Why Pakistan got trapped in its Kashmir plebiscite demand
The reason Pakistan was afraid of the plebiscite was that the raiders and troops it had sent in “had indulged in loot, arson, rape, and murder in the State. Scores of villages and towns were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people uprooted, writes Arul Louis for South Asia Monitor
The UN Security Council resolution on the Kashmir plebiscite frequently invoked by Pakistan has a killer clause that has scared away Islamabad right from Day One: It has to withdraw from all of Jammu and Kashmir not only its troops but also its nationals who are not from there before it can take place. This primary demand of the Council is not mentioned by Pakistan – or its apologists – when harping on the plebiscite part. Islamabad's initial fears about leaving the territory it had seized and being routed in a plebiscite sabotaged its plans and trapped the Kashmir issue in a 72-year quagmire.
The resolution adopted on April 21, 1948, had proposed a three-step process for the plebiscite and the first required Pakistan to withdraw “tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered for the purpose of fighting and to prevent intrusion into the state such elements and furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the state.”
The resolution spoke of “tribesmen” because Pakistan had sent its military personnel disguised as tribesmen along with some Pashtuns into Kashmir to take over the territory, which triggered Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh's decision to join India after his initial indecision. Seeing through Pakistan's ruse of trying to create an impression that it was a spontaneous uprising, the resolution made the withdrawal of the “tribesmen” as the first condition.
Only after a commission set up by the Council was satisfied that the Pakistani “tribesmen” had cleared out that India was required to progressively reduce its forces to “the minimum strength required for the support of the civil power in the maintenance of law and order,” the resolution said. This was to be followed by the plebiscite – which never took place because Pakistan refused to comply with the Council resolution.
Called Resolution 47, it was proposed by Taiwan, which was then a permanent member holding China's seat, and adopted unanimously. The resolution, in effect, left it to Pakistan to start the process as it did not have any punitive or enforcement measures like sanction to ensure it was obeyed.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres drew attention to the resolution when he said in a statement on Thursday that "applicable Security Council resolutions". That effectively puts the issue back into the circular trap. B L Sharma, who was an officer on special duty for Kashmir Affairs in the External Affairs Ministry, has explained from his ringside perspective why a plebiscite is not possible: Pakistan has sabotaged the proposal.
In his 1967 book, “The Kashmir Story,” he wrote, “Pakistan never wanted a plebiscite. In spite of a plethora of statements of its leaders to the contrary, acceptance of plebiscite by its government was insincere. All available evidence goes to show that it did everything in its power to prevent a plebiscite from being held. In this endeavour, it achieved complete and unqualified success.”
The reason Pakistan was afraid of the plebiscite was that the raiders and troops it had sent in “had indulged in loot, arson, rape, and murder in the State. Scores of villages and towns were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people uprooted. A large number of women were abducted and sold,” he wrote.
"These were hardly the ways of winning the votes," he wrote.
Instead of holding the plebiscite when it was proposed -- and agreed to by India -- “Pakistan wanted to mark time, pinning its faith on the hope that memories are short, time might heal the wounds, and better opportunities might come in the future,” Sharma wrote.
The Council has adopted 18 resolutions concerning India and Pakistan between 1948 and 1971 – when the last one was adopted after the Bangladesh War.
Thereafter, it has stayed away from Kashmir and India-Pakistan issues – an implicit acknowledgment of the 1972 Simla Agreement between then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Pakistan's president at that time, which laid down that disputes between the two nations were bilateral matters shutting out third party involvement.
After intermittent attempts at resurrecting the plebiscite proposal, the Council dropped its efforts in 1957, even though Pakistan has been raising it without referring to the concomitant demand for it to leave Kashmir.
In its first action on Kashmir, the Council decided on January 17, 1948, to invite India and Pakistan to hold direct talks under the “guidance” of its president. A resolution adopted that day asked the two countries to not aggravate the situation and tone down rhetoric. On January 20, 1948, the Council set up a three-member commission to investigate the situation in Kashmir and also to exercise “mediatory influence.” Later Resolution 47 enlarged it into a five-member panel.
In 1950, the Council passed another resolution on the plebiscite, but without reiterating the demand for Pakistan to withdraw its personnel, only calling for a demilitarisation on both sides. It did not, however, formally rescind Resolution 47's requirement that Pakistan pullback its “tribesmen” and others. American Admiral Chester Mimitz was appointed as the plebiscite administrator – a post he held till 1953. India was a non-permanent member of the Council in 1950 and 1951, but abstained from voting on resolutions on Kashmir.
The next year the Council asked the UN representative for India and Pakistan to report on the progress of demilitarisation and asked the two countries to accept arbitration if they could not agree on demilitarisation. A resolution adopted in December 1957 virtually throws in the towel, conceding with concern the “lack of progress towards a settlement of the dispute.”
There were no further resolutions concerning India and Pakistan till 1965, the year the two countries went to war – after Pakistan again sent in troops disguised as civilians – and they did not deal with Kashmir. The Council adopted five resolution on India and Pakistan that year, with one giving a September 22 deadline to observe a ceasefire and withdraw to their positions before the outbreak of hostilities.
The last resolution adopted on December 21, 1971 after the Bangladesh war demanded a “durable cease-fire” and withdrawal to the cease-fire line in Kashmir.
(The author can be reached on email@example.com and followed on Twitter @arulouis)
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