A Tide in Kashmir’s History

As Shakespeare would have said, from the nettle of terrorism danger in South Asia a flower of safety can be plucked for Kashmir, which has been vivisected by India and Pakistan, and Kashmiris. The Bush Administration deserves applause for recognizing the centrality of Kashmir to its South Asian foreign policy and the urgency of accommodating the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

At present, the prospects are unpropitious. But the gruesome alternative – more carnage, more terrorism, and more grief – should concentrate minds wonderfully. If there is anything worse than protracted warfare and convulsions in Kashmir for all parties concerned, it does not readily come to mind.

A good starting point for statesmanship is Mahatma Gandhi. He cannot be said to be disloyal to India. What Gandhi urged in 1947 regarding Kashmir has lost neither force nor wisdom with time: “The real sovereign of the State [of Kashmir] are the people of the State. If the ruler is not the servant of the people then he is not the ruler…The people of Kashmir should be asked whether they want to join India or Pakistan. Let them do as they want. The ruler is nothing. The people are everything.” As acclaimed India maven Stanley Wolpert has written in “Gandhi’s Passion,” “Had independent India the courage to endorse Gandhi’s faith in self-determination for Jammu and Kashmir State, it should have agreed to hold a plebiscite there immediately, rather than fighting futile wars over the next half century without reaching any agreement…as to the fate of Kashmir’s long suffering people.”

The United Nations Security Council has been involved in the disputed territory since 1948, when it first adopted a resolution mandating a self-determination plebiscite to end the conflict. That resolution has slumbered unimplemented for 54 years because of India’s fear and fair vote would reject accession to its sovereignty.

India, however, has paid a steep price for its intransigence. Multiple billions in dollars and hundreds of thousands in military and paramilitary personnel have been squandered in propping up a popularly reviled puppet civilian government in Kashmir. Elections there are virtually universally boycotted as symbolic expressions of indigenous dissent. The so-called Afghan based terrorism was not the crux of the Kashmir resistance to India’s colonial-like rule when it commenced in October 1947, and it is not the crux today. It is inconceivable that India would be impotent to crush terrorism in the territory if it enjoyed even a crumb of popular support. But it doesn’t for twofold reasons: India has apostatized from its categorical pledge of self-determination for Kashmiris, akin to Great Britain if it had broken its promise of independence for India after World War II. India’s human rights record in Kashmir has been equally squalid. In the last decade alone, it has featured more than 70,000 extrajudicial killings coupled with commonplace torture, rape abductions, plunder, custodial disappearances, detentions without trial, and ruthless suppression of peaceful political dissent. India’s military forces have been cloaked with legal immunity for human rights atrocities in Kashmir, which only aggravates their propensity for cruelty.

International precedents now in vogue, nevertheless, provide optimism about extricating Kashmir from its wretchedness and which should appeal to moderates in India’s political constellation. As was done in East Timor in 1999, the United Nations Security Council should organize and conduct a plebiscite on Kashmir’s future and deploy a peacekeeping force to ensure a free and fair voting climate. The voter registration and campaigning should consume 6-12 months. India and Pakistan should be persuaded to maintain a cease fire and to thin their military presences. The plebiscite should be free from any external coercion or intimidation.

Can any reasonable India, Pakistani, or Kashmiri voice be raised against this blueprint resolution to the chilling Kashmir tragedy of epic proportions? Shouldn’t it be at the apex of negotiating agenda between the three chief parties to the disputed territory – Indian, Pakistan, and Kashmiris – mediated by the United Nations Security Council?

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the executive director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council.

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