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Back in 1947, the US said: Best that India, Pakistan ‘settle’ Kashmir by ‘direct negotiation’

While successive US administrations have encouraged India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through dialogue, some officials have from time to time suggested the possibility of mediation by Washington.

Written by Om Marathe , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
August 10, 2019 2:22:20 pm
Back in 1947, the US said: Best that India, Pakistan 'settle' Kashmir by 'direct negotiation' In Jammu on Friday (AP Photo: Channi Anand)

A United States State Department spokesperson on Friday said a flat “No” to a question on whether there had been a change in the American position that Jammu and Kashmir was a bilateral issue to be settled between India and Pakistan.

While successive US administrations have encouraged India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through dialogue, some officials have from time to time suggested the possibility of mediation by Washington. President Donald Trump had claimed recently that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir, a claim that New Delhi had denied immediately.

Official US documents suggest that the US preferred a hands-off policy on Kashmir right from 1947 itself. Responding to a speech made by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru suggesting that the Kashmir issue could be taken to the United Nations, the US was clear that it would “much prefer” that India and Pakistan chose “direct negotiation” instead.

A position paper that the State Department sent to its Embassy in India early in December 1947, with a copy to its Embassy in Karachi, discussed Kashmir, where Pakistan had sent in tribal militiamen and Army regulars soon after Independence and Partition.

Under the head ‘India-Pakistan Dispute Over Kashmir’, the State Department described “The Problem” as follows: “Indications recently received… are that the current dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may be referred to the United Nations for settlement. Pandit Nehru stated in his speech [of November 1, 1947]… that ‘as soon as Kashmir is free from the invaders, our troops will have no further necessity to remain there and the fate of Kashmir will be left in the hands of the people of Kashmir’. Nehru then suggested a referendum in Kashmir ‘under international auspices like the United Nations’.”

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In its “Recommendations” on this suggestion, the US was clear: “We would much prefer that the Kashmir question be settled by direct negotiation between India and Pakistan.”

However, it added, “in the event that a resolution requesting… the United Nations to supervise a referendum in Kashmir is introduced by India or Pakistan and supported by the United Kingdom, the United States delegation should also support the resolution”.

In a “Comment” that followed, the position paper acknowledged that “It is increasingly apparent that this major difficulty between India and Pakistan probably cannot be removed without external assistance, or without resort to further armed conflict which may eventually involve some or all of the Afghan border tribes.”

It noted that “despite their vested interests in this area, the British are apparently not in a position to render this outside assistance, and rather than have the role fall either to the United States or to any other single third party, assumption by the United Nations of the problem would be preferred”.

The position paper went on to underline that “the practical difficulties of supervising a general referendum in Kashmir should not be overlooked by the United Nations”.

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This was because “no comprehensive electoral machinery is known to exist for conducting a general referendum”, “the population of Kashmir is scattered, and many sections will soon be isolated by winter”, “few persons other than British political agents and missionaries have first-hand knowledge of the people of Kashmir and finally, the people of Kashmir are largely illiterate and without political consciousness”.

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