The United Nations General Assembly becomes a battleground for India and Pakistan when it meets for the annual session. This year is no exception. Though the Prime Ministers of both countries had stayed in the same hotel in New York, they had not even shaken hands for courtesy sake. They had only a brief eye contact when Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif waved at each other, perfunctorily.
Since their meeting was not expected, it was not scheduled, ostensibly because of Modi’s busy schedule in the US, though the real reason was the simmering border tensions and cross-border terrorism. Even their chance-meeting would have had vicious backlash back in India and Pakistan. However, the two rival leaders’ US visit at the same time has turned out to be a study in contrast for Indo-Pak observers.
Modi, shunned by the American administration as long as he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat over his alleged complicity in 2002 riots, was embraced by the US for a second time this year. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, corporate honchos and IT giants chanted NaMo and the prosperous Indian-American community, for a change, saw in him a leader who treats the superpower as an equal and a partner in India’s growth story. Sharif’s visit, on the other hand, was summed up in a tweet: “While he (Pak PM) was meeting grocers from his homeland, Indian PM was interacting with Who’s Who of America.” Of course, Sharif also made news both in Pakistan and India for his UN speech in which he raked up the Kashmir issue.
Deploring the world body’s ‘inaction’, Sharif proposed a four-point peace initiative which included “demilitarization” of Kashmir. Hitting back, India called Pakistan “a prime sponsor of terrorism” and asserted that “de-militarizing Kashmir was not the answer for achieving peace but de-terrorizing Pakistan as it uses terror as legitimate instrument of statecraft.” India also called for early vacation of Pak-occupied Kashmir.
India’s response to Sharif’s statement was the strongest so far in the ongoing battle of words which was followed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj a day later in the UN Assembly. She said India was ready for a dialogue with Pakistan provided it gave up terror. She also urged the 193-member UN Assembly to make countries aiding, arming and protecting terrorists pay a heavy price.
Stung by India’s response, Pakistan has re-asserted that Jammu and Kashmir remains the core issue and will always be on top of the agenda of peace talks. Alleging that India is using ‘terrorism bogey’ to stall a dialogue and unleashing terror in Balochistan, Pakistan said it gave a dossier to UN chief on India’s terrorist acts on its territory.
What the tit-for-tat wordy duel shows is Pakistan’s unabated attempts to internationalize the J&K issue and India’s bid to expose that country as a terrorist haven. The world body has been hearing both countries repeating the same allegations and statements year after year for decades. The member-countries must have got tired of listening to the same charges. For most of them, K is a bilateral issue and they are now seized of more pressing and threatening issues like Islamic State’s expansion, Syrian conflict and the global refugee crisis.
Pakistan’s repeated attempts to raise the Kashmir issue at international forums prove the theory of diminished returns. Even its Islamic friends, faced with internal problems and militancy, have left Pakistan to fend for itself. If Islamabad continues to fight for a lost cause, its obvious motive is to keep the J&K pot boiling. If the issue is resolved, nothing will be left for Pakistan to cross swords with India and its existence will be at stake. More importantly, military will lose its say in civilian government.