My suggestion to resolve the Kashmir dispute 18 June 2013
As I see it, history tells us three things about the Kashmir dispute:
1) that the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)—or J&K-ites, as I call them—instigated the dispute over J&K’s status;
2) that J&K-ites have never been asked in any inclusive or meaningful way what international status they want for their state;
3) that India and Pakistan have not been able to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
In my book Kashmir: The Unwritten History (publication information below), I have detailed how people in J&K actually instigated the struggle over whether J&K should join India or Pakistan—and not outsiders as India and Pakistan have long claimed. These J&K-ites did so before the Maharaja of J&K acceded to India on 26 October 1947. This makes J&K-ites the first party to the Kashmir dispute, not the third. Certainly, J&K-ites are stakeholders in this dispute if only because it is actually over their lands.
Nevertheless, J&K-ites have never been consulted about J&K’s international status even though, after accepting the Maharaja’s accession in 1947, Indian officials proposed that there should be “a reference to the people” about this matter. In 1948, the United Nations resolved that a plebiscite should be held to enable the people of J&K to determine whether J&K, in its entirety, should join India or Pakistan. Officially, Pakistan still desires that this poll be held. Thus, at some stages, India and Pakistan have deemed that the people of J&K should be involved resolving J&K’s status.
The United Nations-supervised plebiscite for J&K-ites has long been ‘dead’. Pakistan couldn’t agree to its preconditions; India felt that it would ‘lose’. Equally, India and Pakistan have not resolved their dispute over possession of J&K. The only thing clear from their various discussions since 1947 is that both nations are prepared to divide J&K between them. The issue for them now is where this division should be.
The inability of India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute suggests that the involvement of a third party might be helpful. There are some useful historical precedents: the United Nations brokered the 1949 ceasefire that ended the 1948 India-Pakistan war; the World Bank helped India and Pakistan to agree their Indus Waters Treaty in 1960; the United Nations helped resolve the Rann of Kutch incident that preceded the 1965 India-Pakistan war, with this resolution occurring in 1968.
A feasible third party that could help resolve the Kashmir dispute is the people of J&K. Under Section 1.ii of the 1972 Simla Agreement, India and Pakistan agreed to “settle their differences … through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon”. Both nations therefore could “mutually agree” to allow J&K-ites, who certainly have sufficient knowledge and will, to try resolve the Kashmir dispute.
I call this process “Let the People Decide”. It is fully detailed in the Conclusion to my book. Essentially, it involves India and Pakistan allowing delegates from each of J&K’s five regions* that want to be involved, to cross the Line of Control as required and have meetings in various locations throughout J&K. The aim is for them to discuss the Kashmir dispute and, eventually, to offer a solution, or solutions, to resolve it.
*(J&K’s five regions are: Azad Kashmir; Gilgit-Baltistan; Jammu; Kashmir (the Kashmir Valley); and, Ladakh.)
There should be no timeframe for these discussions. Rather, J&K-ites’ representatives should take as long as they need to resolve the issue of their state’s international status. India and Pakistan should be kept informed about the discussions, and of any progress. J&K-ites should ratify any solution/s that are finally proposed. If J&K-ites’ representatives can’t resolve the Kashmir dispute, then it should to revert to India and Pakistan.
The term “Let the People Decide” comes from a speech with this title given by Jawaharlal Nehru in August 1952. He stated that “we will give [J&K-ites] a chance to decide [the future of J&K]. We propose to stand by their decision in this matter.” While Nehru was talking about conducting the UN plebiscite in J&K, the title and thrust of the speech are, I believe, still applicable.
The great challenge is to get India and Pakistan to agree to this approach. However, as noted, involving J&K-ites in resolving the Kashmir dispute is not a new idea. Rather, it is a lapsed proposition. Certainly, after almost 66 years, all parties to the Kashmir dispute would benefit from having this matter resolved. J&K could then become a bridge between India and Pakistan—rather than a bitter item of contestation and hostility. Let the People Decide!
(Kashmir: The Unwritten History was published by HarperCollins India in February 2013. It was first published by Hurst and Co., London, and by Columbia University Press, New York, as The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir. It was republished using this latter title by Oxford University Press, Karachi, in January 2013.)
18 June 2013