Kashmir and the road to freedom

 The British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), a founding father of geopolitics, described Kashmir as one of the primary strategic pivots of the world but he did not envisage that the disputed territory, spanning some 92,000 square miles and roughly equivalent in size to Great Britain, would ignite two of the three Pakistan-India wars and eventually become a nuclear flashpoint. The international community cannot absolve itself of the blame for allowing the situation to deteriorate to the dangerous extent that it has because it did not redeem its pledge through several resolutions of the Security Council that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir would be made in accordance with the will of its people expressed through a plebiscite conducted under UN auspices.

Admittedly, more than half a century has passed since the adoption of these resolutions but this does not undermine their validity. UN resolutions remain in force till they are either implemented, or abrogated by a subsequent resolution or withdrawn through the mutual agreement of the concerned parties. It is no less true that the Security Council resolutions on Kashmir were adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter and therefore have no mandatory enforceability but this does not diminish the moral responsibility of the international community to ensure their implementation.

The fundamental flaw in Pakistan’s India policy is that it has been influenced either by sabre-rattlers or by peaceniks. The former instigated the 1965 Pakistan-India war, the 1999 Kargil conflagration and pursued a low-intensity conflict in Kashmir. The latter pursued appeasement and did not heed Konrad Adenauer’s timeless observation that "an infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured." Both failed to advance a just settlement in Kashmir and resultantly durable peace eluded South Asia.

Pakistan describes Kashmir as "the core issue" in its relations with India. It occupied the moral and legal high-ground so long as there was no doubt that its Kashmir policy was based on the UN Security Council resolutions. However Islamabad undermined its own credibility through insidious backchannel talks with India as a result of which the emphasis on the centrality of the Security Council resolutions was diluted.

The extent of compromise was evident from Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf’s four-point proposal which were spelt out in his book In the Line of Fire as: (i) the identification of the geographic regions of Kashmir that need resolution; (ii) the demilitarisation of these regions and curbing "all militant aspects of the struggle for freedom" as that would "give comfort to the Kashmiris who are fed up with the fighting and killing on both sides;" (iii) the introduction of self-government in the identified regions in order to "let the Kashmiris have the satisfaction of running their own affairs without having an international character and remaining short of independence;" and (iv) "a joint management mechanism with a membership consisting of Pakistanis, Indians, and Kashmiris overseeing self-governance and dealing with residual subjects common to all identified regions and those subjects that are beyond the scope of self-governance."

New Delhi’s Kashmir policy is even more flawed and is based on the myth that the state is an integral part of India. This was articulated as early as October 1947 by V P Menon, who rose from the ranks to become one of the highest ranking civil-service officers in British India. On his return from Jammu, after obtaining the Instrument of Accession from Maharaja Hari Singh, he is said to have waved the document at Alexander Symons, the British High Commissioner to India, exclaiming jubilantly: "Here it is! We have Kashmir. The bastard signed the Act of Accession. And now that we have got it, we will never let it go." However, in his letter of acceptance, Governor General Mountbatten wrote that "as soon as law and order have been restored in Kashmir…the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people."

Despite Menon’s outburst even New Delhi initially acknowledged that the territory was disputed. On Jan 1, 1948, when India brought the Kashmir issue before the UN Security Council, its representative conceded to the right of Kashmir to withdraw its accession to India, and "either accede to Pakistan or remain independent, with a right to claim admission as member of the United Nations." Much later, on Aug 7, 1952, Nehru told the Indian parliament "…Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts; if however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their will…"

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reminded a tribal jirga at Landikotal on Nov 27, 1972 that India’s first Home Minister, Sardar Patel, had once offered Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad and Junagadh but "unfortunately" this was rejected. Subsequently New Delhi claimed that the so-called constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir had unanimously ratified the Instrument of Accession and had adopted a constitution that called for the perpetual merger of the state with India. This was never recognised by the international community and was rejected by the people of Kashmir.

Years of repression by the Indian occupation forces, the calibrated low-intensity conflict pursued by Islamabad and the indifference of the international community to the violation of human rights have cumulatively resulted in the emergence of a new reality. A rapidly growing segment of opinion amongst the people of Indian-Held Kashmir, estimated in 2008 at some 6.9 million, want complete independence whereas the UN resolutions only gave them the option of joining either India or Pakistan.

Though more than a hundred unarmed civilians have been killed since June, the demand for azadi (freedom) has become shriller with each death. The strength of the movement is that it is entirely indigenous; its weakness is that it is not within the ambit of the Security Council resolutions. However accession to Pakistan as permissible under the UN resolutions, would guarantee, according to Ashraf Jehangir Qazi in his op-ed piece in The News of June 12, 2010, "the substance of the azadi option" because article 257 of the country’s constitution "gives the Kashmiris the right to determine their relationship with Pakistan."

Hidebound policies that do not take emergent realities into account can have disastrous consequences. Pakistan and Indian must realise that the overarching threat they both now face is from terrorism. This is a compelling reason for a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute. It will enable Islamabad to concentrate its military resources in the fight against terrorist outfits along its western border. Both countries will benefit. The tension-steeped equation between them has taken a dreadful toll. Pakistan is at the brink of an economic meltdown; India is home to 38 per cent of the world’s poor and eight of its states are more impoverished than twenty-six of the poorest African countries.

The first logical step in the Pakistan-India normalisation process is to heed the voice of the Kashmiri people. There is a lesson for New Delhi in the lines from George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, set in colonial America during the Revolutionary era: "And now, General, time passes; and America is in a hurry. Have you realised that though you may occupy towns and win battles, you cannot conquer a nation?" This encapsulates the spirit of the Kashmiri people and their demand for azadi.

The writer is the publisher of Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed @gmail.com