The dispute over the status of Kashmir can be settled only in accordance with the will of the people which can be ascertained through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite, internationally supervised. This was the common ground taken by all the three parties to the dispute – viz.: the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. It was supported without any dissent by the United Nations Security Council – and prominently championed by the United States, Britain and France.
It became a matter of controversy only after India realized that she could not win the peoples’ vote and, in conditions of the cold war procured the support of the Soviet Union for its obstructionist strategy. Therefore, any progress towards a solution was blocked by India’s refusal to accept that the withdrawal of forces on the two sides should be balanced and synchronized. When President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee (of Britain) appealed that the points at issue be submitted to arbitration by the Plebiscite Administrator designate and India turn down the appeal, the Commission terminated its mediatory mission. From 1950 to 1957, a succession of Presidents of the Security Council or the United Nations representatives — General McNaughton (Canada), Owen Dixon (Australia), Frank Graham (United States) and Gunnar Jarring (Sweden) made intense efforts to secure India’s agreement to stage-by- stage demilitarization of the State so that a free Plebiscite could be held. They all failed, as did informal mediators like the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth countries.
Since then the Kashmir situation has been met with studied unconcern by the United Nations. This has given a sense of total impunity to occupation authority. It has also created the impression that the United Nations is invidiously selective about the application of the principles of human rights and democracy and will condone even a blatant breach of these principles when it wishes not to displease the offending party. There is a glaring contrast between the outcry over the massacre in Tiananmen Square, on the one side, and the official silence (barring the faint murmurs of disapproval) over the killing and maiming of a vastly greater number of human beings in Kashmir, through repetitious acts. The systematic violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions have evoked no official international censure. Reliable estimates of civilian causalities put the number around 100,000 since 1990. Women and children are particular targets of the organized sadism of the occupation forces in Kashmir.
But the potential elements of a peaceful solution have been in place for nearly 67 years. The key principle that the people of Kashmir have the right, and should be provided the opportunity to decide the status of their land is laid out in the international agreements embodied in the United Nations Security Council resolutions and not only the governments of India and Pakistan, but the United Nations itself is committed to it. While alternative modalities can be subject of negotiations, the principle has no substitute as the basis for an enduring settlement the principle that the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir must be ascertained in seeking any final settlement.
We welcome the confidence building measures both for reducing the human carnage in the 67-year-old Kashmir conflict and for setting a constructive tone for peace talks. However, the dispute will not, and cannot, be solved bilaterally by the two countries. The so-called dialogue now going on between them is a mere charade which is deluding no one. This is only consistent with the whole history of the dispute.
We urge the United Nations to maintain, indeed to intensify, its watch over the situation in Kashmir and not to be lulled into the belief that the dialogue between India and Pakistan, in the form and at the level it appears to be contemplated at present, and without the participation of the accredited leadership of the people of Kashmir, will soften the conflict or lessen the urgent need for mediatory initiatives. The policy that aims at merely defusing the situation, whatever that may mean, and not encouraging a credible settlement have not paid in the past. It is likely to do even less now.
The Kashmiri leadership is mindful of the urgings by the United States that India and Pakistan keep talking to each other. It would be perverse on the part of anyone to oppose that course of action. But to expect a breakthrough in talks is to ask for miracles. We do not believe that all that the United States desires is to lend a veneer of peace and normalcy to a situation which in reality destroys the roots of peace and is strikingly abnormal. It would be irresponsible on our part to encourage the hope that if the Governments of India and Pakistan are willing to depart from the stand of principle, the compromise will be endorsed by the people of Kashmir and by the elements sympathetic to them and thus generate peace. We hope that the world powers, including the United States will persuade the two governments to engage in focused negotiations with the APHC about the procedures to be set in motion to bring about a settlement of the dispute. Despite the grief and suffering of the people of Kashmir, they are prepared to make constructive contributions to that end.
The present situation inside Kashmir makes it clear that, if talks between the New Delhi & Islamabad are to mean anything, they must be accompanied by practical measures to restore an environment of non-violence. The future talks at the official level can be useful if they reflect a sense of urgency and prepare the ground for an earnest effort at the highest level to frame a step-by-step plan of settlement. Mere continuance of talks at a leisurely pace will in no way defuse the situation. Unintentionally though, it will mock the agony of the people of Kashmir rather than assuage it.
The global involvement in Kashmir will not only end the bloodshed and suffering in Kashmir, but also will have a direct positive effect on international security by eliminating regional fighting, national tensions, and the risk of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. It is in everyone’s interest to settle the Kashmir conflict peacefully without further delay. We don’t want to see the horrific nightly scenes from Kosovo and Bosnia replaced by an even greater catastrophe in Kashmir.
The global community has a long and proud tradition of upholding the causes of human freedom and dignity. Kashmir calls urgently for initiatives in accordance with that tradition.
Dr. Fai can be reached on: [email protected]
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