The history of India-Pakistan dialogue for the resolution of Kashmir dispute is vast. It in fact entails everything within its ambit, from genesis to complexity of the problem. Scores of books have been written about Kashmir problem. Almost every month a book on Kashmir problem arrives in the market- some honest, some distorted, some tailored, but I am of the view that people who have been living through the trauma and braving death and destruction can chaff truth from untruth. It may not be possible for me to do justice to the subject within few pages. However I will make an effort to address the topic given to me in the right historical perspective.
‘Another war is ominous’. ‘India and Pakistan are sitting on a volcano that could erupt any time.’ ‘The sub-continent is on the brink of a nuclear holocaust’. These pithy sentences have dominated the media and echoed in the sub-continent for past sixty years and are at present resonating from hilltops in India and Pakistan. These sentences in fact run parallel to the history of India and Pakistan as independent nations. These sentences are a part of the tragic Kashmir narrative.
The problem of Jammu and Kashmir tumbled into the polity of the sub-continent along with departure of the British imperialists. And ever since the birth of this problem the relations between the two countries have been oscillating between diplomacy and war, and war and diplomacy.
The date and facts of accession; wars and diplomacy; mediations and interventions and dialogues and peace process all are interconnected. And it is difficult to look at one aspect in isolation from the other. For understanding the complexity of Kashmir problem it is always better to take a holistic view.
The story of Kashmir dispute started at about 9.00 A.M on October 27, 1947, when troops airlifted from India started landing at Srinagar airfield. The landing of troops in Srinagar was justified by Government of India by stating that the troops were sent as was requested by the ruler of the state; and only after he had decided to accede to the Indian union. Whether an ‘instrument of accession’ was signed or not, and if signed, whether the Maharaja had the moral and legal authority to have signed any such agreement that granted India right to send its troops into Kashmir is controversial at best. There are historians who refute the claim that Maharaja Hari Singh actually signed the so called ‘instrument of accession’. It is not in the state archives.
There are historians who have challenged legality of the ‘instrument of accession’. But, there is no dispute over “accession being presented to the world as conditional and provisional”. In his letter dated October 27, 1947, the first Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten declared:
“Consistently with their policy that in case of any State where the accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance to wishes of the people of the state, it is my government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invaders the question of the States accession should be settled by reference to people.”
The landing of troops at Srinagar Airfield provoked a chain of reactions in Pakistan. It objected to sending of the Indian troops. The question of accession in the words of Prof. Robert G. Wirsing, “became overnight a matter of India-Pakistan relations” . Sending of troops to Kashmir was the decision of Lord Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru and it had no support from Indian people. Many other Indian leaders were averse to the idea but their voices were drowned in the din of war cries. “The Statesman editorially criticized the decision of the airborne operation”. Mr. Stanley Wolpert, a great South Asia expert, in his recent book on Partition of India, ‘Shameful flight’- the Last Years of British Empire in India, writes, “Yet even as Nehru spoke of battle raging in Kashmir, his own high commissioner to Pakistan, Sri Prakasa, admitted to Mountbatten that “for the sake of peace all round’, the best thing India could do was to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan.” Nehru was annoyed with Prakasa and informed him, “Kashmir is going to be drain on our resources but it is going to be a greater drain to Pakistan”
Historians like Wolpert believe that sending troops to Kashmir was not out of love for the land that Nehru’s forefathers had left three centuries earlier to get jobs in the Mughal Courts, nor was it for coming to the rescue of the fugitive Maharaja. But it was to make Pakistan bankrupt. “Nehru”, Writes Wolpert, “was not only obsessed with protecting and at all costs defending Kashmir, but believed, as did Patel, that the war over Kashmir would swiftly bankrupt Pakistan. ” Father of Indian nation Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi was worried over sacrificing the interests of rural India and starving of rural construction works of funds by waging war in Kashmir’ “By December Gandhi was convinced that by airlifting ‘everything to support war’ in Kashmir India was recklessly throwing away its fortune while ignoring needs of its “starving millions”.
With more and more details emerging about the 1947 happenings Jawaharlal Nehru’s role becomes more puzzling and enigmatic. Even M.J. Akbar, the author of Nehru’s biography has expressed doubts about Hari Singh ever having formally requested assistance. He writes, “ Nehru and Patel were both determined to send the army into Kashmir whether Hari Singh asked for them or not. No final decision was taken, but V.P. Menon was directed to fly to Kashmir and talk to Hari Singh”. Stanley Wolpert maintains that Menon returned form Jammu on October 26 without any document signed by Hari Singh. Indian troops landed in Srinagar the following day.
It is not possible for me to go into details about the events that took place from 22nd to 27th October. There is no consensus amongst historians about the happenings during the period and there are as many versions as there are histories. Majority of the Indian historians have been giving details as contained in the whitepaper published by Government of India immediately after the events took place. So are the versions from Pakistan, by and large based on the official versions. To arrive at an honest conclusion there is need for undertaking fresh research on the subject. That could get facilitated once India and Pakistan declassify the documents about the period. Meanwhile, independent Western historians like Alastair Lamb and Stanley Wolpert have arrived at the conclusion that no ‘instrument of accession’ was signed before Indian troops took control of Srinagar. The conclusion that can be drawn is that the document was faked or signed under duress.
