From Krishna Menon to Mr. SM Krishna for over six decades the government’s policy on Kashmir has defied comprehension. The latest inexplicable blunder occurred on Monday this week during the debate in the UN General Assembly. Pakistan President Zardari in his speech described the Kashmir issue as a “symbol of the failures” of the UN system. He reiterated Pakistan’s demand that the people of J&K should be allowed to “choose their own destiny”. This provided India the opening for a fitting response to this perennial Pakistan demand echoed by the rest of the world that puts India defensively in the dock.
For six decades our nation has been pilloried by a false accusation that successive Indian governments mysteriously refuse to rebut.
President Zardari’s allusion of course was to the UN resolution demanding a plebiscite in J&K that would allow the people of the region to decide their fate. Predictably, Mr. Krishna described the Pakistan President’s remark as “unwarranted reference” and went on to state that J&K was an integral part of India.
Pakistan’s permanent Representative to the UN Mr. Raza Bashir Tarar would not let go. He said: “J&K is neither an integral part of India nor has it ever been.” He implied that Kashmir is a disputed territory. He was right.
If the fact that India claims all Kashmir and Pakistan has occupied half, and Pakistan after occupation claims the whole of Kashmir, does not constitute a dispute, what does?
It is stupid for the Indian government to parrot that there is no dispute on Kashmir when half our claimed territory is occupied by Pakistan. What the government should limit itself to saying is that legally India’s claim is beyond dispute. According to the UN the dispute was to be resolved through a plebiscite. That is why Pakistan keeps harping on the plebiscite and India continues to stonewall the demand. The mystery arises from New Delhi’s refusal to exploit the UN resolution which was heavily loaded in India’s favor.
There is not one but 14 UN resolutions on Kashmir. The first was on 17 January, 1948 and the latest was on 21 December, 1971. The resolutions were updated on the basis of developments on the ground. But because the original aggression by Pakistan in Kashmir was never in dispute the core provisions of the original UN resolution survived intact.
What were these provisions?
Briefly, before any plebiscite could be held, all Pakistani troops and personnel had to vacate the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The state had to revert to its original status before hostilities started. Indian troops were to operate in the entire state until full normalcy was restored and law and order established, and only then could a free and fair plebiscite be held under the aegis of the UN Commission appointed for the purpose. The plebiscite was to allow the people of the state to either join India or Pakistan. In other words according to the plebiscite terms the entire undivided J&K could join either India or Pakistan, with no third option of independence for any part or the whole of the state made available.
Pakistan never accepted these preconditions for holding the plebiscite. India instead of insisting that the plebiscite be held according to the terms of the UN resolution continued to oppose plebiscite.
In August 2006 Mr. Kofi Annan as the UN Secretary General stated while visiting Pakistan that the UN resolutions on Kashmir were not under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and therefore not self-enforcing. The UN Kashmir resolutions could be implemented only through the cooperation of both India and Pakistan. Did not this situation enable Foreign Minister Mr. Krishna to rebut President Zardari by stating that it was not the UN system but Pakistan that was the cause of failure in Kashmir? Should he not have insisted that Pakistan comply with the preconditions for plebiscite in the UN resolution to enable a solution of the dispute?
To meet the terms of the plebiscite resolution what would be required?
- First, Pakistan troops would have to vacate the whole of POK.
- Secondly, Indian troops would occupy the entire undivided state of J&K. These troops would remain until peace is fully established.
- Thirdly, in order to revert to the original status before hostilities in 1948 China would have to vacate all territory illegally cede to it by Pakistan.
- Fourthly, after fulfilling all these conditions Indian troops would withdraw except for a sufficient token force to maintain law and order.
- Finally, the plebiscite held under these conditions would preclude independence for any part or for the whole of Kashmir.
Would any Kashmir separatist leader surrender all claims of independence for the Valley? More importantly, could Pakistan by any stretch of imagination accept even one of these preconditions? Could China conceivably withdraw from all Kashmir territory illegally ceded to it by Pakistan?
To all these questions the answer can only be a resounding no! Why, then, is the Indian government shying away from the UN resolution on plebiscite instead of using it as a weapon to corner Pakistan?
Clearly if the government adopted an aggressive attitude on the UN resolution it would compel Pakistan to negotiate a reasonable and realistic formula for resolving the Kashmir dispute. There are indications that both the Pakistani establishment and Kashmir separatists appreciate their weakness on the plebiscite demand better than the Indian government. That is why the most extreme separatist leader in Kashmir, Mr. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, while demanding plebiscite also said that an alternate solution by the government reflecting the aspirations of Kashmir people would be welcome.
One such alternate solution could be perhaps what has been repeatedly advocated in these columns. Each ethnic segment of Kashmir might be allowed self-determination giving voters the right to choose India, Pakistan or independence. In order to prevent cross border aggression and war this would require the precondition of a joint community comprising India, Pakistan and Kashmir, whatever the status of its different parts after self-determination, with joint defence and common market.
Former President Musharraf had suggested something similar by advocating joint management of Kashmir by India and Pakistan. But without joint defence by the Indian and Pakistan armies his plan was unworkable. India unfortunately never seized the opening his offer had created to make a counter proposal. Neither is India now seizing the opening created by President Zardari’s reference to a plebiscite in the UN debate to start a meaningful debate that would lead somewhere. The Pakistan government is a prisoner of its army and of its past. If New Delhi seeks a solution to the Kashmir dispute it would have to appreciate the ground realities in Pakistan and proceed in calibrated fashion.
The question is does New Delhi genuinely seek a solution of Kashmir that might help resolve Indo-Pakistan differences? Does it really want Indo-Pakistan reconciliation or is it happy with the status quo with both nations bitterly divided as victims of terrorism? Finally, does the Ministry of External Affairs sincerely promote the national interests of India or does it prefer to protect the strategic interests of China?