Sheikh and Plebiscite

Biography of Kashmir’s tallest leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah has certain references that M J Aslam failed to get a plausible explanation from the history

Jammu and Kashmir Prime minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah with Dr Frank P Graham, UN Representative for India and Pakistan at the Shalimar Gardens during the latter’s visit to Srinagar in July 1951. (Photo: Photo Division)

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Kashmir’s key political figure, has written that when the solution to Kashmir-issue was “almost finalised” or “within reach”, it was Pakistani authorities in the United Nations who, on many occasions, stumbled. He attributed this to their “intellectual bankruptcy” and “politicking”. In support of this contention, Sheikh refers to two such occasions:

First, when Pakistan made disagreement with the presence of a specific number of the Indian troops to remain in Kashmir at the time of plebiscite. Proposed to be 27, 000 security men, they would stay put for “security purposes” and remain “within barracks” only. But, on this “trivial matter”, Pakistan was not ready for allowing their presence in Kashmir.

Second, when India agreed to the holding of “limited plebiscite”, as was proposed by Sir Owen Dixon, it was Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, who, somewhat trivially and childishly, insisted that he would not agree to the proposal till “I was removed from my premiership”. (See Blazing Chinar, 2016-Gulshan Books, chapter 43 Super-powers’ Chessboard, pages 335-336)

Even though Sheikh is not specific in details, the readers of Sheikh’s biography seek to know more about these incidents. There are two issues involved in this statement – the issue of de-militarization and the issue of the plebiscite.

The Demilitarization

As the winter set in 1947, it was difficult for the Indian troops to repel the “aggressor”. On January 1, 1948, India lodged a complaint under Articles 34 and 35 of the UN Charter against Pakistan’s alleged support for tribesmen with the “certain” hope that UN would declare Pakistan an “aggressor”. But, the advocacy of Pakistan’s case by its Foreign Minister, Sir Zafrullah Khan, (see A M Mattu, Kashmir Issue, 2002 pp 35), resulted in UN Security Council passing Resolution 39 on January 20, 1948, that set-up United Nation’s Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) which eventually “succeeded in stopping the fighting and had secured a cease-fire which became effective on 1st January, 1949”. (see Danger in Kashmir, Josef Korbel, 1954).

“The Indian press was highly critical of the Security Council Resolution for not having condemned Pakistan as an aggressor, insisting that reports were still coming in of her complicity in building the military strength of the Azad revolutionaries …… [India] sent a letter of protest to the UN and refused cooperation in any implementation of the resolution”. (Ibid, p 112, citing New York Herald Tribune, April 25, 1948, suggesting Nehru declared Resolutions unreasonable and India would neither execute nor accept it).

The follow up took “UNCIP 11 months to assemble in Geneva by which time India had already launched its summer offensive” against Pakistan. (see Kashmiris Fight For Freedom by M Y Saraf, 2009 Vol II, p 1060). First, the demand for ‘withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting’ came in the UN Security Council Resolution 47 adopted on April 21, 1948. This Resolution also required India to reduce its troops to the “minimum strength” after which “the question of accession of the State to India or Pakistan” should be decided through an impartial plebiscite to be held under the UN auspices. (see Kashmir in Conflict, Victoria Schofield, 2003)

The UN demanded settlement of issue and withdrawal of soldiers “simultaneously”. It was part of the UN Resolution of August 13, 1948 (Part II, Truce Agreement). The resolution was adopted by the UNCIP on August 13, 1948. (see Document No 1100, Para. 75, dated November 9, 1948)

Though UNCIP laid the groundwork for demilitarization and plebiscite, it eluded an agreement between Pakistan and India to many of its points. There was a division of opinion on several issues among its five members. Finally, it was suggested to the UN that entire issue of Jammu and Kashmir should be handled by “one man” only.

Pursuant to the UNCIP report followed by elaborate discussions in December 1949, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 80, on March 14, 1950, which terminated the UNCIP. It appointed an “informal mediator” or special representative General A G L McNaughton to assist the two nations in demilitarizing Kashmir as a prelude to finding a permanent solution to the dispute.

