January 5th – Remembrance of Self-determination in Kashmir

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The status of Jammu and Kashmir has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since both became independent in 1947. A U.N. commission obtained acceptance on January 5, 1949 by both parties of a peace plan involving a cease fire, demilitarization of the state and a plebiscite under the supervision of a U.N. appointed administrator. The Security Council urged that the people of Kashmir will have right of self-determination to decide the future status of their homeland. The resolution was negotiated with both India and Pakistan and accepted by all five members of the Commission, Argentina, Belgium, Columbia, Czechoslovakia and the United States. The cease-fire took effect accordingly, but the plan bogged down when India balked at implementing the demilitarization phase, which envisioned a synchronized withdrawal by the forces of both India & Pakistan. The situation lapsed into a stalemate.

We recalled the statement made by Sir Benegal Rama Rau, the Indian delegate during the 399th meeting of the Security Council in January 1949, that “On behalf of my Government, I can give the assurance that it will not only cooperate to the utmost with the Commission itself towards a settlement in Kashmir, but also with the United Nations in securing peace everywhere, because it believes that this organization offers the only hope for peace for future generations, on a secure basis.” Sir Rau further assured the Security Council on March 1, 1951, “The people of Kashmir are not mere chattels to be disposed of according to a rigid formula; their future must be decided on their own interest and in accordance with their own desires.”

On November 2, 1947, Prime Minister Nehru reiterated, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given and the Maharaja supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it."

The train of broken promises over Kashmir might be forgiven if the consequences were innocuous or inconsequential. But I submit the opposite is the case. India exerts an iron-fisted rule over Kashmir. With approximately 700,000 military and paramilitary troops in the territory, gruesome human rights violations are perpetrated with immunity. Torture, rape, plunder, abduction, arson, custodial disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and ruthless suppression of peaceful political dissent have become commonplaces.

Violence erupts, predictably, in Kashmir. The cold-blooded murder of Altaf Ahmad Sood of Boniyar, this week is a grisly reminder of the brutality that Kashmiris endure as a result of their dream of freedom.

Today however, the international community is upholding the position of principle that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and the aspirations of the people. It was also upheld equally by the world powers, including the United States, Britain and France when Kashmir dispute erupted in 1948.

On 15 January 1962, the American representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson stated that: “… The best approach is to take for a point of departure the area of common ground which exists between the parties. I refer of course to the resolutions which were accepted by both parties and which in essence provide for demilitarization of the territory and a plebiscite whereby the population may freely decide the future status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is in full conformity with the principle of the self-determination of people which is enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter as one of the key purposes for which the United Nations exists;”

This may be regarded as history but there is no reason why, when the human, political and legal realities of the dispute have only not changed but have become more accentuated with the passage of time, it should now be regarded as irrelevant.

Kashmiris’ claim to self-determination is exceptionally strong even without the United Nations recognition. Kashmir has been historically independent, except in the anarchical conditions of late 18th and the first half of 19th centuries. The territory of Kashmir is larger in size than 121 independent countries and bigger in number than 117 nations of the world.

Certain characteristics of the situation in Kashmir distinguish it from other deplorable human rights situations around the world. First, it prevails in what is recognized under international law and by the United States as a disputed territory.

Second, the situation in Kashmir represents a government’s repression not of a secessionist or separatist movement, but of an uprising against a foreign occupation. Kashmiris cannot secede from a country to which they have never acceded to in the first place. So, Kashmiris cannot be called secessionist.

Third, the fact that Kashmir met with studied unconcern by the U.S. administration has given a sense of total impunity to India. It has also created the impression that the U.S. is selective in its application of human rights and democracy, and will condone even a blatant breach of these principles if it wishes to protect the offending party.

Fourth, it is a case of the U.N. being unable to address a situation to which it has devoted a number of resolutions and where it has established an official observer presence, though with a limited mandate. The Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), stationed in Kashmir to observe the cease-fire between India and Pakistan, is one of the U.N.’s oldest peacekeeping operations.

These peculiarities become more baffling because the mediatory initiative which would halt the violations of human rights and set the stage for a solution would entail no deployment of U.S. troops, no financial outlays and no adversarial relations between Washington and New Delhi.

The United Nations resolutions on Kashmir acquire a continuing decisive importance from two crucial factors. One, they constitute the only international agreement freely negotiated between India and Pakistan on the future status of Kashmir. Two, they embody the only principle on whose basis a just and durable settlement of the Problem can be achieved—the principle of freedom of choice by the people concerned. Both India and Pakistan signed their acceptance of the United Nations resolutions when neither was at a disadvantage or under any kind of coercion.

True, sixty-four years have passed since the resolutions were passed but as many years have gone since the Charter of the United Nations was adopted. Lapse of time does not invalidate international agreements. However, both Pakistan & India and the freedom-loving Kashmiris must signify their willingness to consider any arrangement which conforms to the same principle as did the United Nations resolutions and may be more feasible in the changed circumstances of today.

The U.S. option is to play a more activist mediating role by initiating a new peace process for Kashmir. This could take the shape of a pentagonal dialogue involving the U.S., China; India, Pakistan and Kashmir, or an appropriate use of the new mechanisms and abilities of the United Nations. In either case the U.S. would supply the necessary catalyst for a settlement.

To succeed, the American response to the Kashmiri situation must be based on the principles of the right of a people with a distinct historical and cultural identity to decide their own future; the sanctity of international agreements worked out by the United Nations; a peaceful and stable subcontinent free from the possibility of a regional nuclear exchange; and the consistent application of human rights standards. Such an approach could lead to a just and peaceful resolution of the 64-year old dispute that would be a lasting credit to U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration. On the other hand, reluctance to undertake such an initiative neither contributes to a long-term strategy of global peace and security nor answers the demands of human conscience and the principles of justice.

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