UNO and Kashmir fiasco

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BY: Shabir Ahmad

Right after India and Pakistan became independent counties, the valley of Kashmir, than ruled by the Maharaja Hari Singh, was in a real political dilemma with its Muslim majority population and a Hindu ruler. In making a choice between India and Pakistan Maharaja had to take in account the wishes and aspirations of the masses.  Hari Singh initially delayed any decision in an attempt to remain independent but the suspicion rose that he might join India without the consent of Kashmiri’s. Things started to worsen in August when Singh’s forces killed the demonstrators who wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan. Under the impression that Hari Singh might accede to India, a revolt began in the region followed by Pakistan sending intruders which resulted in Singh appealing to India to send troops to the region. Although the Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru was ready to send troops but Lord Mountbatten advised the Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to India before India would send its troops.  Considering the situation, on 26 October 1947 Hari Singh signed ‘Instrument of Accession’ with India, which later lead to wars between Pakistan and India.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which they both claim in full, but rule in part. Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours’ recently escalated over cross-border firing in the region in August and October this year. Both sides, which often accuse each other of violating a cease-fire agreement, reported that dozens of people, including civilians, were killed as a result of cross border shelling.

The issue of Kashmir was first taken to the United Nations Security Council on January 01 1948 by India in which they lodged a complaint against Pakistan under Article 35 (Chapter VI) of the UN Charter accusing Pakistan of aiding the tribal infiltration in the areas of Kashmir. But two weeks later Pakistan denied the charges and accused India of annexing Kashmir and destabilizing Pakistan in its infancy. The fist U.N debate on the issue of Kashmir started under the title of “Kashmir Question”.  United Nations, European Union, OIC and other international institutions adopted a principled position when the Kashmir question first came before the UN Secretary General, voting in support of resolutions of 1948 and 1949, upholding the right of people of Kashmir to decide their future in a free and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices.

Despite many resolutions and debates the issue of Kashmir still stares at all the International Institutions as the oldest unsolved dispute in UN History. The UN involvement in the Kashmir issue lasted for almost 23 years. During these 23 years (1948-1971), the United Nations passed a number of resolutions, which were aimed at solving the conflict. Between 1948 and 1971, the U.N Security Council passed 23 resolutions on Kashmir Conflict.

The UN resolutions on this issue were not self-enforceable but infact they were of recommendatory nature which had to be implemented by the concerned states i.e India and Pakistan respectively. But due to the change in stance of the Indian Government on the issue of Kashmir and its refusal to give Kashmiri’s the right of referendum despite promising it in their white paper on Kashmir in 1948 lead to the dead lock and halted the implementation of these resolutions.

India and Pakistan voluntarily agreed to a cease-fire in Kashmir from the midnight of December 31, 1948. That being achieved, the U N Commission adopted a resolution on January 5, 1949 directing that the future of Kashmir would be decided by a plebiscite to be held when the conditions regarding withdrawal of forces contained in its earlier report were fulfilled and arrangements for a plebiscite completed. It called on the U N Secretary-General to appoint a Plebiscite Administrator. The Kashmir Commission announced on March 12, 1949, that India and Pakistan had agreed to covert the cease-fire line into a truce line. On March 21, Fleet-Admiral Chester Nimitz, the U S Naval Commander-in Chief during the Second War, was appointed Plebiscite Administrator with the consent of India and Pakistan. However, on June 6 the Commission issued a communiqué stating that differences between India and Pakistan on the withdrawal of troops remained high and after another six months it presented its third interim report to the Security Council pointing out that a five-member commission was not the best agency for bringing India and Pakistan together on the issues which remained to beresolved, particularly the withdrawal of troops; it suggested instead the appointment of one person to tackle the job.

On December 17, 1949 the Security Council appointed its then Chairman, General McNaughton of Canada, to hold talks with India and Pakistan. It, however, took less than two months for General McNaughton to report back to the Security Council that his efforts had failed. On March 14, 1950 the Council adopted a resolution moved by the U K, the U S, Norway and Cuba providing for the appointment of a U N Mediator on Kashmir and for the dissolution of the Kashmir Commission. It called on India and Pakistan to agree, within five months, to a programme of demilitarisation under the supervision of the U N Mediator who would decide when the demilitarisation had preceded enough for a plebiscite to be held.

Although the United Nations Security Council tried the best in its capacity to solve the issue but their attempts at solving the dispute yielded no results. Despite the fact that Indian and Pakistani governments had accepted Kashmir to be a disputed territory at the United Nations, back at home some groups never considered Kashmir a disputed territory. On the both ends Kashmir was being claimed to be a part of India or Pakistan which was being forcefully controlled. Both the governments were under immense pressure from their people, so they could not make any bold decision out of the fear that the decision might cost them heavily. However, Pakistan, on some occasions showed flexibility in favour of referendum but due to the widespread feelings in India that Kashmir is its integral part, the Indian government always halted the progress by making different excuses to reject the UN Proposals.

