Pakistan has been seeking enforcement of a 1948 UN Security Council resolution which states that a plebiscite should be held across Kashmir asking residents there whether they want to live in a province controlled by India or Pakistan.
The 1948 resolution says that a plebiscite in Kashmir should offer people at least two choices based around whether the currently divided province should be part of either India or Pakistan.
However, even giving the Kashmiri people an option of voting for independence would not solve all the problems of the province.
For instance, whichever terminology is used to define the geographical area of Kashmir that is currently administered by Pakistan, the area is known variously as “Azad Kashmir” or “Pakistan-administrated Kashmir” is as much disputed as the Kashmir Valley.
India objects to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative on the grounds that its passage through this disputed area only compounds its territorial issues.
Growing radicalization within the Kashmir Valley has forced many Kashmir people to leave their homes and settle in other areas. It is unclear whether Pakistan would even allow any plebiscite to take place in the disputed area.
Until radical activists in Kashmir have been rehabilitated, any idea of a plebiscite would be unfair to people living there. India cites the successful conduct of elections in the Valley as one source of its continued legitimacy in the province, while Pakistan rejects that claim and says it supports the struggle for an independent Kashmir.
Specific historical developments in Kashmir have favored India. Shortly after partition in 1947, tribal incursions from the Pakistani side into the princely state of Kashmir led then-ruler of Kashmir Hari Singh to sign the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947 – a legal document formalizing Kashmir’s acceptance of the Dominion of India.
Then, in 1972, both India and Pakistan signed the Simla Agreement, which maintained that Kashmir is a bilateral issue that must be resolved through negotiations and so removed any space for third-party interventions.
More recently, however, Pakistan has put forth the argument that the Simla Agreement could not override the earlier UN Security Council resolution, which mandated a plebiscite, despite the problems associated with holding a vote.
However, with so many major international powers maintaining strict neutrality on the Kashmir issue – the US, EU, Russia, Israel, Australia, Japan China and the Arab League avoid getting involved in Kashmiri politics – the UN Security Council in 2010 decided to remove Kashmir from its list of unresolved international disputes.
Religion is of little help in trying to formulate decisive measures in Kashmir. India is inhabited by more Muslims than many predominantly Muslim countries and its constitution adopted secularism and includes measures designed to help protect the security and economic development of minorities.
However, India’s claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India and that the Pakistani territory must be resolved only through bilateral negotiations seems equally oxymoronic. Once New Delhi declared that Kashmir was an integral part of India, it forestalled the possibility of having any discussions with nationalist parties in Pakistan.
While it is evident that many of the recent terrorist attacks on the Indian mainland have been masterminded by actors across the border, New Delhi’s stance on cross-border terrorism was also based on sustainable criticisms of the alleged involvement of government institutions of Pakistan in the export of terrorism. However, despite the oft-repeated use of the phrase “state-sponsored terrorism” within India, the state is a very broad concept which includes the entire population of a given territory.
So, while alleging the involvement of the Pakistani state can be described as conceptually erroneous. India has charged Pakistan with a surreptitious role in fomenting insurgency and chaos in Kashmir and of using a thin veneer of supporting an independence struggle to add to and support continuing instability in the Valley.
Pakistan has very often criticized India, accusing it of human rights violations, rigged elections and of muzzling the voice of Kashmiri people by denying them independence.
Notwithstanding all these complexities, workable solutions need to be worked out in the interests of the Kashmiri people that would also serve the long-term interests of both India and Pakistan.
Encouraging commercial and tourism activities in Kashmir by facilitating mobility across the border would be beneficial to Kashmiris and would also serve the long-term interests of both India and Pakistan.
Promoting soft border
A month after the Pulwama attacks, officials from India and Pakistan met at Attari in Amritsar, Punjab, on March 14, to discuss a draft agreement which will allow visa-free travel for Indian pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib through Pakistan’s Kartarpur corridor.
Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district. The corridor will allow visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to the Gurdwara Darbara Sahib in Kartarpur.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said that both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and had agreed to work quickly to make the visa-free corridor operational.
This move to promote a soft border seems remarkable, especially in the context of the Chinese veto on the UN resolution to declare Masood Azhar a global terrorist haven. Perhaps China is concerned about improving its ability to better defend its multibillion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.