www.sacw.net > Citizens Action & Ideas for Peace in South Asia

Rethinking Plebicite in Kashmir

by Pervez Hoodbhoy

[22 December 2003 ]

By declaring that "we have left aside" the United Nation Security Council
resolutions for a solution to Kashmir, General Pervez Musharraf shattered
a long-held taboo. While the General had given some confusing hints during
his 2001 visit to India and spoken of the need "to move away from stated
positions", never before had a Pakistani head of state made an explicit
public admission that Pakistan cannot realistically hope for a plebiscite
to end the Kashmir dispute and, therefore, is willing to explore other
ways. Subsequent attempts by the Foreign Minister, Mr. Khurshid Kasuri, to
dilute Musharaf's remarks have been insufficient to control outrage and
accusations of treason from those in the Pakistani military, political,
and jihadist establishment who remain convinced that Kashmir can someday
be liberated by force. Interestingly Pakistan Television, which slavishly
follows rulers around, did not cover the General's speech.

Mr. Kasuri need not apologize for the General, nor go overboard to placate
those who insist on the impossible. It is true that plebiscite was indeed
the solution mutually agreed upon in 1948 and that India had reneged on a
solemn commitment. But the passage of five decades, and drastically
changed geo-political circumstances, demand a reappraisal. Today,
plebiscite is no longer the obvious way of determining the wishes of the
people of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it clearly excludes a major
section of Kashmiris that would opt for independence today but which, in
1948, may not have wanted it. More frightening is the likelihood of a
plebiscite igniting communal passions leading to horrific Gujarat-style
bloodbaths across the subcontinent. Moreover, at a practical level there
is no agency, including the UN, that is capable and willing to implement a
task that all nations (except Pakistan) see as impossibly difficult.
Therefore to insist on plebiscite is the surest way of guaranteeing that a
bloody stand-off continues.

Why the change? Unfortunately, much of Pakistan's conspiracy-obsessed
intelligentsia appears eager to believe that the General is merely obeying
marching orders received from George W. Bush. But the view that everything
comes from Washington is simplistic and disallows an appreciation of some
critically important, but unpleasant, facts about Pakistan's failed
Kashmir policy. One hopes that these considerations, rather than external
pressure, have influenced the General.

First, there has been an alarming decline in international support for
Pakistan's position on Kashmir. Even at the level of passing resolutions,
Muslim states and the Organization of Islamic Countries have been
lukewarm. More importantly, their trade with India is many times greater
than with Pakistan. Today Indian workers, particularly skilled ones, are
still welcome in the Middle East while Pakistanis are finding it harder
and harder. It goes without saying that Europe does not agree with
Pakistan's actions in Kashmir. But more significantly, even Pakistan's
immediate neighbours -- Iran and China -- are extremely wary of liberating
Kashmir through jihad. As if to send a signal, both countries have had
joint military exercises with India during the current year. Afghanistan,
which Pakistani generals long regarded as no more than their backyard, now
has hostile relations with Pakistan.

While acknowledging that India is winning the propaganda war, Pakistani
hardliners continue to insist that it is merely the failure of Pakistan's
diplomatic missions. This is nonsense -- many Pakistani diplomats and
embassy officials have tried valiantly but they could not make up for the
failure of a short-sighted and indefensible surreptitious "bleed-India"
policy formulated by the military establishment around 1990. One
consequence was that the horrific crimes committed by India's occupation
forces in Kashmir, amply documented by various human rights groups, were
eclipsed by widely publicized crimes committed by the mujahideen
clandestinely dispatched by Pakistan to "liberate" Kashmir. The massacres
of Hindus, targeting of civilians accused of collaborating with India,
killings of Kashmiri political leaders, destruction of cinema houses and
liquor shops, forcing of women into the veil, and flaring up of sectarian
disputes, severely undermined the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom
movement and deprived it of its most potent weapon -- the moral high
ground. In an age of television cameras and instant communication, nobody
believed Pakistan's denials of aiding and arming militants. Pakistan's
diplomats therefore had an impossible task, especially after 11 September
2001, when jihad became the most notorious word in the political lexicon.

Second, the recent split in the Hurriyat Conference, originally set up
with Pakistani help to mediate disputes between different anti-Indian
Kashmiri organizations has sharply reduced Pakistan's influence on the
Kashmiri freedom movement. Kashmiris have realized that their interests
are by no means identical to Pakistan's. In a clever move, after having
stubbornly resisted talking to the Kashmiri leaders for years, the Indian
establishment -- including the hawkish L.K.Advani and N.N.Vohra -- now has
had direct talks with Maulana Abbas Ansari's majority faction of the
Hurriyat. Pakistan is now left isolated with the small Geelani faction.
Moreover, by fencing off the LOC, acquiring high-tech surveillance and
night-vision equipment from Israel, and increasing pressure on Pakistan to
limit infiltration, India is likely to further decrease Pakistani
influence in Kashmiri domestic politics.

Third -- and most important -- is the inescapable fact that India, with
its hugely abundant scientific and high-tech manpower, is set to emerge as
one of the world's largest economies while Pakistan's educational and
scientific institutions continue their decline. India has penetrated into
America's industrial core, providing it with scientists and engineers, and
even drawing work away from US companies into India. Income from just one
source -- outsourcing and IT services -- is expected to swell to an annual
export industry of $57 billion by 2008. This far exceeds Pakistan's GNP,
current and projected. The outline of an emerging US-India strategic
partnership is beginning to emerge. The recently concluded agreement on
space and nuclear cooperation is one indication of things to come. It is
clear that the US no longer regards Pakistan as being in the same league
as India. Therefore any expectation of equal treatment would be a

Time is running out for Pakistan. Rather than perform another
Afghanistan-style U-turn, it should seek practicable ways of settling
Kashmir before a solution is forced upon it. In effect this could mean a
preparatory stage in which inflamed nerves are soothed and the
high-pitched decades-old rhetoric is toned down. Subsequently, the
Pakistani side of Kashmir and the Northern Areas should be formally
absorbed into Pakistan. Negotiations should be conducted with India on an
LOC-plus solution that allows for some territorial adjustments and soft
borders, and possibly a 10-mile deep demilitarized zone. While the
division of Kashmir is unfortunate, it is better to accept this reality
rather than live with endless suffering that has consumed nearly 90,000
lives since 1987.

By dropping its insistence on plebiscite, Pakistan has now put the ball in
the Indian court. If Mr. Vajpayee is the man of peace that he says he is,
he must respond to a move that is breathtakingly bold. The move carries
additional personal risk for General Musharraf, whose narrow escape from
an assassination attempt shows the dangers of the line he has taken. The
forthcoming SAARC summit in January 2004, to be held in Islamabad,
provides an opportunity that India should seize upon.

(The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad)

Return to Citizens Action & Ideas for Peace in South Asia