IN 1998, the world witnessed a great upsurge in tensions between Pakistan and India as both tested nuclear devices. The UN Security Council was obliged to take immediate notice. On June 6, 1998, it adopted resolution 1172, calling upon both to resort to dialogue on all outstanding issues, in order to remove tensions. A couple of days earlier, in view of the urgency of the situation, ministers from the five permanent UNSC members had met in Geneva to consider ways to reduce tensions between the two. In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting, they affirmed their “readiness to assist India and Pakistan, in a manner acceptable to both sides, in promoting reconciliation and cooperation. The Ministers pledged that they will actively encourage India and Pakistan to find mutually acceptable solutions, through direct dialogue, that address the root causes of the tension, including Kashmir, and to try to build confidence rather than seek confrontation” [italics added]. They also “undertook to do all they could to facilitate a reduction of tensions between those States [italics added], and to provide assistance, at the request of both parties, in the development and implementation of confidence and security-building measures”.
The UN’s efforts in 1998 towards reducing tensions by encouraging and facilitating Pakistan and India to adopt pacific modes of conflict resolution were fast-paced. In his letter of July 8, 1998, the UN secretary general intimated the UNSC president that the Indian prime minister at that time, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had written to the secretary general on June 30, 1998, expressing his willingness to enter into a dialogue with Pakistan. Similarly, he had also stated in his letter that the Pakistani government was desirous of initiating a dialogue with India to address and resolve all issues between them including the core issue of Kashmir.
Today, after India’s unlawful attempt at annexation of occupied Kashmir, New Delhi is facing an unprecedented backlash. It is widely believed that India’s unjust action will lead to prolonged armed resistance and movement on the style of the Palestinian intifada, which may draw foreign forces to the maelstrom. There is also the view that worldwide terrorism and jihadi efforts will increase exponentially as the sole effective remedy for the oppressive treatment of the Kashmiris that is perhaps a permanent feature of BJP’s government policy.
South Asia is again witnessing the same tensions as in May 1998 and the situation calls for similar treatment.
The P-5’s pledge is an old one but it is without a time limit.
It is therefore useful to assess the continued validity of the June 4, 1998, offer made by the P-5 in which it was categorically undertaken by the P-5 to do all they could to reduce tensions and provide assistance for developing and implementing confidence-building measures. Given the similar intensity of both situations and the resulting danger to international peace and security, that no hesitation should be entertained by the P-5 to initiate sincere efforts so as to honour their pledge of 1998 to take all steps for the maintenance of international peace and security as are in their power.
The 1998 pledge is an old one yet it was made solemnly and without any indication of a time limit. The manner in which it was made, ie by issuing a joint communiqué, speaks of P-5’s concern over the security situation in South Asia. It was the seriousness of the situation, which obliged the P-5 to undertake and reiterate their willingness and responsibility under the UN Charter (and independently of it as responsible stakeholders), to make their good offices available.
Pursuant to this request by the UNSC, the secretary general wrote a letter dated July 8, 1998, to the president of the UNSC in which the latter was apprised of the former’s labours to achieve a peaceful, conciliatory environment for the parties so that they could sort out their differences. Special mention was made of a letter dated June 30, 1998, addressed by the Indian prime minister to the secretary general in which the former acknowledged India’s willingness to start a dialogue with Pakistan; this amounts to an undertaking by the state of India to resolve all disputes through negotiation.
Mention was also made of the willingness of the Pakistani state to enter into bilateral talks; considered formally, the joint willingness of both states to enter into negotiations constitutes a binding agreement on the part of both parties to resolve all issues through bilateral talks.
Time is running out and the situation is fast deteriorating to a state where the stakeholders will lose their confidence in international powers and take matters into their own hands, for better or for worse. It is time for the P-5 to honour their undertaking and facilitate both parties in reaching a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The writer is former federal, caretaker minister for law & justice, parliamentary affairs & human rights.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019