Referendum: A Possible Solution To The Problems in Kashmir?

By Ayesha Khan:

Of all the disputes between India and Pakistan, the most discussed is Jammu and Kashmir, a permanent settlement of which is extremely necessary. This needs to be resolved as both are nuclear countries and if left unsolved, this dispute can lead to disastrous consequences for the countries. To ward off the consequential possibilities of such a standoff, it is essential that this issue is addressed and a consensual solution is agreed upon in the next five years.

Internationally, a consensus has emerged around four propositions. (1) Kashmir’s accession to India is legally valid; (2) A political dispute indubitably exists; (3) Plebiscite is rejected; but (4) No solution can be arrived at against the wishes of the people of the State in all its regions.

Neither Pakistan nor the militants can detach Kashmir from India. However this does not mean that India can rule over the state indifferent to its people’s aspirations. Any such contrivances on the part of either side will not go down well with the people of Kashmir, as is obvious by its approach towards India. Pakistan, also, should refrain from attempting another military venture. India should not resort to any more gimmickry to conceal the realities of alienation of the people and the existence of an international political dispute that cries out for a peaceful and final solution. It would be a shame if India were to fail to rise to the challenge by not devising creative solutions which meet Kashmir’s aspirations, provide incentives to its neighbour to settle, and yet also manage satisfy India’s own aspiration (which is Kashmir’s membership of the Union of India). Similar solutions have been successfully attempted elsewhere and it is plausible in Kashmir as well.

In the long run, however, the most important thing about the Kashmir conflict will be the expense in military hardware which both the countries have incurred. The argument that defence spending comes at the cost of development was made by the Pakistani economist Mahboob-ul-Haq. It was Haq who pioneered the annual Human Development Index (HDI), whereby the world’s nations are ranked not merely by economic growth but by the social services they provide their citizens. It is scarcely an accident that both Pakistan and India have consistently performed poorly in this regard, both hovering somewhere around the 130/140 mark. This has entailed a sharp decline in the provision of essential social services in both the countries, like health, education and food. As is it is, both the countries have terrifyingly high rates of poverty, apart from a sizable portion of refugees, which can lead to further trouble. Unfortunately, neither one of them seems to be much bothered by this obvious reality. Instead, they have fought two big wars (in 1965 and 1971) and one small one (1999). Both continue to spend far more on arms than is prudent or necessary.

In such a situation, the only solution that holds water, when all else, including generous financial assistance from the Central Government as well as brutal military repression has failed, is that of holding a referendum. India’s reputation will not be tarnished if Kashmir is seceded as a result. Instead, it will guard against the future loss of thousands of innocent lives both of the Kashmiri people and the Indian armed forces. It will also divert the millions of rupees, which are being poured to finance this armed struggle, to the much needed cause of national development. Also, offering the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination would not encourage every other secessionist group as Kashmir is already treated as a special case. No other secessionist group in the country has an Article 370 to its credit.

A second objection is that Indian secularism would suffer a blow by the secession of Kashmir. The case could be contrary to observations. The level of cultural homogeneity felt by Indian Muslims in different parts of the nation with each other may be a moot point.

Moreover, too much is made of the size of Kashmir. Actually secessionist feeling is concentrated primarily in the Valley, an area with a population of 4 million that is 98 per cent Muslim. Neither Jammu nor Ladakh want to secede.

Holding a referendum in the Valley will let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they do not, then they shall not be forced to remain. If they vote for integration with Pakistan, Azad Kashmir will gain a little more territory. If they opt for independence, they will have an immensely difficult time coping without the financial assistance India has provided them. But it will finally be their decision.

India can try allowing the Kashmiri people hold a referendum. It could only gain immensely by this act. Since India believes in democracy, then giving the Kashmiri people the right to choose is the correct thing to do.

Moreover, it is widely believed that India’s observance of the ‘rule of law’ will guarantee the support of ma:P

ny States and leaders for its claim to get a permanent seat in the Security Council. Resolving the Kashmir issue will greatly increase India’s chances at that.

Thus, in such a situation, the issue rests entirely on India to do that which is right and resolve this dichotomy in Jammu and Kashmir between sovereignty and self-determination and usher in an era of peace and harmony.


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