by Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
Ultimately the referendum in Scotland was held in a peaceful manner, and the people decided according to their own free will not to be an independent nation. This was undoubtedly a victory for democratic principles and universal values. The people of Kashmir do not want anything more than that. They want the same principle to be equally applicable to Kashmir. Let the people decide.
They want a transparent, free and fair election, devoid of rigging, manipulation and external coercion. They do not want the interference of either army, be it Indian or Pakistani. They want the demilitarization of Kashmir on either side of the Ceasefire Line before the referendum takes place. The people of Kashmir want what was promised to them by both India and Pakistan and agreed upon by the world community — an election where the people of Kashmir are free to exercise their right to self-determination, i.e., whether they want to be the part of India or Pakistan or want to become independent.
The people of Kashmir want what Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the founding Prime Minister of India wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on November 21, 1949, “I have repeatedly stated that as soon as peace and order have been established, Kashmir should decide of accession by Plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of United Nations.”
What is good for goose should be good for the gander. If it is up to the people of Scotland to decide, as the Indian foreign minister says, then it should be up to the people of all zones of Jammu & Kashmir to decide as well.
All neutral reporters who have visited Kashmir say that the word referendum is common on the lips of Kashmiris and it stirs up excitement among them. Professor Richard Price, a well-known British historian says, “If Kashmir somehow secured a vote for its independence, the people would probably vote to secede.” Yes, probably, but one thing should be clear: whatever the outcome of the referendum –- be it India, Pakistan or independence — provided it is conducted, monitored and supervised by an internationally neutral agency, it must be binding and must be acceptable to all parties – India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership.
On Sunday November 9, 2014 Catalans, like the Scots, also voted in a referendum for independence from Spain. These are two instances in which people believed that their own uniqueness deserved not only autonomy but sovereignty. Both countries have a form of “devolved” government in which they have some control over their affairs. And while the Scottish referendum had legal force and recognition, the Catalonian referendum did not and was officially banned by the central government and its courts. Undoubtedly, with more than 80% voting in favor of independence, the matter will be given greater attention by Spanish authorities. Nevertheless, both proceeded without violence or relative interference from the central government. The balloting was conducted peacefully, which allowed people to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal.
However, in Kashmir, which now, at least in theory, supposedly enjoys a semi-autonomous status as well, and has a several decades-old tradition of demanding a referendum, anyone who makes such an effort to hold a plebiscite would probably be executed on charges of sedition by the government. The mere mention of the word independence is likely to get you shot by troops who may use their own discretion to decide whether or not you are a threat to the integrity of India’s claim over that territory. Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning novelist of India, faced sedition charges in 2010 simply because she said , “the disputed territory of Kashmir is not an integral part of India.” Yet, in acquiring such control after a war with Pakistan, India agreed in 1948 to allow such a plebiscite or referendum to take place. It has never happened.
Kashmir and India share a common heritage, and yet both have their own unique qualities which make them different. Just as siblings have differences that demand that each be given their own private space, Kashmir and India are similar. Were India to allow Kashmir its independence, both sides would be much more accepting of their differences, and both might share in the cultural and economic values that both have to offer in a marriage of mutual cooperation that supports each other’s identity. Today, only divorce is on the table.
It was for the very same reasons that when Britain gave India her independence that Pakistan was created as a separate country to give both Hindus and Muslims their own unique cultural identity and space. Kashmir was somehow caught in the middle, and was illegally acceded to India by its Maharajah against the wishes of its people and in violation of the rules governing the Partition of India with the breakup of the British Indian empire.
However, there is still great opportunity for peace in Kashmir, but it cannot occur unless the people of Kashmir are permitted to have their own identity and chart their own course. The referendum in Scotland outlines the ideal path for that to take place.
Fundamentally it is a win-win solution for both India and Kashmir, and peace might finally come to the Ceasefire Line with Pakistan. India needs greater allocation of its resources to solving its internal problems of poverty, disease and corruption. Allowing a peaceful resolution to this long festering problem with Kashmir would be a bold step toward that goal, toward true democracy, and would be a shining light unto the world of one country’s willingness to do the right thing.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness.