In the territory of Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan, members of a militant organisation called Hizb-ul Mujahideen wage a campaign of violence against what they regard as Indian occupation of their region which is known by India as the State of Jammu and Kashmir and internationally as Indian-administered Kashmir. In early July a popular 22-year old member of the organisation, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was killed by Indian security forces. A highly intelligent young man, he joined the HuM at the age of 15 after his younger brother was beaten up by para-military soldiers, and became well known for his use of social media to encourage other young people to join the fight against India.
The Indian Express newspaper reported that the authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir trace the growth of such as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen back to 2010 when after «young boys in Kashmir pelted stones at the Army, expressing rage over an alleged fake encounter that had killed three young men, the Army responded with bullets, killing over 110 youths. Since then, says a Senior Superintendent of Police, ‘the first signs of local boys joining the militant ranks began showing up’».
There were massive protests about the killing of Burhan Wani, and the BBC reported that in the three days following his death, «Police in Indian-administered Kashmir say at least 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces». The situation went from bad to terrible, and the civilian death toll is now over 80. Crowd control measures by the army and other security forces included the firing of pellets which blinded scores of people. As the New York Times reported of one such incident, «The patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old».
There is little wonder that the insurgency in Kashmir has intensified.
In June I attended a reunion of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in which I served as deputy head in 1980-82. It was a well-attended gathering in Sweden of the Blue Berets of Kashmir, and of course we talked of the violence in the disputed territory which we had grown to like so much. In our days of service on both sides of the Line of Control between the two regions of Kashmir the people were welcoming and hospitable and we could travel without fear of harm — but on the Indian side we were forbidden to visit the areas in which we were supposed to conduct ‘field tasks’ in order to help in maintenance of peace. As the UN states «The military authorities of Pakistan have continued to lodge complaints with UNMOGIP about ceasefire violations. The military authorities of India have lodged no complaints since January 1972 and have restricted the activities of the UN observers on the Indian side of the Line of Control».
If the UN mission was permitted to operate properly, it would be able to «observe and report» — as laid down by its terms of reference — on exactly what is happening. It would be able to report, independently and objectively, to UN HQ on who began cross-Line firing, for example. But the Indian government does not want the United Nations to be involved in Kashmir, in spite of the fact that there was — and remains — a Security Council resolution mandating that the «the Military Observer Group shall continue to supervise the cease-fire in the State». India has never asked the UN Security Council to cancel that resolution.
An equally undeniable UN resolution of 1948 states that «The Government of India should undertake that there will be established in Jammu and Kashmir a Plebiscite Administration to hold a plebiscite as soon as possible on the question of the accession of the State to India or Pakistan». And the world is still waiting.
The feeling at annual gatherings of the Blue Berets of Kashmir is of deep regret that the disagreement between the countries, lasting from 1947 and caused largely by the maladroit intrigues of the British Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, has not been solved. We consider that both countries have cases to put, and that there couldn’t be a better body to whom to present their arguments than the United Nations. And our opinion has been given substance by, for example, the most welcome international arbitration decision over a dispute between India and Bangladesh concerning their maritime boundary.
The UN’s Court of Arbitration in The Hague stated that «On 7 July 2014, the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rendered its Award [which] establishes the course of the maritime boundary line between Bangladesh and India in the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, and the continental shelf within and beyond 200 nautical miles». As recorded by the Wall Street Journal, «A United Nations court drew a new maritime border in the Bay of Bengal, awarding more than three-quarters of a disputed area to Bangladesh and opening the way for more energy exploration in the sea. The ruling… settled a long-running territorial dispute between Bangladesh and neighbouring India. Both countries said they would abide by the decision». End of message. There was a dispute between two countries who put their cases to the UN and accepted the mediation decision. Arbitration won. But the biggest winner was the cause of peace.
Although India welcomed the UN judgement about its maritime dispute with Bangladesh it refuses to acknowledge that a UN decision about its territorial dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir could be equally acceptable. Why?
After all, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent a telegram to his counterpart in Pakistan on 4 November 1947 declaring that «I have stated our Government’s policy and made it clear that we have no desire to impose our will on Kashmir but to leave final decision to the people of Kashmir. I further stated that we have agreed on impartial international agency like the United Nations supervising any referendum».
But India has for many years rejected impartiality concerning Kashmir. And the present government of the Bharatiya Janata Party continues the policies of its predecessors as regards the territory.
On September 30, as reported by Radio Free Europe, «UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered to act as a mediator between India and Pakistan to defuse escalating tensions over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir», following a terrorist attack on an Indian camp in the territory that killed 19 soldiers and resulted in massive artillery shelling and small arms firing across the Line of Control by Indian forces. (Contrary to Indian statements on subsequent developments, there were no «surgical strikes» conducted by Indian forces across the Line of Control.)
But India rejects proposals for talks of any sort. As the New Indian Express stated on September 14, «Despite India’s diplomatic counter-manoeuvring, Pakistan is succeeding in «internationalising» the Kashmir conflict as the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday sought access to the Valley — a demand that was turned down by New Delhi. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said he was awaiting from India a reply to his request seeking access to both sides of the Line of Control. Rejecting the demand, the Ministry of External Affairs said the question of an external mission was considered by the all-party conference on August 12. «It was unanimously felt that the Indian democracy has all that is required to address legitimate grievances,» the ministry said».
India’s last external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, was adamant about rejecting mediation over Kashmir and stated that «We did hear some statements about giving access to third parties in this affair. I think we have moved away from that… we reiterate our position that these are bilateral issues and they should be settled bilaterally».
No matter what may be claimed, Kashmir is not a bilateral issue, because the dispute remains on the books of the United Nations. India has tried for many years to convince the world that the 1972 India-Pakistan Simla Accord following the Bangladesh war of 1971 in some way invalidates UN Security Council resolutions regarding Kashmir. But the first paragraph of the Simla agreement is «that the Principles and Purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern the relations between the countries».
Then it states that «the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them» [emphasis added]. It is obvious that, contrary to Indian claims, there is no legal exclusion of the UN or any third party from mediation over Kashmir, given the agreement to include «any other means» towards settlement — such as that employed to settle the India-Bangladesh dispute.
It is time for maturity about the future of Kashmir. Far too much blood has been shed and far too much bitterness created. The solution is for the UN Security Council to appoint a mediation commission to analyse the problem and decide upon a binding solution. In the meantime the UN Mission in India and Pakistan, UNMOGIP, should be empowered by the Security Council to carry out its duties, which would result in cessation of cross-Line firing, thereby reducing tension — and saving lives.
Then there would be peace. How annoying that would be for the extremists on both sides.