Document of the Week: Trump’s Mistake Reminds the World of This 47-Year-Old Pact

Read the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

U.S. President Donald Trump inserted himself into the decades-long dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, telling Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House that “I’d love to be a mediator.” Trump insisted that he had already got a green light to take on the intractable conflict from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago. … He actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.’”

The prospect of a U.S. peacemaking role would have fulfilled a long-standing goal of Pakistan to invite outside mediation over Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim territory that is controlled by Pakistan and India. Earlier this year, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi appealed to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to help defuse a potentially escalating dispute with India over Kashmir.

But Indian officials quickly denied that the Indian leader had ever made such an offer to the U.S. president. Trump’s claim has ignited a political firestorm in India, which has steadfastly resisted any foreign mediation over Kashmir.

The dispute over Kashmir has its roots in the 1947 partition of the British colony of India into the modern states of India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan fought three major wars, two of them over Kashmir, between 1947 and 1971. This ended with the signing of a peace accord, the Simla Agreement, by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1972.

The agreement—which we are highlighting as our Document of the Week—called for a series of confidence-building measures, including the withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani troops behind a de facto border and the resumption of trade. It also noted that “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.” India has since interpreted that phrase to rule out any outside negotiations over Kashmir.

For its part, Pakistan maintains that the Simla pact does not negate India’s obligation under a 1948 Security Council resolution to ensure that the fate of Kashmir “should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite.” India says that the resolution is not legally binding and that Pakistan never lived up to its own obligation under the resolution to oversee the withdrawal of Pakistani fighters from Kashmir.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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