Guest Column | What History Records

The UN may have failed on the Kashmir issue, but it was not for want of trying

P.S. PaptaP.S. Papta

Since August 1947, when two new states (India and Pakistan) were created out of the British Empire, there has been almost continuing dispute between India and Pakistan. Both countries have fought on four occasions in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999. The relationship has been difficult and strained especially in the recent past when India abrogated Article 370 and created two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

The question of how many wars India and Pakistan fought between them was asked in my final selection interview in 1986. Since childhood, we have always been a witness of news of India and Pakistan conflict and its effect on our psyche, economy and national security. Enough has been written by experts, both from the sub-continent and international on India-Pakistan wars—1948, 1965 and 1971—as well as the 1999 Kargil conflict.

Given my three postings in the Kashmir valley and passing through United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) Mission’s office near Badami Bagh in Srinagar, drove me to read about United Nations Resolutions and the ceasefire agreement. While there are many Indian experts who have given details of how the United Nations Mission came about, I feel Lars Blinkenberg’s two-volume India-Pakistan: The History of Unsolved Conflicts is the most insightful. I think some of the content of Blinkenberg need acquaintance by all, especially those who have interest in national security, including officers in uniform.

To start with, on India’s request, UN Security Council established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to mediate on the Kashmir issue. It also established the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan to monitor the cease-fire line.

India’s Governor General Lord Louis Mountbatten held a conference on 1 November 1947 with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, proposing that, in all the princely states where the ruler did not accede to a dominion corresponding to the majority population (which would have included Junagadh, Hyderabad as well Kashmir), the accession should be decided by an ‘impartial reference to the will of the people’. However, Jinnah rejected the offer. During a meeting between Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan in December 1947, India’s intention to refer the dispute to the UN was enunciated. India sought resolution of the issue at the UN Security Council on 1 January 1948.

Following the set-up of the UNCIP, the UN Security Council passed and imposed an immediate ceasefire and called on Pakistan ‘to secure the withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals, who have entered the state for the purpose of fighting.’ It also asked government of India to reduce its forces to minimum strength, after which the circumstances for holding a plebiscite should be put into effect ‘on the question of Accession of the state to India or Pakistan.’ However, it was not until 1 January 1949 that the ceasefire could be put into effect.

The UNCIP made three visits to the subcontinent between 1948 and 1949, trying to find an agreeable solution. It reported to the Security Council in August 1948 that ‘the presence of troops of Pakistan’ inside Kashmir represented a ‘material change’ in the situation. A two-part process was proposed for the withdrawal of forces. In the first part, Pakistan was to withdraw its forces, and in the second part, ‘when the Commission shall have notified the government of India’ that Pakistani withdrawal has been completed, India was to withdraw the bulk of its forces. After both the withdrawals were completed, a plebiscite would be held. The resolution was accepted by India but effectively rejected by Pakistan.

The Indian government considered itself to be under legal possession of Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of the accession of the state. The assistance given by Pakistan to the rebel forces and Pakhtoon tribals was held to be a hostile act and the further involvement of the Pakistan Army was taken to be an invasion of the Indian territory. From the Indian perspective, the plebiscite was meant to confirm the accession, which was in all respects already complete, and Pakistan could not aspire to an equal footing with India in the contest.

The Pakistan government held that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had executed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan which precluded it from entering into agreements with other countries. It also held that the Maharaja had no authority left to execute accession because his people had revolted and he had to flee the capital. It believed that the Azad Kashmir movement, as well as the tribal incursions, were indigenous and spontaneous, and Pakistan’s assistance to them was not open to criticism.

In short, India required an asymmetric treatment of the two countries in the withdrawal arrangements regarding Pakistan as an ‘aggressor’, whereas Pakistan insisted on parity. The UN mediators tended towards parity, which was not to India’s satisfaction. In the end, no withdrawal was ever carried out. India insisted that Pakistan had to withdraw first. Pakistan contended that there was no guarantee that India would withdraw afterwards. Hence, no agreement could be reached between the two countries on the process of demilitarisation.

