Kashmir's Independence Cannot be an Option

After many years of relative peace, stability and economic progress, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been allowed to reach a dangerous point over the last two months. There have been mistakes, even serious ones, in the way the Amarnath land transfer issue has been handled. Despite these lapses, the answer to the problem cannot be to suggest that the Kashmir Valley be allowed to secede from India.

The sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is as much a composite whole as the human body is. If there is an ailing part of the body, you diagnose the problem and take remedial measures, not carelessly, almost casually, suggest an excision and discarding of the offending section. In that case you may leave behind a cripple.

For those who advocate a referendum, here are some questions. Do they feel that Jammu and Kashmir legally and constitutionally cannot be considered a part of India? On what basis can there be a referendum in the Kashmir Valley, or separate referendums in Jammu, Ladakh and the Valley?

Since the India Independence Act, 1947, which is the fundamental legal document that provided the framework for the independence of India and Pakistan did not envisage independence for the princely states, on what basis can "independence" be considered as a so-called third option for the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

Would this not bring into question the legality of the creation of Pakistan and India too? Or are such sentiments the manifestation of a simultaneous bout of exasperation and giving in to the separatists who have been allowed quite unnecessarily to mount pressures in a sudden reversal of the peaceful situation that existed in the state prior to June 2008?

It is true that the UN resolutions of August 1948 and January 1949 (adopted by the UN Commission for India and Pakistan) talk of plebiscite or referendum. However, they are unequivocal and specific in making the proposed plebiscite in all the five regions of Jammu and Kashmir conditional upon (i) withdrawal of Pakistani troops from all the areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that it has occupied (this includes Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Northern Territories and the Shaksgam valley that has been ceded by Pakistan to China); and (ii) the withdrawal by Pakistan, from these occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir, of their tribesmen and nationals not ordinarily resident in these areas.

The UN Commission in an aide memoire issued on Jan 14, 1949, stated that in the event of Pakistan not implementing these pre-conditions, India's acceptance of the UN resolutions would no longer be binding on them. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking in Islamabad in March 2001, accepted the legal and practical difficulties in implementing the UN resolutions and hence their irrelevance. It is evident that the UN resolutions no longer provide any basis for holding referendums in the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed till October 1947, and there is certainly no provision for holding a referendum only in one part of the undivided state.

Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and will remain so. The constitution of Jammu and Kashmir itself recognises this. Any move to hold a referendum in any part of Jammu and Kashmir would contradict the fundamental provision in section 3 of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir that "the state of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India". Section 147 of the Jammu and Kashmir constitution prohibits any amendment of Section 3 by the state legislature.

It has been extremely distressing to see how over the last few days, some leading English language national dailies and television news channels have given so much space to the views of those who are advocating independence for Kashmir. It is even more disturbing, indeed alarming, that the advocates of independence for the Kashmir Valley are airing their views with clinical nonchalance and surprising lack of angst.

India is a free and democratic country and we are proud of it. In a democracy, the media plays an important role of watchdog. But freedom of expression does not mean unbridled licence to indulge in irresponsible behaviour. If the print and electronic media cannot act maturely and in the national interest, surely there are laws that can be applied to prevent the media from airing and fanning seditious views.

The Indian state has been built with the blood of thousands of Indian martyrs and soldiers and the vision of wise and farsighted leaders. We have never before even contemplated the option of independence for Kashmir. Why should we do so now? Do we want to give on a platter to Pakistan something it could not achieve either on the battlefield or across the negotiating table? Are the chattering classes now so self-absorbed in the pursuit of wealth that they have forgotten the values that keep our nation one? No responsible government can ever dream of compromising on the territorial integrity of India.

The territorial integrity of the country is not something to be trifled with. If you let Kashmir go, that's the signal for other states and disaffected groups within India to ask for the same thing. Where will matters stop? It is like unravelling a sweater. Let us not forget that the Soviet Union's journey down the slippery slope of disintegration started with Lithuania, by itself not important but hugely so for the message it sent out to other Soviet republics.

It is high time that the people of India and all national political parties raise their voices and come out unequivocally against anyone who advocates secessionism. Action should be taken against those who do not feel that they owe this basic loyalty to the Indian state. Does India not have anti-treason laws that should be applied to those who advocate secession of one part of a country?

Can the prime minister please take some time off from thinking about the India-US nuclear deal and do something to stop this madness before it is too late? It is high time that he reassures the people of India, publicly and unequivocally, about his government's commitment to India's territorial integrity.

(Rajiv Sikri is a former secretary in India's external affairs ministry. He can be reached at rajivsikri@gmail.com)


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