Why UN supervised referendum couldn’t be held in J&K?

nehru abdullah

[Flipside of Sheikh Abdullah’s narrative]

Sheikh M Abdullah who was key political figure from Kashmir in the whole story has written that it was Pakistani authorities in UN that, on many occasions, when the solution to Kashmir-issue was “almost finalised” or “within reach”, stumbled which, to him, seemed their “intellectual bankruptcy” or “politicking”. In support of his contention, he refers to two such occasions: First, when Pakistan made disagreement with the presence of specific number of the Indian troops to remain in Kashmir at the time of plebiscite which was proposed to be 27, 000 total that too for “security purposes” “within barracks” only; but, on this “trivial matter” Pakistan was not ready for allowing presence of more than 24, 000 troops in Kashmir at the related time. Second, when India agreed to the holding of “limited plebiscite”, as was proposed by Sir Owen Dixon, it was Liaquat Ali Khan, I, who, somewhat trivially and childishly, insisted that he would not agree to the proposal till “I (SMA) was removed from my premiership”. II

We will respond to these contentions under two broad headings in our discussion little later. It may be noted that even though, Sheikh M Abdullah isn’t specific in details regarding the passing-reference–type- statements, these prod the mind of a reader to know more about them. We will refer to them now one by one below to dig out the truth from the recorded facts:

  • Issue of demilitarization:

To arrive at the truth of the aforementioned contention of Sheikh M Abdullah, which was capitalised by India and propagated by his successors-in-office regarding Pakistan’s disagreement with the presence of specified number of Indian soldiers, it is incumbent on every independent researcher and author to delve deeper into the background history and crucial facts of those times germane to the point.

To kick off the discussion, it may be noted that as winter was setting in Kashmir making it difficult for the Indian troops to repel the “aggressor”, on 1st January, 1948, India lodged a complaint under Articles 34 & 35 of the UN Charter against Pakistan’s alleged support for tribesmen with the “certain” hope that Pakistan was going to be called “aggressor” by the UN. But, to the utter dismay of India, after the exemplary advocacy of Pakistan’s case by its FM, Sir Zafrullah Khan, III ,the UN Security Council did not declare Pakistan “aggressor”. IV Rather, it was convinced on 20th January, 1948 to pass Resolution 39 whereby United Nation’s Commission for India and Pakistan/UNCIP was set up which “succeeded in stopping the fighting and had secured a cease-fire which became effective on 1st January, 1949”. V  “The Indian press was highly critical of the Security Council Resolution for not having condemned Pakistan as 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”.  VI


But, sadly, on the other hand, “it took UNCIP 11 months to assemble in Geneva by which time India had already launched its summer offensive” against Pakistan. VII First, the demand for ‘withdrawal from the State of J&K 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 21st April, 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. VIII

The UN demand for settlement of issue and withdrawal of soldiers “simultaneously” IX was repeated in UN Resolution of 13th August, 1948 (Part II, Truce Agreement). X

Despite the delay in taking immediate action, UNCIP laid the groundwork for demilitarization and plebiscite, as envisaged in aforementioned Resolutions. It, however, failed to bring agreement between Pakistan and India to many of its points. More so, as there was division of opinion on several issues among its 05 members, it suggested to the UN that entire issue of J& K should be handed by “one man” only. Pursuant to the report of the UNCIP followed by elaborate discussions in XI, which terminated the UNCIP. In place of UNCIP, the UN during the discussions appointed “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”. XII Thereafter, on 27th May 1950, UN appointed “formally” an Australian jurist, Sir Owen Dixon, as a one-man successor to UNCIP. After extensive travel of all parts of the State (Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgat, Baltistan, Azad Kashmir) & meeting Sheikh M Abdullah too, Sir Owen Dixon made recommendations to the UN on 15.09.1950 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. XIII On the question of demilitarization, he (Sir Owen Dixon) made the following noteworthy suggestion:

“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 imperiled”. XIV

In the meanwhile, in a clandestine manner, on 27th October, 1950, “General Council of All J&K National Conference”, with a view to frustrate the UN Resolutions, Dixon recommendations and render them redundant, passed a resolution, recommending the convening of a Constituent Assembly for determining the “The Future shape and affiliation of the State of J&K”. XV  The UN Security Council rejecting such clandestine moves of NC, 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”. XVI