Scholars have pointed out that the failure of the Security Council’s efforts of mediation owed to the fact that the Council regarded the issue as a purely political dispute without investigating its legal underpinnings.


Stages of the UN Involvement

McNaughton Proposals: In December 1949, the Canadian President of the UNSC, General McNaughton issued both states with his proposals and submitted final report on 3 February 1950. He proposed that India and Pakistan would simultaneously withdraw their regular forces (excluding those Indian forces needed for security purposes), the Azad Kashmir forces and Kashmir State forces and the administration of Northern Areas would remain with the local authorities, under UN supervision.

Pakistan accepted his suggestions but India rejected them. India was unhappy that Pakistan was treated as an equal party as in its view Pakistan was present illegally in Kashmir. Although the US warned India, the latter accused the US of pressurising the government. India’s rejections were viewed by American policymakers as an example of Indian ‘intransigence.’ It was believed that these actions were motivated by India’s desire to avoid holding a plebiscite.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, who had served as foreign secretary of India and was instrumental in demarcation of the boundary line between India and China in 1914 and Durand line between India and Afghanistan was of the view that they were ‘right’ since the vote was most likely to go in Pakistan’s favour due to Kashmir’s predominantly Muslim population, and delaying the referendum would work in India’s favour. In private, some Indian officials confessed to American officials that they would prefer a partition of the state rather than a plebiscite. The US believed that India was deliberately avoiding a plebiscite. However, the Security Council gave both countries five months to carry out the demilitarisation (DM) scheme, which was accepted by India on 14 March 1950. Sir Owen Dixon was appointed as the next UN representative tasked with administering demilitarisation for Jammu and Kashmir.


Kashmiri women during a protest in August 2019 in Soura, Srinagar

Dixon Mission: Dixon proposed that the areas demilitarised by Pakistan would be governed by the local authorities according to the ‘law and custom’ of the state before the conflict started. India opposed this idea because it believed that the local authorities were biased in Pakistan’s favour and this would not be in India’s interests.

Dixon’s proposal to attach a UN officer with each DM in Jammu and Kashmir was also objected to by India. After that, Dixon proposed three points:

(a) establishing a coalition government between Sheikh Abdullah and Ghulam Abbas or distributing the portfolios between the various parties;

(b) to establish a neutral government by respectable non-political people for a six-month period prior to a referendum under UN supervision;

(c) to install an administrative body made up completely of representatives from the UN.

Nehru disagreed with all these suggestions, which was criticised by Dixon. The proposal to have plebiscites by region and allocate each region according to the results of a plebiscite was rejected by India. It made a counter proposal, which was a partition-cum-plebiscite plan. Under this, Jammu and Ladakh would go to India, Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas to Pakistan and a plebiscite would be held in the Kashmir valley. However, Pakistan ‘bluntly rejected’ the proposal. It insisted that India’s commitment to a plebiscite for the whole of Jammu and Kashmir should not be departed from. There were concerns that Kashmiris may vote under fear or improper influences. Following Pakistan’s objections, Dixon proposed that the Sheikh Abdullah administration should be held in abeyance while the plebiscite was held, which was not accepted by India.

The reason New Delhi declined Dixon’s proposals for a limited plebiscite was that India wanted to keep its own troops in Kashmir during the plebiscite, claiming they were necessary for ‘security reasons’. But at the same time India did not want any Pakistani troops to remain, which contradicted the Dixon plan. Dixon felt that India would not agree to demilitarisation and other provisions governing the plebiscite that guard against influence and abuse. In the absence of Indian demilitarisation, the Pakistanis and the Azad Kashmir forces were unwilling to demilitarise the territory under their administration. Dixon’s final comment was to suggest that India and Pakistan be left to solve the situation on their own.

