India has sharply criticized the United States and Germany for recent, but rare, back-to-back moves related to a long-running territorial dispute with neighbor and archrival Pakistan.
The controversy erupted when Donald Blome, Washington’s ambassador to Islamabad, made a three-day visit to the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir, in the divided Himalayan region. Pakistan refers to the area under its control as Azad (meaning free) Jammu and Kashmir, or AJK.
“I’m honored to visit during my first trip to AJK,” the U.S. embassy quoted Blome as saying on Twitter after touring historic sites there.
The U.S. diplomat held meetings with senior AJK officials, as well as academic, business, cultural, and civil society representatives. The U.S. embassy noted later in a formal statement that Blome’s visit was designed to promote “the U.S.-Pakistan partnership and highlight the two countries’ deep economic, cultural and people-to-people ties.”
It is rare for a U.S. ambassador to travel to what New Delhi considers an integral part of India and refers to it as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Islamabad rejects Indian claims and calls Kashmir an internationally recognized disputed territory in line with a decades-old United Nations resolution. Pakistan also refers to the other side of the divided region as Indian occupied Kashmir. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over it since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. The dispute remains at the center of bilateral tensions.
“Our objection to the visit and meetings in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan has been conveyed to the U.S. side,” Indian foreign ministry representative Arindam Bagchi told a news conference Friday.
Later that Friday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, in a rare backing for Islamabad’s stance on the territorial rivalry, said that Berlin had a “role and responsibility” with regard to the tension over Kashmir.
Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chief German diplomat hailed a February 2021 Kashmir cease-fire agreement between the nuclear-armed rival nations, urging both sides to build on it. She stressed that Germany supports “intensively the engagement of the United Nations” to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.
“So, we encourage Pakistan, and we encourage India to follow the track of the cease-fire, to follow the track of the United Nations, and to intensify the political dialogue, and also the political and practical cooperations in the region,” Baerbock added.
The cease-fire has since effectively halted deadly military skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops in Kashmir.
On Saturday, the Indian government strongly objected to Baerbock’s Kashmir-related remarks because it vehemently opposes any third-party intervention in what India considers a bilateral issue with Pakistan.
“All serious and conscientious members of the global community have a role and responsibility to call out international terrorism, especially of a cross-border nature,” Bagchi said in a statement.
New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of supporting and funding Muslim militants waging cross-border attacks against Indian security forces in Kashmir, charges Pakistan rejects.
“The Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has borne the brunt of such a terrorist campaign for decades. This continues until now,” Bagchi said. “When states do not recognize such dangers, either because of self-interest or indifference, they undermine the cause of peace, not promote it. They also do grave injustice to the victims of terrorism,” he added.
The Pakistani foreign ministry Sunday rejected the Indian criticism of the remarks made by Zardari and his German counterpart as “preposterous.” It again accused Indian authorities of inflicting massive human rights abuses on Kashmiri Muslims on their side of the divided region.
“Hollow denials and evasion of responsibility will no longer cover up India’s mischievous strategy of posing as a ‘victim’ of terrorism while shifting blame elsewhere,” a ministry statement quoted its representative in Islamabad as saying.
India would do well, the representative added to the statement, to address the international community’s valid concerns and mend its conduct in Kashmir.
Pakistan has welcomed the U.S. diplomat’s visit and the German foreign minister’s statement.
Senator Mushahid Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which heads the coalition government in Islamabad, says a settlement to the Kashmir dispute can only ensure “enduring stability, peace and security” in South Asia.
“The West has finally realized that putting all their eggs in South Asia in India’s basket was a strategic mistake as it ended up alienating Pakistan and its people; moreover, they now feel that the road to stability in the region lies through Islamabad, while Delhi continues to hunt with the hound and run with the hare,” Hussain, the chair of the Senate Defense Committee, told VOA.
Some critics in Pakistan have speculated that diplomatic tensions between India and the U.S. over New Delhi’s imports of oil products from Russia might have prompted the West to put political pressure on India. Washington has imposed sanctions on Moscow for invading Ukraine in February and been critical of India’s continued oil purchases from Russia. New Delhi defends its actions, saying Russian prices are the cheapest compared to other sources.
Michael Kugelman is the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, a non-partisan policy forum. He cautions against linking Blome’s visit to the Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the German foreign minister’s comments or reading too much into them in the wake of reported diplomatic tensions. He said New Delhi would not make a major policy shift under external pressure, especially in the case of Kashmir.
“If the U.S. were to try to work with its Western allies to get India to change its position on Russia/Ukraine by pressuring New Delhi on the Kashmir issue, then that would be a fool’s errand,” Kugelman said.
“The U.S. wants to signal its willingness to partner more with Pakistan, and a trip to Pakistan-administered Kashmir sends a strong signal to that effect. It can be a big confidence building measure for the two sides when Washington knows Islamabad is looking for signs that the U.S. is ready to reframe the relationship around non-security cooperation,” he said.
“Baerbock’s comment is tough to assess. Very rarely do senior Western officials publicly express a desire for the Kashmir issue to be internationalized,” Kugelman stated.
India controls two-thirds of the Muslim-majority Kashmir and Pakistan the rest. New Delhi ended the decades-old semi-autonomous status of its part of the Himalayan region in 2019 and divided it into two union territories to be directly controlled by the federal government.
Pakistan strongly condemned the unilateral moves by India and has demanded their unconditional reversal — increasing mutual tension and the deterioration in ties.
“We believe, and absolutely, that international law should apply everywhere, U.N. resolutions should be respected everywhere, the sovereignty of territory, or even internationally disputed territory, should be respected,” Zardari said while speaking alongside Baerbock Friday.
India disregards a 1948 U.N. resolution on the world body’s role in Kashmir and wants a settlement in line with a bilateral pact the two countries signed in 1972. Known as the Simla agreement, it calls on the two countries to resolve their disputes bilaterally.
Pakistan maintains that bilateral attempts to find a solution have failed for decades and seeks U.N. intervention.
Among other steps, the U.N. resolution asks India to allow for a free and impartial vote to enable Kashmiris to determine the fate of the region.