The Kashmir Dispute: How Not to Resolve It

The Kashmir Dispute: How Not to Resolve It

By Satish Kumar*

Sensitive and volatile international disputes have a way of prolonging themselves not merely because the parties concerned find it difficult to resolve differences but also because foreign governments, international organizations, scholars and commentators queer the pitch. Often because of poor understanding of the issues involved but sometimes also for vicious reasons, they tend to suggest solutions which complicate the final resolution. One such case is that of Christopher Snedden, an Australian scholar whose recent book: Kashmir: The Unwritten History ** has aroused contraversy for reasons of faulty diagnosis of the dispute and a highly unimagivative solution to resolve it.

The author seems to have begun with the hypothesis that Pakistan is not to be blamed for causing the Kashmir dispute, and has taken great pains to prove this hypothesis. Unfortunately, the evidence provided to prove it is slender.

Only chapter 2 of the book pertaining to the Poonch uprising can be said to be unwritten in the sense that so much detail is not available elsewhere. The rest of the book covers familiar ground except that the largest section of the book on so-called Azad Kashmir brings together at one place in a consolidated form the well known facts pertaining to political, constitutional and economic development of the area.

The author makes much of the point that the Poonch uprising remained unreported in the press and even the Pakistan government did not emphasize its importance. Indian government deliberately ignored it. Otherwise, this would have been regarded as the main cause of the Kashmir dispute, not the Pakistani aggression. This is a highly questionable assertion given the voluminous evidence to the contrary.

Poonch is a Muslim dominated western district of Jammu ‘province’ in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The region saw an anti-Maharaja revolt which later took the character of an anti-India revolt, between 15 August 1947, i.e., the date of Indian independence and 26 October 1947, i.e., the date of J&K’s accession to India. According to the author, many Poonchis raised Pakistani flags on 14 August, the day when Pakistan was created. They had started anti-Maharaja activity in February 1947. In June, they mounted a No-Tax campaign. Towards the end of August, it became an armed revolt. In six weeks, the whole district except Poonch city was in rebel hands. The author himself qualifies this by saying that Maj. Gen. Scott, Chief of Staff of J&K State Forces had reported to the J&K Deputy Prime Minister on 4 September that about 400 Muslim residents from Kahuta Tehsil of Rawalpindi district were infiltrating into J&K, and this report can be regarded as factually correct. And yet he maintains that the Poonch uprising was a totally indigenous affair.

In September 1947, some 50,000 men were organised into a people’s militia known as ‘Azad Army’. But a small percentage of Pakistani volunteers were with them, including twelve women. Besides, there was inter-religious violence in Jammu ‘province’, both in eastern and western districts. The anti-Maharaja Azad Kashmir Movement on 24 October, i.e., two days after the Pakistani tribal invasion, was declared to be a Provisional Azad Government.

Christopher Snedden’s thesis that India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir originated from the Poonch uprising described above and not from Pakistani aggression as is generally believed is questionable and unsustainable, to say the least, and perhaps diabolical given the timing and the circumstances of his writing. A situation becomes an international dispute not by the revolt of a discontented section of a country but by an act of aggression of another country. Western districts of Jammu had Muslim majority population with a substantial number of ex-servicemen who were disgruntled with the Maharaja on religious and economic grounds. The total population of Poonch Muslims was 3.8 lakhs out of the total J&K population of 40.2 lakhs, i.e., nearly 9 percent. If 9 percent of the population settled in areas adjacent to Pakistan with reports of infiltration from across the borders but sufficient local grievances against the Maharaja rises in revolt and declares a Provisional Azad Government on 24 October—2 days after the tribal invasion from Pakistan, does that become a sufficient reason to make it an international dispute? The revolt of course cannot be ignored as evidence that a small section of J&K Muslims would have liked the State to join Pakistan. But that is a different question.

Snedden’s other original contribution consists in the suggestion that the Kashmir dispute for its final solution should be referred to the people of J&K. In this connection he raises some interesting questions. The first question that he raises is whether the de-facto status of Azad Kashmiris as Pakistanis should now be made de-jure? He answers it by saying that Pakistan would not like to do so in the hope that a final settlement with India might give it some more territory, if not the whole of Kashmir.

The second question that he raises and tries to answer elaborately is whether the people of J&K should be involved in resolving the Kashmir dispute? He gives a straight answer by saying that the possibility of restoring Kashmir to the pre-1949 position when the ceasefire line was demarcated exists only in the imagination of the people. Some electorally untried JKLF members and Azadi seekers may have a vision of a reunified and independent J&K, but such people appear to be in a minority. Besides, both India and Pakistan are not prepared to countenance the ‘third option’ of independence. Significantly, this is the only point on which both countries agree. Therefore, there is no possibility of J&K either getting independence or being reunified.

Snedden must be credited with having made this highly realistic assessment. He reinforces this by saying that since the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, the hope that either country will obtain by force the part being administered by the other has also disappeared. And yet he makes an astounding statement that if history shows us anything about the Kashmir dispute, it is this: India and Pakistan have totally failed to resolve it. By implication, what Snedden is trying to say is that despite all the limitations mentioned above, India and Pakistan should have somehow brought the dispute to a closure. He also makes the point that there is no pressure group in either country to push the government towards an early solution.

In coming to such a conclusion, Snedden shows abysmal ignorance of the efforts made by the two governments to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations, particularly since January 2004 visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee to Islamabad when the composite dialogue was resumed. Snedden would also do well to acquaint himself better with the existence of pressure groups in both countries which push the respective governments towards an early solution, although I would not rule out the possibility of some interest groups in both countries, perhaps more in Pakistan, who would like the dispute to be kept alive.

Snedden should realize that the process of resolving the Kashmir dispute has moved forward in a very quiet manner, step by step, and both the governments have taken certain steps consciously in full recognition of the realities identified by him that there can be no independence, no reunification, and no acquisition by force of the area being administered by the other country. The ceasefire on the LoC has held since November 2003 and cross-LoC movement of people and goods has been permitted, liberalized and facilitated. The situation is not perfect and cannot be while distrust prevails between the governments and people on both sides.

But to jump to the conclusion that a ‘third’ party is needed to resolve the ‘deadlock’ and that third party should be the ‘people’ of Kashmir is to deliberately misinterpret the situation and mischievously put the clock back. The people of whole J&K had a role to play if conditions for plebiscite had been created at the right time. But that was not to be but because certain that were needed to be taken under the UN resolutions were not taken by Pakistan. History has moved on and the entire context has changed.

Snedden suggests the creation of a ‘Council to Resolve the International Status of J&K’ and proposes an elaborate and complicated mechanism to constitute such a Council. He is honest enough to recognize the challenges that such a process might face and would render it virtually unworkable. And yet he goes through this exercise as if it was an academic necessity. Or else it was an attempt to fulfil a political agenda at the behest of certain interest groups within or outside Pakistan/PoK. The motives become questionable particularly because Snedden has gone at length to make the point that the status-quo is not easy to change.

*The author is Director, Foundation for National Security Research, New Delhi

** Christopher Snedden, Kashmir: The Unwritten History, (Noida: Harper Collins Publishers, 2013).