Kashmir: the obvious solution

In June I attended a reunion of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), in which I had served as deputy head from 1980-82. It was a well-attended gathering in Denmark of the Blue Berets of Kashmir 1981, and of course we talked of the deadlock over the disputed territory which we had all grown to like so much. 
In our days of service on both sides of the Line of Control the people were welcoming and hospitable and we could travel without fear of harm – but not without fear of restriction, because on the Indian side we were forbidden by the authorities to visit the very areas in which we were supposed to conduct ‘field tasks’ in order to ‘assess the quantum of forces’ and help in maintenance of peace. 

The Delhi government didn’t and doesn’t want the United Nations to be involved in Kashmir, in spite of the fact that there was – and remains – a Security Council resolution mandating that the “the Military Observer Group shall continue to supervise the ceasefire in the state.” Nobody has ever asked the UN Security Council to cancel that resolution.

An equally undeniable and (to Delhi) unpalatable UN resolution of 1948 states that “The Government of India should undertake that there will be established in Jammu and Kashmir a Plebiscite Administration to hold a plebiscite as soon as possible on the question of the accession of the State to India or Pakistan.” And the world is still waiting.

The feeling at the gathering of the Blue Berets of Kashmir was of deep regret that the disagreement between the countries, lasting from 1947 and caused by the maladroit machinations of Viceroy Lord Mountbatten had not been solved. We considered that both countries had cases to put, and that there couldn’t be a better place to present their arguments than the United Nations. And it so happened that our opinion has been given substance by the recent and most welcome international arbitration decision over a dispute between India and Bangladesh concerning their maritime boundary.

The UN’s Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a statement that “On 7 July 2014, the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration rendered its Award [which] establishes the course of the maritime boundary line between Bangladesh and India in the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, and the continental shelf within and beyond 200 nautical miles.” As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “A United Nations court drew a new maritime border in the Bay of Bengal, awarding more than three-quarters of a disputed area to Bangladesh and opening the way for more energy exploration in the sea. The ruling . . . settled a long-running territorial dispute between Bangladesh and neighbouring India. Both countries said they would abide by the decision.” End of message. There was a dispute between two countries that put their cases to the UN and accepted the mediation decision. Arbitration won. But the biggest winner was the cause of peace.

Although India welcomed the UN judgement about its maritime dispute with Bangladesh, it refuses to acknowledge that a UN decision about its territorial dispute with Pakistan could be equally acceptable. Why?

After all, the revered Mr Gandhi himself wrote on May 5, 1934 that “knowing that Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, it is one day bound to become a Muslim State.” The then Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, sent a telegram to his counterpart in Pakistan on 4 November 1947 declaring that “I wish to draw your attention to the broadcast on Kashmir which I made last evening. I have stated our government’s policy and made it clear that we have no desire to impose our will on Kashmir but to leave final decision to the people of Kashmir. I further stated that we have agreed on impartial international agency like the United Nations supervising any referendum.”

But India has for many years rejected impartiality concerning Kashmir. And now, in a petulant and juvenile gesture it has decided to punish the UN Observer Mission by telling it, as reported by Reuters, to “vacate a government-provided bungalow in New Delhi, in a toughening stance against a mission that Indians have long opposed.”

By this action India’s new nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party has demonstrated that it wants to continue the barren policies of its predecessor as regards Kashmir. The last external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, was adamant about rejecting mediation and in January stated that “We did hear some statements about giving access to third parties in this affair. I think we have moved away from that . . . we reiterate our position that these are bilateral issues and they should be settled bilaterally.”

No matter what may be claimed, Kashmir is not a bilateral issue, because the dispute remains on the books of the United Nations. India has tried for many years to convince the world that the 1972 India-Pakistan Simla (now Shimla) Accord following the Bangladesh war in some way invalidates UN Security Council resolutions regarding Kashmir. 

But the first paragraph of the agreement is “that the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the countries.” Then it states that “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.” 

It is perfectly obvious that, contrary to Indian claims, there is no legal exclusion of the UN or any third party from mediation over Kashmir, given the agreement to include “any other means” towards settlement – such as that employed to settle the India-Bangladesh dispute.

It is time for maturity and dialogue about the future of Kashmir. Far too much blood has been shed and far too much bitterness created. The obvious solution is for the UN Security Council to appoint a mediation commission to again analyse the problem and decide upon a binding solution. Then there will be peace. How annoying that would be for the extremists on both sides.

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com