War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations

After hearing the reference to UN resolutions vis-a-vis Kashmir and demilitarization in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech in the United Nations General Assembly earlier today, I thought I’d write a little something about the resolution adopted by the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), which underscores that demilitarization is a prerequisite for Pakistan as well before an impartial plebiscite could even be considered.

In January 1948 India referred the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations (Rahman 1996: 15–19). Prime Minister Nehru took the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir beyond local and national boundaries by bringing it before the UN Security Council, and seeking a ratification of India’s “legal” claims over Kashmir. The UN reinforced Nehru’s pledge of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir, and in 1948 the Security Council established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to play the role of mediator in the Kashmir issue. The UNCIP adopted a resolution urging the government of Pakistan to cease the infiltration of tribal mercenaries and raiders into J & K. It also urged the government of India to demilitarize the state by “withdrawing their own forces from Jammu and Kashmir and reducing them progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of civil power in the maintenance of law and order.” The resolution proclaimed that once these conditions were fulfilled, the government of India would be obligated to hold a plebiscite in the state in order to either ratify or veto the accession of J & K to India (Hagerty 2005: 19). Sir Zafarulla Khan, Pakistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, while discussing the volatile Kashmir issue at the UN on 16 January 1948, said that the maharaja’s government had attempted to brutally quell the spirit of revolution in Kashmir: “They were mowed down by the bullets of the State Dogra troops in their uprising but refused to turn back and received those bullets on their bared breasts” (United Nations Security Council: 65).

This political stalemate led to the resumption of bitter acrimony in 1948. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah voiced his disillusionment with the wishy-washy role of the UN Security Council. He expressly declared on 22 April 1948 that the Security Council resolution was “yet another feature of power politics on which the Security Council has embarked ever since its inception.” The Sheikh condemned the machinations of imperialist powers like the US and the UK which “saw Kashmir only as the neighbour of Russia and therefore an essential base in the encirclement of Russia for future aggression” (Krishen 1951: 19–20). A provisional cessation of hostilities, however, occurred in January 1949, with the establishment of a political and military truce.

The ceasefire line left the Indians with the bulk of Jammu and Kashmir’s territory (139,000 of 223,000 square kilometres, approximately 63 per cent) and population. The Indians had gained the prize piece of real estate, the Kashmir Valley, and they also controlled most of the Jammu and Ladakh regions. These areas became Indian Jammu and Kashmir (IJK). The Pakistanis were left with a long strip of land running on a north–south axis in western J & K, mostly Jammu districts bordering Pakistani Punjab and the NWFP . . . a slice of Ladakh (Skardu), and the remote mountain zones of Gilgit and Baltistan (the Northern Areas or NA). (Bose 2003: 41)

The de facto border carved in 1949 worked to India’s territorial and political advantage.

The president of the UN Security Council, General A.G.L. McNaughton of Canada, endeavored to outline proposals to resolve the dispute. He proposed a program of gradual demilitarization and withdrawal of regular Indian and Pakistani forces, which were not required for the purposes of maintaining law and order from the Indian side of the cease-fire line. He also proposed disbandment of the militia of J & K, as well as of forces in Pakistani-administered “Azad” Kashmir. McNaughton recommended continuing the administration of the Northern Areas by the local authorities, subject to UN supervision. He recommended the appointment of a UN representative by the secretary general of the UN, who would supervise the process of demilitarization and procure conditions necessary to holding a fair and free plebiscite (Das 1950). Although McNaughton’s proposals were lauded by most members of the Security Council, India stipulated that Pakistani forces must unconditionally withdraw from the state, and that disbandment of Pakistani-administered Kashmir troops must be accomplished before an impartial plebiscite could be held (Rahman 1996: 90–91). In the interests of expediency, the UNCIP appointed a single mediator, Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan, Australian jurist and war-time ambassador to the US, to efficiently resolve the conflict.

A meeting of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference was convened on 18 April 1950, in order to pass a resolution expressly warning the United Nations to take cognizance of Pakistan’s role as the aggressor (Korbel 2002: 170). The Communist writer Rajbans Krishen wrote an entire book to establish that the UN, its Commission and its representative, Sir Owen Dixon, were instruments of the US and the UK to annihilate the progressive movement pioneered by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in order to create in Kashmir, with the aid of Indian and Pakistani capitalists, a military base for an attack on the Soviet Union (ibid.: 257). The Communist leader in Kashmir, G.M. Sadiq, underscored the skepticism prevalent in Kashmir at the time:

. . . the time has come for India to withdraw the Kashmir question from the Security Council . . . [as] the Kashmiris realized that the talk of fair plebiscite was a mere smokescreen behind which the Anglo-American powers were planning to enslave the Kashmiris. Nothing will suit them better than the façade of trusteeship in Kashmir behind which they can build war bases against our neighbours [sic]. (Delhi Express, 1 January 1952)

Even as the Sheikh was aware of the infeasibility of withdrawing the Kashmir issue from the UN, the Sheikh-led NC reiterated its commitment to securing the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. It was suspicious of the UN, which was subservient to the hegemony of the US and the UK and flinched when it came to holding a plebiscite in Kashmir (Korbel 2002: 259). Sheikh declared that if a plebiscite was held in Kashmir and the people of Kashmir did not validate the accession to India that would not imply that, “as a matter of course Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan. . . . It would regain the status which it enjoyed immediately preceding the accession [i.e. independence]” (The Hindu, 26 March 1952). In 1949, the Sheikh candidly told Michael Davidson, correspondent of the London Observer, that, “Accession to either side cannot bring peace. We want to live in friendship with both the Dominions” (quoted in Saxena 1975: 33).