While India was engaged in fighting against armed men from tribal areas and the rebellious elements from the army of Maharaja Hari Singh, a consensus about holding plebiscite for determining the future of the state had already emerged. In the words of Alastair Lamb, “Thus when Kashmir broke out, plebiscite was already established as the official Indian solution to this order of problem.” Nehru had made India’s policy on this count amply clear to Prime Minister Attlee through a telegram. New Delhi’s proposition of deciding future of Jammu and Kashmir was endorsed by Governor General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 28th October 1947. This was followed by lots of parleys between the two countries. “From October 28 to December 1947 there took place a series of India-Pakistan discussions over Kashmir question.’ The meetings took place at all levels. On 8th November 1947 a meeting between two very senior officials, V.P. Menon and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali took place and a detailed scheme for holding plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir was worked out. Lamb holds that this had apparent approval of Indian Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel. How to arrange a plebiscite in the state engaged the attention of Indian and Pakistani leaders. Notwithstanding Pundit Jawaharlal’s “reservations” about foreign intervention, the two countries debated and discussed the employment of British officers or the United Nations for the purpose. Some historians hold the view that there was an agreement between India and Pakistan to take Kashmir problem to the United Nations.
On January 1, 1948, India brought the Kashmir issue to the attention of the United Nations. India’s representative at U.N. Mr. P.P. Pillai lodged a complaint under article 35 of United Nations charter. Historians both in India and outside call referring of the issue a as colossal blunder. Akbar called it as the “most serious error”. “Had this issue been settled on the battlefield, the world would have forgotten it” Writes Prof. Wirsing, “But it was not decided in the battlefield; instead, it was placed on the agenda of the United Nations.” The United Nations, to the disappointment of Indian delegations adopted resolutions guaranteeing the right of self-determination for the people of the state. It also devised mechanism that would enable people of the State to exercise this right. Debate over these resolutions continued, and from time to time many other resolutions were passed in the august body strengthening the resolutions passed in 1948 and 1949
Between 1950 and 1958 UN appointed three Commissions for finding out a solution of Kashmir problem. On 12 April,1950 Sir Owen Dixon was appointed UN representative for India and Pakistan. In April 1951 Dr. Frank Graham replaced Dixon; and on 12th February 1957 Security Council authorized Mr. Gunnar Jarring, President of the Security Council to hold talks between India and Pakistan on demilitarization and holding of talks. These commissions despite their best efforts and pragmatic approach failed to resolve the dispute. Indian and Pakistani leaders frequently met to iron out their differences. Prime Minister of India, and Prime Minister of Pakistan met in July in Karachi. Another meeting was held between them in August, 1953 in New Delhi. This meeting was seen as a step forward and appointment of a Plebiscite Administrator by the end of 1954 was agreed upon and an expert committee was appointed for the purpose, but no agreement was signed. In 1960 Indus Waters Treaty was signed. It was also decided that dialogue would be initiated for finding a solution to Kashmir problem. Then followed Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhuttoo’s meetings. Six rounds were held between December 1962 and May 1963. The end product of these meeting was in the words of Swaran Singh “Bhambhal Bhoosa”
India-Pakistan dialogue evolved a pattern, a distinctive pattern – ‘wars were followed by dialogues’ a failed dialogue was followed by war”. The 1965 war if seen in true perspective was a failure of the marathon talks. The post 1965 period marked a consistent war of attrition between the two countries. The 1965 war in the words of Pakistan journalist-turned-politician, Mushaid Hussain “turned out to be the first step in accentuating the yawning chasm between East and West Pakistan, which subsequently gave birth to the third world’s first successful secessionist struggle.” In the post 1965 situation Kashmir by and large was relegated to the back burner. Pakistan’s backyard was full of problems, the East Pakistan was boiling with rage against domination by the West wing and this took an ugly turn and the country got dismembered. Mrs. Gandhi not only created history but changed geography by carving yet another country in the sub-continent. The 1971 a crushing defeat of Pakistan changed entire political spectrum in the sub-continent. The Shimala Agreement changed the contours and connotation of Kashmir problem.
If we see that Kashmir re-entered into India-Pakistan discourse only after Prime Minister of India wrote in October 1993 to Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhuttoo for holding a comprehensive dialogue on Kashmir. This was followed by Foreign Secretary talks in which Kashmir was included.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was passionate for finding out a solution to the Kashmir problem- as dove amongst hawks he made history by visiting Minar Pakistan in Lahore and sending sufficiently signals of friendship.
If we see the ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan it has its origin. And this dialogue seems to be nearer to logical conclusion. If Pakistan Foreign Minister is to be believed a solution of Kashmir problem was on anvil. this was how it is was believed in 2007. In 2008 India wriggled out of dialogue on the pretext of situation in Pakistan being mercurial and now 2009 has been heralded with war slogans once again dominating the sub-continent.