Kashmir, which is the bone of contention between Pakistan and India, has seen many phases of negotiations in the past six decades. These nuclear neighbors in South Asia have fought three wars over Kashmir. The genesis of the Kashmir conflict goes back to 1947, when both India and Pakistan obtained independence from the British. A lot has been written about the nature of this conflict but less attention has been given to resolving it. Pakistan considers Kashmir as the fundamental subject of political dispute with India whereas India does not consider Kashmir as an international dispute; in fact, it considers it an internal affair.
South Asian history has witnessed many phases when both countries come to the negotiating table to discuss the complex issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The past few years in particular have seen many negotiations on Kashmir, but none of them was a success. These negotiations were either proposed by Pakistan or by India. The question we are left with is: Why do these dialogues fail? This question needs to be examined in a broader political context of Kashmir i.e. politics within Kashmir and outside Kashmir (India). Indian political leaders are of the opinion that the issue should be discussed bilaterally, while Kashmiri political leaders propose that the discussion should involve Kashmiris. Before I address this central disagreement I shall briefly outline a history of negotiations on Kashmir and their conceptual pre-suppositions.
On August 15, 1947, the Indian subcontinent won its independence from the British rule. Rulers of the princely states were encouraged to accede their states to either India or Pakistan, taking into account factors such as geographical contiguity and the wishes of their people. The Maharaja of Kashmir delayed his decision in an effort to remain independent. Being a Muslim majority State and adjacent to Pakistan, Kashmir was expected to accede to Pakistan. When the Maharaja however acceded the territory to India, it resulted in a dispute. According to the 1948 Indian White Paper, India provisionally accepted the accession until such time as the will of the people could be ascertained by a plebiscite. In fact, the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made it clear in a speech on All India Radio that the people of Kashmir were free to choose their future and accede to either of the Domains:
We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it not only to the people of Kashmir but the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared when peace and law and order have been established to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just Reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and juster offer.
He subsequently reiterated:
I wish to draw your attention to broadcast on Kashmir which I made last evening. I have stated our government’s policy and made it clear that we have no desire to impose our will on Kashmir but to leave final decision to people of Kashmir. I further stated that we have agreed on impartial international agency like United Nations supervising referendum.
In November 1947, India proposed that Pakistan withdraw all its troops first, as a precondition for a plebiscite, which Pakistan rejected on the grounds that the Kashmiris may not vote freely given the presence of Indian army and Sheikh Abdullah’s friendship with Nehru. Thus Pakistan counter-proposed simultaneous withdrawal of all troops followed by a plebiscite under international auspices, which India rejected. Pakistan therefore continued sending regular forces to Kashmir, and the first war over Kashmir broke out.
On March 17, 1948, Sheikh Abdullah became the first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh was dismissed as Prime Minister by the then Sardr-i-Riyasat Dr. Karan Singh on August 8, 1953. Sheikh Abdullah was immediately arrested and later jailed for eleven years, accused of conspiracy against the State in the infamous “Kashmir Conspiracy Case”. On April 8, 1964, the State Government dropped all charges in the “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” against Sheikh Abdullah (Sheikh Abdullah; M.Y.Taing (1985), p752). Sheikh Abdullah was released and returned to Srinagar where he was accorded an unprecedented welcome by the people of the valley” (Sheikh Abdullah; M.Y.Taing (1985), p755-757). Kashmiris saw Sheikh’s dismissal as a shift in the Kashmir policy by Nehru. The dismissal was understood in the valley as the beginning of a central control over an alienated populace. However, Indira Gandhi’s shrewd observation in May 1948 proves that it existed even as Indian troops were fighting the raiders and Pakistan’s troops in the State. The word “alienation”, which implies an earlier affection, is a misnomer. Kashmiris were never for the state’s accession to India. Realization of this bitter truth rent two devoted friends apart. Nehru could not risk holding the plebiscite he had promised, harried as he was by the Jan Sangh and the right-wing in the Congress. He pressed unwisely for a closer union. Sheikh Abdullah could no longer swear by accession and retain his popularity.
Nehru’s promises remained promises on paper and were never pressed to realization. India feared that if a referendum took place, it would lose Kashmir, although Nehru thought that Sheikh Abdullah’s popular figure would be a boost to the Indian state in winning the referendum. In a letter to Nehru sent on May 14, 1948, Indira Gandhi wrote, “they say only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite.” However, the fear of losing Kashmir remained President Rajendra Prasad wrote in a note to Nehru on July 14, 1953:
Last year, [Vice-Presdident] Dr. Radhakrishnan, on his return from a visit to Kashmir, came and told me that even Sheikh Abdullah thought that we would lose in a plebiscite as Sheikh Abdullah himself had told him that … but whether we win or lose in a plebiscite, with our commitments it is not possible to say that we shall not have a plebiscite if the other side presses for it.
Sir Owen Dixon, the UN representative, came to the subcontinent in order to pursue UN Security Council resolution 1950 on Kashmir. Dixon got much closer to obtaining peace than any representative before or since. Dixon’s proposal assigned Ladakh to India and northern areas and Pakistan administered Kashmir to Pakistan. He split Jammu between the two, and a plebiscite would decide the status for the Kashmir Valley. Dixon’s plan failed, although Pakistan agreed to it, because Nehru did not accept the conditions in which plebiscite would be held. The Dixon Plan figured in discussions in the National Conference’s Working Committee on June 9, 1953. Chief Minister, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was emphatically of the opinion that this should be put up as first and the only practicable, advantageous and honorable solution of the dispute.
Following the overthrow of Sheikh Abdullah, his lieutenant Mirza Afzal Beg formed the Plebiscite Front on August 9, 1955 to fight for the plebiscite demand and the unconditional release of Sheikh Abdullah, who had been arrested after his removal. The activities of the Plebiscite Front eventually led to the institution of the ‘Kashmir Conspiracy Case’ in 1958 and two other cases. Having put Abdullah behind bars on August 8 in “Kashmir conspiracy case”, Nehru could hardly risk a plebiscite. He said as much to Karan Singh and sent A. P. Jain to Bakshi to explain matters.