In Recognition of U.N. Plebiscite Day

April 13, 2021
Author: Dr. Ghulam N. Mir
Image credits: The Kootneeti

Every April 21, the World Kashmir Awareness Forum (WKA) recognizes Plebiscite Day. The day commemorates the United Nations Security Council’s 1948 adoption of resolution 47, which calls for self-determination for Jammu and Kashmir through a free and fair plebiscite. Seventy-three years have passed since the security council called for the people of Kashmir to chart their futures, and we are still waiting. In this post, we will examine the history of how the resolution came to be and the trail of broken promises that have led to this mandate being unfulfilled.

Origins of the conflict

After World War II ended, the independence of the Indian subcontinent from the United Kingdom became realized. The partition created the modern nations of Indian and Pakistan, as well as East Pakistan, which eventually became Bangladesh.

Before the partition, Jammu and Kashmir were administered under the British Paramountcy – essentially a protectorate of the British Monarchy – ruled by a Hindu maharaja. At the end of British rule, Jammu and Kashmir were given a choice: stay independent, join Pakistan, or join India.

Before a full plebiscite could be taken, uprisings in the Western regions of Jammu and Kashmir occurred and were aided by armed Pushtun tribes from Pakistan, which, in turn, caused the maharaja to ascend to Indian rule. Indian troops soon invaded Kashmir and began the first of several wars over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

U.N. Resolution 47

On January 1, 1948, India petitioned the U.N. to intervene as a matter of preserving internal peace. It claimed that the Maharaja’s ascent to Indian rule made Kashmir Indian territory, and the attacks by Pakistani tribesmen amounted to an attack on its sovereignty. India requested U.N. intervention and prepared to set up a Plebiscite and acknowledge the results of a free and fair election.

The U.N. passed resolution 39 – which established a three-person council to examine the complaints and investigate the conditions on the ground. However, as deliberations continued, so did the fighting.

In March, Resolution 47 was authored by the Republic of China, which outlined a plan for peace and plebiscite. This plan stipulated:

  1. Pakistan must make its best endeavors to withdraw nationals and tribesmen within the region.
  2. India must reduce its military forces to the minimum amount needed to keep law and order in the provinces.
  3. India would create a plebiscite administrator that was nominated by the U.N. A coalition administration would be formed to administrate the states of Jammu and Kashmir. Finally, political prisoners would be released, and the refugees would be allowed to return.

The U.N Security Council passed the resolutions with nine nations in support and the Soviet Union abstaining.

In search of an elusive peace

For those living in Jammu and Kashmir, U.N. Resolution 47 is essential to self-determination and a hopeful end of the violence that has plagued the region since the partition. However, the promise remains unfulfilled, and it is important to understand why.

From the moment the ink dried on the resolution, it was being undermined. U.N. Diplomat Josef Korbel thought that the resolution was too timid, as did U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Warren R. Austin. The resolution required good faith on behalf of Pakistan and India to achieve its stated objectives, rather than giving authority to the U.N. to achieve them.

When the resolution met the reality on the ground – there was no way to implement the stated goals. India wanted Pakistan held responsible for the invasion and the violence in the region. Pakistan called for the removal of all Indian troops from the region. Then-Prime Minister of Pakistan Sheikh Abdullah called for Pakistan to be excluded from any plebiscite and decried the terms of the resolution as too broad and too difficult to implement.

While both India and Pakistan welcomed U.N. involvement, they have also undermined the peace process, ensuring a frustrating status quo and violence that has continued until the present day.

The violence continues

Since 1947, India and Pakistan have waged four wars over Kashmiri territory. Without lasting peace, the chances of another conflict remain likely. These direct armed conflicts were waged in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The 1965 conflict was one of the largest armored engagements post-World War II and resulted in the deaths of between seven and thirteen thousand soldiers. The 1999 conflict represented the first time in human history that two nuclear powers fought a hot war against each other. The unresolved Kashmir situation represents one of the most likely scenarios where nuclear war could be triggered.

Additionally, homegrown insurgency and atrocities have been perpetrated against the people of Kashmir. This includes a 1990 protest in which Indian troops massacred peaceful protesters who were petitioning the U.N. to uphold the term of Resolution 47.

In the aftermath of the 1965 conflict, both the Indian and Pakistani governments promised to resolve the Kashmiri conflict via bilateral discussions. This was reaffirmed after the 1999 conflict. Yet, these promises remain unfulfilled.

The call for peace continues

It is the goal of WKA to bring awareness to Kashmiri self-determination, highlight the atrocities committed, and call for an end to the bloodshed. Though promises of peace have been repeatedly broken, the peace process remains the only viable option to bring about an end to the violence.

In 2020, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called once again for U.N. resolution 47 to be implemented, and a plebiscite conducted. Guterres personally called for mediation and India to “respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms” of the Kashmiri people.