Excerpts from the Governor General of India’s letter of October 27, 1947, to the Maharaja of Kashmir make an interesting read: “Your Highness’s letter dated October 26 has been delivered to me by Mr V.P. Menon. In the special circumstances mentioned by Your Highness, my government has decided to accept the accession of Kashmir to the Dominion of India. Consistently with their policy that, in case of any state where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state, it is my government’s wish that, as soon as the law and order has been restored in Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.

“Meanwhile, in response to Your Highness’s appeal for military aid, action has been taken today to send troops of Indian army to Kashmir to help your own forces to defend your territory and to protect the lives, property and honour of your people.......”

Notwithstanding the credible research that these two letters were written after the Indian army had physically entered Kashmir and that the Maharaja had declined to sign the letter attributed to him, it remains a well documented fact that the Governor General’s acceptance of accession of Kashmir was temporary and tied down to the final settlement through ascertainment of the will of the people.

It is in this context that remarks by the UN Secretary General (UNSG), Ban Ki-moon, about the Kashmir dispute - during his recent visit to India - were appreciated by almost everyone. While urging for an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute, he emphasised that the “will of Kashmiris must be respected while finding any solution.” Ban said: “I hope this issue (Kashmir) is addressed peacefully without violence and respecting wills of the people there.......fully respecting the human rights sentiments there.”

Commenting on the efforts to boost bilateral relations by Pakistan and India, he opined: “I am pleased with the continued efforts to improve the relations between India and Pakistan. This has a broader significance for the region and for global peace. I realise there are many outstanding issues, but I encourage leaders of both the countries to persist with these efforts.”

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader, Nayeem Ahmed, commented: “It vindicates our stand. It is unfortunate that different conflicts were resolved, but Kashmir dispute has been left out.” He urged that the UN should not restrict itself to statements only; otherwise, its credibility would be at stake. Liberation leader Javed Ahmed Mir said: “We have been waiting for the Kashmir resolution for over the past six decades. The UN should play a key role in solving the Kashmir issue in the same way it has resolved East Timor and Ireland issues.”

A Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) spokesperson welcomed the stance by the UNSG as the voice of millions of Kashmiris awaiting the settlement of the dispute. He said: “We welcome the statement of UN Chief. He has talked in favour of a suppressed nation, which is appreciable.” He further opined that that the Kashmiri leaders should be included in the negotiation process between Pakistan and India to settle the Kashmir problem.

The pro-India parties, including Congress, Peoples Democratic Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist), have also welcomed the statement. The Chairman of United Jihad Council (JUC), Syed Salahuddin, said that peace and stability in South Asia hinges on a just and equitable settlement of the Kashmir dispute. “The UN Secretary General’s statement on the issue of Kashmir is quite optimistic, however, there is dire need that the world body should take practical measures to settle this long-pending issue in accordance with the aspirations of Kashmiris,” he said. He further added that Kashmiris had offered huge sacrifices for its peaceful settlement in line with the UN resolutions, but India’s traditional intransigence and obduracy remained the main hurdle in the implementation of the relevant UN resolutions.

The Executive Director of Kashmiri-American Council, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, has also welcomed the statement: "We deeply appreciate the statement of the Secretary General…….The people of Kashmir are, therefore profoundly grateful to the Secretary General for upholding the position of principle, which the United Nations has sustained throughout the existence of the contentious issue relating to the status of Kashmir.” In a statement released last week, he said: "The Secretary General was also right in saying that he was pleased with the continued efforts to improve the relations between India and Pakistan. This has a broader significance for the region and for global peace.” While supporting the Indo-Pakistan dialogue process, Dr Fai maintained: “The urgent goal of resolving the Kashmir dispute could not be left to the two governments. It requires the engagement of a multilateral effort on the initiative of the United Nations."

He also suggested that to avert drift and deterioration in the present situation, it was necessary to induct a suitable presence of P-5 in the area of conflict. A person of high international standing, like Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, needs to be appointed as the representative of either the P-5 or the Security Council or the Secretary General of the UN. "For associating the people of Kashmir in a credible peace process, it will be imperative to secure their representation on a principled basis by election in Kashmir under the control and supervision of the UN. This would enable all the different ethnic communities and zones in Kashmir to elect representatives, who, in turn, would appoint a team or teams with the mandate to negotiate a settlement with both India and Pakistan," Dr Fai added.

This is a stark reality that Pakistan and India by themselves will not be able to settle the Kashmir issue, which attracts a huge political baggage in their domestic politics. Hence, it would be in the fitness of things that the UN plays an effective role by appointing a representative of the Secretary General to take up the task in line with the UN resolutions. The starting point could be by urging India to withdraw the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other laws that give its security forces sweeping powers to stampede human rights in Kashmir. A number of human rights organisations have highlighted this issue on countless occasions. The Secretary General’s remarks have, indeed, rekindled a hope in millions of Kashmiri hearts; we hope that the good offices of the UNSG would carry forth the process.

n    The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.