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August 9, 2014 1:37 am

The idea of independence for Kashmir

By all customary moral and legal yardsticks, 18 million Kashmiris enjoy a right to self-determination. Kashmir’s legal history entitles it to self-determination from Indian domination every bit as much as Eritrea’s historical independence entitled it to self-determination from Ethiopian domination.  The human rights violations in Kashmir also militate in favor of self-determination every bit as much as Yugoslavia’s human rights violations and ethnic cleansing created a right to self-determination in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo.  Kashmir’s history of social and religious tranquility further bolsters its claim to self-determination every bit as much as East Timor’s history of domestic peace before Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 entitled it to self-determination in 1999. 

The princely state, after British suzerainty for a century, achieved independence on August 15, 1947 when British jurisdiction lapsed. At that time, Kashmir had chosen neither accession to Pakistan nor to India, which had been created as separate nations through a British partition along largely Hindu-Muslim communal lines.  Nothing regarding partition or the lapse of British control required Kashmir to renounce independence for absorption in a neighboring nation.

Kashmir was overwhelmingly Muslim, with Pandits, Buddhists, and Sikhs featured as welcome religious minorities.  The ecumenical religious atmosphere in Kashmir found expression in inter-religious friendships, neighborhoods, businesses, and mutual celebration or respect of religious holidays.  In other words, Kashmir was neither convulsed by religious strife, nor by religious extremists preaching fundamentalism from every mosque.  The Maharaja ruling over Kashmir, however, was an oppressive Hindu whose tyranny had sparked an indigenous insurgency.  The then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru, had voiced a consensus view that sovereignty in princely states like Kashmir had devolved on their respective peoples as of August 15, 1947; and, that the peoples’ voice should prevail in a plebiscite over the sovereignty ambitions of ruling maharajas in cases of conflict. In Kashmir, Nehru initially championed a plebiscite to determine its sovereign destiny. But the Prime Minister and his successors reneged on their international law obligation when they realized Kashmir would never vote accession to India in a free and fair election.  A commanding majority of Kashmiris covet independence, democracy, the rule of law and religious pluralism. 

When India first brought the issue to the United Nations, its representative, Gopalaswamy Ayyangar set out three options for Jammu and Kashmir: (a) accession to India, (b) accession to Pakistan and (c) independence.  When presenting his government's case to the Council on January 15, 1948, he stated, "The question … whether she [Kashmir] should withdraw from her accession to India, and either accede to Pakistan or remain independent with a right to claim admission as a member of the United Nations - all this we have recognized to be a matter for unfettered decision by the people of Kashmir." 

The possibility of the third option is reflected in the wording of more than one resolution of the Security Council.  Those adopted on March 14, 1950 and March 30, 1951 refer to " the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (to be) made in accordance with the will of the people expressed by the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations."  The phrase " final disposition" is inclusive; it has a wider meaning than "accession to India or Pakistan".  The Security Council used this expression not for convenience of drafting but because it would not be justified in foreclosing any option for the people of the State. 

idea of independence for Kashmir has in fact never been beyond the mental horizon of its people.  Ram Chander Kak, a Kashmiri Pandit leader and the Prime Minister of Maharaja recommended on July 19, 1947 that Kashmir remains independent of both India and Pakistan for a transitional period of at least one year, then take a decision on accession to India or Pakistan, or otherwise, in the light of developments.  Rugho Nath Vaisnavi, another Kashmiri Pandit leader stated that "Should not the accredited leaders of India, Pakistan and Kashmir sit together and agree to restore to the state its age-old status of sovereign independence it enjoyed all along before it was invaded and occupied by the Pathans, Mughals, Sikhs and Dogras? … Why cannot Kashmir be granted independent status?”

India’s economy would grow, not contract, with an independent Kashmir.  The end of turmoil in that country would attract investment in the region.  The free movements of goods and labor between Kashmir and its neighbors could be negotiated.  Economics is not a zero sum game, but a win-win game.  Prosperity is mutually reinforcing and beneficial between all parties competing on a level playing field. 

In the interim, several measures should be taken to ease the misery and tensions in Kashmir.  Human rights organizations should be given greater access.  India’s security forces should be thinned.  All political prisoners should be released.  Emergency laws which give India’s security forces immunity for human rights crimes should be repealed. The Cease-fire Line should be monitored by an independent third party, such as the United Nations or the European Union.  Kashmiri leaders should be permitted free exchanges across the CFL, and Kashmiri exiles should be allowed to return without hindrance or retaliation. 

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai

Secretary General

World Kashmir Awareness


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