On Resolving the Kashmir Imbroglio

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Addressing both factions of the Pakistan based Hurriyat during his recent visit to Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had stated that, “As I have roots in Kashmir, I am emotionally attached with the issue and so I want to end the miseries of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” While his supporters have welcomed Sharif’s public expression of his personal solidarity towards the people of Kashmir, his detractors hold that the wily Sarif has merely invoked the emotive issue of his “roots” just to play to the gallery. To support their contention, they quickly refer to Sharif’s purported statement made during his address to the budget session of the ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir Council that, “Kashmir is a flashpoint and can trigger a fourth war between the two nuclear powers at anytime.” 

However, let’s leave the controversy on the issue of Kashmir being a flashpoint aside as the same has since been officially denied and be fair to Sharif by accepting that by mentioning the issue of his Kashmiri “roots”, he is merely voicing his personal commitment towards resolution of the ‘K’ issue. And if this be so, then there is indeed no doubt that Sharif can certainly achieve what his predecessors in all these years could not. However, there is an inherent catch which has largely gone unnoticed, as in the cacophony of demands for implementation of the ‘right to self determination’ promised by the UN resolutions and the firm belief that this would automatically culminate in ‘azadi’ (independence) for Kashmiris, we have, in our exuberance, failed to realise that our expectations are contradictory and not complimentary, as we assume them to be. As this may sound confusing, if not ludicrous, let me explain.

The UN resolutions envisage a referendum in which the people of both Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) and PaK would exercise their ‘right to self determination’. However, while Pakistan may wax eloquence highlighting its commitment towards the ‘K’ cause and denounce New Delhi’s obduracy in implementing the UN resolutions on Kashmir in IaK, it has not once expressed that it is willing to show the way by agreeing to hold a referendum in PaK.  On the contrary, by introducing the clause in Part 7(2) of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974, stipulating that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan,” it has denied people of PaK their democratic right of dissent. This not only puts a question mark on the freedom of expression which PaK residents enjoy, but also makes the very issue of holding any referendum in PaK , ipso facto “illegal!” 

It may have also have escaped public notice, but the fact is that despite calling upon New Delhi to respect the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, Islamabad always adds the caveat of “in accordance with the UN resolutions.” And this seemingly innocuous statement conceals a far more serious aspect regarding the referendum as it clearly implies that as far as Pakistan is concerned, the ‘right to self determination’ as well as ‘aspirations’ of the Kashmiris does not include the option of ‘azadi’ or complete independence as the UN resolutions give the Kashmiris only the choice for either opting to stay with India or Pakistan. It is therefore no great wonder that while Pakistan may continue to ‘humour’ the separatists by saying that their demand for participation in any discussions on Kashmir is justified and should be fulfilled by New Delhi, Islamabad on its part has never attempted to ever make this a pre-requisite for Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir. 

Unfortunately, our leaders seem to be so enthused by the idea of being the first ones to be called by visiting Pakistani dignitaries for a meeting and so overjoyed by the diplomatic embarrassment this causes to New Delhi that they do not realise that this is merely a ‘ceremonial’  gesture of no significance or consequence. The same also holds good for all the tall promises made by the visiting Pakistani dignitaries of firmly putting across the separatists’ viewpoint during the course of the meetings. Thus, inspite of the fact that Kashmir invariably finds only a non-committal reference in the post- meeting Indo- Pak joint declarations, the separatists never seem to garner the courage to express their disappointment or ask the Pakistani delegation to press for ensuring their presence in any future discussions on Kashmir, even if it is only in the capacity of mere ‘observers’. 

While the idea of joining Pakistan may have a popular appeal for various reasons, there are also many who consider this a ‘Hobson’s choice’ since any such a ‘merger’ would be a far cry from the idea of ‘azadi’ that has been instilled into them and what they aspire for, as in crude terms, for them this would be merely mean exchanging an ‘iron cage’ with a ‘golden one’. Thus, while the UN resolutions remain the corner stone of the ‘right to self determination’ struggle, seldom do we find our leaders or the intelligentsia debating the contours of ‘Azad’ Kashmir once these UN resolutions are implemented. And we have become so obsessed with the UN resolutions on Kashmir that we have failed to notice that these have an inherent flaw and have never considered challenging its parochial content that has effectively reduced the ideological issues precipitating the Kashmir problem to a mundane ‘territorial dispute’ between India and Pakistan.        

To call the UN resolutions on Kashmir ‘flawed’ may sound sacrilegious but is true. It needs to be remembered that the UN resolutions on Kashmir were not due to Pakistan’s reservation on the ‘accession’ of Kashmir to India, but the result of India complaining about Pakistani ‘aggression’ meant to end hostilities between the two countries and not to adjudicate on the status of J&K. Thus, it was obviously not structured to meet the associated issues related to the legality of the State’s accession to India. Jammu and Kashmir is home to people of various religious and ethnic denominations and as such, deserves to have the right to reject ‘merger’ with both India as well as Pakistan and instead opt for complete independence. In 1947, a plebiscite was held in Sikkim and once its people opted to stay out of the Indian Union, New Delhi accorded a protectorate status to Sikkim, controlling the state’s external affairs, defense and communication. Since such an option was given to the people of Sikkim in 1947, there is no reason why the UN resolutions should have foreclosed this option for the Kashmiris!

The time has come when we can no longer afford to indulge in wishful thinking and need to face the reality even it is bitter. We have to accept the fact that despite the UN resolutions on Kashmir, the international community has no serious inclination of getting involved in resolving this problem as it has now unfortunately acquired the status of a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and Pakistan. However, since both countries stake claim on J&K, no government in New Delhi or Islamabad can hope to survive after giving up its claim over this State and thus, though the idea of resolving the Kashmir issue through bilateral dialogue may sound encouraging, but being impractical, is just out of question. Therefore, under these circumstances, our leaders have no other option but to shed their obstinacy and explore ‘out of the box’ solutions.  And even though a section of the Hurriyat has outrightly rejected Musharraf’s ‘four point formula’, would it not be worth giving this proposal another relook- just for discussion sake at least?    

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