by Brian Cloughley
South Asia defence analyst and author of ‘A History of the Pakistan Army’

In May 2016, there were many media reports concerning what is happening in Kashmir and about the attitudes of India and Pakistan to that territorial disagreement that has led to war, and caused death, destruction and hatred on an Olympic scale. One news item concerned Pakistan’s objection to India’s geographic portrayal of the region as being entirely under Indian sovereignty.

As portrayed by New Delhi, the whole area of the state of Kashmir, which was only loosely delineated pre-1947, is a part of India. Pakistan begs to differ, and refers to the UN Security Council deliberations in support of its stance, notably Resolution 91 of 1951 in which the Council reminds “the Governments and authorities concerned of the principle . . . that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.”

No matter what might be maintained or otherwise declared by anyone, the plain fact is that the matter of a “free and impartial plebiscite” remains on the books of the United Nations. Another  fact, however, is that it will never be held.

Given the UN Security Council’s disinclination to agree on initiatives that would offend India, there is no prospect that any decision concerning the future of Kashmir will be implemented. In 2010, the Council went so far as to omit Kashmir from its list of disputed territories. It did not explain the inconsistency of this action with the continuing presence of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan which was established “to supervise, in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the ceasefire between India and Pakistan; and to assist the Military Adviser to the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), established in 1948 by Security Council resolutions 39 and 47”. If there is no internationally recognised territorial dispute, then why is there still a UN military mission in the territory?

There is no rational answer to that question that would not embarrass India, so no answer will be given, other than the usual misleading and entirely deceitful assertion on the part of Delhi that because of the 1972 Simla Accord between India and Pakistan, the matter is wholly a bilateral one, and must exclude third-party mediation. India’s publicly announced stance is that: “There is no way in which India will accept any intervention on an issue that is entirely accepted in the Simla Agreement as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan... It is a waste of time for anybody no matter how eminent to be even trying to question it.”

But what is stated in the Simla Agreement is that “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.” By no interpretation can “any other peaceful means” be understood as excluding international mediation. Furthermore, the United Nations is explicit in that “the Security Council may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The Kashmir “situation” falls precisely in the category of disagreements that endanger international peace and security, especially as India and Pakistan have large arsenals of nuclear weapons and because any friction involving nations with such a capability should be given the urgent international attention that it deserves.

The historian, Alastair Lamb, wrote that the dispute began “as a contest over rights to a territory, not the struggle to establish the wishes of a people.” And it is a determination of the United Nations that “we, the peoples” should “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” but although it is obvious that the issue of Kashmir is the most likely catalyst for conflict in the Sub-continent, there is no movement in the UN to attempt to mediate on this potentially catastrophic conflagration.

The exchanges concerning the Kashmir crisis between India and Pakistan at the UN General Assembly in September 2015 were banal to the point of imbecility, and on India’s side followed the line of its foreign minister’s declaration that “there is no way in which India will accept any intervention on an issue that is entirely accepted in the Simla Agreement as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan... It is a waste of time for anybody no matter how eminent to be even trying to question it.”

On 27 May 2016, the Indian commentator Arun Joshi lamented that since becoming prime minister two years ago, Mr Narendra Modi “had more than one opportunity to transform the political, psychological and economic landscape of all the three regions of the state, particularly the Valley,” but that “there are no visible steps being taken by New Delhi to know what is wrong and how it can be rectified.” Of course there are not, and Joshi ends his thoughtful piece by observing that “hordes of villagers thronging to disrupt the Army’s operations against militants and thousands attending the funeral of militants is a picture to which one cannot shut one’s eyes. Two years have not made a difference the way people of Jammu and Kashmir were expecting. Maybe something really good will happen in the third.”

Certainly there could be something good for Kashmir in Mr Modi’s third year in power, providing he and Mr Nawaz Sharif, could have a meeting from which their more combative cronies could be excluded. No matter what one’s personal opinion may be about both leaders, they are what their countries elected, and it’s essential to make the best of them — just as it is incumbent on them to make the best of their time in power.

To paraphrase the words of John F Kennedy, they should “ask not what their countries can do for them; they should get on and do things for their countries.” And the greatest thing they could do would be to get rid of the poison of Kashmir.

In essence it would be simple, and both men have now sufficient domestic support to squash political opposition, even from the most fanatical bands of bigots such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the RSS, the “National Patriotic Organisation”, which prefer blood and hatred to amity and prosperity. They should agree to define the Line of Control as the International Border, concurrently with evacuating Siachen and declaring it a demilitarised region. It could be done with a few taps on a keyboard.

Of course it would not satisfy a great many people in both countries — but it would save a great many lives. Such a brave and statesman-like initiative would remove the main cause of distrust and hatred between India and Pakistan. The economic benefits would be colossal, and the present ominous moves towards nuclear war would be halted.

It’s always good to remove poison — and both of them would get a Nobel Peace Prize.