The Kashmir question is one of the oldest unresolved international disputes in the world. The issue has been pending on the agenda of the Security Council since 1948. At that point, an agreement took place between India and Pakistan, endorsed by the United Nations that guaranteeing the right to self-determination to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The people of Kashmir who have never lost hope in the United Nations have since that date sought to freely exercise their right to self-determination. India, however, was soon undeceived of its delusions over Kashmir’s political yearning. Recognizing that its people would never freely vote accession to India, it contrived excuse after excuse to frustrate a plebiscite. India’s proclamation has never been accepted by the United Nations, which continues to list Kashmir as a disputed territory.
President Barack Obama confirmed that opinion in New Delhi on November 8, 2010 when he said that Kashmir obviously was a long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan. He also said that both Pakistan and India had an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries.
The Kashmir dispute primarily involves the life and future of 16 million people of the land. Because of its impact on relations between India and Pakistan, however, it directly affects the peace and stability of the South Asian subcontinent. This is a region which contains one-fifth of the total human race.
The experience of nearly six decades has shown that the dispute will not go away and that an effort is urgently required to resolve the dispute on a durable basis. It is imperative that real populations with a pronounced sense of identity of their own, with their suffering and their aspirations rather than just legal title and merit are involved.
Kashmir is the Gordian knot of peace and prosperity in South Asia. A just and final resolution of its sovereignty in accord with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is of utmost regional and international importance. Kashmir is the most densely soldiered and most nuclear combustible territory on the planet. It stands apart as the most cantankerous of conflicts, with the catastrophic possibility of nuclear devastation. After all India and Pakistan have fought three wars and nearly began a fourth with the ever-present threat of nuclear exchange.
The persistence of this problem has been a source of weakness for both India and Pakistan. It has diminished both these neighbouring countries. This has been a fact in the last century and it is underlined by the unfolding environment of the twenty-first century. The world powers draw great satisfaction from India’s striking economic progress which will enable India to play its rightful role as a great power. But a great power cannot afford disputed boundaries if it wishes to maintain or enhance its prestige and influence.
The lesson of history – both old and new – is that peace is impossible if a people or nation is treated as a negotiable pawn by big powers. The most harrowing example is appeasement of Hitler at the expense of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. In more recent times, East Timor remained convulsed for 27 years after its illegal occupation by Indonesia until self-determination was accepted in 1999. The recent peaceful processions of more than 1 million people testify that the people of Kashmir covet their freedom and sovereignty no less intently.
Kashmir is not beyond a solution if all the parties involved – Pakistan, India, and Kashmiris – make concessions. The next step is not to craft a solution, but to set the stage for crafting a solution. Key to that objective is an appointment of a person of international standing like Bishop Desmond Tutu by the United Nations.
The grave situation in Kashmir demands that it should be brought to the attention of the Security Council. Whether this could be done successfully depends on the attitude and policies of the permanent members, but they should be left in no doubt that any failure to resolve the problem could lead to serious disorders throughout the South Asian Subcontinent and possibly to yet another war between India and Pakistan, with incalculable consequences for the whole world, since both states now have nuclear capabilities.
The question arises what should be the point of departure for determining a just and lasting basis? The answer obviously is (a) the Charter of the United Nations which, in its very first article, speaks of ‘respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’ and (b) the international agreements between the parties to the dispute at the Security Council.
By: Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive director, The Kashmiri American Council, Washington, DC, USA.