After India and Pakistan Exchange Fire, Russia Steps in to Help
After a suicide bomb prompted an exchange of military engagements between India and Pakistan, tensions are at a dangerous low in the South Asian region.
Russia is offering to help mediate dialogue between India and Pakistan as tension between the neighboring countries has worsened following a bomb attack in the northern India state of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14 that killed 40 Indian paramilitary personnel.
Russia is offering a platform for India and Pakistan to meet and discuss the countries’ relationship after the bombing. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Kremlin is ready to help if India and Pakistan need a mediation.
Pakistan downed two Indian military jets last Wednesday, a day after India launched airstrikes in Pakistan territory, the first such military exchange since the India-Pakistan war of 1971.
The tension first escalated when a suicide bomber killed around 40 Indian paramilitary and police officers on February 14 in the India-controlled region of Kashmir. A Pakistan-based rebel group called Jaish e-Mohammad claimed to be responsible for the attack, despite denial from Pakistan.
Why are India and Pakistan Fighting?
The dispute between India and Pakistan stems from their mutual claim to Jammu and Kashmir, located in the Himalaya mountains. China also controls a small portion of Kashmir.
After India and Pakistan separated in 1947, both countries were engaged in three wars to claim the disputed Kashmir region in 1948, 1965, and 1971.
Some of Kashmir’s rebel factions in Jammu and Kashmir have fought for full independence, while others advocate for accession to Pakistan.
On Saturday, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shan Mehmood Qureshi said Islamabad had accepted Russia’s mediation offer to solve the conflict with India. However, Qureshi was unsure about India’s response to Russia’s offer.
As Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported, Qureshi said that Pakistan is ready to sit down together with India to diffuse the tension.
“I don’t know about India but I want to say this to Russia: Pakistan is ready to come to the table and de-escalate tensions,” Qureshi said.
While the Indian ambassador to Russia, Venkatesh Varma, said no country has offered a lending hand to solve the India-Pakistan dispute. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also among the countries offering to mediate talks between India and Pakistan. However, Varma added that New Delhi will not accept a mediation offer.
“I want to emphasize that we did not receive a formal offer of mediation. And even if we do, we will not accept it. So far, no country has offered to mediate in resolving the conflict,” Varma stated as the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
Russia’s Role in Kashmir and as a Mediator Around the World
Decades ago, the former Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin helped to mediate India and Pakistan into an end to the 1965 war. During the following years and the Cold War, the Soviet Union was seen as anti-Pakistan and pro-India.
Now, Moscow enjoys a good relationship with both countries but the word ’mediation’ is something New Delhi wants to avoid. India has rejected all international intervention in Kashmir since Hari Singh, the last Maharajah of Kashmir, inked the Instrument of Accession to India in the late 1940s which lead to the first Indo-Pakistani war of 1947-1948.
In recent years, Moscow has tried itself to rebrand its image as a world player and problem solver in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While during the Cold War, the Kremlin’s effort to mediate international relations was seen as more driven by the desire to spread communism.
As Foreign Policy explains, Russia’s efforts to become a Middle East problem solver is most clearly illustrated by its role in Syria since 2015. In Syria, Moscow sped up its efforts in the negotiation process and formed a strong alliance with Turkey and Iran, which lead to the Astana talks. Russia also mediated a reconciliation process involving armed rebel groups in Syria’s Homs and Hama’s provinces in 2016.
Russia has attempted to mediate other conflicts as well, but Foreign Policy claims it does not address the roots of the conflict itself but rather merely silences them. The conflict may be suppressed, but it will erupt again, as seen in past Russian mediation efforts in Ukraine, Crimea, Chechnya, and Georgia.
Is the US Involved in India-Pakistani Affairs?
The U.S. has multiple interests in the Pakistan-India dispute not least of which is preventing the use of nuclear weapons, both countries are believed to contain nuclear weapons.
Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, told NPR the U.S. has a vested interest in the de-escalation of tensions between the two countries.
“We have many interests in the region, obviously. But in this immediate moment of crisis, the United States has a strong interest in trying to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. The second is that India is a major defense partner of the United States. And the third interest is Pakistan, a longtime partner of the United States. We have a difficult relationship, but it is a country that the United States is working with, including on the challenging problems in Afghanistan,” Ayres said in the interview.
However, in 2017, India refused the White House’s offer to help mediate India-Pakistani affairs. India’s statement was in response to statements made by Nikki Haley who was at the time the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and who is Indian herself.
“This administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” said Haley during a news conference.
“I would expect that the administration is going to be in talks and try and find its place to be part of that process,” the former Governor of South Carolina said, adding: “And also wouldn’t be surprised if the President participates as well.”
India rejected the offer, with India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay saying, “Government’s position for bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence hasn’t changed.
“We, of course, expect the international community and organizations to enforce international mechanisms and mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which continues to be the single biggest threat to peace and stability in our region and beyond,” he added.