The failure of the Dixon mission served to increase American ambassador Loy Henderson’s distrust of India. Henderson, in his own assessment upon visiting the Kashmir valley (the first foreigner to do so), observed that the majority of people in the valley would vote to join Pakistan in a plebiscite rather than remain with India. He observed that if given the choice, most Kashmiris would opt for a third option: independence. Henderson believed that because of Indian allegations, made by Nehru, that America was biased in favour of Pakistan, the Americans ought to distance themselves from the Kashmir dispute. Washington did so in 1950.


Frank Graham’s Mediation: Dixon’s successor, Dr Frank Graham, the UN representative for India and Pakistan arrived in the subcontinent on 30 June 1951 and tried to effect demilitarisation prior to a plebiscite but both countries could not agree on the number of troops who were to remain in Kashmir.

Thereafter, Graham gave an alternative proposal whereby both countries were to gradually reduce their forces to minimal and to the ratio of their presence in the state on 1 January 1949. This proposal was accepted by Pakistan but rejected by India. He then offered a fresh set of proposals in 1952 to reduce Pakistani forces to about 3,000-6,000 and Indian forces to around 12,000-16,000. The state militias on the Indian side and the Gilgit and Northern Scouts on Pakistan’s side were not included in these figures.

Since Pakistan was hopeful for a plebiscite, it accepted this plan but India did not accept it. Graham revised the figures so that 6,000 would be the limit for Pakistan’s forces and 18,000 would be the limit for India’s forces. But India proposed to keep 21,000 troops on its side and insisted that Pakistan be allowed only a 4,000 strong civilian force. The Security Council, however, passed a resolution in December 1951 calling for India and Pakistan to come to an agreement on reducing the size of their forces to a number between 12,000-18,000 and 3,000-6,000 respectively. Pakistan agreed to it but India did not. It gave no reason for its rejection.

Graham again tried to mediate, without proposing a parallel increase of Pakistani forces, but allowed as per India’s demand to keep 21,000 troops. However, this was also unsuccessful and the UN was informed accordingly. His third submission to the UN in April 1952 relayed some headway on demilitarisation as both countries had begun withdrawing forces since March. But by the 4th report in October 1952, Graham had to inform the Security Council that the negotiations had stumbled again and the Security Council asked the two nations to hold direct talks over this question. There were unsuccessful talks in February 1953 in Geneva. In March 1953 Graham presented the final report. The two questions during the mediation which India and Pakistan differed upon was the number of troops to remain after demilitarisation on each side and when the plebiscite administrators could assume their tasks.

A cross-LoC Trade Facilitation Centre in Uri in north-western Kashmir


The Security Council Resolution in 1948 also enlarged the membership of the UNCIP to five members. India and Pakistan signed the Karachi Agreement in March 1951 and established a ceasefire line to be supervised by observers. After the termination of the UNCIP, the Security Council passed Resolution in 1951 and established United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to observe and report violations of ceasefire.

After the Indo-Pak war in 1971, the two countries signed the Shimla Agreement in 1972 to define the Line of Control (LC) in Kashmir. Thereafter, India argued that the mandate of UNMOGIP had lapsed after the Shimla agreement because it was specifically established to observe ceasefire according to the Karachi Agreement.

However, the Secretary General of the UN maintained that the UNMOGIP should continue to function because no resolution has been passed to terminate it. India has partially restricted the activities of the unarmed 45 UN observers on the Indian side of the LC on the grounds that its mandate has lapsed.

Though this narration has been given as an independent point of view, the opinion, later documented by Pakistani writers such as Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan (retd) (Raiders in Kashmir), Husain Haqqani (Pakistan Between Mosque and Military), Ishtiaq Ahmed (The Pakistan Military in Politics) and Arshad Sami Khan (Three Presidents and an Aide—Life, Power and Politics) underscore the fact that the Kashmir issue has been central to Pakistan’s army. It has been the single-most important factor that has shaped Pakistan’s India policy. Furthermore, it has projected the Pakistan military as the only institution that can save the nation, thereby strengthening its military philosophy and disproportionate dominance in politics. It has also fuelled anti-India sentiment.

(The writer is Director, ITBP Academy, Mussoorie)


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