By: Dr G.M. Athar
“Jammu and Kashmir bears the direct brunt of animosity between India and Pakistan. … We have to create such a good atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir that India and Pakistan are compelled to come together.” — Mehbooba Mufti (Chief Minister of Indian-Occupied Kashmir)
The pro-independence political leadership of Jammu and Kashmir State has throughout maintained equidistant position from both India and Pakistan since the passing of India Independence Act by the British Parliament on 18th July 1947.
The autocratic Dogra ruler of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh had initially preferred to stay away from both India and Pakistan to keep intact the sovereignty and territorial integrity of his kingdom. Mehr Chand Mahajan the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir did offer an identical Standstill Agreement to both India and Pakistan through a telegram on 12th August 1947. In order to play hung-geopolitics, the Maharaja did not deliberately spelt out the details of the Standstill Agreement to bargain the quantum of his sovereignty with both the dominions. Even when the tribal raid took place in Kashmir on 22nd October 1947, the Maharaja sent his Prime Minister to Delhi for military help from India. But, while negotiating with the Indian premier, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he informed him that in case his state is not provided instant military help, he has the instructions from the Maharaja to visit Lahore and negotiate with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the then Governor-General of Pakistan.
The Maharaja was thus in a position to secure Indian military help from India by fulfilling Nehru’s just one demand, i.e. to appoint Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as the Emergency Administrator of the state. There is no authentic proof to suggest that Maharaja did actually sign any accession with the Indian Union. The Government of India did not submit any copy of the Instrument of Accession—as they claim signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on 26th October 1947—to the UN Security Council to prove that the accession of the state with Indian Union had taken place prior to the landing of Indian troops in Kashmir on 27th October 1947. Pakistan has time and again questioned the authenticity of the Maharaja’s accession of Jammu and Kashmir with Indian Union.
In 1955, when Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beigh and his associates established Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front, the options for Pakistan and India, in addition to the third option, i.e. independence, were retained in the party manifesto to play the hung-geopolitics. The equidistant policy of Kashmiri leadership encouraged Pandit Nehru to send Sheikh Abdullah in May 1964 to Pakistan to convince the leadership there to have a confederation of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. The sudden death of Nehru, however, did cast its shadow on the proposal as Abdullah had to return back to Delhi.
Pakistan rendered its material and moral support to the Plebiscite Front, on the one hand, and India too engaged itself with the Kashmiri leadership, on the other, to find out a way forward. The bargaining power of Plebiscite Front leadership however minimized because of Pakistan’s dismemberment after the Indo-Pak War of 1971 and the signing of Shimla Agreement between the two countries in 1972.
Before the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly elections on 23rd March 1987, various anti-establishment groups including Jamaat-e-Islami joined hands to form Muslim United Front (MUF) mainly pointing out that the National Conference had capitulated before the Centre for the sake of power and bartered away the special status of the State. Efforts were made to arouse Muslim sentiments along communal lines. The Muslim United Front, largely present-day Hurriyat, believed that it would win the elections in the Kashmir Valley; that’s why its leaders were in touch with the then BJP leaders in Jammu to form a coalition government in Srinagar. The MUF did also adopt the policy of hung-geopolitics as it took the stand that the Kashmir problem needs to be resolved on the basis of Shimla Agreement. By taking such a position, it wanted to assume political power by contesting the elections under the Indian constitution while it did also acknowledge an important role for Pakistan in resolving the Kashmir problem, thereby hoping to secure greater autonomy, if not complete freedom, for the state. But, the elections were heavily rigged, changing the course of politics in the state.
During the turbulent phase of militancy in Kashmir in late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the over-ground politics had taken a back seat. In order to be politically relevant, 26 political, social and religious organizations of Kashmir formed an umbrella organisation called All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) on 9th March 1993, as a united political front to raise the cause of Kashmiri independence. The APHC also continued the policy of hung-geopolitics, as it demanded the implementation of UN Resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir.
The UN Resolutions have conferred the status of a party to the Kashmir dispute to both India and Pakistan. The alternative stand of APHC to resolve the Kashmir problem through tripartite negotiations also confers the status of basic party to both India and Pakistan. The APHC is, in fact, neutralizing the role of India in Kashmir by upholding an important role for Pakistan to create a hung-geopolitical situation wherein the independence of Kashmir becomes a viable option for both the countries.
Nevertheless, the hung-geopolitics played by the Kashmiri leadership has its own lacunas. The two countries have not been in a position to resolve the Kashmir dispute over the past seven decades. There is no guarantee that they would amicably resolve it in the decades to come or would resort to a full-scale war for having control over the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir as both have nuclear deterrence to avoid any misadventure over Kashmir.
In order to have a movement forward, there is an urgent need to devise a pragmatic strategy for resolving the decades-old Kashmir problem. India must roll back the centre-state relations to defence, foreign affairs and communication. Pakistan, on the other hand, must recognize at least the territory of Azad Kashmir as an independent country as the people of this territory have revolted against the Dogra autocracy in spring 1947 and established the Azad Government of Jammu and Kashmir on 24th October 1947.
The sovereign government of Azad Kashmir will be better positioned to mobilise the international opinion for holding referendum in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The recognition of Azad Kashmir as a sovereign nation can enable it to establish a professional, disciplined and responsible national army not only to guard its borders but also to liberate Kashmir from Indian control, if other options will fail. Muslim countries and the democratic nations of the world can render the financial, technological and manpower support to Azad Kashmir to emerge as a powerful nation. If thousands of Kashmiri youth have crossed the border in 1980’s and 1990’s to seek arms training from Pakistan to liberate Kashmir, why will not they cross the border to join the national army of sovereign Azad Kashmir. The creation of an independent Azad Kashmir will also restore confidence among the people of Kashmir that Pakistan is sincere about the total freedom of Kashmir. Pakistan has an alternative option of making Azad Kashmir as its Protectorate till the latter acquires the required military strength to defend its borders against the hostile neighbours.
Till Pakistan recognises Azad Kashmir as an independent country, the ongoing political resistance in Kashmir has to be directed to establish the sovereign Protectorate of Kashmiristan. The Kashmiri youth must indulge in nation-building by devoting their time and energy in pursuit of education and training to develop the human resource potential of Kashmiristan. Once the National Army of Independent Azad Kashmir is established, if the need may arise, they can join the army as the citizens of an independent country to pursue their national political goals.
The establishment of the Protectorate of Kashmiristan can go a long way in fulfilling the political aspirations of the people of Kashmir. A transparent regional referendum in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir is the direst need of the hour. The government of India must fulfil the promise Lord Mountbatten and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made to the people of Kashmir on 27th October and then on 2nd November 1947, to know their wishes. The traditional stand of the government of India to equate the ratification of the accession by 64 members of Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly on 6th February 1954 with the exercise of the will of the people is not only misleading but also provocative for the people of Kashmir. India must be ready to bite the bullet and face the reality in Kashmir.