21 August 2019
- UN meeting shows international pressure over Kashmir will remain limited though move may strain relations with China ahead of summit
- Pakistani military escalation remains unlikely, while Chinese response will likely be limited to diplomatic censure
- Serious unrest likely to follow any lifting of restrictions, troop drawdown in Kashmir
The UN Security Council (UNSC) met on 16 August to discuss India’s move to revoke the special constitutional status of Jammu & Kashmir. China and Pakistan requested the meeting, during which the UNSC discussed the issue for the first time in almost 50 years. China reportedly proposed that the UNSC issue a statement on the development, a move ultimately blocked by the US, France and Germany. Following the meeting, India restated its position that the status of Jammu & Kashmir is an internal issue.
The UNSC meeting comes after Delhi revoked Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and split the state into two union territories on 5-6 August (see our last Report). Prime Minister Modi said on 15 August this was aimed at integrating Kashmir into India and allowing for its economic development. However, Kashmir has since remained on lockdown, with significant restrictions on movement and communications. Information remains sparse, but reports indicate that protests and clashes between residents and the police occurred in Srinagar on 16-17 August, especially in the Soura, Rainawari, Gojwara and Nowhetta areas. Restrictions on movement were eased on 16 August, though they were reportedly reimposed on 18 August in response to the disturbances. Meanwhile, intermittent clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces have continued along the Line of Control (LoC) in recent days.
China and Pakistan’s decision to request the UNSC meeting reflects that they are the only two countries to have strongly opposed India’s actions in Kashmir. Islamabad’s response to the developments has not escalated since its 7 August decision to expel Delhi’s ambassador and halt trade with India, and it remains unlikely to react to the dispute militarily. However, China – which controls and has strategically important infrastructure in Aksai Chin, historically part of Jammu & Kashmir – has hardened its language since its relatively muted initial statement over what it labelled India’s “unilateral action” on Kashmir. As well as forcing the UNSC discussion, Beijing issued a statement claiming that India’s move challenged its “sovereign rights and interests” and went against “agreements safeguarding peace and stability in border areas, about which the Chinese side is seriously concerned”.
Despite China’s heightened rhetoric, a more serious deterioration in relations and border provocations remains unlikely in the coming months, since both sides have indicated a commitment to maintaining improved relations. This will be especially important ahead of an October summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi, and while Chinese companies are bidding to roll out next generation 5G cellular networks in India. Meanwhile, the rejection of China’s alleged calls for a UNSC statement reflects that any Chinese or Pakistani efforts to escalate the dispute would receive little international support.
Since Delhi will not face major diplomatic pressure to reverse its decision, it is likely to maintain a large security force deployment for at least the next month. This has largely been able to suppress disturbances until now, though the protests in Srinagar suggest any lifting of restrictions will be followed by more serious unrest. In the longer term, the Government claims support for militancy will diminish as politicians previously concerned with addressing separatism begin to focus on good governance and economic development. To this end, Modi has also sought to foster local cooperation by claiming the region will once again become a “state” (with powers over land and law and order) once the security situation has improved. However, given the extent of alienation among the Kashmiri population, and the ongoing suppression of legitimate political outlets for discontent, security improvements remain unlikely in the short term.