By Sun Jia Ying, The New York Times
Countries clash over whether to hold a plebiscite, and the speed of implementation of demilitarised zones in the Kashmir conflict
On the 31st of May 2017, the United Nations Security Council convened once again. Notably, the delegates of India and Pakistan were present for this session. The council was ready to tackle the crisis in the region of Kashmir. Delegates came prepared with speeches and optimistic attitudes with one common goal in mind – to end the bloodshed and political tensions this conflict has caused.
Delegates did not waste a single moment in council. Solutions were brought up during opening speeches, with a general consensus quickly being formed. The council agreed that no matter what a country’s political stance on this was (and most of these countries were politically neutral), the main focus would be to bring a stop to the human rights violations this conflict had caused.
As council progressed, however, there was a clear irony underlying the debate as multiple dimensions of the conflict were discussed. The issue at hand was a proposed plebiscite to be held for the Kashmiri people so that they would be allowed to decide which country they truly belong to. One would expect the delegates of the United States of America to vehemently advocate for a plebiscite, as this proposal aligns with USA’s long-held title of the “leader of the free world”. Yet, by their first speech on the General Speakers’ List, they had already firmly voiced out their disagreement with the idea of a plebiscite. Why has such a contradiction come up? The USA has always been vocal about upholding democracy, why would it then refuse a plebiscite?
There were three reasons the delegate of USA had given for not supporting a plebiscite. Firstly, the delegate of USA believed that Pakistan and India would refuse to demilitarise Kashmir to allow for a plebiscite.. Secondly, in order for a plebiscite to be held in the territory, Kashmir would have to be rehabilitated, which the delegates of US did not think was realistic. Therefore, they had thought that this would all tie into their third reason, which would that if a plebiscite was held, it would not be able to be seen as bilaterally agreed on.
This stance has been consistently seen throughout history – it has been revealed that the US had supported India’s stance of not having a plebiscite in 1965. Declassified documents from that era that contained letters and other communications between the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and the then US President, Lyndon Johnson, reveals that the US had held Pakistan responsible for the Indo-Pakistani War due to its misuse of American weapons against India, which were intended for use against communist China. USA had therefore rejected Pakistan’s painting of herself as a victim in the war. The disregard for India’s sovereignty as a democratic state was what had driven the US’s refusal to allow for a plebiscite.
As debate proceeded, the delegate of Russia consistently supported the delegates of China who had pushed for Demilitarised Zones (DMZ) to be set up to allow tensions to cool between Indian and Pakistani forces, with both the Russian and Chinese delegates taking steps to illustrate their demilitarised zones on whiteboards. Both these countries’ delegates then supported providing international aid to India and Pakistan when requested. It seems that in a strange turn of events, it is now the authoritarian countries, Russia and China, that are now trying to uphold democracy.
Besides that, countries have clashed on how quickly a DMZ can and should be marked out and implemented, and some have even questioned the feasibility and efficacy of it. At first, the delegates of India had been strongly against the creation of such a zone as their foremost priority was not the creation of a DMZ but the growth of economic trade. However, after strong persuasion from other delegates, the delegates of India compromised to allow a demilitarised zone to be introduced in gradual stages.
Debate then rose about whether a DMZ would be feasible to encourage economic trade in the region. Certain delegates, like the delegates of Russia, believed that with a DMZ being formed, it would then reduce the amount of terrorism and political instability caused by the militarisation of the region. However, other delegates, like the delegates of USA did not believe that a DMZ would allow economic trade to prosper at all.
Even with clear points of contention surfacing during debate, the delegates show promise in achieving compromise and their optimistic attitudes from the start of the council session were not dampened by the time it had ended. However, only time will tell if this conflict will be fully resolved.