Asad Majeed Khan is the ambassador of Pakistan to the United States.
When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met last month with President Trump at the White House, the American leader said he would help mediate between Pakistan and India on the latter’s 72-year occupation of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. Trump’s offer was a sign of immense goodwill that the people of Kashmir enthusiastically applauded. The Indian government’s alarming announcement last week that it would revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution is a slap in the face of this renewed American commitment to solve one of the world’s most dangerous and intractable conflicts. It makes plain to the world the depth of India’s arrogant indifference to the region’s peace and stability.
The territorial dispute of Jammu and Kashmir — one of the oldest on the United Nations’ agenda — is the legacy of the end, in 1947, of British rule in the Indian subcontinent. The people of Kashmir have now been waiting for 72 years to exercise their right to decide their future, which was promised to them, repeatedly, by India.
But the government’s decision to scrap Article 370, which at least acknowledged Kashmir’s special status, shows that India is no longer willing to pay even lip service to its international obligations. It is the logical culmination of the reign of terror unleashed by India on Kashmiris that began in 1947 and continues to this day, but which has assumed an even more virulent form since 2016.
Kashmir was one of the world’s most militarized regions even before India’s announcement, when, in one fell swoop, India violated the U.N. resolutions that called for a “free and impartial” plebiscite in Kashmir to allow Kashmiris to determine their own destiny, and a raft of international conventions that forbid an occupying power from moving its population into held territory.
It is the people of Kashmir who are suffering while leaders and supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have cheered as their government has shut down Internet services, electricity and telephone lines in Kashmir, and arrested hundreds of Kashmiri leaders. Today, Kashmir remains under complete lockdown, its 12 million inhabitants incommunicado with the rest of the world, as thousands of additional Indian troops patrol the region.
Aug. 5 also sounded the final death knell for India’s increasingly tenuous claims to be a secular democracy. In fact, the right-wing BJP’s project to remake India (not just occupied Kashmir) is neither secular nor democratic. Instead, the BJP envisions a future in which India’s long-suffering Muslims, Christians, lower-caste Hindus and other religious minorities and tribes are formally relegated to the status of unpersons.
Now, again, in pursuit of this fascistic vision, the BJP has set off a crisis with truly global implications, while making yet another victim out of the rules-based international order, human rights and the sovereign will of the Kashmiri people. This time, India will not be able to trot out the familiar boogeymen of “cross-border terrorism” and “Pakistan” to draw attention away from the ugly reality of its occupation and oppression in Kashmir.
But most of all, the rash and irresponsible actions of the BJP have also put South Asia on the brink of conflict for the second time in less than six months. Prime Minister Khan, who has made repeated offers of dialogue to India since assuming office last year, recently warned the international community of catastrophic consequences should India’s latest act of recklessness lead to conflict. This, he stressed, is the reality of any conflict between the two countries that are armed with the weapons that both India and Pakistan possess.
In the past, diplomatic support from our allies helped lower tensions.
This is why it is more urgent than ever for the United States to do what it can to prevent India from precipitating another crisis. A long and painstaking U.S.-led reconciliation effort, which has been supported by Pakistan, has brought peace within our grasp in Afghanistan.
The time is now for the United States to make good on Trump’s offer of mediation — not for Pakistan’s sake or for India’s sake, but for the sake of the only people who have not been heard since India gagged them a week ago: the people of Kashmir themselves.