Foregoing was a brief detour into the facts & circumstances surrounding the contention of Sheikh M Abdullah which has been hereditarily adopted and repeated by his party. “To this day I fail to understand why we in India feel so apologetic that this UN referendum never took place. The onus wasn’t on India to create the conditions for that referendum”. This was stated by Omar Abdullah recently in October 2016 at a seminar titled ‘India & Pakistan: A Sub-continental Affair’, which was arranged by the New York University students on their campus. XVII  This contention which is replica of that of Government of India XVIII  is like: that plebiscite was conditional upon Pakistan fulfilling Part (II) of the UN SC Resolution of 13th August, 1948 which required Pakistan to withdraw its troops & that as Pakistan did not withdraw its troops from the State, normal conditions under which a plebiscite could have been conducted did not exist. In simple words, the conditions for holding plebiscite were not created by Pakistan, is the Sheikh Abdullah-India joint claim. As 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 the State led to non-implementation of the UN Resolutions for holding a UN-supervised-plebiscite in JK. Let us analyse if such assertion matches with the recorded actual facts & the principle of Plebiscite in J&K and if it casts or removes cloud of doubt on such assertion made by such academics & researchers.

The actual facts about the assertion of demilitarisation are to be found and weighed in the light of the discussions that concerned UN representative, Dr Frank P Graham, held with Pakistani and Indian representatives in New York on 16-07-1952 & 05-11-1952 . In his proposals before both the sides, he suggested that 6,000 “Azad Kashmir” forces and 3,500 Gilgit and Northern Scouts should be left on the Pakistani side of the cease-fire line, while 18,000 Indian forces and State armed forces and 6,000 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 & artillery & that there should be complete disbandment & disarming of the Azad Kashmir Force. XIX Hence, the deadlock. But, who was precisely responsible for it or how the deadlock in arriving at final settlement on demilitarization plan emerged, same UN representative who was given task by UN held several rounds of discussion in this regard with both countries’ representatives in a significant UN Mediatory Report on Kashmir submitted by him (Dr Frank P Graham) to UN in 25-10-1967 exposes the whole myth woven around the demilitarization drama. This seems to be the only single UN document available to date 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. It reads as under:

“………. 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 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.” XX.

Foregoing discussion makes it unambiguously clear as to which of the parties to the dispute was reluctantly ready in withdrawal of its troops or implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions for plebiscite, obviously, for certain “apprehensions”. Pak-contention that India wanted it vacate its retained/administered/conquered part of the State (PAK) so that its forces could easily reach to that part also has always been there from their side. Researchers can further dig in it.

(B)Issue of full or partial plebiscite:

The contention that it was India that agreed to holding of “limited plebiscite”, as was proposed by Sir Owen Dixon, but Liaquat Ali Khan insisted that he would not agree to the Dixon proposal till “I (SMA) was removed from my premiership” does not reveal full truthful facts connected with it. The Dixon plan of limited/zonal/regional plebiscite was not the first plan suggested by him. Immediately, on his arrival in Delhi on 27th May 1950, he started parleys with Indian PM and came out with several alternate plans, one by one, for holding 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 Chowdhury 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. XXI.

The fact of the matter is that Indian leaders, at no point of time, during their discussions with Sir Owen Dixon and Pakistani counterparts, showed their acceptance of the Sir Owen Dixon’s suggestion that the local government of Sheikh Abdullah should be replaced by UN representatives for the period of plebiscite.  XXII  It was only after the said suggestions were not accepted by India that Sir Owen 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, (1) Jammu, (2) Ladakh, (3) the Vale of Kashmir in its entirety minus Muzafarabad Azad Kashmir (PAK) & (4) Northern areas and the Gilgit Agency and its dependencies along with Baltistan. Dixon thought that it would be futile to conduct plebiscite in those areas which would in any way go to either India or Pakistan and so, it was proposed that Jammu & Ladakh should be allocated to India while Gilgat, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir should straightway be given to Pakistan. Then, it was only Kashmir valley that was to be put to limited plebiscite.  XXIII

Nehru seemed to consider the said limited-plebiscite-plan provided Muzaffarabad was included in the valley which was conceded to by Sir Owen Dixon. XXIV. 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”.  XXV Pakistan initially did not seem inclined to accept the said 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, XXVI which was reasonably a correct argument. Strangely, the above statement of Sheikh Abdullah in Blazing Chinar “impliedly” favouring the idea of “limited plebiscite” of Sir Owen Dixon is contradictory to his 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”.  XXVII Instead, Pakistan wanted straight partition where-under the valley of Kashmir would go to it. But, India was not prepared for it. XXVIII