“Although Pakistan agreed to his proposals, India did not” (see Kashmir in Conflict, page 82-83) Later, on May 27, 1950, UN-appointed “formally” an Australian jurist, Sir Owen Dixon, as a one-man successor to UNCIP. After extensive travel to all parts of the State (Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan, Muzaffarabad) and meeting Sheikh Abdullah and others, Dixon made recommendations to the UN on September 15, 1950 that included conducting “zonal plebiscite”, region by region, and replacement of the local government of Indian-backed-Sheikh Abdullah by independent officers of UN to prepare and arrange for holding fair and impartial “zonal plebiscite”. These recommendations were again accepted by Pakistan but rejected by India. (Ibid)

“I became convinced that India’s agreement would never be obtained to demilitarise in any such form or to provisions governing the period of the plebiscite of any such character, which would in my opinion permit the plebiscite being conducted in conditions sufficiently guarding against intimidation and other forms of influence and abuse by which the freedom and fairness of plebiscite might be imperilled,” Dixon wrote on the question of demilitarization. (Ibid)

In Srinagar, on October 27, 1950, “General Council of All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference” passed a resolution, recommending the convening of a Constituent Assembly for determining the “the Future shape and affiliation of the State of J and K”. (see Kashmir Reader September 22, 2016).

The UN Security Council rejected NC’s clandestine moves and re-affirmed that “final disposition of the State 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 UN”. (see UN SC Resolution 91 dated March 30, 1951.)

Facts notwithstanding, the NC has been maintaining this position, even today. “To this day, I fail to understand why we in India feel so apologetic that this UN referendum never took place,” Omar Abdullah was quoted saying by The Economic Times in October 10, 2016, at a seminar titled India and Pakistan: A Sub-continental Affair, which was arranged by the New York University students on their campus. “The onus wasn’t on India to create the conditions for that referendum”.

This contention is a replica of the Government of India’s official stand (see Ministry of External Affairs website article Public Diplomacy, dated April 1, 2003).

Since both the claims are in pari materia, obviously, must be read together as one statement only. Some Western and Indian scholars also state that Pakistan’s failure to withdraw its troops from Jammu and Kashmir led to non-implementation of the plebiscite. But how is history supporting this contention?

The actual facts about the assertion of demilitarisation are to be found in the light of the discussions that UN representative, Dr Frank P Graham, held with Pakistani and Indian representatives in New York on July 16, 1952, and October 5, 1952. In his proposals before both the sides, Graham suggested that 6000 “Azad Kashmir” forces and 3500 Gilgit and Northern Scouts should be left on the Pakistani side of the cease-fire line; while 18000 Indian forces and State armed forces and 6000 State militia should be left on the Indian side. Pakistan accepted the proposal but India rejected the proposal by holding that it was impossible for it to reduce “absolute minimum” or “very minimum” figure of 21,000 Indian soldiers with armour and artillery and that there should be complete disbandment and disarming of the “Azad Kashmir Force”. (see Saraf, 2009 Vol. II, page 1087; Jyoti Bhushan Das Gupta, J and K, 1968, pages 177-178) Hence occured the deadlock.

But, who precisely was responsible for the deadlock? Graham revealed all this in UN Mediatory Report on Kashmir submitted by to UN on October 25, 1967. Seemingly, this is the only single UN document available which explains the deadlock involved in the withdrawal of forces and the reason for Pakistan’s failure to withdraw all of its forces from the State.

“………. the UNCIP found that they were unable to achieve an agreement by India and Pakistan on the terms for the implementation of the truce agreement, as a precondition for a plebiscite,” the reports reads. “The Commission and their several successors as mediators were unable to achieve an agreement by India and Pakistan on the provisions of the two UNCIP resolutions for two stages in demilitarization, namely: (l) on the withdrawal of the bulk of the Indian forces in relation to the withdrawal of all the remainder of the Pakistan forces after Pakistan had made the beginning of withdrawals, as provided in the 13 August 1948 resolution and (2) on the final disposal of the Indian and State armed forces and the final disposal of the “Azad Kashmir” forces as provided in the 5 January 1949 resolution. In the provisions of part II of the 13 August 1948 resolution, the requirement for the withdrawal of all the Pakistan forces was related to the required withdrawal of the bulk of the Indian forces in stages to be agreed upon by India and the UNCIP. As noted above, such an agreement was not reached with India by the UNCIP or by the several successor UN mediators. This failure of India and the UNCIP and the UN Representatives to reach such an agreement, as relatedly provided in part II, became the continuing grounds for the failure of Pakistan to withdraw all of its forces from Kashmir, which, in turn, was held by India to be a reason for not accepting proposals leading toward a plebiscite.”

