The world is transforming rapidly. An old system has changed and a new system has take place. Though, the new patterns are emerging, it is still too soon to define them clearly. The end of an era of bipolarity, a new wave of populism, increasing globalization of information and economic power, the frequent efforts at international coordination of health and security policies, new responsibilities on the states, citizens and the world community offer opportunities as well as pose challenges.
As the world’s political paradigm changes, the imperial governments no longer exist but the conflicts created by them do. Along with the longstanding dispute of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), there are multiple border disputes in the world. In South Asia, the issue of J&K has deep historical roots which stem from imperial conflicts of the 19th century and now, the question of war and peace in whole of South Asia is linked with the future of Kashmir.
In Indo-Pak Subcontinent, the boundaries were never fully demarcated during the partition in 1947. The Line of Control (LoC) and the the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were never fully determined, which provided the opportunity for a bizarre struggle over the territories including Aksai Chan and Siachin Glacier. India and Pakistan never came to a settlement over border issues while China and Pakistan came to a temporary agreement over a part of the border which is contested by India. J&K was internationally recognized as a disputed territory whose final status is yet to be determined by its. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and have fought three wars during the past half-century.
As a result of dispute over J&K territory, over 400,000 innocent Kashmiris have been brutally massacred while 19478,652 unidentified mass graves have been discovered in 89 villages of 6 districts. According to sources, 8,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris are enforced disappeared while 2,500 women are Half Widows.
Currently, with deployment of approximately 900,000 Indian Forces and imposition of curfew, J&K has been converted into the most densely militarized zone and the largest prison in the world. In response, the freedom movement in J&K is maintaining its momentum against occupied forces. One of the reports by the International Crisis Group (ICG), titled, “Raising Stakes in Kashmir” released in August 2020, has also endorsed the Kashmir freedom Movement as an indigenized struggle as 95% of freedom fighters killed were locals. Moreover, the 18 resolutions by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) validate the disputed character of J&K. UNSC resolutions repeatedly enunciate its final settlement through plebiscite; however, India continues to trample international laws by demographic transformation and by settlement of non-Kashmiris.
The unresolved Kashmir dispute is a permanent threat to regional peace. Time will not heal the Kashmir problem. Instead, time has made things worse in Kashmir. If a strategy for resolution of this conflict had begun in the early 1980s then India-Pakistan would have averted some of the crises that arose later. The prospect of a nuclear exchange in that vast Subcontinent cannot be dismissed in the event of hostilities breaking out between the two countries. It is also true that bilateralism between India and Pakistan has failed in resolving the Kashmir conflict.
The mantra has been repeated by world powers as well that they have no alternative but to rely on bilateral talks between India and Pakistan to achieve a settlement in future. No bilateral talks between both countries have yielded agreements without the active role of an external element. The missing element is sustained and coordinated diplomatic persuasion by major powers. As Lewis Carroll has suggested, if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there. That has been the quality of many proposals to deal with Kashmir. There could be several paths at once.
The United Nations (UN) through the engagement of a multilateral effort including one or two permanent members of the Security Council along with India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership can play an effective role in bringing parties together. The proposal is not unconventional as UN has already been engaging countries for peace and international security. The UN has two choices; (i) to continue confining itself to warning both Pakistan and India against going to war with each other; (ii) to play a more activist, mediatory role in regard to Kashmir. This can take the shape of a multilateral dialogue or an appropriate use of the newly‑developed procedures and mechanisms at the UN. The UN would supply the catalyst that is needed for a settlement.
This is a matter that urgently needs to be put on a road to find a just and viable solution. UN also needs to convince India to comply with its international and moral obligations and let Kashmiris exercise their inalienable right to self-determination as enshrined in international law and the relevant UNSC Resolutions. Seven decades after the partition, a plebiscite in Kashmir remains a moral imperative, besides being a democratic necessity.
*Gulshan Rafiq, the writer is an Islamabad based researcher.