India needs to stop whining over Jammu & Kashmir

US & Germany show India again why it should not become a pawn in West’s battles

Politics

October 11, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

India needs to stop whining over Jammu & Kashmir

Screenshot of website of US Embassy in Islamabad describing PoK as AJK

Last week, on two consecutive days, Indian external affairs ministry cried foul as two of its supposedly closest and strategic allies, United States and Germany, needled India with the time-tested issue of Jammu & Kashmir. The reasons for these two countries raising the Kashmir issue may not be too far to look for as the West has been rather unhappy with Indian position on the Ukraine war and in particular India’s refusal to outright condemn Russia and stop buying oil from Russia as long as the war continues. India needs to brace itself for many more such pinpricks, but should ensure that it stays the course.

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In some senses, Pakistan has scored some brownie points against India in rapid succession. On October 4, the United States Ambassador David Blome undertook an unusually high-profile and rare visit to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, meeting with the ‘Prime Minister’ of the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir and with promise of US aid in helping develop the area and made several references to the disputed area as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). ‘‘The Quaid-e-Azam Memorial Dak Bungalow symbolizes the cultural and historical richness of Pakistan and was famously visited by Jinnah in 1944. I’m honored to visit during my first trip to AJK,’’ Blome said.

The US embassy in Islamabad, highlighted Blome’s visit to the region in a series of tweets as well as posts on other social media handles of the mission, detailing minutely the US envoy’s itinerary in the disputed region.

Pakistan scored another ‘win’ against India, barely a couple of days later, but thousands of km away from Muzaffarabad in the German capital Berlin. At a joint press conference, addressed by the visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his German host, Annalena Baerbock, the German chief diplomat said, Germany had a “role and responsibility” with regard to the tension over Kashmir.

Baerbock, who is also the leader of the largest party in Bundestag, the German Parliament, added that Germany supported “intensively the engagement of the United Nations” to find a peaceful solution to the dispute. “So, we encourage Pakistan, and we encourage India to follow the track of the cease-fire, to follow the track of the United Nations, and to intensify the political dialogue, and also the political and practical cooperations in the region,” Baerbock added.

As usual, the visits and the comments have left India blushing and bristling, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) strongly denouncing both Germany and the United States for their statements and actions. However, this is perhaps exactly what India should not be doing and instead of going red in the face in anger, India needs to take a step back and take in the bigger picture and make amends in its actions and speeches.

Touching a raw nerve

Certainly, the two statements and actions, in Berlin and Muzaffarabad, may have just been a coincidence and nothing else. But the fact that in both the cases, the Western nations involved, have taken that particular stance and made those utterances could also equally have been part of an orchestrated strategy by the West to convey to India its rising impatience with the Indian ‘failure’ to join in the United States-led coalition against Russia, at least in the forum of United Nations, if not on the battlefield.

Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine eight months ago, the West has been trying to cajole, convince and coerce India to change its stance on the issue from one of a vague neutrality to strong condemnation and “stand with the democracies”.

Fortunately, however, India has stayed the course and remained out of the battle of words and weapons vis a vis Ukraine, calling for peace and end to hostilities but rejecting any move that even vaguely puts Russia in an uncomfortable position. And this for historically-proven reasons as Russia or earlier the Soviet Union has been the sole global power to consistently stand with India almost right through the 75 years of its independence and while Vladimir Putin may not be the easiest or most predictable of Russian leaders to deal with, India has all the reasons not to put all its eggs in the western basket, which has time and again proven to be a good weather friend and one who would never hesitate to push its own ‘allies’ over ledge, should the situation so demand.

Already, the past eight years have been one where India has been reduced to a proxy for the United States in its various battles – economic, political and strategic – especially against China and with very little to show for. India has been one of the most vocal members of numerous US-led alignments, directed against China, in the Indo-Pacific region, however India has had hardly anything to gain from having joined these alphabet soups like Quad.

While the US allies in East Asia like Japan, Taiwan or South Korea and even Australia have only felt threatened by Chinese missiles, boats or jets, prowling close to their territories, India has actually been witnessing a rising Chinese invasion, incremental through small incursions here or there across the 3,500-km long border that the two Asian giants share. Though the USA and its allies know very well that India is clearly unable to push China out singlehandedly, but they have steered clear of the issue.

Not only is China increasingly occupying Indian territory, bit by bit, over the years, but it is also able to use India’s neighbourhood, especially in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean regularly, using countries like Sri Lanka and Maldives. Take Sri Lanka for instance. A few weeks earlier, India had objected sternly when the news of Chinese ship calling on Hambantota port, which has been built by the Chinese, incidentally. India said that the ship was a spy vessel and not a scientific research one. Initially, Sri Lanka, weighed under by dollops of fuel and funds that India has been supplying over the past year to help the Emerald Isle tide over its unprecedented financial crisis that led to the ouster of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President in a peaceful, people’s coup of sorts, acceded and asked China to defer the visit. However, within a week after its scheduled arrival, the Chinese ship sailed into the port, leaving India highly discomfited. It is not just Colombo. Besides Pakistan, almost all of India’s neighbours, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives have had to walk a very tight rope between the two biggies of Asia, unable and unwilling to offend either.

In the end, what India needs to realise that its interests and goals, short, medium or long-term do not coincide always with the West and it cannot afford to continue to be in an alliance that is clearly a one-way traffic as for the West, the only thing that matters are its own priorities at a given point of time and these priorities of course keep shifting. It is but common sense to keep a healthy spirit of competition with China rather than let the relationship slide into an inimical, volatile and shaky that it has become right now.

China’s incursions into India have increased in direct proportion to Indian presence in the anti-China alliances, which bring little benefit to us. Weapon sales are ultimately as important for the buyer as the seller and as the recent upgrade of Pakistan’s F-16 by the United States shows, the West will keep selling to any and everyone, even when the only target of these weapons would be “one of its closest and most strategic partners” as the US and others often refer to India.

India needs to mend its fence with China, not because it cannot stand up to it, but mainly because only with peace at its borders can it focus on the numerous urgent social and economic challenges that the country faces. Time for India let others fight their own battles and yes, we need to grow a slightly thicker skin on the K word. If the US ambassador to Islamabad visits Muzaffarabad and calls it AJK, we need to let it pass, because fundamentally it changes little on the ground for anyone. But publicly whining everytime someone talks of Kashmir in a way that we don’t like only makes us sound like a poor child who needs cajoling and will then happily do the bidding. Time for India to grow up.

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