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: this meant, in practice, the presence of a Plebiscite Administration with full powers during the period of campaigning and voting. XXIX Going by anti-Pakistan political history and the rhetoric of Sheikh Abdullah  right from 1939–——-his anti-Pak speeches, immediately after his “orchestrated release” on 29-09-1947 from prison, in public and private meetings within and outside JK, his pleading the case of India in UN Security Council on 5th February, 1948, & suchlike–—-,Pakistan’s objection to the holding of “limited plebiscite” under his premiership, seems to the level of common understanding & unbiased approach to the problem, by all standards of logic and fairness, fully justified. XXX.

India had agreed to “limited plebiscite”, without any UN intervention, but directly “under the surveillance” of its soldiers on ground (as it had not fully agreed to demilitarization proposal of UN as shown already), local government of Sheikh Abdullah and his militia. In such a scenario, the danger that the people of the valley of Kashmir, who were not high-spirited of an independent or resolute temper, mostly illiterate, would have voted under fear or apprehension of consequences and other improper influences could not have been excluded. The presence of 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. XXXI

Seemingly, Sheikh M Abdullah, in a somewhat over-credulous & simplistic manner writes that Pakistan was adamant on his removal “though India had assured them of my government’s neutrality”, XXXII  implying & buttressing clearly Pak-apprehension. So, in the same lines, he, however, corroborates Pakistan’s apprehension by stating that his removal from government, in Indian opinion, “would have been a virtual declaration of Pakistan’s victory even before the plebiscite was held”. XXXIII  Sheikh Abdullah’s “absolute reluctance” to leave premiership of the State till plebiscite was held under UN supervision is also revealed from several rounds of discussions that then American Ambassador to India Loy Wesley Henderson (1948-1951) and his wife had secretly with him within Kashmir during September 1950. XXXIV

At the other end,  “with Sheikh Abdullah at the helm, Nehru believed, the Vale of Kashmir would opt for India”. XXXV In the quoted lines, Sheikh M Abdullah unambiguously admits that he was deemed by Pakistanis as a roadblock to free and fair plebiscite. Now, the question is if he weren’t so, or was really neutral or intended to be at least neutral, or had no interest, as he has claimed, in the whole process of things taking shape through UN intervention & mediation, he should have, by simple principle of ethics, resigned from his premiership till the plebiscite was conducted under the UN supervision. Whatever the results, that would have settled he dust & saved Kashmir & Kashmiris from death & destruction they are undergoing since decades till now. It may not be out of place to mention here that even before arrival of Sir Owen Dixon to India on 27th May, 1950, the National Conference had in a special convention held on 18th April passed a strongly worded resolution warning the UN not to bypass the crucial aspect of the dispute, namely, that Pakistan was the aggressor. XXXVI To recall to our minds, this was the contention taken by India before UN all along; albeit unsuccessfully as noted above.



  1. First PM of Pak,


  1. Blazing Chinar (2016-Gulshan Books), chapter 43 “Super-powers’ Chessboard”, pages 335-336,


III. A M Mattu, Kashmir Issue (Ali Mohammad & Sons, Srinagar 2002) page35 ; Kwasi Kwarteng, Ghosts of an Empire, Britain’s Legacies in the World, (Bloomsbury Publishing, London-2011…kindle edition)page 132, “ a superbly gifted orator”,  

 IV. Saifuddin Soz, Kashmir: Glimpse of History & the story of struggle (Rupa Publications, New Delhi..2018) page 143,

 V.Danger in Kashmir, Josef Korbel, (1954- Reprint 2008, City Book Centre, Srinagar), Foreword by C W Nimitz dated 19-02-1954 ,

VI.  Ibid, page 110, citing New York Herald Tribune, 25th April, 1948 news that Nehru declared Resolutions unreasonable & which India can neither execute nor accept,


VII. Kashmiris-Fight-For-Freedom by M Y Saraf (Lahore, 2009) vol. II, page 1060,


VIII. Kashmir in Conflict, Victoria Schofield, (I B Touris & Co, London & New York, New Edition, 2003) Preface,

IX This point is explained in last paragraphs of this essay,

X Resolution adopted by the UNCIP on 13 August 1948. (Document No. 1100, Para. 75, dated the 9th November, 1948,