The insistence on rejecting the trajectory charted out for them by the power structures of India, Pakistan and the west, and the urge to proclaim themselves a nation that is capable of exercising the right of self-determination has haunted the psyche of the Kashmiri people for decades. The distrust that pervaded the Kashmir political scene was outlined by the Communist paper People’s Age, which assessed the report of the United Nations Commission to the Security Council as an instrument of the political intrigues and machinations of imperialist powers against the engendering of democracy in J & K. It was critical of the complicity of Pakistan with these powers to destroy the beginnings of a democratic mass movement. It evaluated the attempt of the US and the UK to preside over a purportedly “free and fair” plebiscite that would be held “under the direction of the military and political agents of American imperialism, masked as the UNO Commission officers,” as a strategy on their part to create and secure war bases on the subcontinent against the Soviet Union and China (Krishen 1951: 38).

As a placatory measure, in 1949 the UNCIP declared that “the Secretary-General of the United Nations will, in agreement with the Commission, nominate a Plebiscite Administrator who shall be a person of high international standing” (Dasgupta 1968: 402–03). Needless to say, the plebiscite was never held. The inability of the Indian government to hold a plebiscite is regarded by the Pakistani government as an act of political sabotage. The Indian government has been rationalizing its decision by placing the blame squarely on Pakistan for not demilitarizing the areas of J & K under its control, which was the primary condition specified by the United Nations for holding the plebiscite. Josef Korbel, the Czech UN representative in Kashmir, observes that ten weeks after the Security Council had passed an injunction calling on both India and Pakistan to demilitarize the Kashmir region within five months, Sir Owen Dixon found that not an iota of work had been done in that regard. Although both parties had agreed to hold a plebiscite in the state, they had failed to take any of the preliminary measures required for a free and fair referendum. Sir Owen Dixon, therefore, decided to take matters into his own hands and asked for the unconditional withdrawal of Pakistani troops. This was followed by a request to both countries to enable the demilitarization of Kashmir. The then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, agreed to initiate the process by calling for the withdrawal of his troops.

But this request, which would have enabled the maintenance of law and order, was denied by India (Korbel 2002: 171). The rationale that India provided for its denial was the necessity to defend Kashmir and maintain a semblance of order. India vehemently opposed any proposal that would place Pakistan on the same platform as India, and which would not take into account the incursion of Kashmir territory by Pakistani militia and tribesmen. In order to neutralize the situation, Sir Owen Dixon suggested that while the plebiscite was being organized and held, the entire state should be governed by a coalition government, or by a neutral administration comprising non-partisan groups, or by an executive formed of United Nations representatives. But his proposal did not meet with the approval he expected. He noted, in 1950, that the Kashmir issue was so tumultuous because Kashmir was not a holistic geographic, economic or demographic entity, but, on the contrary, an aggregate of diverse territories brought under the rule of one maharaja. In a further attempt to resolve the conflict, Sir Owen Dixon propounded the trifurcation of the state along communal or regional lines, or facilitating the secession of parts of the Jhelum Valley to Pakistan (Ganguly 1997: 3–4, 43–57; Rahman 1996: 4).

Despite the bombastic statements and blustering of the governments of both India and Pakistan, however, the Indian government has all along perceived the inclusion of Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir and the NA into India as unfeasible. Likewise, the government of Pakistan has all along either implicitly or explicitly acknowledged the impracticality of including the predominantly Buddhist Ladakh and predominantly Hindu Jammu as part of Pakistan. The coveted area that continues to generate irreconcilable differences between the two governments is the Valley of Kashmir. Dixon lamented:

None of these suggestions commended themselves to the Prime Minister of India. In the end, I became convinced that India’s agreement would never be obtained to demilitarization in any such form, or to provisions governing the period of the plebiscite of any such character, as would in my opinion permit the plebiscite being conducted in conditions sufficiently guarding against intimidation and other forms of influence and abuse by which the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite might be imperiled. (The Statesman, 15 September 1950)

Sir Owen Dixon nonetheless remained determined to formulate a viable solution to the Kashmir issue and suggested that a plebiscite be held only in the Kashmir Valley subsequent to its demilitarization, which would be conducted by an administrative body of UN officials. This proposal was rejected by Pakistan, which, however, reluctantly agreed to Sir Dixon’s further suggestion that the prime ministers of the two countries meet with him to discuss the viability of various solutions to the Kashmir dispute. But India decried this suggestion. A defeated man, Sir Dixon finally left the Indian subcontinent on 23 August 1950 (Korbel 2002: 174). There seemed to be an inexplicable reluctance on both sides, India and Pakistan, to solve the Kashmir dispute diplomatically and amicably. Sir Dixon’s concluding recommendation was a bilateral resolution of the dispute with India and Pakistan as the responsible parties, without taking into account the ability of the Kashmiri people to determine their own political future.

After Dixon’s inability to implement conflict mitigation proposals, Frank Graham was appointed as mediator in 1951. Graham proposed the following: a reaffirmation of the ceasefire line; a mutual agreement that India and Pakistan would avoid making incendiary statements and that would reassert that Kashmir’s future would be decided by a plebiscite; steady attempts at demilitarization. But he was unable to dispel the doubts raised by the governments of India and Pakistan on securing the approval of both governments on a strategy for withdrawal of forces from the state, and agreement of both governments on a plebiscite administrator (ibid: 239–40). Given the unviability of its proposals, the UN soon bowed out of the political quagmire, leaving an unhealed wound on the body-politic of the Indian subcontinent: the Security Council resolutions affirming that the future of the state should be decided by its denizens.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.