Colombo Telegraph

Kashmir – Part II

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

I concluded the first part of this article by stating that the relevance of the Kashmir problem for the Sri Lankan nation and for the question of shaping a new world order has to be addressed. For this purpose we have to firstly ask what the Kashmir problem really is about. I hold that it is really about the annexation of Kashmir by India. If the rebellion in Kashmir dies out and the people of Kashmir are seen to be successfully integrated into the Indian union there will be no Kashmir problem, not one at least that should bother the rest of the world apart perhaps from Pakistan. But that seems most unlikely considering that the rebellion is at its height almost seventy years after Partition. The Kashmir problem continues to envenom Indo-Pakistan relations, even to the extent that a nuclear war cannot be ruled out. It is time therefore for the international community to address the problem, and the first requisite for that is to understand what the problem really is about.

The case for stating that it is really about the annexation of Kashmir by India has to begin with the recognition of the fact that historically India never was a single political unit. A politically united India was a British creation. Before the Partition the Hindu and the Muslim leaders agreed that the sub-continent should be partitioned along religious lines in so far as that was feasible. It was certainly feasible for the Maharaja of Kashmir to have opted to join Pakistan because the territories were contiguous and Kashmir had a solid Muslim majority. But that did not happen because of certain developments that need not be recounted here. What is important is that there was a UN Resolution calling for a plebiscite to allow the people of Kashmir to decide on their future. What is important also are the facts that India agreed to the holding of the plebiscite and that Nehru kept on reiterating that commitment. India therefore acknowledged that there was a moral case for allowing the Kashmiris to opt to join Pakistan, or to set up a separate state – the latter was not regarded as a feasible option at that time. Nor would it have been thought that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslims would have opted to join India. But India finally refused to hold the plebiscite, and it is found after almost seventy years that the attempt to integrate Kashmir into the Indian union has been a failure. Those facts point inexorably to one conclusion: India has annexed territory that should not belong to it.

It is an intriguing question why India reneged on its very explicit commitment to hold the plebiscite. The factor of Nehru’s Kashmiri Brahmin ancestry being the determinant seems too frivolous to be taken seriously. I wonder whether the intensification of the Cold War during that period had a lot to do with it. It came to be widely accepted that Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951 through a plot mounted by the CIA, and the reason for that was that he was determined to entrench a Non-Aligned foreign policy – at that time Non-Alignment was called “positive neutralism” in Nehru’s terminology. The US’s notoriously aggressive Secretary of State John Foster Dulles explicitly declared that neutralism was “immoral” – a position reiterated to me many times by Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary during my time there in 1957 – 1958. I must mention also a story current in some circles in Pakistan, a story that I have never seen in print. It was that a Scotland Yard team investigating the assassination went to East Pakistan to conclude their investigations, but while returning to West Pakistan their plane blew up mysteriously in mid-air.

It could be that India felt peculiarly vulnerable during that period, against a background in which there was a widespread assumption that India would be breaking up sooner rather than later. According to the perceptions of the great authentic nationalist leaders of that time, notably Nehru, Tito, Nasser, and Soekarno – the moving forces behind Bandung 1955 and the first Non-Aligned Summit in Belgrade in 1961 – the expositors of true independence as distinct from merely formal sovereignty for the third world countries, the US was an aggressive neo-colonialist power that was fiercely intolerant of that true independence. According to Indian perceptions the US could be a lethal force against India, and Pakistan could serve as its regional weapon. It could make sense in that context for India to take up a tough stand on Kashmir in opposition to Pakistan, and that could be the explanation for India so blatantly reneging on an international commitment.

There are two ways of looking at India’s relations with its neighbors. On the debit side we can take count of the absorption of Sikkim, the satellitisation of Bhutan, the troubled relations with Nepal and Bangladesh seen by many as bullying, the arrogance shown according to many towards China at the time of the border war, the breakup of Pakistan, the backing for the buildup of the LTTE and the disastrous 1987 intervention in Sri Lanka, which collectively show that India has an inordinate appetite for real estate and for trying to dominate its neighbors. It does seem that India has had an exceptional record for bad relations with neighbors. But we must acknowledge that for the most part India has had equable relations with Sri Lanka unlike with its northern neighbors. That could signify that the bad relations in the north were occasioned by security preoccupations which were not there in the south and not by a drive for domination over its neighbors. I rather think that both factors have counted in India’s relations with neighbors. Its behavior over Kashmir provides I think a convincing illustration of my point. On the one hand, security preoccupations arising out of the intensification of the Cold War could have led to the blatant reneging on the commitment to hold the plebiscite. On the other hand, India showed by that reneging that it was challenging the very raison d’être of Pakistan: if the Kashmiri Muslims were successfully integrated into the Indian union it would have been shown that there was no need to establish Pakistan to secure fair and equal treatment for the Muslims of the sub-continent.

I come now to the relevance of Kashmir for the Sri Lankan nation and for the question of shaping a new world order. I must emphasize two points before proceeding further. The first is that despite the ambiguity I have noted in the preceding paragraph, India has shown a regional hegemonic drive of a sort that should not be tolerated by any of its neighbors, least of all by Sri Lanka. The second is that India is guilty of annexation of territory that should not belong to it. That is true of Kashmir particularly in the period after 1989. Kashmir has a particular relevance for Sri Lanka because it is facing a serious threat to its territorial integrity. India seems determined to establish a permanent pro-Indian enclave in North East Sri Lanka. Under certain circumstances an outright intervention by India to establish a separate state cannot be ruled out. In this situation the support given by our Government for India over postponement of the SAARC Summit was deplorable. Did our Government have even one shred of evidence to show the Pakistan Government’s complicity in the raid that burnt alive sixteen Indian soldiers? Is it not known that that Government is not in control of some of the terrorist groups that operate from Pakistan territory? It is a reasonable surmise that though Pakistan Governments may foment the Kashmir rebellion – which should be regarded as quite understandable considering India’s outrageous behavior over Kashmir – none of them will want to do anything that could provoke a further war.

Obviously Kashmir is relevant to the question of shaping a new world order. There can be no such order worth the name if there is acquiescence in annexation. A war was fought over the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq, a war which had the support of the entire international community apart from Iraq. The international community’s disapproval of annexation was also shown over the virtual annexation of East Timor by Indonesia. In the case of Kashmir the aspect of annexation has been obscured by historical developments. It cannot be ignored if the rebellion there continues, which has to be expected maybe in waves and not in a continuous direct trajectory. In that event the international community could come to accept self-determination as the solution for the Kashmir problem. I believe that a solution of the Kashmir problem will result in a coming together of India and Pakistan in positive ways that are unimaginable at present.

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