New thinking on Kashmir

May 7, 2007
For nearly 60 years, the Kashmir problem has gone unresolved, so obviously it’s time for some new thinking on this issue.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that the Islamic ummah is one body and if one part of the ummah feels pain, the whole Islamic community must feel pain.

Thus, Kashmir is an issue of the entire Islamic world.

After the partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, the final status of Kashmir was left undetermined, although it was thought that it should accede to Pakistan since it was a Muslim majority region.

However, in October 1947, without consulting his people, the maharaja of Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union, which contained a clause saying the wishes of the Kashmiri people should be taken into account.

War broke out between Pakistan and India, but a ceasefire, which took effect in January 1949, set the Line of Control as the temporary border.

In 1948, the UN issued a resolution calling for a plebiscite to determine the final status of the territory. However, the referendum was never held, and the people of Kashmir have been denied the right of self-determination to this day.

Pakistan and India fought another war over Kashmir in 1965, and there have been numerous border incidents.

For nearly six decades, Pakistan has been demanding that the plebiscite be held, but India has always refused to grant the Kashmiris the right to vote to determine their own destiny.

Clearly, something must be done to break this impasse.

Yet, the situation has changed since 1947, so it is necessary to find a creative solution.

Most likely, the wording of the plebiscite will have to be changed. Currently, the only choices are accession to Pakistan or India.

However, many Kashmiris want independence, so that third option should be added to the referendum.

Also, the plebiscite should probably be conducted on a regional basis.

Kashmir is made up of several regions populated by various peoples.

On the Pakistan side of the Line of Control, Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas are both 99 percent Muslim.

In the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley is 95 percent Muslim, Jammu is about 66 percent Hindu and 30 percent Muslim, and Ladakh is about 50 percent Buddhist and 46 percent Muslim. However, some areas of Jammu and Ladakh are Muslim majority.

It seems that most of the Muslims of the Indian-administered part of Kashmir want to break away from India, whereas the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh both want to remain in India.

Since neither Pakistan nor India want to give up strategic territory, a regional plebiscite may be the best solution.

The plebiscite could be held in seven voting districts: Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and the Indian-administered Kashmir Valley, the Muslim majority part of Jammu, the Muslim majority part of Ladakh, the Hindu majority part of Jammu, and the Buddhist majority part of Ladakh.

In this way, if the Hindu majority part of Jammu and the Buddhist majority part of Ladakh voted to remain in India, India would retain strategic territory.

Also, if the Northern Areas voted to remain in Pakistan, Pakistan would retain strategic territory.

This leaves four more voting districts.

If Azad Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley, the Muslim majority part of Jammu, and the Muslim majority part of Ladakh all voted to join Pakistan, Pakistan would be appeased.

However, India might feel it was losing important territories, although the fact that the Kashmir issue would finally be resolved and the prospect for a lasting peace would be at hand should convince the Indians that this final settlement is in India’s best interests.

If Azad Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley, the Muslim majority part of Jammu, and the Muslim majority part of Ladakh all voted to become independent, the new Republic of Kashmir could act as a buffer state between India and Pakistan, and again the prospect for a lasting peace would be at hand.

The Kashmir issue has been holding back development in South Asia for nearly 60 years. It is time for some creative thinking to solve the problem.

Peace in Kashmir would bring a massive peace dividend. Funds that have been spent to militarize the border would be freed up and could be spent on social programs to raise the standard of living, increase literacy, and improve housing and healthcare for all the people of Pakistan and India.

The time has come for a plebiscite to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their own destiny.