Issue of plebiscite

Did Pakistan oppose the idea of “limited plebiscite” is yet another riddle? The fact is that the Dixon plan of the limited /zonal /regional plebiscite was not the first plan suggested by him.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah with UN officials working on a map in Srinagar.

Immediately, on his arrival in Delhi on May 27, 1950, Dixon started parleys with Pandit Nehru and came out with several alternate plans, one by one, for holding a plebiscite for the entire State. He suggested that for the period of the plebiscite (1) a single government for the whole State, a coalition government composed of the two hitherto hostile parties of Sheikh Abdullah and Chowdhary Ghulam Abbas, or (2) a neutral administration of non-political persons of high repute of equal number of Hindus and Muslims with a UN nominee at top or (3) an administration of UN representatives only at top level of the government, should be organized. Each one of these alternate proposals was accepted by Pakistan but out-rightly rejected by India. (see Korbel page 172; also Saraf, 2009, Vol II, page 1076)

Indian leaders, at no point of time, during their discussions with Dixon and Pakistani counterparts, showed their acceptance of his suggestion that the local government of Sheikh Abdullah should be replaced by UN representatives during plebiscite. (see Kashmir in Conflict, Victoria Schofield, 2003 edition, page 83)

It was only after the suggestions were rejected by India that Dixon, with an experience of three months’ extensive discussions with both sides, proposed what came to be called limited/zonal/regional plebiscite plan under which the State was proposed to be divided into four main regions: Jammu, Ladakh, the Vale of Kashmir in its entirety minus PAK and Northern areas and the Gilgit Agency and its dependencies along with Baltistan. Dixon thought that it would be futile to conduct a plebiscite in those areas which would in any way go to either India or Pakistan and so, it was proposed that Jammu and Ladakh should be allocated to India while Gilgat, Baltistan and PaK should straightway be given to Pakistan. Then, it was only Kashmir valley that was to be put to a limited plebiscite. (see Alaister Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1991 page 171)

Nehru seemed to consider the said limited-plebiscite-plan provided Muzaffarabad was included in the valley which was conceded to by Dixon. (see Saraf) Actually, “Nehru believed that, with Sheikh Abdullah at the helm, the Vale of Kashmir would opt for India. With this assured, he would accept the status quo for the remainder of the disputed territory”. (see Lamb, page 172)

Pakistan initially did not seem inclined to accept the plan as it believed that under related UN Resolutions the “single plebiscite” was to be held for the “entire State” and that too under UN supervision and control. (Ibid).

Strangely, Sheikh’s statement on “limited plebiscite” is contradictory to his own publically declared position “that any scheme of plebiscite restricted to the Vale of Kashmir would only give rise to great communal tensions in the State of a kind which had not hitherto existed”. (Ibid) Instead, Pakistan wanted straight partition but India was not prepared for it. (see Korbel,1954, page 173)

Later, Pakistan accepted the suggestion of “limited plebiscite” under UN supervision which meant the total absence of the influences of both India and Sheikh Abdullah. (see Lamb, page 172)

India had agreed to “limited plebiscite”, without any UN intervention, but directly “under the surveillance” of its soldiers on the ground (as it had not fully agreed to demilitarization proposal of UN as shown already), the local government of Sheikh Abdullah and his militia. In such a scenario, people mostly illiterate would have voted under fear or apprehension of consequences, and other improper influences could not have been excluded. The presence of a large number of Indian soldiers, state militia and police did not appear to be favourable for a free and fair plebiscite which was possible under UN Administration only. (see Brij Lal Sharma, Kashmir Wakes 1971 page 104; Saraf, 2009, Vol II, page 1078)

Sheikh has written that Pakistan was adamant on his removal “though India had assured them of my government’s neutrality”, (see Blazing Chinar,2016, page 336) implying clearly Pakistan apprehension. In the same lines, he corroborates Pakistan’s apprehension by stating that his removal from the government, in Indian opinion, “would have been a virtual declaration of Pakistan’s victory even before the plebiscite was held”. (Ibid) “With Sheikh Abdullah at the helm, Nehru believed, the Vale of Kashmir would opt for India”. (see Lamb, page 172) Was not a resignation from the public office an options for Sheikh?

Even before Dixon arrival, the National Conference had in a special convention held on April 18, 1950, passed a strongly worded resolution warning the UN not to bypass the crucial aspect of the dispute, namely, that Pakistan was the aggressor. (see Korbel, page 170)

(Author is an author, academic, story-teller and freelance columnist. Presently, a VP in JK Bank. Ideas expressed in this write-up are personal.)


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