United Nations role has been very limited in recent decades. The UN was most active in the Kashmir dispute in the very first months of India’s and Pakistan’s existence, when the two countries were at war. The UN Security Council passed resolutions calling for a cease-fire, a withdrawal of security forces, and an internationally supervised plebiscite for Kashmiris to decide whether they join India or Pakistan.

The cease-fire resolution was implemented, but the other two were not. Ever since, the UN has not done much other than sometimes urging the two sides to come to the negotiating table. It made a particularly big pitch for this in 1998, after both countries staged nuclear weapons tests.

The UN could play the role of a truly neutral mediator. This is a role that the US has sometimes sought to play, but with little success – particularly because there is mistrust in its relationship with both Islamabad and New Delhi. There really is no country that could be taken seriously as a credible mediator, given that few countries have deep, trusted relationships with both India and Pakistan.

The outbreak of fighting between the armies of India and Pakistan at international border reminded the world of one of the signal failures of the United Nations. For eighteen years the UN Security Council has debated, passed resolutions and appointed commissions, mediators and representatives without getting any nearer to any solution of the Kashmir problem. New with its resolution of September 20, the Security Council has, so to say, re-assumed responsibility for Kashmir. Whether it will succeed this time only time will tell.

The Security Council met on Kashmir in February 1962 at the request of the Pakistani representative but agreed to postpone discussion till the Indian General Elections were finished. Discussion was resumed in April and on June 22 a draft resolution was introduced reminding India and Pakistan of ‘ the principles contained in the Security Council’s and the UN Kashmir Commission’s resolutions of 1948 and 1949 and asking the two countries to enter into negotiations to settle the question. The resolution, though passed was vetoed by the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the Security Council held a series of meeting in February, March and May 1964 on Kashmir without adopting any resolution. During the last of these meetings on May 12-13 1964 all members of the Council urged direct negotiations between India and Pakistan. Since there was no earthly prospect of direct negotiations producing any results, this was plainly an admission of the Security Council’s inability to do anything about Kashmir and an excuse for shelving the issue.

It is essential, however, that this role, at least initially, be one of a quiet mediator. Any UN involvement would need to be behind-the-scenes, focused on getting the two sides to the table, and once they are at the table gently urging them to talk. Of course, whether Pakistan and especially India have any interest whatsoever in talking to each other about Kashmir is a whole other story.

It’s because the border clashes have grown alarmingly more intense. There is frequently small arms fire along the Line of Control, and cross border firing is the norm. But in the last few weeks, there has been more firepower, and – most significantly from the point of view of the UN – it has started to affect civilians more than what typically is the case. These exchanges of fire generally occur in less populated border areas, but these latest incidents have actually spread to villages and caused civilian casualties.

The rising intensity of the border clashes is linked to another issue that explains the political relationship between India and Pakistan has, after a few years of relative calm, become dangerously toxic once again.

In Pakistan, the civilian government has been weakened by an anti-government movement and has in turn strengthened the military, which is more anti-India than is the government. The military, in fact, is now likely in control of policy on India. And the recent border provocations, we can assume, come from an emboldened Pakistani military.

Meanwhile, in India, you have a nationalist government that has repeatedly stated that it won’t back down from Pakistani provocations. So in essence you have a Pakistani military itching for a fight on the border, and an Indian military with carte blanche from civilian leaders in New Delhi to return fire with great intensity. This is a recipe for big problems.

This relative calm likely diverted the UN’s attention to other things, of which there have been many over the last few years. The UN has had a particularly heavy plate of foreign affairs issues – Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear program, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, natural catastrophes and other humanitarian disasters – and Kashmir simply didn’t make it to the front burner.

Pakistan is much more likely to be convinced than is India, but Pakistan would still be reluctant. What would make Pakistan hesitant to talk is something the UN has no power to change – and that is the fact that Pakistan’s military is now in the driver’s seat of India policy, and is likely in no mood to be talking about reconciliation.

As for India, the only way I could envision getting New Delhi interested – and it’s a big “could” – is if India is somehow given assurance that discussion of Kashmir would be linked to Pakistani efforts to take legal measures against the planners of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, and against terrorists more broadly that target India. Again, this is not something that the UN is in a position to control. At any rate, Pakistan is unlikely to draw these links between talking on Kashmir and taking action against terrorists. No, I don’t. Though the UN has been jolted to attention by the increased unrest along the Line of Control, there continue to be issues perceived as more top-priority for the UN than the Kashmir issue. North Korea and Iran were urgent a few years back, but Islamic State, Ebola, and Syria/Iraq – the big-ticket issues for the UN today – are seen as even more urgent. It is unlikely that Kashmir will register as a top-priority issue on the UN’s radar anytime soon.

The risk with such inattention is that the issue could be left to lapse and grow ever more perilous. While there’s no reason to think India and Pakistan will be fighting another war over Kashmir anytime soon, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. And if a conflict were to break out down the road, the UN would certainly regret not getting more engaged earlier.

The author is State Social Observer and can be reached at:[email protected]

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