The fundamental character of the Kashmir dispute has undergone a metamorphosis over a period of time, transforming it from an international dispute to a territorial dispute between two South Asian rivals, Pakistan and India. The mutual conflict and confrontation between two countries over the disputed Himalayan state have been instrumental in giving rise to this transformation. By signing the Simla Agreement in 1972, Pakistan has undertaken to settle its bilateral disputes, including the Kashmir dispute, with India peacefully through negotiations. Therefore, now whenever Pakistan asks any county or international agency to help resolve this issue, they readily advise it to resolve this issue ‘peacefully’ with India through dialogue. Before criticising the international community for its double-standards and apathy towards the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan must first realise and rectify some fundamental flaws in its current Kashmir strategy.

The institutional capacity of international conflict resolution agencies, like UN Security Council, International Court of Justice etc., are observably impaired to efficiently resolve the territorial and bilateral disputes in the world. International power politics, military alliances, strategic alignments and mutual economic interests of world major powers hardly allow them to proactively and impartially act to resolve these issues. Consequently, there is a long list of longstanding unresolved territorial disputes across the world. These disputes involve a large number of sovereign states e.g. Taiwan dispute (between People Republic of China and Republic of China), Golan Heights (Syria and Israel), Falklands Island (Argentina and UK), Tibet (China and Central Tibetan Administration), Gibraltar (UK and Spain), Cyprus (Turkey and Greece), West Bank (Israel and Jordan), Hala’ib Triangle (Egypt and Sudan), Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenia and Azerbaijan). Similarly, the Siachen and Sir Creek are the longstanding territorial disputes between Pakistan and India.

On the other hand, International Governmental Organisations (IGO’s), International NGO’s and the world community have been well inclined towards protecting the fundamental human and political rights of the subjugated and suppressed nations in the world. After the World War II, these global bodies have recognised and supported a number of freedom movements across the world. Consequently, many stateless nations have acquired statehood after determining the question of their political sovereignty through a duly-held independence referendum. In the recent past, through this process, a large number of people living in various countries in the world have gained independence: Slovenia (1991), Bosnia (1992), Eritrea (1993), East Timor (1999), Montenegro (2006), Puerto Rico (2012), South Sudan (2011). However, in 1995 Quebec Referendum and 2014 Scottish Referendum, the people preferred to stay within the union of Canada and UK respectively.

An independence referendum is generally held to determine the political sovereignty of a particular territory, allowing people to decide their political future themselves. In an independence referendum, people decide whether or not their territory should become an independent sovereign state. To decide this question, people are asked to answer in the form of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ through a ballot. The people are only supposed to vote in favour of either option. In the aforementioned referendums, duly-held across the world, a similar question was referred to the people.

Oddly, the proposed referendum in Kashmir was to be held to decide the question of accession of state of J&K i.e. the Kashmiris were supposed to join either India or Pakistan. Therefore, it was by no means an ‘independence referendum’, but simply an ‘accession referendum’, which is quite a rare form of referendum in the contemporary world. During the First Kashmir War, before the UNSC could take notice of the situation under Chapter VII, India itself took the matter to the UNSC under Article 35 of Chapter VI of UN Charter. Under this clause, any member state can draw the attention Security Council to a dispute or situation which is “likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”. Unlike Chapter VII, the UNSC cannot take coercive or compulsive measures against an aggressor or wrongdoer under Chapter VI. It can only investigate and make appropriate recommendations.

Requesting a ceasefire, India invoked the pacific dispute-resolution capacity of UNSC to de-escalate military tension with Pakistan, as it was rapidly losing Kashmir territory to Pakistan and pro-Pakistan fighters in the valley. The UNSC, through Resolution 39, established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate the issue and assist it in the peaceful resolution of the dispute. On April 21, 1948, the UNSC, through Resolution 47, made certain recommendations to both countries to hold plebiscite in J&K. However, both countries couldn’t follow the roadmap for the proposed plebiscite.

Later, the UNSC replaced the UNCIP with United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), shifting the focus of its ‘mediatory operations’ from the plebiscite to maintaining the status quo in J&K by closely monitoring the ceasefire violations along the LoC. Meanwhile, India somehow managed to get ratified the controversial Instrument of Accession by the rubber stamp Constituent Assembly of occupied Kashmir with the help of its stooge Sheikh Abdullah, enabling it to absorb J&K under Article 370 of Indian Constitution.

Not only has Pakistan relied on these UNSC Resolutions to strengthen the underlying legal and moral basis of its ‘Kashmir claim’, but it also has been calling for implementing these resolutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute for a long time. However, lacking required coercive force of the UNSC, these resolutions are recommendatory by nature and non-binding by character. The UNCIP, which was supposed to hold proposed referendum in disputed state of J&K in collaboration with the Plebiscite Administration, has long been terminated. The Simla Agreement and subsequent Pak-India dialogue process have further undermined the significance and relevance of these resolutions. Therefore, there is no point in continuing to uselessly adhere to ineffective and inoperative past UN resolutions on Kashmir issue. Obviously it will get Pakistan nowhere.

So far, the typical coercive and pacific instruments of Pakistan’s Kashmir strategy have apparently failed to deliver. Moreover, Pakistan’s excessive reliance on the past UNSC resolutions are also unlikely to yield positive results. Therefore, Pakistan seriously needs to reset its Kashmir posture after carefully reviewing its overall Kashmir policy. At this stage, Pakistan should actively try to provide maximum impetus to the ongoing Kashmir freedom movement in the disputed valley by extending unqualified support to the Kashmiris’ just cause.

Aiming at substantially reviving the international character of Kashmir Issue, Pakistan should call for an impartial ‘independence referendum’ in the disputed state of J&K, after abandoning it earlier demand for ‘accession referendum’ in accordance with Past UNSC resolutions. Pakistan should also proactively employ all the effective tools of international diplomacy and propaganda to make international governmental organisations, including the UN, to promptly act to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the will of Kashmiri people. Highlighting the humanitarian aspect of the current Kashmir crisis, the attention of international community should be drawn towards the worst human rights violations in the occupied valley committed by the Indian occupation forces. Obviously the world would not easily ignore the persistent infringement of inherent political rights of the people of Kashmir.

Pakistan’s proposed Kashmir posture is also quite pragmatic and in accordance with ground realities in IOK. Undoubtedly, a lot of people in IOK want to join Pakistan. But at the same time, presently, a sizeable portion of Kashmir population is pro-independence. The Kashmiri freedom organisations like JKLF are best known for their pro-independence credentials. Similarly, a big faction of APHC is also strong proponent of ‘independent Kashmir’. On the other hand, almost one-third population in IOK is non-Muslim. Most of the political parties in IOK that are part of electoral politics in the valley, like Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference, are observably either unionist (pro-India) or pro-independence. Therefore, if there will come a time in future that Kashmiris are asked to choose between Pakistan, India and independence, then the split of the Muslim vote bank into pro-independence and pro-Pakistan segments would only strengthen the stance of pro-India elements in Kashmir to the disadvantage of both Kashmiris and Pakistan.

Pakistan must respect the aspirations of Kashmiris, as we are expecting the same from the India. Surely, Pakistan’s unqualified support to ongoing Kashmir freedom movement will greatly help Kashmiris achieve their long-aspired goal of independence. Once the state of J&K is independent, the people of Kashmir can again decide to either join Pakistan or simply stay independent. If the Kashmiris so desire, the disputed Himalayan state would become part of Pakistan in the future. But at this stage, Pakistan can only win the hearts of Kashmiris by playing an instrumental role in their current quest for independence.