Kashmir was prominent on Former President William Jefferson Clinton’s agenda during his Dec. 2, 1998 meeting with then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It richly deserved that prime billing.
Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint as well as a human rights tragedy. The way the dispute relating to its status has been handled is a mockery of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions.
In May 1998, the nuclear clock jumped dangerously forward. India conducted several nuclear tests, and Pakistan quickly answered in kind. Despite economic sanctions imposed by the United States for such nuclear adventurism, later softened by new congressional legislation, both India and Pakistan have remained resistant to signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have hedged their professed receptivity to subscribing to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with several problematic conditions. Even if both South Asian rivals signed the CTBT and a companion Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty, moreover, both would still possess nuclear capabilities that could be swiftly weaponized and delivered by missiles and aircraft.
In other words, a nuclear- and missile-free zone in South Asia is a pipedream in the foreseeable future. Indeed, India’s BJP prime minister recently boasted of missile developments and an intent to warehouse fissile materials necessary for nuclear warheads.
But that need not occasion unrelieved gloom. More important to international peace and security than warheads are the fuses that could ignite nuclear exchanges. In South Asia, that fuse is Kashmir, which has already provoked two wars between India and Pakistan and remains a combustible Kashmiri-Indian conflict.
On Aug. 15, 1947, the princely state of Kashmir achieved independence when British paramountcy lapsed. A Hindu maharaja ruled over a predominantly Muslim population that was then in revolt against his oppressive regime. In January 1947, the Muslim Conference had captured a majority of seats in the legislative assembly, and on July 19, 1947, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference had passed a resolution urging accession to Pakistan after independence arrived.
An indigenous insurrection erupted when the maharaja flouted these manifestations of popular sentiment. In hopes of saving his collapsing despotism, the Hindu ruler summoned the assistance of the Indian military on Oct. 27, and purportedly signed an instrument of accession to India. British scholar Alistair Lamb, however, has persuasively demonstrated its fraudulent character in his recent book, Incomplete Partition.
A new negotiating formula is required to resolve the conflict.
In any event, India accepted the accession conditioned on the approval of Kashmiris in a free and fair plebiscite, the same formula India had thrust on the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh featuring Muslim rulers over majority Hindu populations. Then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru explained to his Pakistani counterpart: “The question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view, which we have repeatedly made public, is that the question of accession in any disputed state or territory must be decided in accordance with the wishes of people and we adhere to that view.”
India’s military occupation of Kashmir did not end the indigenous uprising in favor of Kashmiri self-determination. It provoked war with Pakistan and the entry into Kashmir of freedom fighters from neighboring countries. United Nations Security Council resolutions accepted by India stipulated a cease-fire and a Kashmiri self-determination referendum under United Nations auspices.
The former stipulation has been implemented, but the latter has been scorned by India for 50 years. Fearful that Kashmiris would never voluntarily place themselves under its rule, India reneged from its espousal of self-determination and asserted a “might makes right” theory of international law. It unilaterally announced that Kashmir had lost its sovereignty and become an integral part of the Indian nation.
That announcement, however, failed to quell the indigenous Kashmiri demand for self-determination. Fighting and strife has ebbed and flowed in the disputed territory ever since. The struggle against Indian authorities escalated in 1989 after another rigged legislative election caused widespread resentment among Kashmiri youths and their seniors.
Routine Human Rights Abuses
Since that time, massacres in Kashmir have resulted in 60,000 deaths. Rape, torture, plunder, abductions, arbitrary detentions, and shelling of civilian homes have become routine, as reported by every human rights group that has observed the grisly Kashmir scene, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Pakistan and India have exchanged belligerent words over Kashmir during the past year, and a cease-fire line has been repeatedly violated. Many six-day tete-é-tete between the prime ministers of the two estranged nations brought no change in the bilateral Kashmir stalemate that has marked the last half-century.
A new negotiating formula is required to resolve the Kashmir conflict peacefully and in accord with international law and to remove it as a probable cause of nuclear volleys in South Asia. President Bush should inject the United States as an impartial mediator, and appoint a special envoy on Kashmir, a measure that has proved successful in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Further, genuine representatives of the Kashmiri people who categorically renounce violence and terrorism as instruments of political change should be invited to the negotiating table as partners, namely, leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference. Kashmiris, after all, should have a voice when their political destiny is at stake.
A revamped negotiating equation is no guarantee of ending the Kashmir conflict, but the attempt seems justified given the magnitude of the nuclear, human rights, and international law issues at stake. Why shouldn’t the international law violations in Kashmir which threaten nuclear war and occasion harrowing human rights violations and deaths receive the same type of serious response which the United States showered on Iraqi President Saddam Hussain for defying a United Nations Security Council resolution? If international law is important in Iraq, why isn’t it equally important in Kashmir?
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the executive director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council.