It has been over 100 days since the revocation of articles 370 and 35-A. Going a step ahead, India has bifurcated occupied Kashmir into two union territories to which China made an objection. Pakistan has internationalised the issue and is pursuing it through active diplomacy. At this stage the international community is getting cognizant of the atrocities being done in Kashmir. Likewise, the role of international or regional organisations becomes equally critical. Since Pakistan and India are member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the issue of Kashmir can be deliberated upon and discussed on the sidelines of its annual meetings. More so, a special call can also be made concerning the issue of Kashmir on the sidelines as Track-II diplomacy.
The SCO was created in 2001 as a regional organisation. The focus of this organisation is on political, economic, and security domains of Eurasian region. Originally, it included six countries namely China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Later, Pakistan and India also joined in 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. Currently, it has eight members and four observer states i.e. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia. There are also six dialogue partners which include: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. The government of Pakistan gives it very high importance and is committed to actively participate.
China has criticised the Indian move to bifurcate occupied Kashmir into two union territories
In the literary and academic circles, a debate is going about the SCO being a possible platform for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Speaking in terms of the SCO, the Indian Israel-like unilateral action on Kashmir has created a regional crisis not just for Pakistan and India but for the region at large. The current situation is so intense that both the countries reside at the brink of war. Since both states in South Asia are nuclear-armed, any minor conflict could lead toward a destructive scenario. Keeping in mind the historical trajectory of the conflicts, any upcoming low-intensity conflict could spark into high-intensity conflict.
Therefore, the Article 2 of the Charter of SCO adheres to the following principles:
Mutual respect of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity of states and inviolability of state borders, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, non-use of force or threat of its use in international relations, seeking no unilateral military superiority in adjacent areas;
- Peaceful settlement of disputes between the member states
- Prevention of any illegitimate acts directed against the SCO interests
The historical evolution of the SCO also speaks volumes about the resolution of border disputes, extremism, terrorism, trafficking and smuggling issues to a huge extent. The SCO also played a vital role in promoting trade and tourism, improving economies of member states. After Pakistan and India have become full members, the member states issues vis-à-vis the SCO have become complex in nature. Especially, the unilateral amending of the status of Kashmir by India thereby imposes an unlimited curfew. It is pertinent to note here that Kashmir is a disputed territory between Pakistan, China, and India and active on the UN agenda.
SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov is willing to take on the responsibility for maintaining security and ensuring development in the region, as he told the reporters in Beijing that, “Today, India and Pakistan sit at the negotiation table together with six founder states, resolving the issues of regional importance: ensuring regional security, mutual counteraction of threats and challenges, ensuring social-economic development. An impressive package of documents and decisions signed during the historic summit in Qingdao is also a result of joint and effective work by the SCO in a new format.”
The ultimate format that the SCO member states can guarantee Pakistan and India is behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Moreover, China has criticised the Indian move to bifurcate occupied Kashmir into two union territories and deemed it “unlawful and void” as it affects Beijing’s sovereignty. On the other hand, India hits back China by saying that it is an internal matter and China should avoid commenting on Ladakh and occupied Kashmir.
However, if Russia is taken into consideration, it resides on the opposite side of Kashmiri equation. The choice of supporting or not supporting for China and Russia respectively stems from existential stakes that they each envision while engaging with South Asian partners.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Press and Information Department, and Foreign Minister Lavrov while elucidating his country’s position stated that “there is no alternative to ironing out the differences between Pakistan and India on a bilateral basis by political and diplomatic means.” Still, the platform of the SCO binds member states to fulfil the obligation of Article 2 of the Charter of the SCO under good faith. Therefore, Russia and China can play their equal parts from the platform of SCO for pressuring India to come to talks on Kashmir issue on the said platform of regional organisation.
The suggestion for providing a platform through the SCO for Pakistan and India to resolve their bilateral disputes especially Kashmir can be encouraged from the member states of organisation. The United Nations Security Council has been previously mandated to hold a plebiscite which India has refused for the last seven decades. It is correct that the SCO does not allow member states to bring their bilateral issues on the platform yet the history of the organisation speaks otherwise as it resolved Soviet-Chinese border disputes previously. Hence, the ultimate format that the SCO member states can guarantee Pakistan and India is behind-the-scenes diplomacy. This is exactly what Track-II diplomacy is all about and it can be brought to play by the member states of the SCO.