XI. December, 1949, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 80, on 14th March 1950,

XII. Supra, Kashmir in Conflict, page 82-83,

XIII. Ibid,

XIV. Ibid,

XV. Kashmir Reader dated 22-09-2016 (What Delhi Agreement of 1952 is all about),

XVI. See UN SC Resolution 91 dated 30-03-1951,

XVII. The Economic Times dated 22-10-2016,

XVIII. Visit website of Ministry of External Affairs, Public Diplomacy, J&K Issue, dated 01-04-2003,

XIX. Kashmiris-Fight-For-Freedom by M Y Saraf (Lahore 2009) Vol. II, page 1087; Jyoti Bhushan Das Gupta, J&K(the Hague , Nijhoff, 1968) pages 177-178,

XX. Read from UN Archives Item Graham Report dated 25-10-1967 (Summary Review of Mediatory Reports) on Kashmir Situation, submitted by Dr. Frank P Graham, UN Representative, to the UN: Page 14 of the said PDF file on UN Archives website,

XXI. Supra Danger in Kashmir , page 170; Supra Kashmiris-Fight for freedom, Vol II, page 1076,

XXII. Supra Kashmir in Conflict, page 83,

XXIII. Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A disputed Legacy, 1846-1990 (Roxford Books, Hertingfordbury, 1991) page 171,

XXIV. Ibid; supra Kashmiris-Fight for Freedom,

XXV. Supra Alaister Lamb, Kashmir a disputed legacy, page 172,

XXVI. Ibid,

XXVII. Ibid,

XXVIII. Supra  Danger in Kashmir , page 171,

XXIX. Supra Alaister Lamb, Kashmir a disputed legacy, page 172,

XXX. Supra Kashmiris-Fight-For-Freedom , vol. II, page 1109[with Sheikh in power an impartial plebiscite was out of question as he was committed to the State’s accession with India],

XXXI. Brij Lal Sharma Kashmir Wakes (1971) page 104; Supra Kashmiris-Fight for freedom, Vol II, page 1078,

XXXII. Supra Blazing Chinar, , page 336,


XXXIV. Shabnum Qayoom,Comprehensive History of Kashmir (Ali Mohammad & Sons, Srinagar, 2014) Volume third, pages 341-344; Outlook Magazine dated 02-06-2017 (American ambassador in 1950 & American Democratic Leader Adlai Stevenson later in 1953 had visited him only after Sheikh had reportedly expressed his desire to make Kashmir “Independent” ; Alastair Lamb also quotes same desire of Sheikh expressed to Loy Wesley Henderson , Kashmir: A disputed Legacy, 1846-1990 (Roxford Books, Hertingfordbury, 1991) pages 189-190. But two points need to be mentioned here: (1) Sheikh‘s desire (one may say informal though since it was contradictory to his formal stand on Kashmir) for an Independent Kashmir is also confirmed by Warren Austin , American Permanent Representative to the UN & Phillips Talbot, ex-US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affair but Warren Austin, , “made it clear to him ( Sheikh) that independence was not an option on offer. The only question before the Security Council was whether Kashmir should go to India or to Pakistan”, per Alaister Lamb, Birth of a tragedy: Kashmir 1947 ( Roxford Books Hertingfordbury, UK, 1994) pages 142-143. The only palatable reason that one can get from Sheikh’s desire of Independence seems to have been his fear of losing his premiership as the inevitable result of referendum ( Greater Kashmir dated 07-01-2017: Plebiscite Part I by A G Noorani), would not have been in favour of India, supra Kwasi Kwarteng, Ghosts of an Empire, page 131, which neither Sheikh nor Nehru wanted at all . (2) The declassified CIA report dated 24-04-1964 published in 2016 under title “Sheikh Abdullah & Kashmir Issue” has denied Washington having ever conspired with Sheikh through its diplomats (Loy Wesley Henderson & American Democratic Leader Adlai Stevenson) for Independence of Kashmir,; the CIA reports further states that it was the Indian union which made much of Sheikh Abdullah’s role so as to keep its claims to secularism and nullify the two-nation theory, see Kashmir Reader dated 06-12-2017


XXXV. Supra Alaister Lamb, Kashmir a disputed legacy, page 172,


XXXVI. Supra Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 170.

M J ASLAM is  Author, academic, story-teller & freelance columnist/essayist. Presently, AVP, J&K Bank.

Note: Views personal, not of the organisation the author works for.



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