“People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future.”
— Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (July 6, 1951)
The mountainous region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 60 years. The dispute over this ‘Paradise on Earth’ is the core issue between both the nuclear neighbours. This world’s oldest unresolved international conflict has bedevilled the Pak-India relations to such an extent that both countries have not been able to assume any significant role on the world stage. Both countries are so dogged by this issue that repeated summit meetings by leaders of both nations as well as top-level official level meetings have not achieved anything positive, except wars and cross-border fires. Each time the president or premier of either country pays a “historic” visit to neighbouring nation, high hopes are raised about prospects of bilateral ties, but nothing solid comes out.
It’s a known fact that the perceptions in India and Pakistan about what constitutes the dispute are totally different. Pakistan regards it as an unfinished agenda of the Partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 and as an issue of granting the right of self-determination to the Kashmiris, a principle also upheld by the UN Security Council resolutions. India, on the other hand, regards it as its territorial issue. It asserts that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that Pakistan is occupying Indian territory. The impasse has resulted with India occupying two-thirds of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan administering one-third, with an UN-recognised ceasefire line — Line of Control — separating them.
Although a lot of efforts have been made to resolve this long-standing dispute, here are some possible scenarios of the future of the Kashmir Dispute:
1. The Status Quo
In 1947-48, India and Pakistan fought their first war over Jammu and Kashmir. Under United Nations’ supervision, they agreed to a ceasefire along a line which left one-third of the state administered by Pakistan and two-thirds by India. In 1972, under the terms of the Simla agreement, the ceasefire line was renamed the Line of Control (LoC).
Although India claims that the entire state is part of India, it has been prepared to accept the Line of Control as the international border, with some possible modifications. Both the US and the UK have also favoured turning the Line of Control into an internationally-recognised frontier.
But Pakistan has consistently refused to accept the LoC as the border since the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley would remain as part of India. Formalising the status quo also does not take account of the aspirations of the Kashmiris.
2. Kashmir Joins Pakistan
On 2nd November, 1947 India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawharlal Nehru announced on All India Radio that “Kashmir future will be decided by the means of plebiscite”. It essentially meant that the allegiance of the state of Jammu and Kashmir would be decided by the Kashmiris. Had the majority voted in favour of Pakistan, the whole state would have become part of Pakistan.
However the promise of plebiscite is still pending. India claims that people’s participation in elections shows that people are happy and there is no demand for any plebiscite. Pakistan and those opposing this viewpoint on the other hand say that the elections have never been free and fair in Kashmir and when they have been so, the people have voted for governance issues like roads, electricity and other amenities, and not for sorting out the Kashmir dispute.
However the demand for a plebiscite to be held, as recommended by the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten in 1947, and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, is still considered by Pakistan as a way of letting Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination.
3. Kashmir Joining India
In 1947, the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir agreed to the state becoming part of India. India and Pakistan then agreed to hold a plebiscite to confirm which country Kashmir’s citizens wanted to join. The Indian Government believed that the majority population, under the charismatic leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, would vote to join India, with its secular constitution, rather than Muslim Pakistan. If the plebiscite had been genuinely held and the majority had voted in favour of India, Pakistan would have had to relinquish control of the Northern Areas and the narrow strip of Jammu and Kashmir. But, sensing an impending defeat of its aspirations, India has intentionally kept shut the door of plebiscite. Moreover, such a solution would be unlikely to bring any stability to the region as the Muslim inhabitants of Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir have never shown any desire to become part of India.
4. Independent Kashmir
In the 1960s, following discussions between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir, a group of Kashmiris demanded that the entire state should become independent as it was prior to the Maharajah’s accession to India in 1947. But, the difficulty of adopting this as a potential solution is that it requires India and Pakistan to give up territory, which they will not be willing to do. Any plebiscite or referendum likely to result in a majority vote for independence would therefore probably be opposed by both India and Pakistan. It would also be rejected by the inhabitants of the state who are content with their status as part of the countries to which they already owe allegiance. And in view of the likely regional instability, an independent Kashmir is not supported by the international community either.
An independent Jammu and Kashmir might also set in motion the demand for independence by other states in both India and Pakistan and lead to a “Balkanisation” of the region.
5. A Smaller Independent Kashmir
If, as the result of a plebiscite, which offered the option of independence, the majority of the inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley chose independence and the majority of the inhabitants of Azad Jammu and Kashmir also chose independence, a smaller, independent Kashmir could be created by administratively joining these two areas together.
This would leave the strategically important regions of the Northern Areas and Ladakh, bordering China, under the control of Pakistan and India respectively. However both India and Pakistan would be unlikely to enter into discussions which would have this scenario as a possible outcome.
Regardless of the aspirations of the inhabitants, to date neither country has contemplated a situation where the end result would adversely affect their own interests.
6. Independent Kashmir
The movement for independence in the Kashmir Valley gained momentum in the late 1980s when Kashmiris protested against their continuing allegiance to the Indian Union. In the present day, if a regional plebiscite offered independence as an option, it is possible that the majority of Kashmiris would vote in favour of independence.
Moreover, an independent Kashmir has been considered by some as the best solution because it would address the grievances of those who have been fighting against the Indian Government since long. But critics say that the region would not be economically viable without external assistance.
7. The Chenab Formula
This plan, first suggested in the 1960s, would see Kashmir divided along the line of the River Chenab. With the inclusion of Ladakh, which also lies north of the Chenab river, India would be left with approximately 3,000 square miles of territory out of 84,000 square miles. This would give the vast majority of land to Pakistan and, as such, a clear victory in its longstanding dispute with India. The entire valley with its Muslim majority population would be brought within Pakistan’s borders, as well as the majority Muslim areas of Jammu.
This solution would require the voluntary agreement of India to give up territory which it wants to retain. It is impossible to see what benefit India could derive from the transfer of so much land, and why the government – or the inhabitants of the region who are not contesting their status – would ever agree to such a solution.
Kashmir conflict is no doubt an intractable conflict making all parties to search for a formula to resolve the conflict peacefully. What could be the political framework that will accommodate he Kashmiris aspiration for self-determination, the interests of India and Pakistan is the real challenge for those who seek peace in the region.
Considering the ground geo-political realities in the Indian sub-continent, the most workable solution to the Kashmir dispute seems to be minimizing the security forces in Kashmir and granting basic human rights to the Kashmiris, reliving them from daily frisking, and focus should be on creating more employment and education opportunity for Kashmiris. While this may not be the ultimate solution to this issue, it may well prepare some ground for a better solution and meanwhile relieve the people of the region from their day-to-day turmoil.