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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

January 2002

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With Pakistan reportedly taking measures to curb terrorist cells operating within that nation, at this writing it seems possible that nation and India will resolve peacefully the territorial dispute that has long exacerbated relations between the two great South Asian nations. The author, a retired career diplomat, discusses that long-standing dispute’s source. Ed.

Some excellent political analysts have described the situation between India and Pakistan as the most serious threat to world peace in this generation. Two nuclear powers face each other that have already fought three wars in the last fifty-five years.

The main problem is Kashmir, and India is the principal culprit. I dislike having to take the side of Pakistan, a volatile, undemocratic country, and I would emphatically condemn the recent terrorist attack on India's parliament. Pakistan should have exercised more vigilance to counter terrorist gangs operating in and outside the country. However, until India permits the settlement of the Kashmir dispute, Kashmiris will continue to resist the imposition of Indian rule over their homeland, whether they are called "terrorists" (which some certainly are) or "freedom fighters."

In 1947, when the British pulled out of India and the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan took place, the ruler of Kashmir was a Hindu despite the fact that most of his subjects were Muslims. He fled to India and ceded his state to India. India then seized two-thirds of the territory, notwithstanding fierce popular resistance and, of course, opposition from Pakistan, which managed to take one-third of Kashmir. The situation was the reverse in Hyderabad, where the ruler was Muslim but the vast majority of his subjects were Hindus. He refused to cede his state to India, whereupon in 1948, Indian forces invaded and took Hyderabad. So New Delhi had it both ways, by military force.

The United Nations was concerned about Kashmir from the beginning. The l948 war was "ended" by a UN-negotiated cease fire which took effect January 1, 1949. The UN Security Council passed several resolutions to try to resolve the problem. An early and important one was Res. 47 of April 1, 1948; it noted that India and Pakistan had agreed that "the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan would be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite." The UN set up a plebiscite commission and in 195O U. S. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was named plebiscite administrator. The UN sent cease fire observers to the line of demarcation. In 1954, India demanded that U. S. observers be removed from the team.

In spite of its agreement, India has always refused to allow the people of Jammu and Kashmir to express their will in accordance with the many UN resolutions. In his memoir Present at the Creation, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote that Nehru told him he would not accept a plebiscite because the Kashmiris would vote on the basis of religion, and India, as a secular state, could not permit that. After a while, the UN apparently stopped pushing in the face of consistent Indian defiance. This was so especially after India, in 1971, invaded East Pakistan to help the separatists there to break away from Pakistan and set up the country of Bangladesh. (One has to wonder why this was perfectly acceptable to the international community while Biafra’s separation from Nigeria was not.) India has never hesitated to use military action to secure its foreign policy aims.

Other examples of this point include seizure in 1952-54, under threat of military action, of France’s five small territories along the coast, the best known being Pondicherry. Threats were not enough for the Portuguese, and in 1961, Indian forces invaded and seized three Portuguese territories on the coast, the largest of which was Goa.

In 1962 the Chinese Communist regime began advancing into disputed border territories. India, despite having consistently opposed the United States on the China question in the UN and elsewhere, asked Washington for help. The United States sent transport planes with military crews to help India move forces and supplies to the remote border region. The Chinese invasion soon stopped. Little evidence was ever seen, however, of gratitude for American help.

The recent terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament was seized upon by New Delhi as an excuse to ratchet up the threat against Pakistan. This was not the first attack on that body. In 1982, a gang of Sikh terrorists (wanting independence or autonomy for Punjab) attacked the Parliament and killed five people. After another series of terrorist incidents, in 1984 the Indian army stormed the Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar and killed between 600 and 1,000 people. Later that year, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards, who were Sikhs.

There is good reason to fear that India might once again invade territory they want to seize. The difference between now and past wars and territorial acquisitions is that this one could trigger a nuclear war. The Indians might believe that their conventional forces are so overwhelming that they could take whatever they want (possibly including the city of Lahore, close to the Indian border), relying on the idea that Pakistan's only answer to avoid total defeat would be a first nuclear strike. Of course, whichever country makes a first strike would be subject to intense condemnation by the international community. The world community needs to make it clear to India that it would suffer very serious consequences if its actions provoked a nuclear exchange, whether or not it was clear that Pakistan had struck first in response to an Indian invasion.

The international community, including the UN, has been remiss in apparently abandoning the requirement placed on India (originally agreed to by India and Pakistan) that the people of Jammu and Kashmir be allowed self determination in accordance with the democratic principles in which India professes to believe. We should not just try to ensure a peaceful settlement of this latest dispute, leaving the root cause to fester and surely to produce more tragic incidents. The world community must use this occasion to demand that the Jammu-Kashmir problem be settled by peaceful negotiation, preferably along the lines of the the original agreement—that is, by a democratic plebiscite of the people of all of Jammu and Kashmir under UN auspices.

Because it is India that has taken each of the threatening steps since the recent attack on its parliament— cutting off rail and road communications with Pakistan, drastically reducing diplomatic representation, starting and continuing a military buildup along the border. International opinion should make it abundantly clear to New Delhi that a military attack on Pakistan will render India, as an aggressor state, subject to sanctions of all kinds. It should be stressed that the world will not be deceived by claims that Pakistan invaded first; it seems evident that Pakistan is trying to avoid armed conflict while the top Indian military figure is saying "We are ready for war."

India should be told that the post-September Eleventh war on terrorism does not give them license to make war on the nation of Pakistan because of a terrorist attack that they blame on Pakistan’s government. The Western powers and the UN must be careful to say nothing that might make the hawks in India think they have been given a "wink and a nod," as may have been the case before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. India has benefited from a double standard for far too long, in that the international community has tolerated Indian conduct that other countries have been held accountable for. This must stop, and now is the time to stop it.

January 16, 2002


Mr. Williams, a member of the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers, was a U. S. Foreign Service officer from 1955 to 1981. He served in Washington and at six posts abroad.

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