Until the Kashmir issue is resolved, the broader agenda which underpinned the partition of India remains incomplete.
Since the dispute came to the fore in 1947, the guarantor for resolving it has been the United Nations.
The UN Security Council resolutions which address the issue are on the record and recognized by the international community.
Therefore, the dispute also represents an unfulfilled agenda for the United Nations which has both a legal and moral obligation to steer the conflict towards its logical conclusion through ensuring the implementation of these resolutions.
Beyond these political and legal roots, however, it is also important to view the dispute as something more than just a conflict between two states over a stretch of land. Instead, at its core, the Kashmir issue centers on preserving the identity, fundamental rights, freedoms, and political future of the approximately 12.5 million living, breathing humans who inhabit both Azad Kashmir and Jammu Kashmir.
This population looks to the UN Charter as the guarantor of its right to self-determination. And so, it is important to recognize that there are three parties to the Kashmir conflict: India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves.
The dispute originated with an armed conflict which involved these three parties, and which culminated when one of them – India – sensed that defeat was imminent and knocked at the doors of the UN and sought a ceasefire.
At the time, the scales were tipped in favor of India, and both Pakistan and the Kashmiris acted in a manner consistent with that of civilized nations and accepted the ceasefire based on the assurances of the UN.
And so, the war ended, and Kashmir was divided into two parts, with the UN deciding that the Kashmiris would determine their future through a plebiscite. Arrangements were to be made for this, and the plebiscite was to be conducted under the supervision of a U.N. appointed administrator.
This administrator would be supported by a reasonable staff and both India and Pakistan were to facilitate this process in the territories under their control. This framework was accepted by the warring parties, and Pakistan withdrew its tribal militias and oriented its military activities and presence on the Line of Control in accordance with U.N. directives.
The third party, however, has made a series of efforts over the last seventy-two years to sway public opinion in the occupied valley in its favor to legitimize its illegal occupation.
Successive puppet governments were formed in Indian Occupied Kashmir through sham elections, while promises were also made to the Kashmiris regarding increased autonomy and independence from central government interference. These elections, the Indian government claimed, were the equivalent of a plebiscite; however, the U.N. rejected this. So, the stalemate continued and hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri lives were lost while countless women were raped.
This is a tragedy in itself. Both Pakistan and the Kashmiris made repeated attempts to draw the international community’s attention to this barbarianism but to no avail. In fact, when China had engaged India in a conflict in the ‘60s, the Chinese government urged General Ayub to engage in armed conflict with India to resolve the dispute. However, the Pakistani government showed restraint once more.
India, on the other hand, continues to act as aggressor, with its actions on the 5th of Augustthis year the most blatant manifestation of this. Through the revocation of Article 370, India unilaterally bulldozed all outstanding U.N. resolutions and bilateral agreements.
Even the puppet governments which New Delhi had installed in Kashmir were up in arms over this action, as it represented a betrayal of the understanding which successive Indian governments had forged with local politicians such as Mehbooba Mufti.
As in the past, both Pakistan and the Kashmiris have been in uproar over Indian aggression, but no international forum possesses neither the strength nor the courage to equivocally take a stand against India’s brutality in Kashmir.
Even the OIC, the foremost forum for Muslim states, refuses to challenge India. Only three nations – China, Turkey, and Malaysia – are the exception but their actions, too, have been limited to condemnations. Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons has also been of no use in tilting the scales in our favor.
What, then, should Pakistan do? It is important to note that Pakistan still possesses a variety of options through which it can both respond to India and provide encouragement to Kashmiris.
To bring the issue to the forefront of our political discourse, the government should immediately convene a meeting of the top political and military leadership with a one-point agenda: Kashmir.
The objective should be to unanimously arrive at a long-term roadmap for addressing the dispute.
The leadership of Azad Kashmir must also be party to this deliberative process.
Under this roadmap, the first step should be to conduct a two-step plebiscite in Azad Kashmir under the supervision of international observers from institutions such as the U.N.
In the first step, the Kashmiris should be asked whether they would rather vote on their future status now or should this be deferred until both sides of Kashmir have been demilitarized and the U.N. administrator appointed.
If the people of Azad Kashmir opt for the former option, then a second referendum should be held.
In this, the Kashmiris should be given three choices: permanent amalgamation with India, permanent amalgamation with Pakistan, or independent status.
Again, it is important to emphasize that this must be a transparent process conducted under the supervision of independent observers. And as there are political forces in Azad Kashmir with differing views on this question, they must all be given the opportunity to campaign freely and effectively.
The results of the referendum should be accepted, and the international community made aware that Pakistan has upheld its side of the bargain and India must now be asked to do the same.
In the event that the people of Azad Kashmir do opt for a union with Pakistan, they should receive proportional representation in both the National Assembly and Senate.
The same process should be repeated in Gilgit Baltistan.
This will ensure that, for now at least, these regions will formally fall under the control of the Pakistani state. And through conducting it in a transparent manner, Pakistan will ensure that both its allies and the wider international community will recognize this process and grant it a degree of legitimacy.
A more permanent settlement can be reached when a plebiscite is held under the U.N. framework in Indian Occupied Kashmir. In the meantime, this preliminary plebiscite will serve as a source of encouragement for the people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan while also ensuring that these regions begin their journeys toward development and prosperity.
Pakistan should face no difficulties in justifying this process, as this is merely a result of India’s decision to violate both international and bilateral agreements through the revocation of Article 370.
This is similar to Pakistan’s decision to test its nuclear weapons capabilities in response to India’s nuclear tests. If Pakistan dithers in initiating this process, it will provide room for India to provoke unrest and possibly insurgencies in both these territories.
This has been a longstanding Indian objective and several attempts have been made in the past to do just this.
Pakistan’s position on Kashmir was first laid down by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah when he described Kashmir as Pakistan’s jugular vein.
However, if an animal’s jugular vein is within the grasp of a predator, it is difficult to predict if its life will end immediately or whether it find a way to escape from the predator’s clutches.
A similar air of uncertainty hangs over the future of Indian Occupied Kashmir. And so, while India will do everything it can to prevent internal chaos, it is imperative that Pakistan takes practical steps to perverse the future of the peoples that reside within its territories.