The prospect of a meaningful peace dialogue with Pakistan has become faintly visible after Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister of Pakistan. If India is serious about achieving a breakthrough in the dialogue this time around the moment to undertake some hard contingency planning is now. Whatever the modalities of a future dialogue, and however cooperative the Pakistan army might prove to be, no real breakthrough in the peace talks can occur without resolving the dispute over Kashmir. It is a real issue that will not disappear even given all the delusions that Indian politicians are habituated to indulging in. To pretend that the Kashmir dispute does not exist because Kashmir acceded to India in 1948 is like living in a pathetic dream world. A rude reminder of a few salient facts would be in order.
India claims all Kashmir, Pakistan likewise claims all Kashmir, but Kashmir is divided with neither nation owning it. Does that constitute a dispute or not? When Indians assert that there is no dispute they mean probably that legally there is no dispute. Consider the legal position. When Britain partitioned the subcontinent into India and Pakistan all the princely states were given the option to join one or the other nation. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir, whose state was contiguous to both new nations, wanted independence. He was a Hindu ruler governing a Muslim majority state. But his decision was pre-empted by raiders from Pakistan invading Kashmir. At that time India and Pakistan were only notionally independent. Britain through its appointed bureaucratic officials and the British army chiefs of both countries exercised decisive control over events. After the raiders attacked Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in order to get military assistance. Conscious of the peculiar circumstances leading to this decision, Nehru accepted the accession “subject to the approval” of the people of Kashmir. The seeds of a plebiscite were sown at that very time.
Overall British control may be gauged from the fact that in the midst of hostilities a Major Brown of the Gilglit Scouts cavalierly declared Gilgit to be part of Pakistan while Indian leaders could only twiddle their thumbs. The Indian army repulsed the raiders. But before they had driven them out of Kashmir, Nehru under advice of Mountbatten approached the United Nations. A ceasefire was announced. A Line of Control (LoC) divided the state which stands till today. Needless to say the division of Kashmir created a bone of contention to permanently divide India and Pakistan. Despite the horrendous holocaust following Partition that killed over half a million, Imperial Britain took no chances. The Kashmir crisis was created to ensure permanent Indo-Pak hostility. That served Britain’s global interests at that time.
Given this background would not a principled and credible closure of the Kashmir problem be achieved only after the people of the state are allowed to determine their own future? That is why in response to India’s approach to the UN it was agreed that after the LoC was established there should be a plebiscite monitored by officials of the world body. This was determined in the UN Resolution of 1948. That was never implemented. Meanwhile with passing events fresh UN Resolutions related to Kashmir were adopted. In all there are 14 such Resolutions. The latest was passed in 1971 after the Bangladesh war. Inexplicably, India throughout this period has opposed a plebiscite while Pakistan and the separatists in Kashmir have espoused it. This has put India on the back foot before world opinion. The wonder is that it is India that should have insisted upon implementing the UN Resolution while Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists strenuously opposed it.
In all the 14 UN Resolutions the core of the operative part on the plebiscite has remained unchanged. The preconditions for holding the plebiscite made it necessary to restore the status quo ante before hostilities began in 1947. By that all the Pakistani troops and citizens in Kashmir would have to vacate the state. China would have to withdraw from the Northern Areas ceded to it by Pakistan. It was also determined in the Resolutions that only a token Indian force would have a presence in the state until complete peace was restored. In other words terrorism too would have to end before Indian troops would be made to vacate. Could any Pakistan government have agreed to this? And the final clincher to thwart the dreams of the separatists was that in the plebiscite the people of Kashmir could vote only for the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir to join either India or Pakistan. The option for independence was ruled out. And yet India projected itself as the opponent of the UN Resolutions while Pakistan and Hurriyat separatists are perceived as staunch supporters. How can such ineptitude be explained?
The UN Resolutions on plebiscite could not of course be enforced. In 2002 former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that the Resolutions on Kashmir were not “enforceable in a mandatory sweep”. The Resolutions could be implemented only if both India and Pakistan accepted them. For all practical purpose therefore the UN demand for plebiscite is a dead letter. But the desirability of self-determination for a credible solution remains. Only a successful resolution of the Kashmir dispute will silence the dissenting voices in Pakistan and Kashmir.
Last Wednesday Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin warned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resolve the Kashmir dispute “in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir through the UN Resolutions”. One wonders if he is conversant with the preconditions of the UN Resolutions.
If the UN Resolution on plebiscite has become irrelevant the exercise to determine the wishes of the Kashmir people can only be devised through the common consent of the Indian and Pakistani governments. What do the people of united Kashmir across borders actually want for the future of their state? The Chatham House think-tank in London conducted a detailed opinion poll on both sides of the LoC. According to its findings most Kashmiris yearn for peace. Unemployment and other economic issues ranked high in both sides of Kashmir. Economic issues were among the few that united opinion on both sides. In the Kashmir Valley on the Indian side support for independence ranged from 74% to 95%. But in the four districts of the Jammu part of Indian-administered Kashmir, there was virtually no support for independence. Over 85% on both sides favored free movement across the LoC. In the light of these findings it would appear that only in the Valley is there tangible sentiment for independence. The rest of Kashmir on both sides would prefer continued allegiance respectively to India and Pakistan having soft borders amidst peace.
How might the problem of the Valley be addressed?
That is what New Delhi and Islamabad will have to discuss. I have suggested radical flexibility if the context of a South Asian Union having joint defence and common market is created. If the Valley is allowed self-determination it cannot be ruled out that with proper articulation the Valley might even favor remaining with India. Both Farooq and Omar Abdullah have recognized that genuine federal democracy would serve the Valley better than sovereignty. They win elections while the separatists avoid contesting polls. They seek enhanced autonomy. It should be granted without giving Kashmir a special status. In other words all states of the Union should be granted equal autonomy. For cohesive governance this would require of course an adequate political role for the President. In the worst case scenario even if the Valley opts for Independence as part of the South Asian Union it should be noted that citizens of different nations in the European Union have more mutual rights in each other’s country than citizens in the rest of India presently have in Kashmir.
In 1948 Lord Mountbatten during discussions with Sheikh Abdullah toyed with the idea of an independent Kashmir having binding relations with both India and Pakistan. He told Abdullah: “I am afraid true independence is not feasible. But I am trying to expand the Joint Defence Council and through it Kashmir can be dealt with as a state acceding to both dominions rather than to only one.” This was quoted in historian Shashi Joshi’s The Last Durbar. In 1964 the Sheikh on Nehru’s bidding visited Pakistan with the intention of creating an Indo-Pakistan Confederation with Kashmir acting as the bridge. Nehru died while the Sheikh was in Pakistan.
Resolving the Kashmir dispute could be the starting point for reviving the fortunes of all South Asia.
Years ago I concluded a book with the words:
“To introduce genuine democracy in India the districts and the states would have to be given more self-rule. To strengthen national unity the President of the Indian Republic would have to be given a worthwhile political role… It is time to recognize that the present political system has collapsed.”
This view is much more relevant today than it was when written in 1992. If the leaders in India now display adequate will and vision they could at last redeem in full measure that elusive tryst with destiny made by the founding fathers of our Republic.