New Delhi: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to meet with world leaders over the next couple of days, it’s clear that Kashmir will feature prominently during the interactions.
The international community’s consensus largely remains that Kashmir is a bilateral dispute, but they are also increasingly referring implicitly to restrictions placed on residents of the region.
On Friday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron was the first leader to meet Modi on the latter’s three-nation, five-day journey.
In his press statement after their meeting at the Château de Chantilly near Paris, Macron noted that France continues to adhere to its traditional position that the Kashmir dispute should be solved bilaterally between India and Pakistan.
India has maintained that the 1972 Simla agreement should be the basis for any bilateral talks. In contrast, Pakistan has always harked backed to the implementation of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir lost its special constitutional status by an act of parliament in the first week of August. The parliament also bifurcated the province into two Union Territories. India has termed this an internal administrative matter, while Pakistan has asserted that it changed the status-quo of the disputed territory.
According to France24 television channel, Macron said, “I recalled (during discussions) that it was up to India and Pakistan to resolve their dispute bilaterally”.
He added that it was the “responsibility of both parties to avoid any degradation on the ground likely to lead to escalation”.
Significantly, he also stated that France will continue to monitor the situation so that “interests and rights” of residents in both parts of Kashmir are protected.
“France will remain attentive to ensuring that the interests and rights of the civilian population are duly taken into account in the territories on both sides of the Line of Control (between India and Pakistan),” he said.
Macron also said that he would speak to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan soon and remind him of “France’s willingness to see this issue dealt with bilaterally”.
Modi did not make any mention of Kashmir in his remarks, but talked about receiving “valuable French support and cooperation in combating cross-border terrorism”. The joint statement issued after the meeting also did not refer to Kashmir or Pakistan, but it had a substantive portion on combating terrorism and bilateral cooperation on that front.
When the Pakistani foreign minister S.M. Qureshi called his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on August 20, the latter said that “it is responsibility of both countries, within the framework of their bilateral political dialogue, to resolve this dispute in order to achieve lasting peace”.
Macron’s statement, therefore, was a reiteration of this position. However, the reference to keeping an eye on “the interests and rights of the civilian population” was an addition.
Meeting with Trump
After his overnight stay in Paris, Modi will travel to UAE and Bahrain – and then return to France to take part in the outreach of the G-7 summit at Biarritz.
Just like France, the US had also done the heavy lifting at the closed-door informal consultations of the UNSC on Kashmir to stop China’s attempt to issue a press statement.
US President Donald Trump will be meeting with Modi at Biarritz, which will be their first face-to-face interaction since Osaka in June.
A senior US administration official at a background briefing for media on the G-7 summit indicated that expectations from India would be to lay out a plan to respect “human rights” in Kashmir and to “calm regional tensions.
“We do expect the issue of India-Pakistan relations to come up. The president will likely want to hear from Prime Minister Modi on how he plans to reduce regional tensions and uphold respect for human rights in Kashmir as part of India’s role as the world’s largest democracy,” said the official in Washington, according to PTI.
Since August 5, the US has flagged concerns over the detention of political leaders and restrictions on communication channels several times.
Earlier this week, Trump had again said publicly that he was ready to mediate between India and Pakistan as there was an “explosive situation” in Kashmir.
The senior US official walked back Trump’s offer – yet again. “What he (Trump) has indicated that he is ready to assist if both sides are interested in helping to reduce their tension. But we just know that India has not requested any formal mediation.”
The US will also be looking at Pakistan to pull the plug on cross-border terrorism. “Certainly, President Trump is also calling on Pakistan to prevent infiltration of militants across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir and to crack down on groups on its territory that have attacked India in the past,” said the official.