Saturday January 29, 2022

Demilitarising Kashmir

March 29, 2018

Pakistan claims that 52 of its citizens were killed in 1,300 ceasefire violations by India along the Line of Control (LoC) in 2017. The latter claims that Pakistan violated the ceasefire agreement 780 times during the same period.

Ironically, most people killed on both sides of the LoC are the people of Kashmir who are paying a heavy price for their struggle as compared to the sacrifices that our forefathers made to gain independence from the British. Although the Kashmir dispute may be a difficult issue to resolve, the impasse should not be at the cost of Kashmiris. Millions have sacrificed their lives since 1947 and the entire Kashmir region has suffered immensely. Though talks have intermittently been held between India and Pakistan, they usually revolve around semantics and have failed to address many outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

The mere inclusion of Kashmir in the agenda of these talks generates so much heat that it takes the charm out of the negotiations. If and when we agree to talk about Kashmir, India starts to harp on the theme of returning Azad Kashmir to it instead of talking about the valley. The process once again ends up in a quagmire.

A solution to this imbroglio is to involve third parties in such talks. India has opposed this move in the past as it possibly fears that it would once again internationalise the issue. India wants to avoid repeating the mistake it made in 1948 by referring the dispute to the UN on Viceroy Mountbatten’s advice.

Last year in June, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had offered to help resolve the ongoing conflict by meeting the Pakistani and the Indian prime ministers. The Indian government predictably told him to mind his own business since pacts like the Simla Agreement had made the conflict a strictly bilateral issue. But Pakistan welcomed the offer.

India claims that Kashmir became part of its territory based on an instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja. It ignores the fact that the accession was conditional on a reference to a popular vote under impartial auspices. Any reference to the violations of human rights in Kashmir is accordingly rejected by India as an interference in its internal affairs. A solution to the issue has to be found if we want to live in peace in South Asia. If we cannot agree on the involvement of other states in helping us resolve the issue, then both countries should at least implement what was agreed at the UN Security Council in 1948.

What the Security Council recommended was nothing out of the blue: it was the inescapable principle that the future status of Jammu and Kashmir should be decided by the will of the people of the valley. The two elements of a peaceful settlement were the demilitarisation of the state (ie. the withdrawal of both Indian and Pakistani forces); and a plebiscite supervised by the UN.

Pakistan missed the boat at that stage. It should have grabbed the ball at that very point to insist upon ascertaining the desires of Kashmiris. There is now no point sawing the sawdust. However, a strategy must be devised to opt for a resolution that accounts for modifications that have taken place over the years. India insists that Kashmir is an integral part of its polity. It now believes that the developments within the valley could weaken its chances of winning a plebiscite.

Although it was proposed many decades ago, the principle that the disposition of the territory in dispute must be in accordance with the will of its people can still be implemented as truly as it would have been when the Security Council passed the resolution.

The first step that both countries can take in this regard is demilitarisation. Incidentally, demilitarisation within Kashmir Valley will immediately improve the state of human rights. If and when this is accomplished, both countries can take the next step to hold a referendum to determine the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

Pakistan and India can also avoid this course of action and continue with the status quo. Seven decades have already passed in agony and we can easily pass another seven decades exchanging fire along the LoC. But is this what we want? Don’t the people of Kashmir deserve a better deal? Shouldn’t we try to reach a stage when people can travel across the border between both countries in the same way that the French and Germans do despite having been involved in two World Wars?

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court. Email: