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Debate: Kashmir self determination

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Should India and Pakistan allow a plebiscite on self-determination in Kashmir?

Background and context

In 1947, at the time of India and Pakistan’s independence from Great Britain, Kashmir was free to accede to either country. The province was mostly Muslim but ruled by a Hindu king. Though he wanted to stay independent, he was convinced to join India in exchange for military aid. Since then, India and Pakistan have fought two wars (1947-48 and 1965) over the disputed territory. Both countries have been involved in major border skirmishes, including the most recent after a terrorist attack in New Delhi. Kashmir is divided by a Line of Control (LOC) established by the Simla Agreement in 1972 when both sides agreed to respect its course until a final negotiated solution could be found. India administers 2/3 of Kashmir as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan controls the remaining 1/3, though China also has a small claim in the area. Pakistan’s position is that Kashmir should be part of Pakistan and, at the very least, there should be a plebiscite to decide the issue. India argues that the issue was decided in 1947. Alternatively, the 1972 Simla Agreement has decided the issue and the LOC should become an international border.

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Argument #1

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Yes

In 1948, the United Nations Security Council decided that the issue of Kashmir’s future should be determined by a plebiscite. That resolution states that Pakistani forces must withdraw from the province and, upon the withdrawal, Kashmiris could decide whether to accede to India or Pakistan. UN Security Council resolutions are international law and, as this resolution has not been withdrawn, Kashmir’s future should be decided by its terms.

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No

Most Kashmiris want freedom, rather than belonging to either India or Pakistan. The UN resolution does not include the option of independence for Kashmir. India opposes a plebiscite. In 1989, three groups (Pakistani Hizbul Mujahideen, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the now-peaceful All-Party Hurriyat) began a military insurgency in Kashmir. India argues that this insurgency is a proxy war and that the three groups are funded by Pakistan. The 1948 resolution was predicated on the peaceful withdrawal of Pakistani troops at that time; the resolution is irrelevant today with so much having changed in the region.

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Argument #2

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Yes

India and Pakistan are unwilling and unable to negotiate a cease-fire or a permanent resolution by themselves. In 1998, both countries conducted nuclear tests and, since then, have threatened their use over Kashmir, even in response to an attack using conventional weapons. Muslim insurgents continue to strike at Hindu temples and Indian military outposts in Jammu and Kashmir. Fighting has killed between 30,000 and 70,000 people since 1989. Since neither side is willing to agree to the other’s demands, a plebiscite is the only solution to the controversy and, possibly, will end the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan.

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No

According to India, after general elections in mid-2002, it was willing to begin the process of discussing Kashmir’s autonomy with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its coalition. In a gesture of peace, it began withdrawing troops from Kashmir in October 2002. As in previous ceasefire attempts, it was the Muslim insurgency and unprovoked attacks on Indian civilians that slowed the devolution talks. Pakistan responds that it is not funding these groups or providing them with military support. It only supports the Muslim insurgents politically, morally and diplomatically.

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Argument #3

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Yes

The autonomy provisions in India’s Constitution are a sham. India has refused to discuss any real autonomy, always citing renewed violence as its excuse for direct rule from Delhi. In June 2000, the state assembly adopted a call for pre-1953 status. Though Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee suggested such status was possible, he was opposed by members of his own party, the BJP. In addition to being Hindu fundamentalists (and thus critical of autonomy for India’s only Muslim-majority state), the BJP fears that autonomy in Kashmir will bring calls for a similar devolution in Punjab, Nagaland and Orissa.

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No

Kashmir enjoys special status under India’s Constitution. It is an autonomous state. In practical terms, Kashmir could demand a return to its pre-1953 state (i.e. its own constitution, flag and prime minister; and all government power, except in areas of defence, foreign affairs and communications). Any such autonomy will come after negotiations between India and a properly constituted Kashmiri government. The failure to begin such discussions is a result of the continued violence in Kashmir by Muslim insurgents. Kashmir will enjoy far greater benefits, never mind security, if it remains part of India as an autonomous state.

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Argument #4

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Yes

The more likely outcome is that Kashmir will become independent, if this option is available. In a recent poll, almost 75% of Kashmiris, including Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, favoured independence. There is no reason why Kashmir, like India before it, could not opt for secularism, thus protecting all three religions equally.

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No

The rights of Kashmir’s Hindu and Buddhist minorities must be protected. Jammu and Kashmir is 60% Muslim meaning one of two outcomes in a plebiscite: either Kashmir becomes an independent, but Muslim state, or it accedes to Pakistan. In either case, the Kashmir problem might continue, with the only change being who is oppressed and who is the oppressor.

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