The SCO correctly promises not to meddle
In 2017 when both India and Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the group made it clear that its official position was to treat the Kashmir crisis as an internal matter for both India and Pakistan and therefore the SCO would not directly mediate in the conflict nor offer possible solutions unless both sides voluntarily approached fellow SCO members to request such assistance.
The SCO’s move was pragmatic and in many ways remains so because utilising the SCO to solve the issues arising from the post-colonial crisis in Jammu and Kashmir could backfire and sow further discord between members of a group whose primary mission is collective security cooperation with an increased emphasis on the Chinese win-win model for peace through prosperity in the form of enhancing trading relations across the SCO.
A chain of unfortunate events
Then there is the wider issue of India’s post-colonial border disputes not only with Pakistan but its border disputes with China. Throughout the summer of 2016, there was a real possibility that Indian and Chinese troops could have been involved in a 1987 style border skirmish or worse, where ultimately in order to save face, New Delhi backed down in order to save face prior to the September BRICS summit in which both India and China participated. In this sense, while joint BRICS membership and joint SCO membership did not prevent a summer-long border conflict between China and India, the date of the BRICS summit was invaluable in terms of sending a message to India to revert to Beijing’s preferred format of dialogue as doing otherwise would have caused India grave embarrassment prior to the summit.
While the Kashmir crisis remains geopolitically frozen at the current Line of Control, internal to Jammu and Kashmir is a human rights disaster that the wider world continues to ignore. This includes the United Nations which has proved largely impotent in bringing the matter any closer to even a temporary peaceful solution. So if one begins from the premise that the UN is at least for the time being incapable of bringing peace to Jammu and Kashmir, the next obvious question is: who can?
The official position of the international community is that India and Pakistan should work cooperatively to solve the crisis themselves. On paper this sounds like a reasonable solution because unlike the crisis in Palestine which is often compared to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, there are key difference. While the appalling treatment of occupied Palestinians is in many ways similar to the way that Indian soldiers treat Kashmiri Muslims in terms of the sheer brutality applied, the origin of the conflicts are different.
When one strips away the grandiose and misleading rhetoric from the Palestine conflict, the issue is one of a traditional settler colonial occupation of a foreign land that continues unabated to this day. By contrast, the Jammu and Kashmir crisis owes its origins to the de-colonisation process in south Asia during the 1940s. Specifically, the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir had in 1947 as the area does in 2018, a clear Muslim majority. However, Jammu and Kashmir’s princely ruler of the time was the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh.
The Maharaja initially advocated independence of Jammu and Kashmir from both India and Pakistan but as the situation became increasingly tense, under pressure from the British Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten, the Maharaja signed an instrument of accession whereby Jammu and Kashmir would join India. This led to a new wave of internal violence and subsequently to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947. After the war the UN drew a ceasefire line whereby the former princely state was de-facto divided between Pakistan and India. This meant that Pakistan had (and has) control over Azad Kashmir and Gilgit–Baltistan while India controls the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley in addition to Jammu and Ladakh. It is this boundary that forms the current Line of Control which was formalised in the 1972 Simla Agreement. Perhaps most crucially, while the UN passed Security Council Resolution 47 in the year 1948 which called for a referendum on the future status of Jammu and Kashmir, such a vote has regrettably yet to be held.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, many solutions have been proposed regarding a final settlement. A list of the seven most widely discussed solutions can be found here. But since none of the solutions from the impracticable to the possibly (key word) workable Chenab Formula have been or likely will be agreed between Islamabad and New Delhi, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are ultimately owed some kind of multilateral effort to relieve the humanitarian situation even before a political settlement can be discussed.
The SCO could in fact work to relieve the humanitarian situation by substituting Indian soldiers in the Kashmir Valley for SCO peace keepers and aid workers. The problem here is that without agreement from both Pakistan and India, this cannot happen as otherwise it would risk turning the conflict into a wider multinational struggle or even war. To say otherwise would be negligently naive. Take for example Turkey’s recent attempt to bring aid to Palestine which was blocked by the “Israeli” military. Turkey could have forced its way into Gaza but the result would have clearly been a conflict with the only nuclear armed regime in the Middle East. Turkey therefore avoided war in the same way that the SCO members would not want to do anything in Jammu and Kashmir without the full cooperation of both Pakistan and India.
The SCO can foster as much dialogue as possible without taking anyone’s side but the side of peace and humanitarianism
The best therefore that the SCO can do is to set up a working group on the permanent sidelines of the SCO designed to foster dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi regarding Jammu and Kashmir. Of course Kashmiris themselves should have a strong voice in any such discussion forum. As part of this forum, SCO members can both individually and collectively offer various solutions for Pakistan, India and Kashmiris of all backgrounds to discuss, including the possibility of attaining peace through prosperity by making any long term negotiated settlement contingent on the delivery of investment to all appropriate regions. Throughout the course of such discussions it must be made clear that no other issues regarding any other conflicts other than those between India and Pakistan regarding Jammu and Kashmir shall be discussed. Anything beyond solving the critical issues at hand would only serve to both distract, inflame and cause a systematic regression in any peace process.
Disputes between nuclear powers are always difficult and because the founders of the SCO are not inclined towards war criminality, clearly no one is going to attempt to force a solution down any country’s proverbial throat. But because no other natural forum is available to foster dialogue over the crisis, the SCO should help its newest members to feel confident and dignified in the format of an SCO working group aiming for peace and prosperity in the Jammu and Kashmir of tomorrow in a manner that does not threaten nor pressurise any particular side.