This is an opportunity to explore a vexing but significant topic in the field of human rights: the Right of Self-determination. The right of self-determination has been celebrated for ages. It is a basic principle of the United Nation Charter which has been reaffirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and applied countless times to the settlement of international disputes. The concept played a significant part in the post-world war I settlement, leading for example to plebiscite in a number of disputed border areas, even though no reference was made to self-determination in the League of Nations Covenant.
In 1945 the establishment of the United Nations gave a new dimension to the principle of self-determination. It was made one of the objectives which the UN would seek to achieve, along with equal rights of all nations.
The principle of self-determination and the maintenance of international peace and security are inseparable. For example, the denial of this right to self-determination to the people of Kashmir has brought two neighboring countries in South Asia – India and Pakistan – to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Although, the applicability of the principle of the self-determination to the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir has been explicitly recognized by the United Nations. It was upheld equally by India and Pakistan when the Kashmir dispute was brought before the Security Council. Since, on the establishment of India and Pakistan as sovereign states, Jammu and Kashmir was not part of the territory of either, the two countries entered into an agreement to allow its people to exercise their right of self-determination under impartial auspices and in conditions free from coercion from either side.
The idea that the dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir can be settled only in accordance with the will of the people, which can be ascertained through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite, was the common ground taken by both Pakistan and India. It was supported without any dissent by the United Nations Security Council and prominently championed by the United States, Britain and other democratic states. It became a matter of controversy only after India realized that she could not win the people’s vote.
It seems to me that when everything is considered, the case for Kashmiri self-determination is overwhelming if historical practice and simple justice are consulted. What is anguishing and dumbfounding to me is not that the world powers resist sending troops to Kashmir to vindicate self-determination at the risk of warring with India. After all, nations are not agents of altruism. What is frustrating and confounding is that world powers withhold even the moral boost of officially proclaiming the right of self-determination for 22 million Kashmiris in accord with Security Council plebiscite resolutions it heartily approved and have never disavowed.
Professor Korbel proved prophetic. India’s insolence has provoked more than 70 years of horrifying conflict in Kashmir, war between India and Pakistan, a nuclear arms and missile race in South Asia, and human rights violations on a scale vastly more gruesome than witnessed by CNN broadcasting in Kosovo, and East Timor, all of which triggered international intervention. In the last twenty-nine years alone, approximately 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces with impunity have perpetrated more than 100,000 killings, coupled with countless incidents of torture, rape, custodial disappearances, arson, plunder, abduction, arbitrary detentions, and savage repression of peaceful political protest and freedom of expression.
India always persisted in its colonial and antidemocratic ways in Kashmir. British historian, Bertrand Russell said in 1964, “The high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaks down completely when confronted with the question of Kashmir.”
Jay Prakash Narayan who was known as ‘The Second Gandhi of India’ confided to Indira Gandhi, in 1960: “We profess democracy but rule by force in Kashmir” He added that [The Kashmir] problem exists not because Pakistan wants to grab Kashmir, but because there is deep and widespread political discontent among the people.”
Dr. Shri Prakash, an Indian writer & scholar in his book, ‘Twenty Tumultuous Years Insights in to Indian Polity’ on page 568 writes, “The Kashmiri anger actually began with the mass rigging of elections in 1987. There is no use putting life in a corpse. Kashmiri leaders from Farooq Abdullah downwards have lost their credibility , they are totally irrelevant.”
We know it now that the fraudulent elections in 1987 extinguished the last flicker of hope among Kashmiris that India would bow to a free and fair plebiscite as ordained by the Security Council. The cure for counterfeit elections in Kashmir, however, is not more of the same, but providing the genuine democratic article. Thus, the people of Kashmir are eager to participate in the impending elections if they are conducted with the trapping of free and fair choice, conducted, monitored and supervised by a neutral agency like the United Nations.
The status of East Timor was resolved in 1999 by a free and fair vote of the East Timorese. The same, championed by the United States and the European Union happened in Kosovo, Montenegro and Southern Sudan. The solution of Kashmir’s indigenous upheaval is no different. The irresponsible coveting of dignity, liberty and pride that comes with self-determination knows no territorial or regional or religious boundaries.
The world powers should take a leaf from the statement made on June 15, 1962 by American representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson ” … The best approach is to take for a point of departure the area of common ground which exists between the parties. I refer of course to the resolutions which were accepted by both parties and which in essence provide for demilitarization of the territory and a plebiscite whereby the population may freely decide the future status of Jammu and Kashmir.”
i. The demilitarization of the State of Jammu & Kashmir on either side of the Cease-fire Line;
ii. Creating an atmosphere of peace and security;
iii. Conducting of an election by an international and neutral agency, i.e., the United Nations;
iv. Mandating that the elected officials will negotiate a final settlement of the Kashmir conflict with India and Pakistan;
v. Satisfying the democratic principles, the rule of law, and security for every inhabitant of Kashmir, irrespective of their religious and regional affiliations in reaching to any solution.
In conclusion, a sincere and serious effort towards a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute must squarely deal with the realities of the situation and fully respond to the people’s rights involved in it. Indeed, any process that ignores the wishes of the people of Kashmir and is designed to sidetrack the United Nations will not only prove to be an exercise in futility but can also cause incalculable human and political damage.