The Plebiscite in Kashmir
UN had once recommended a plebiscite to be held in Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir to solve the dispute of accession. It was in response to the dispute between India and Pakistan over the state. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 47 and still sticks to it. The solution had a few prerequisites and a few methodologies to implement the plebiscite. Pakistan was asked (Refer to 1a) to withdraw the Army and the tribals who entered within the state in course of fighting (Indo-Pak Kashmir war 1947-48). India was asked to establish a Plebiscite commission and conduct the Plebiscite. Neither of the prerequisites did take place, nor the plebiscite. UN still recognises the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed area and shows it accordingly in its’ map. Many of the states (including US) has changed their position since then to support 1972 Simla Agreement as a base of dispute resolution in Kashmir.
What is a Plebiscite?
A referendum (plurals: ‘referendums’ or ‘referenda’) or plebiscite (from plebiscita, originally a decree of the Concilium Plebis) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. In the topic, choice (or preferendum) was given to People residing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to join India or Pakistan. There were no option for a free Kashmir in the referendum proposal. An example of plebiscite could be the Quebec referendum in 1980, where the choice was between a free Quebec, against remaining as a state of Canada.
The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir
The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir was primarily consituted of five different areas. The areas are – 1) Kashmir Valley, 2) Jammu, 3) Northern Areas, 4) Ladakh and 5) Aksai Chin. Among these, the valley is administered by both India and Pakistan. Jammu and Ladakh are almost entirely administered by India, Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan and the Aksai Chin was administered by China.
The State of J&K is a diverse geographical region, having people from different ethnicity and religious background. There is a little in similarity between and person living in Northern Area, a Valley resident, a Ladakhi and a resident in Jammu. It might worth noting that the dissatisfaction is mainly centered in Valley, because it is divided between India and Pakistan. Also, the valley dominates over all four regions, because of the higher population it has. The Northern Areas is governed directly by Pakistan yet they don’t have any representation in Pakistani Parliament and understandably they are moving towards freedom struggle. The role of religion in the diversity can not be undermined. The Jammu region is predominantly Hindu and hence they would be happy to get annexed to India as a state. The Ladakh is mainly inhabited by the Buddhists and Shia Muslims (there are some settlers from valley as well) and so far did not wanted freedom from India. Similarly, the people of Northern Areas are mainly Shia and might not be comfortable within Pakistan.
The Solutions to Kashmir Problem
There are many proposals to solve the Kashmir dispute. Some of them contains region give-away, where some other are only some confidence building measures. A very good guide to these possible solutions is presented in this BBC document. It showed that all possible combination of solutions are in fact difficult to achieve and would make grounds for further damage in the region.
Plebiscite as a solution
The traditional proposal of plebiscite raises a lot of questions. The main question would be against linking the fate and aspiration of a Buddhist Ladakhi tied to a Sunni Muslim living in Sialkot. They live complete different lives. Moreover, after 60 years of independence, a lot of Kashmiris, who are legitimate stakeholders of the plebiscite, are living outside the region. A lot of people has also entered these regions (for example – people from Tibet entered Ladakh and people from NWFP entered Northern areas). It is difficult to conduct a plebiscite without bias – whoever conducts it. A role might be played by the vote with force. And at the end, whoever gets defeated, will perceive a loss and threaten to withdraw complaining a foul played by the other party. If, by any chance a lands do change ownership, it might result in a huge list of murdered and displaced people as the victor would in turn engage in routing out the anti-sentiments of the newly gained land.
A Modified Plebiscite
The plebiscite proposal can be modified to be used. The granularity of the decision-making process could be down to district or sub-division level, to minimize the displacements. This would in effect result in a partition of the state among Indian and Pakistani regions. For the continuity purpose, if the minority-pockets are exchanged, minorities could get slaughtered or displaced on either side, something that happened after 1947 Indian partition.
The recent view of India and Pakistan towards Plebiscite
Indians generally refer to Hari Singh treaty of accession and J&K State assembly decision in 1951 to annex the state with India. The claim for plebiscite is mainly raised by Kashmiri (valley) groups and Pakistanis. However, Pakistan is shifting their stance recently. Kofi Annan also said that the plebiscite proposal is irrelevant now. Pakistan President Musharraf even said that they would give up the claim for Kashmir if Indians implement a few peace-proposals.
I would suggest that any further change in boundary should be avoided at any cost. A change in boundary has done a lot of damage in 1947 and in 1971. We should not repeat it. While the advanced countries in Europe are looking ahead to reduce the burden of the boundaries, we should put our best efforts to minimize the impediments of the Indo-Pak boundary, rather than installing a new one. I also added one documentary that is narrated by Pervez Hoodbhoy and talks in similar lines.
1) Kashmiris Reject War In Favour Of Democratic Means – A survey by MORI. The five point solution voted for by the people of Indian part of Kashmir are –
* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty – 93%
* The holding of free and fair elections to elect the people’s representatives – 86%
* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir – 87%
* An end to militant violence in the region – 86%
* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control – 88%
2) Kashmir’s forgotten plebiscite – BBC.
4) The EU report on Kashmir.