J&K: Respecting Wishes of the People

Published in Kashmir Herald, Vol 5/No. 5, by Prof. K. N. Pandita.

In a recent statement Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said that any solution of Kashmir issue along the Line of Control (LoC) was unacceptable to Pakistan. He stressed that a solution should respect the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The spokesman was reacting to the advice of MQM leader Altaf Hussain that the option of LoC as a solution of the dispute should be considered by both sides.

This is not the first time that Pakistan is talking about “respecting the wishes of the people.” Ever since the two countries began talking bilaterally, Pakistan has been repeating the mantra of the wishes of the people of the state. Indian press has seldom ventured to reflect objectively on the subject. Therefore we think it is important to help the Pakistan side recollect the historical background of the question of ascertaining the wishes of the people. There is no harm in engaging the Pakistani spokesman in a dispassionate debate in order to clear some cobwebs of confusion and misreading.

Weeks after the creation of the new state for the Muslims of the sub-continent in August 1947, the most popular political party of J&K representing people of all the regions sent a delegation of to Mr. Jinnah to suggest to him that the people of the state would be willing to accede to Pakistan provided Mr. Jinnah and his party accepted a few conditions. The conditions set forth by the people’s representatives were almost the same that were offered to New Delhi. The essence of these conditions was to preserve the historical identity of the people of the state for various reasons. Mr. Jinnah was not prepared to accept any of the conditions and rejected the proposal outright with his most insulting comment, “Kashmir is in my pocket.” Almost all historians and commentators have stated this. Even Pakistani historians corroborate the statement.

Thus what Mr. Jinnah rejected was the wishes of the people of the state expressed through their accredited representatives. Not only that, by boasting that “Kashmir was in his pocket”, Mr. Jinnah slighted the Kashmiris. This remark totally disregarded the four-decade-old struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for replacement of autocracy by democratic arrangement What Mr. Jinnah rejected was not only the wishes of the people of the state but also a secular and democratic arrangement for which the people of the state had made sacrifices

As the partition plan matured, the Viceroy of India under whose signature and seal independence was grated to both the dominions in August 1947, suggested to Mr. Jinnah that the formula of reference to people should be accepted as the method of deciding the future of princely states. Mr. Jinnah rejected the formula saying that sovereignty rested in the hands of the rulers of the princely states. This has been recorded in official documents to which anybody has free access. The founder of the new state for the Muslims of the sub-continent showed no respect to the wishes of the people not only of Kashmir but of other princely states of India as well at that point of time.

Furthermore, when, after heated debates at the Security Council where India had brought the issue of Pakistan’s aggression on the territory of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947, Pakistan agreed to a cease fire, she never demanded that before accepting it formally she would refer it to the people of state. If the tribal attack on Kashmir was the so-called people’s struggle for freedom as Pakistan characterized it, then Pakistan had no locus standi in accepting and signing the cease-fire. She signed in and never raised the question of the “wishes of the people”.

Most interestingly, Pakistan accepted the Security Council Resolutions of 1948 and 1949 without asking for the people to be the third party to the agreement. Not a single word in Pakistan’s formal statements at the Security Council conveys an indication that Pakistan wanted to respect the wishes of the people. All that she emphasized was her national interest, strategic, political or economic whatever.

As against this clear and resonant stance of Pakistan, it was India that time and again spoke of respecting the wishes of people. Formal statements of the then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru bear a testimony. The Government of India included the most outstanding popular leader of the people of J&K, namely Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, in its official delegation to Lake Success thereby giving a unique opportunity to the people of our sate to express their wishes through their representative at the international forum. What more respect could India show to the wishes of the people? What more disrespect of their wishes would they meet with than what Mr. Jinnah had uttered?

Today the separatists in Kashmir are repeating the mantra of UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949 and are demanding their implementation because it stipulates holding of plebiscite.. Were they (the people of Kashmir) a party to these resolutions? If they were not then how do they ask for their implementation? And if they were, then their representative (meaning Sheikh Abdullah) had spoken for them. As such they must accept the decisions to which their aforementioned representative was a signatory, meaning the Accord of 1975. Therefore they must also ask Pakistan to withdraw its fighting forces from the parts of the sate under its occupation in order to pave the path full implementation of the UN resolutions.

The Shimla Agreement was signed between the two countries in 1972. There is a mention of the solution of Kashmir issue in that document. Did Pakistan make the “wishes of the people of the state” an issue in his Shimla deliberations? Is there any indication in it either from Indian or Pakistani side that the people of the state would be a party to the deal? Later on Pakistan gradually backtracked from the Shimla Agreement. But did she ever state that the wishes of the people not having been addressed as a reason for her backtracking? She never did. How then does she arise to the reality of respecting the wishes of the people?

In 1953, Pakistan integrated the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan into her territory. These were re-named as Northern Areas. Did Islamabad ascertain the wishes of the people of these areas either directly or through their duly elected representatives whether they wanted to be integrated into Pakistan territory or remain independent? Officially Pakistan says that the popular leadership signed the integration document. But the question is this: was there any popular leader from the Northern Areas who was a signatory to that document? There was none and this is precisely the reason of discontent among the entire population of Northern Areas today.

And if for the sake of argument we accept Pakistan’s assertion that popular leadership had signed the document, and then by the same token the popular leadership of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, besides its legitimate ruler, had signed/ratified the instrument of the accession of the state to the Indian Union. Why should Pakistan raise objection on India’s case in Kashmir when she has no objection on her identical case in Northern Areas?

The Indian part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir has gone through a process of elections nine times since the formation of the constituent assembly in 1953. Nine times the wishes of the people have been expressed freely and fearlessly. India has fully discharged the obligation of respecting the wishes of the people of the state. It is Pakistan that must play its part. She should begin with the Northern Areas and then address the PoK. Only then can she have the legitimacy of speaking about respecting the wishes of the people.

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