UN Special Humanitarian Envoy to the Horn of Africa Kjell Bondevik speaks to the media at UN headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi. Photo: AFP/Simon Maina
UN Special Humanitarian Envoy to the Horn of Africa Kjell Bondevik speaks to the media at UN headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi. Photo: AFP/Simon Maina

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who has a history of trying to solve conflicts around the world, has now turned his attention to Jammu and Kashmir.

The region has been a thorny issue between India and Pakistan since the independence of the two countries in 1947.

Bondevik has been involved in peace-making efforts in Somalia and South Sudan in the past. He has also focussed on the Myanmar situation. He twice served as Norway’s Prime Minister and afterwards established the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights in 2006.

But is he now entering territory that angels fear to tread?

Bondevik was in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, on November 23. There he met three leading separatist leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Gilani. He also interacted with members of the Kashmir Chamber for Business and Industry as well as the state’s Bar Association.

From India, Bondevik traveled to Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. He had a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The Pakistanis took him to the Line of Control in Kashmir, which is the de facto Indo-Pak border in the valley along a ceasefire line.

After his return to Norway, Bondevik gave a few written interviews to Indian journalists. In one, he stated that while he had no contact with the Ministry of External Affairs, he had had talks “with Delhi.” He disclosed that an Indian godman, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whom he described as “his partner,” had made Bondevik’s visit to Kashmir possible.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is known to have good contacts with sections of the Indian political and security establishment.

Bondevik stressed that the only way to resolve the Kashmir issue was through peaceful means and dialogue – no military solution was possible, he said. He said he stressed this point to Kashmiri separatist leaders too.

He also felt that the resumption of dialogue was not possible prior to Indian parliamentary elections next year. While acknowledging that India favored the route of bilateral negotiations with Pakistan, he noted “we must be aware of several UN resolutions on the conflict and the recent report on the human rights situation. We need a tri-party dialogue between the leaders in India, Pakistan and Kashmir.”

Following the India-Pakistan Simla Agreement of July 1972, India has refused to accept any third-party mediation in its relations with Pakistan. The agreement said the two countries would “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.”

In times of India-Pakistan crisis since the agreement, world powers, especially the United States, have intervened to calm the situation, but India has never accepted mediation. This is particularly so in matters relating to the Kashmir issue.

On the other hand, Pakistan has always wanted, despite the Simla Agreement, to attract third-party mediation in bilateral India-Pakistan issues. It has never succeeded in moving India from its position that any and all bilateral differences have to be addressed bilaterally.

In this context, Bondevik’s approach would be simply unacceptable to India. For one, India believes that in the early years, the UN resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir could not be implemented on account of Pakistan’s unwillingness to adhere to their stipulations. It further holds that these resolutions have been overtaken by history; the Kashmir issue has not been discussed at the UN Security Council since 1965.

As the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian Union, India holds that differences between the central Indian government and political forces or groups in the state have to be resolved within its domestic sphere and in accordance with the Indian Constitution. The external dimension of the Kashmir issue brings in Pakistan for, according to India, it is in illegal control of Indian territory. India is committed to resolving this territorial dispute through peaceful means in accordance with the Simla Agreement.

India has rejected the report of the United Nations Human Rights Office on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The report was submitted by the outgoing High Commissioner for Human rights Zeid Husseini in June this year. India declared that the report was motivated and did not present an accurate picture of the human rights situation in the state. The report also covered the conditions in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Pakistan has been happy with the Bondevik visit. In a statement after the Bondevik-Qureishi meeting, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry claimed that Bondevik had briefed Qureishi on his visit to India. It further claimed that he had also told Qureishi that Kashmir should be high on the agenda of the international community and its resolution should be a priority for all.

The fact is that Zeid Husseini’s recommendation that the UN Human Rights Council should focus on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been ignored by the international community. All countries would wish to see a resolution of the Kashmir issue and get worried at the prospect of India-Pakistan tensions getting out of control because both states possess nuclear weapons. But no one is willing to mediate between the two as that is unacceptable to India.

The government of India has made no comment on Bondevik’s visit, even though the opposition has raised questions about how a former Norwegian Prime Minister was allowed to visit the Kashmir valley to meet with separatists.

Indian commentators also point to Norwegian proclivities towards trying to act as peacemakers in conflict situations. In this context, they give the example of Norway’s mediation efforts in Sri Lanka.

While all this is true, it is simply impossible to expect that India’s entrenched position to resolve all its differences with Pakistan through bilateral means will ever permit an outside country or individual to mediate. Bondevik would be well advised to keep away from the Kashmir issue.

Vivek Katju

The author is a former diplomat with the Indian Foreign Service and retired as a secretary to the government of India. He has extensive experience dealing with Pakistan and Southeast Asia.

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