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Iran as mediator between Pakistan and India

BY Yasmeen Aftab Ali

A proposition that bears pondering

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in December 2016 offered Iran’s willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir that has refused to let normalise relationship between both.

The friendly relations between India and Iran make this an interesting preposition. “The Iranian offer to mediate between Pakistan and India is not dissimilar to similar offers over the years by several countries that have seen themselves as a friend of both countries. It is unlikely to amount to much for the same reason other mediation offers failed to advance. Mediation requires agreement by both disputants to its need. India, however, has been consistently opposed to the idea of third-party mediation in its dispute with Pakistan. Until India agrees Iran, or any other country, cannot play a role in helping with mediation between India and Pakistan.

“The last serious mediation effort in the 1960s involved the UK and the United States. US representative Averell Harriman and British politician Duncan Sandys shuttled between Delhi and Karachi in 1962 and their effort resulted in the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks that resolved nothing after several rounds. Even after the Harriman-Sandys mission, in the end India and Pakistan had to talk to each other and those talks did not resolve India-Pakistan dispute,” says Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to US.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom says, “Pakistan’s stand has been persistent. It is willing to accept any mediation offer from any of the friendly countries. However, India has been obdurate. It rejects out right any such effort to help the two nuclear powers to sit face to face with a mediator to facilitate moving forward. India is not going to accept even a serious dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir.  Perhaps most serious offer for mediation was made by no other than Labour Government’s Foreign Secretary late Robin Cook in 1997. He meant it seriously since it was he who had moved a resolution in Labour Party’s Annual Conference in Brighton in October 1995 stating that since Kashmir was an unfinished agenda of partition brought about by Labour Government in 1947, it was morally incumbent upon Labour Party -whenever it comes to power- to see it is resolved in accordance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council granting the people of Kashmir right of self-determination. I remember Indian media went berserk after Robin Cook offer of good offices for mediation during Queen’s visit. It created such a furor that British Press too pilloried their Foreign Secretary and demanded his resignation for having put an ugly spanner in the Queen’s visit. Unfortunately, the government that succeeded Benazir Bhutto’s did not pursue this British commitment and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif instead of taking advantage of it opted to flirt with Indian Prime Minister Inder kumar Gujral. I know that had we pursued Kashmir issue seriously when Madeleine Albright was American Secretary of State, things could have moved forward. Not many people would remember or know that Joseph Korbel, Madeleine’s father was involved in Kashmir as part of UN mission and he had written a book on Kashmir supportive of the right of self-determination for the people. Further, Madeleine Albright, born in a Jewish family victim of Nazi prosecution, knew what persecution under occupation army was like. Pakistan Foreign Office could not take advantage of it.”

London based broadcaster, journalist and writer; Manzar Qureshi offers an interesting opinion, “Iran’s mediation offer is perception building exercise. Even after Rouhani’s insult, Iran chose to walk the tight Indo-Pak rope. It’s a none serious, futile statement as mediator, but carries a clear message to both India, Pakistan and China that Iran will remain neutral even though it has a defense pact with India.”

Mushtaq Siddiqi, Editor PULSE Weekly offers a most insightful view, “This comes from the Chief Iranian diplomat, the well-known Foreign Minister of the country, Javad Zarif and he made this “offer” while he was in India – at a location where representatives of most of the Asian countries were present; and listening – particularly everybody who’s anybody in the Indian government was there, and listening to his “sudden and highly generous offer. I believe that this idea is presented by the Iranians after a lot of deliberation and careful thinking, and only after receiving “a nod of approval” from the Indian policy makers.  If that is the case, then the Indians must have realised that they have made a ‘mistake’ by escalating tension between the two countries. They have realised, or reminded that an escalation in tension with Pakistan will not only increase the Chinese attention and support for Pakistan, it will also make its own dreams of getting a land-route to Afghanistan impossible.  India badly “needs” this land route to increase its business as well as strategic contacts with Afghanistan, and from there further away to the Central Asian region.  Media reports suggest that China is now expected to “raise its already substantial defense cooperation with its “all-weather friend” Pakistan: which is an issue of “real concern” not only for India but also for its true and major “ally” the United States of America. They fear that this tension will possibly help resume “transfer of strategic weapons technology that were officially ceased in the 1990 under US pressure.”

So, it’s a possibility that this latest Iranian offer of bringing the two countries closer may have been made by Iran on ‘Indian request.’  Otherwise, Iran would have never made such a major diplomatic blunder, because they very well know that all such past efforts have been rejected by the Indian side.

It’s also possible that before making it public in the press conference in India, the Iranians may have also passed this proposal under a few sets of “Pakistani eyes,” just to give a heads-up to “the other side.” The big question for us remains unanswered: what makes India agree to talks; and that too on issues including Kashmir? Yes, the Indian media currently is openly discussing Kashmir and suggesting — expressing the fear — that in the next ten years Kashmir may not remain part of India.  Just days after getting elected the incoming US vice-president, Mike Pence, reassured India that Trump would be “fully engaged with both nations” to resolve the decades-long dispute over Kashmir. But then, haven’t we heard that before – exactly eight years back when Mr. Obama was about to take charge of the most powerful assignment of the world?”

“The conventional wisdom is that China will intensify support to Islamabad amid rising India-Pakistan tension,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.

The important points are timing, inclusion of Kashmir while Zarif makes the offer from Indian soil, the Indian press not making a hue and cry over it. If Pakistan accepts the offer it may probably not resolve Kashmir issue-but it will definitely help down play the spiked tensions between both nations.

If it’s a bluff, let Pakistan call the bluff!

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