorism.Recommend

  • rationalist

    “A secular movement has been highly Islamised by Pakistan”

    No. Kashmir movement never was a secular one. It was always based on Islamic separatism.Recommend

  • rationalist

    You need to read some real history not taught in Pakistan studies.

    Israel, Palestine and the entire adjoining areas have been the home of the Jews for over 3000 years, much before Islam was even born. It is the Muslims who have been the occupiers of ancient Jewish land.

    As for Kashmir, it has been Hindu/Buddhist land for over 5000 years. Muslims have been relatively recent occupiers.Recommend

  • vasan

    Hallucinations of the highest order. What are you smoking dear,Recommend

  • Wicknes Sini

    The fact that Pakistanis are still there in Baluchistan, Sauds in Arabia, Communist regimes in China & N.Korea proves that might can be right if the might is mighty enough.Recommend

  • Wicknes Sini

    The mandate of Trans-Jordan was the original territory which was divided into Israel for Jews & Jordan for muslims. Recommend

  • Saim Malik

    thanks for sharing we at valley trip planner best travel agents based in kahsmir we offer best and cheap kashmir tour packagesRecommend