Post August 2019 Status of Jammu & Kashmir and Options for Pakistan

By Syed Sharfuddin*

Following the 5 August 2019 action by India withdrawing the special status of the Indian Held Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and declaring it as two Union Territories on 6 August 2019, there was a strong reaction in Kashmir, as well as in Pakistan but also a national consensus that despite the serious implications of India’s illegal action on the future of the disputed territory, Pakistan would not go to war with India on this action as a first option. The retaliatory but non-belligerent measures agreed by Pakistan’s National Security Committee under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister on 7 August 2019 following an angry joint session of the Pakistan Parliament were as follows:

1. Downgrading diplomatic relations with India;
2. Suspending bilateral trade with India;
3. Reviewing bilateral arrangements with India
4. Matter to be taken to the UN, including the Security Council;
5. Pakistan Independence Day on 14 August to be observed in solidarity with the brave Kashmiris and their struggle for the right of self-determination;
6. 15 August which is India’s Independence Day to be observed as a Black Day in Pakistan.

In addition to these measures, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also directed that:

1. All diplomatic channels be activated to expose the brutal Indian racist regime’s design and human rights violations;
2. Pakistan Armed Forces to continue vigilance;
3. The Special Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir to remain seized with the issue.

The measures did not include Pakistan closing its airspace for all international civilian and cargo traffic bound to/from India. The airspace was opened on 15 July after it remained closed since 26 February following India’s failed airstrike in Balakot. The Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims was also not affected by these measures.

The problem with these measures is that these have a short shelf life and will soon be forgotten. In a couple of months the world will get tired of news about Kashmir and move on to discuss other problems. This changed status-quo of the IHK would become the new norm in India-Pakistan relations. Having lost the IHK to India forever, Pakistan will start hearing bolder and more aggressive Indian claims on Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

On social media, a number of other suggestions were circulating. These suggested that following India’s action, the Line of Control had ceased to exist and the border between India and Pakistan had reverted back to the old ceasefire line. It was suggested that Pakistan should unilaterally abrogate the 1972 Simla Accord and deny India the opportunity to take the position that India-Pakistan disputes cannot be taken to the UN and should be discussed bilaterally between the two countries.

A more daring suggestion was that Azad Kashmir government should unilaterally declare independence in consultation with Pakistan on behalf of the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed at the time of the Partition in 1947. Following this move, Azad Kashmir should apply for membership of the UN and the OIC, supported by Pakistan and other countries such as Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. The social media posts went on to say that the Muslim leadership of IHK, including Hurriyat Conference leadership was deeply concerned about its future and would readily support cessation from India. At the international level, the nature of an inter-state dispute involving two countries would change from a bilateral matter to that of self-rule for the Kashmiris, forcing the UN Security Council to intervene. A new independent State of Azad J&K can sign a defence pact with Pakistan to defend it against any Indian aggression.

These suggestions hardly make any difference to the shifting status quo in Kashmir. The problem with abrogating the Simla Accord is that at least it provides a fig leaf for considering the disputed Kashmir issue bilaterally, especially in the absence of any new international mediation or peace initiative on Kashmir. The BJP Government in India will be only too happy to bin a Congress-negotiated agreement and abandon this platform for holding a dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir. Secondly, Azad Kashmir declaring full independence will mean giving encouragement to separatists elsewhere in Pakistan. The suggestion is also unworkable globally. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara and Kosovo have been standing in the queue for international recognition for a long time and not succeeded. More recently, Barcelona declared independence after a referendum but its declaration was shot down by the EU. It won’t happen at all in the case of Azad Kashmir.

But thinking loud and out of the box is good because conventional approaches have not forced India to sit with Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. These have got Pakistan nowhere in the past 7 decades and are unlikely to improve the situation in the future except bring grief and more coffins.

A rather unconventional but democratic and non-Jihadi option, which might strengthen Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir in the long run is to bring Kashmiri leadership and people from all parts of Kashmir to met in a Grand Congress in the UK. In exercise of their political will in lieu of the long denied plebiscite, they should pass a people’s resolution overturning the Maharajah’s arbitrary and unfair accession to India with their democratic and popular accession to Pakistan. Following this, the Azad Kashmir Assembly should meet and pass a similar resolution and give Pakistan a clear mandate to claim the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir through a constitutional amendment in the 1973 Constitution, defining its status as the 6th province of Pakistan in Article 257 and showing its territorial boundaries as existed at the time of partition in 1947 in Article 1.

It may be recalled that in its ruling of 17 January 2019 on the granting of fundamental rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, including the right to self governance, the Supreme Court of Pakistan did not allow the federal government to grant a provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, pending a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. It only allowed the government to  promulgate an Ordinance which was duly vetted by the Court. The Court was concerned that nothing in its judgement should affect the disputed nature and status of Kashmir.

India’s unilateral annexation of IHK may be used by Pakistan to invoke the well known international principle of rebus sic stantibus related to fundamental change of circumstances and claim the disputed state of Kashmir as Pakistan’s territory. This principle allows states to withdraw concessions or commitments made prior to the fundamental change of circumstances. Recently, President Trump has withdrawn from a nuclear agreement with Iran to which US was a state party along with Iran and the EU.

Using this principle, the federal government can also approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan to review its January 2019 ruling in regard to Gilgit-Baltistan becoming the 5th province of Pakistan on the basis that by its action of 5 August 2019, India has disregarded all norms of international law and UN resolutions concerning settlement of bilateral disputes, thereby freeing Pakistan of its obligations to regard Gilgit-Baltistan as a disputed territory.

There is a possibility, even though unlikely, that India’s Supreme Court might strike down the action of BJP government on the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir and find the process ultra vires, including the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which goes against the spirit of Article 370, if it is restored by the Court in India. However, it should not prevent Pakistan from going as far as India has already gone in its constitution in claiming the state of Jammu and Kashmir to give parity to its claim.  India’s claim was incorporated in the Indian constitution as early as 1949 following the alleged instrument of accession by the Maharajah of Kashmir which was challenged by the tribal people of Jammu and Kashmir, including Northern Areas, as well as Pakistan.

This is a democratic and constitutional solution, away from violence and agitation of the last 7 decades, but it will require patience and hard work to reach fruition. This is also the path, which the country’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah would have taken, if he were alive today.

For details of this recommendation, also see India’s Illegal Annexation of Kashmir Opens New Opportunities for Pakistan

London 9 August 2019

*Mr Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Asia in the Political Affairs Division of Commonwealth Secretariat London (2000-2006).