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September 28, 2018

Back to square one


September 28, 2018

The hope rekindled for contact between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in the backdrop of an exchange of letters between the prime ministers of both countries and their agreement to resume dialogue, has once again been torpedoed by India.

We are back to square one. The reason reportedly given for the cancellation of the meeting by the Indian government is that in light of the killing of three Indian policemen in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), the mutilation of a BSF officer, and the release of stamps glorifying martyred Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani, the atmosphere isn’t congenial for talks.

This represents a typical Indian ploy to wriggle out of its commitments to hold a dialogue. There are credible portents to suggest that no resumption of dialogue between both countries is possible under Modi – at least before the 2019 general elections in India.

Notwithstanding the fact that Kashmir is acknowledged as a nuclear flashpoint at the global level, neither the UN (through its resolutions) nor the global community – including the US and its allies, who cry hoarse from every convenient rooftop to profess their credentials as champions of humanitarian causes and the right to self-determination – have shown any interest in nudging Pakistan and India towards resolving the dispute in an amicable manner.

They have even turned a blind eye to the endless Indian atrocities in IOK and the blatant violation of human rights, which have also been acknowledged in a UNHCR report. Their criminal indifference stems from their strategic and commercial interests in the region, and the help they have received from India to keep the burgeoning Chinese influence under check in the region and beyond. This has ostensibly encouraged India to suppress the freedom struggle in Kashmir through the brutal use of force.

Pakistan has made innumerable overtures to India to resume dialogue between both countries with a view to start a new era of amity by resolving all disputes, including the Kashmir issue. But it hasn’t received a positive response from India. Pakistan’s overtures are rooted in the irrefutable reality that tranquility, economic progress and shared economic prosperity in the region is inextricably linked to the resolution of disputes between the two countries.

History bears witness to the fact that freedom movements cannot be subdued with the barrel of the gun. Once the people decide to demand their freedom and right to self-determination, no power on earth can stop them. Mahatma Gandhi reiterated this fact in a speech at a prayer meeting on October 26, 1947. He said: “If the people of Kashmir are in favour of opting for Pakistan, no power on earth can stop them from doing so. They should be left free to decide for themselves”.

It is noteworthy that Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly expressed his commitment with the people of Kashmir and the UN with regard to the accession of Kashmir. In a statement in the Indian parliament on February 12, 1951 he said: “we had given our pledge to the people of Kashmir and subsequently to the UN; we stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide”. On May 18 1954, he reiterated this commitment while addressing the Indian Council of States. He said: “So far as the government of India is concerned, every assurance and international commitment in regard to Kashmir stands”.

While the Indian government kept expressing its commitment to the UN resolutions, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference recommended that a constituent assembly should be convened in a resolution passed on October 27, 1950. On May 1, 1951, the head of IOK government issued a proclamation with regard to the formation of the constituent assembly. Polls were held in August-September 1951. In his first address, Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the National Conference who won a majority of seats in the constituent assembly, demanded that the state’s constitution should be framed and a reasoned conclusion should be provided regarding the accession of Kashmir.

In Resolution 91, the UN Security Council quashed Sheikh Abdullah’s suggestion and reiterated that the question of accession couldn’t be settled by any means other than a plebiscite held under the auspices of the UN. However, the assembly ratified the state’s accession to India through a unanimous vote on February 15, 1954. The constitution of the state, which came into force on January 28, 1957, stipulated that “the state of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”.

But the UN Security Council, through Resolution 122, endorsed Resolution 91 and re-emphasised the need to settle the question of accession through a UN-sponsored plebiscite. Nevertheless, in defiance of UN resolutions, the Indian government began asserting that Kashmir was an integral part of India. The UN was logically and legally correct in taking this position because the constituent assembly didn’t represent Kashmir and, therefore, wasn’t in a position to take such a vital decision on behalf of all Kashmiris.

Even though India has maintained that Kashmir is an integral part of the country, it has also been acknowledging its disputed status. Archival evidence suggests that after the 1962 Sino-Indian war Swaran Singh – the then foreign minister of India – and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – who was the foreign minister of Pakistan – held talks under the auspices of the UK and the US regarding the Kashmir dispute. The talks were inconclusive and their contents were not declassified. According to a declassified US State Department memo from January 27, 1964: “Pakistan signified willingness to consider approaches other than a plebiscite and India recognised that the status of Kashmir was in dispute and territorial adjustment might be necessary”.

In the Simla Agreement, signed in the wake of the 1971 war, the two countries resolved to settle all their disputes, including Kashmir, through peaceful means. This also negated India’s position that Kashmir was an integral part of its polity. In the Lahore Declaration, signed between the two countries in 1999 during former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit, both the countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Simla Agreement and agreed to undertake a number of confidence-building measures (CBMs). The commitment to the Simla Agreement once again recognised the fact that Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Unfortunately, the process of CBMs hasn’t attained any positive direction despite the fact that the leaders of the two countries have met each other on the sidelines of international forums, reiterating their resolve to resume dialogue that has invariably failed to take off due to India’s lack of commitment.

Instead of focusing on dialogue to settle disputes with Pakistan, India has opted to rev up tensions through continuous violations of the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, and the killing of Kashmiris protesting against Indian occupation.

Dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir conundrum and build bonhomie between the two countries is absolutely essential to ensure peace in the region. The sooner this fact seeps into the minds of the Indian leadership, the better it will be. Turning a blind eye to the ground realities could prove to be disastrous for the entire region.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]