Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India’s assertion that “there can be no redrawing of borders in Jammu Kashmir” and former Indian Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad’s recommendation “to restore the autonomy to the extent possible” need to be supplemented by some observations from the view point of the people of Kashmir. These deserve to be borne in mind by all those who wish the conflict to be justly resolved once and for all.
When the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1947-1948, the United States took the stand that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the territory. The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on 21 April 1948 which was based on that unchallenged principle. So the issue in Kashmir is about the right of self-determination which was agreed upon by both India and Pakistan, endorsed by the Security Council and accepted by the international community.
The concept to convert the existing cease-fire line into a permanent International boundary is an ideal non-existent solution. Any such suggestion is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Kashmir. One cannot imagine a better formula for sowing a minefield in South Asia that will lead them to a nuclear disaster. The people revolted against the status quo and status quo cannot be an answer? Also, Kashmiris wish to emphasize that their land is not a real estate which can be parceled out between two disputants but the home of a nation with a history far more compact and coherent than India’s and far longer than Pakistan’s. No settlement of their status will hold unless it is explicitly based on the principles of self-determination and erases the so-called line of control, which is in reality the line of conflict.
The idea of autonomy for Kashmir is an absolute fallacy. Here one has to rely on a provision of the Indian Constitution. All Constitutions of the world are subject to amendments and Indian Constitution is no exception. If not now, in the foreseeable future, the Indian legislature can delete this provision in the Constitution and the move will not even need a debate in the Parliament.
Secondly, Kashmiris have had the experience of a limited autonomy, which was first practiced under a personal understanding between Prime Minister Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah and later provided for by Section 370 of the Indian Constitution. Kashmir was granted autonomous powers over all sectors excluding communications, defence and foreign affairs. It was eroded and eventually whittled away by the forces of circumstances.
My opinion was confirmed by a poll conducted jointly by major news outlets on Aug 12, 2007: CNN-IBN and Hindustan Times in India and Dawn and News in Pakistan. A majority of those polled in Kashmir Valley (87% to be precise) preferred freedom (Azadi). The Azadi means both the rejection of line of control into an international border and rejection of concept of autonomy.
However, there is but one fair, just, legal, and moral solution to Kashmir which was provided by the United Nations. The procedures contemplated at early stage of the dispute at the United Nations for its solution may be varied in the light of changed circumstances but its underlying principle must be scrupulously observed if justice and rationality are not be thrown overboard. The setting aside of the UN resolution is one thing; the discarding of the principle they embodies is altogether another. So the settlement has to be in accordance with the wishes of the people; impartially ascertained; in conditions of freedom from intimidation.
Kashmiris are open to a constitutional dispensation that answers all of India’s legitimate national security and human rights concerns. With regard to the former, they are willing to explore permanent neutrality for Kashmir along the model of the 1955 Austrian State Treaty and a renunciation of war or the threat of force in international affairs along the model of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. They are willing to consider abandoning a military force like Costa Rica, Haiti, and Panama. Moreover, they hold no objection to providing community quotas in government offices along the lines of the 1960 Constitution for the Republic of Cyprus to safeguard against invidious discrimination of any religious or ethnic group, i.e., Pandit, Buddhist, Sikh, and Muslim alike.
With good faith by all parties common ground leading to a final settlement of the Kashmir tragedy can be discovered. An appointment of a special envoy by President Obama, like Bishop Desmond Tutu will hasten the way of peace and prosperity in the region of South Asia.