Was Kashmir Plebiscite Forestalled By Pakistan’s Failure To Withdraw Troops?


Almost all Indians, when reminded of the promise of a plebiscite made to people of J&K to ascertain their wishes, blame Pakistan for forestalling holding of one, primarily due to her failure to withdraw forces from the portion occupied by her as prescribed under relevant UN resolution. Many of my fellow countrymen nurse the same opinion. It is, therefore in the fitness of things to extract truth from the debris of files & documents which have since been consigned to dustbins of various archives.
To deal with the question of India & Pakistan dispute, UN security council established a commission called United Nations Commission for India & Pakistan (UNCIP) vide resolution 39 of 20th Jannuary 1948 with three members & later expanded it to five members vide resolution 47 dt. 21st April 1948.This commission passed the first resolution on 13th August 1948, which inter-alia provides:

  1. The Government of Pakistan will use its best endeavor to secure the 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.

  2. Pending a final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the commission.

  3. When the commission shall have notified the Government of India that the tribesmen and Pakistani nationals referred to in above have withdrawn, thereby terminating the situation which was represented by the Government of India to the Security Council as having occasioned the presence of Indian forces in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and further, that the Pakistani forces are being withdrawn from the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India agrees to begin to withdraw the bulk of its forces from that State in stages to be agreed upon with the Commission.

4.Pending the acceptance of the conditions for a final settlement of the situation in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Government will maintain within the lines existing at the moment of the cease-fire the minimum strength of its forces which in agreement with the commission are considered necessary to assist local authorities in the observance of law and order. The Commission will have observers stationed where it deems necessary.

As will be seen , the above resolution , among other things, has two chief characteristics –One withdrawal of forces by two countries in J&K, the disputed territory i.e demilitarization & the other Governance of disputed territory post demilitarization. Following some adjustments to the above resolution to accommodate the views & objections of two countries, the commission drafted a comprehensive resolution dt. 5th Jannuary 1949 which reiterated the provisions of earlier resolution and was accepted by both countries.

The commission came to sub-continent on February 4 1949 and held meetings in Delhi, Srinagar, Karachi & Rawalpindi to implement its resolutions. While other requirements of the resolution like establishment of military observer group, exchange of prisoners etc. were implemented with ease, two items i.e demilitarization & governance post demilitarization posed problems.

India’s representative Sir Girja Shankar Bajpayee took the position that one-time withdrawal of whole of Pakistani forces was a condition precedent to holding a plebiscite. Pakistan’s stand on the other hand, was that only Tribesmen & irregular forces have to withdraw at once while withdrawal of her regular forces has to be matched by a proportionate Indian withdrawal. This stand was upheld by the commission.

Regarding governance, India estimated its requirement of troops in State at 27000 to assist local authorities in maintaining law & order, while Pakistan felt 20000 was quite sufficient. A compromise was reached at a figure of 22000.

Accordingly after clearing the area of tribesmen & other irregulars, Pakistan withdrew part of her forces ( numbering around five thousand). India announced that it is reciprocating this with withdrawal of a squadron of Air force & not the army. Pakistan & the commission was aghast at this brazen misinterpretation of resolution by India .India also refused to intimate her army strength & deployment position in Kashmir. It ,also came to commission’s notice that India, instead of demilitarization was actually militarizing new areas . As Joseph Korbel, one of the members of the commission records:

“——Again it was evident that India was principally pre-occupied with the control of the sparsely populated areas north & north-west of Kashmir proper, a control which clearly went beyond the stipulations of the accepted resolutions.” (Korbel-Dangers in Kashmir-p.157)

The next dispute which Indian representative raised was the strange & novel interpretation, given to word ‘local authority’for governance of demilitarized areas . In his view, whole of Kashmir region (implying even that part which was vacated by Pakistan regular forces) would be Governed by local Kashmir Govt. headed by Sheikh Abdullah. Pakistan objected to this on the plea that no fair plebiscite can be held under his adminstartion as he was prejudged on the issue & had compromised his position when he became part of Indian delegation in 1948 and was, therefore not qualified to Govern even Indian part of Kashmir. The commission agreed to this view & proposed local officers under the supervision of UN commission appointed staff but India flatly refused.

When the commission couldn’t settle the issues even after holding 126 meetings, it reported the matter back to security Council. Following commission’s failure, the security council once again took up the matter on 22nd December 1949 when its President , General A.G. L McNaughton, formed certain proposals for demilitarization preparatory to plebiscite. Pakistan accepted McNaughton’s plan with some minor adjustments but India, again insisted upon complete demilitarization by Pakistan and the occupation of Northern areas by Indian Army. (Dangers in Kashmir-p.167)Eventually security Council disbanded UNCIP vide it’s resolution dt. 14th March 1950 and instead appointed Sir Owen Dixon as sole UN representative. India accepted this resolution while Pakistan expressed its dismay but went along with Dixon to find a solution.

The world press was highly critical of the obduracy & intransigence displayed by India at every stage to frustrate the global attempts to resolve the matter peacefully through a plebiscite. Economist of London dt. 19th February commented- “ But the whole world can see that India, which claims the support of the majority people of Kashmir has been obstructing the holding of an internationally supervised plebiscite”. Two days later, London Times wrote “Like most great men, Nehru has his blind spot because he is not amenable to reason and allows emotions to get the better of common sense”

Dixon held a conference of the Prime Minsters of India & Pakistan from 20th July to 24th July 1950. He suggested various proposals for demilitarization of the state which were all rejected by India. So also was his suggestion for an interim administration preparatory to plebiscite. His proposal for regional plebiscite too stood rejected by India. Dixon’s report at the end of the conference tells it all.

‘ None of the suggestions commended themselves to the Prime Minster of India. In the course of the conference, I mentioned very briefly one or two other possible ways of reaching a plebiscite. In the end I became convinced that India’s agreement was never to be obtained to demilitarization in any such form or to provisions governing the period of plebiscite of any such character, as would, in my opinion, permit of the plebiscite being conducted in conditions sufficiently against intimidation and other forms of influence and abuse by which the freedom and fairness of the plebiscite might be imperiled’.(Noorani-Kashmir dispute Vol. 2 Page 17)

Finally, If any doubt remained it was cleared by Nehru himself when he ruled out the option of plebiscite as publicly as he had made it, on the ground of Pakistan joining CEATO & SENTO, the two US-western military pacts & not on the failure of Pakistan’s withdrawal of troops.(Nehru’s press conference on 2nd April 1956). And Eight years later, V.P. Menon, the Constitutional Adviser and Political Reforms Commissioner to the last three British Viceroys in India, admitted in an interview to H.V. Hodson, the editor of British paper ‘Sunday times’ & author of ‘Great Divide’ that India never had any intention to hold a plebiscite in the State thus giving a lie to the theory that Pakistan frustrated holding of one due to her failure to withdraw troops.

(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail [email protected])

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