Will Pakistan and India reach an agreement over Kashmir?

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The dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir dates back to the time of the partition of the subcontinent between the two countries on the basis of the so-called “Two-Nation” theory. This theory stipulated that the predominantly Muslim majority regions would be part of the new state of Pakistan while the Hindu-majority regions would continue to remain part of India, but what happened in the case of Kashmir was quite a different story.

The ruler of Kashmir was a Hindu while the majority of people were Muslims. Therefore, the Two-Nation theory was not implemented in Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, wanted his princely state to remain semi-independent and therefore sought the Indian government’s protection. But India did not fully agree to his request and put forward as a condition for giving protection that Kashmir should join India. The Maharaja did not want to join Pakistan and therefore he complied with the condition and eventually announced the accession of Kashmir to India.

Pakistan considered that this was contrary to the agreements under which the subcontinent was partitioned, and that it would also undermine its national security. This led to the first war that was fought between the two countries over Kashmir, prompting the United Nations to intervene and impose a ceasefire. The UN also called for a plebiscite so as to enable the people of Kashmir to have their own self-determination.

Many sources pointed out that the idea of the plebiscite was first mooted by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but that he later retracted it, and considered the result of the election held in Kashmir as a referendum. The Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who was in favor of the accession of Kashmir to India, won the election. But this logic was unacceptable not only for Pakistan but also for the people of Kashmir and the United Nations, as well. The UN failed to implement its resolutions calling for a referendum that would give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination.

Several efforts have been made to resolve the Kashmir issue but they have not reached an end that was satisfactory to all the parties concerned, leading to new tensions in the relations between the two countries. India has accused Pakistan of being behind every resistance by Kashmiri nationalists to put an end to what they consider to be Indian occupation. India has accused Pakistan of being behind the Kashmiri attacks and there are skirmishes between the two countries every now and then.

A second war broke out between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in September 1965. According to some observers, a war, with extensive use of tanks, was fought for the first time between the two countries since World War II. The war came to an end following the mediation of the United Nations and the Soviet Union, which hosted the leaders of the two countries – President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri of India. The two leaders signed the historic peace agreement called the “Tashkent Declaration” that resolved the Indo-Pakistani war.

The tension between the two countries has not eased in Kashmir, which has turned into an Indian military barracks, especially after the coming to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his far-right Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi and his party have pursued an anti-Muslim policy not only in Kashmir but throughout India. As a result of the gross violation of human rights of unarmed Kashmiri civilians as well as atrocities, such as killing, displacement, rape and the enforced disappearance of people, perpetrated by the Indian forces, young Kashmiris have declared resistance against the Indian government. Peaceful resistance was not possible for them because of the fact that the Indian authorities are not in a position to tolerate the demand to implement international resolutions that provide for the right of Kashmiris to self-determination through the plebiscite proposed by the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. These young people are poised to face the violence of the Indian forces with violence and even by offering their lives when they find no other alternative.

Therefore, the broader interest is to resolve the Kashmir issue and thus divert the huge resources that the two nuclear neighbors are spending on military purposes into development programs for the benefit of the people of India and Pakistan.

The recent India-Pakistan clashes have shaken the whole world, and wise people everywhere fear that such developments might escalate into an even worse situation. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has stressed his country’s unwillingness to escalate the situation. He expressed Pakistan’s readiness to assist in the investigations being carried out by India over the Pulwama attacks.

India welcomed the goodwill gesture of Pakistan when Imran Khan announced the release of the Indian pilot, whose plane was shot down in Pakistani territory. The efforts of Adel Al-Jubeir, minister of state for foreign affairs of Saudi Arabia, might have led to the easing of tensions between the two countries and the beginning of mediation to solve the Kashmir problem, which is one of the world’s oldest unresolved problems.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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