Mediating the Kashmir dispute? 11 February 2014


Mediating the Kashmir dispute     11 February 2014

A surprising recent media report suggested that the United Nations was prepared to mediate the Kashmir dispute. The story arose because, during the ‘Daily Press Briefing’ by the Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General in New York, Mr Farhan Haq (photo above), a journalist called ‘Masood’ asked Haq about the India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Haq’s answer was reported—not totally accurately.

Because the context is important, I have reproduced below the brief exchange on 6 February 2014 between Mr ‘Masood’ and Mr Haq. (Original transcript at

Question [by journalist]: Yes, Farhan. Today, in Pakistan, there were all these demonstrations on Kashmir, asking for India and Pakistan to resolve this issue as soon as possible. The Pakistani Prime Minister says that he’s willing to listen to anything that India has proposed. Can the Secretary-General, or will the Secretary-General propose to India to at least sit down and talk with Pakistan, because that is what it’s not doing. Even… there’s no dialogue. They don’t even want to talk. So the situation will stand at a stalemate forever.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Masood, as you know, on Kashmir, as with another of conflicts around the world, our good offices are available if both sides were to request that. And that remains the case today.

Question [by journalist]: So… the stalemate will continue forever?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’re aware of what our principle is in terms of the use of UN good offices, and that remains the case in this particular case. Do you have a question? Yes, Joe? [who then asked a question about Syria].

The journalist’s question occurred on the same day as Pakistan’s annual ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ commemorations held throughout Pakistan. Either it was asked out of genuine concern for J&K-ites’ wellbeing or it was designed to make mischief. It certainly put Haq in a difficult situation. According to a 2010 report on DNA (, Haq’s boss, Martin Nesirky, Chief Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, was forced to defend Haq who was then at the ‘centre of the controversy, against attacks in the Indian press that suggested Haq was responsible for the remarks concerning the violence in Kashmir, which came out of the United Nations on July 28’ 2010. Defending his colleague, Nesirky ‘slammed the Indian press for suggesting Haq’s “ethnicity” [w]as a possible motivation for the remarks on Kashmir, which New Delhi has strongly objected to. Haq is an American citizen born in Washington DC with roots in Pakistan.’ Some therefore perceive Haq as a pro-Pakistan interlocutor.

The current story, however, is a ‘storm in a teacup’. Haq’s exchange with the journalist, Masood, was brief: 150 words out of the 2700-word press conference report, most of which (92 words) Masood spoke. Their exchange also was a one-off matter to which neither party, nor any other party, returned for clarification or to debate. Haq appeared to be factual, not biased.

Haq also did not specifically say that the UN was ‘prepared to mediate on the Kashmir dispute’. Rather, he stated that the United Nations’ ‘good offices are available if both sides were to request that’. The UNTERM website states that ‘A theoretical distinction exists between good offices and mediation. … good offices consist in various kinds of action tending to call negotiations between the conflicting States into existence, mediation consists in direct conduct of negotiations between the parties at issue on the basis of [a] proposal made by the mediator’.

Regardless of terminology, India almost certainly will not invoke the UN’s good offices, let alone mediation, in the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi is not interested in any further third-party involvement. Its ‘fingers’ have been ‘burnt’ before. In 1948, India was disappointed when the UN Security Council failed to condemn, as India saw it, Pakistan’s aggression in 1947 in J&K. In 1968, India felt cheated when arbitrators resolving ‘The Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary (Rann of Kutch)’ awarded ten per cent of the disputed area to Pakistan—despite New Delhi’s strong belief that India obtained sovereignty over all of Kutch in 1947. (Interestingly, that arbitration involved the UN General Secretary’s good offices as he appointed the chairman and oversaw the process.) Due to these experiences, India determined that third party involvement did not provide the results it desired or deemed reasonable. In 1972, it therefore agreed the Simla Agreement with Pakistan. Since then, for India, the Kashmir dispute has been a bilateral issue to be resolved by it and Pakistan only. Forget any third parties.

The latest attempt to involve the United Nations appeals to ‘separatist leaders’ in J&K, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. It also suits Pakistan, which appears keen to resolve the Kashmir dispute, either by getting other parties involved, or re-involved in the UN’s case, or by ‘encouraging’ India to move on this matter, even slightly. Seemingly, this latter is Pakistan’s greatest challenge—even though I am led to believe that official Indian and Pakistani interlocutors are currently engaging in secret and unreported ‘back channel communications’, including about J&K.

People often ask how India can be ‘encouraged’ to move on J&K. This is difficult to answer. India is a large, increasingly economically-powerful nation that has what it, and Pakistan, want in J&K: the much desired Kashmir Valley. I suggest three ways:

1) For Indians and Pakistanis to develop active, popular and powerful ‘compelling constituencies’ of people who mount a consistent, prolonged campaign to compel their governments to resolve the Kashmir dispute;

2) That Indians and Pakistanis, and their governments, actively support second track diplomats who genuinely seek a solution to the Kashmir dispute;

3) Controversially—and this is not my idea—that Pakistan make a Big Unilateral Gesture (BUG) which, in a Gandhian-type way, imposes moral and international pressure on India to respond positively towards Pakistan, including about J&K. One such BUG would be for Pakistan to unilaterally withdraw from Siachen Glacier.

Neither of the above options are easy—nor do I expect any movement soon.

Christopher Snedden
11 February 2014


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