Home / Opinion / Kashmir Conflict: Bilateral or Multilateral Approach? | By Hassan Khan
Kashmir conflict: Bilateral or multilateral approach?

Kashmir Conflict: Bilateral or Multilateral Approach? | By Hassan Khan

Neither side making requisite effort

Looking at history, the first half of the twentieth century saw tremendous changes in global power politics as the United Kingdom’s influence as an Imperial power began to gradually decline, which led to the emergence of a bipolar global political structure. The decolonisation process of the British Empire in the post-WW2 period was a further sign of Britain’s weakening global position and one of the first daunting tasks of this process was its division. The Indian sub-continent, being huge, was religiously and ethnically the most diverse part of the Empire and the religious skirmishes between the Hindus and the Muslims forced the Muslim community to come up with its demand of a separate homeland on the basis of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Two Nation Theory, whether within the boundaries of a United India or as an independent state.

This led to the formation of the dominions of Pakistan and India on the grounds of religion, when both religious communities demanded independence from the British in 1947. When it was agreed upon to divide British India, the Indian princely states, within the territories of the sub-continent, were given the option to join either of the two dominions or remain independent. While most of these states opted to join one of the two newly formed countries without any hindrance, a couple of them had serious issues which either led to a conflict and/or forced annexation.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was one such Indian princely state, which was the largest of all but considered the most controversial as its Hindu Maharaja, Hari Singh, wished to remain independent but the demand of his state’s Muslim population to become part of Pakistan and the Standstill Agreement he signed with Pakistan in August 1947 left him with very narrow options. This agreement allowed Pakistan to control operational communications between Kashmir and West Pakistan but made the maharaja feel insecure by Pakistan’s deep involvement in his state’s internal affairs.

By October 1947, there was widespread unrest in the state and the maharaja, in a hurried attempt, signed the Instrument of Accession with India under apparent duress from Indian Governor General Lord Louis Mountbatten and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, which also led to the intervention of the Indian army. This resulted in the First Kashmir War between India and Pakistan and to end the conflict India approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for pursuing case of Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir. However, the UNSC instead asked both parties to hold back their troops and passed various resolutions in favour of a ceasefire and forming an impartial UN commission for resolving the dispute along with asking to hold a potential plebiscite in Kashmir. It is to be noted that these resolutions were passed under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which are legally non-binding for the involved parties, and it indirectly meant that the dispute should likely be resolved bilaterally.

By October 1947, there was widespread unrest in the state and the maharaja, in a hurried attempt, signed the Instrument of Accession with India under apparent duress from Indian Governor General Lord Louis Mountbatten and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, which also led to the intervention of the Indian army

Eventually, two-fifth of the Kashmiri territories gained by Pakistan came to be known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) while the rest of the state remained in Indian domain. The UN also placed a permanent military observer group in the area for resolving future issues, which remains there to this day.

1972 Simla Agreement and its analysis

Since the ceasefire facilitated by the UN in 1949, a couple of diplomatic efforts were made to resolve the matter peacefully, including an attempt to hold a plebiscite, but they remained fruitless. For some years, the Kashmir issue remained on the backburner, but in 1965 Pakistani Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came up with a plan of capturing the state through a secret operation called ‘Operation Gibraltar’, which had a negative impact as the Indian government responded ferociously by invading West Pakistan. Though the war resulted in a ceasefire and rollback of forces to their original positions with the signing of Tashkent Declaration, it left deep scars on West Pakistan’s security and economic conditions, which later effected its efforts during the November/December 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, when the already economically and socially neglected wing called East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh.

West Pakistan’s leadership was handed over to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the military and being in a weaker position, some compromises were made with the Indian government in July 1972 with the signing of the Simla Agreement by ZA Bhutto and Indian PM Indira Gandhi to bring back Pakistani prisoners of war. Clauses 1 (ii) and 6 of this agreement are extremely important as they clearly mentioned that both parties should resolve any pending issues bilaterally, which include Kashmir. The exact words of these clauses are quoted below.

Clause 1 (ii) of the agreement stated the following:

That the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.

Clause 6 of the agreement mentions the following:

‘Both Governments agree that the respective Heads will meet again at a mutually convenient time in the future and that, in the meanwhile, the representatives of the two sides will meet to discuss further the modalities and arrangements for the establishment of durable peace and normalisation of relations, including the questions of repatriation of prisoners of war and civilians internees, a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir and the resumption of diplomatic relations.’

If we analyse the above two clauses in details, it is clearly shown that bilateralism is the core component of this agreement. It’s signing questioned the UN’s involvement for any further mediation and India’s case became much stronger for a bilateral solution of the Kashmir dispute. The emphasis to inter-state solution actually washed away the importance of those UNSC resolutions that pushed for a plebiscite and multilateral approach that as mentioned previously were already legally non-binding. However, Pakistan still pursued the matter in the UNSC over the years and emphasised on solving the matter multilaterally by involving countries such as the United States of America (USA). Although the USA agreed for a limited mediation, it gradually took a neutral stance and supported the bilateral approach as it had economic and political interests in India, which was on the verge of becoming a trade powerhouse in South Asia.

Though the Simla Agreement strictly stated that neither party should interfere in internal matters of each other, intelligence and covert guerrilla operations were conducted on part of Pakistan to weaken India’s writ on Jammu and Kashmir by the late 1980s and 1990s. The Kashmir uprisings in 1989 almost weakened India’s control over the state and it had to take drastic measures to curb militancy throughout the decade. This meant that Pakistan did not uphold the sanctity of neither the Simla Agreement nor past UN resolutions and rather tried to gain the disputed territory by force once again. India, too, violated the Agreement by getting involved in fomenting separatist uprisings in Pakistani Balochistan and helping some of the pro-Indian Afghans and even the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for causing instability and terrorism across Pakistan as pointed by ISPR Spokesperson Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa. The point is that the Simla Agreement was signed some 40 years ago and a lot has been changed especially when both countries became nuclear powers in 1998 resulting in a potentially precarious situation in South Asia.

The post-nuclear tests UNSC resolution number 1172 in 1998 also similarly gave importance to solving the Kashmir matter through bilateral dialogue as its clause 5 stated: ‘Urges India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue between them on all outstanding issues, particularly on all matters pertaining to peace and security, in order to remove the tensions between them, and encourages them to find mutually acceptable solutions that address the root causes of those tensions, including Kashmir.’

The need for resolving this crucial issue has become vital for maintaining peace and stability in the region. Since only the last 16 years, there were three occasions on which the two countries almost came to the brink of a nuclear war over Kashmir and terror related incidents

This UNSC resolution’s importance is greater than all previous ones especially Resolution 47 as it was passed according to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which is actually legally binding for the involved parties unlike Chapter 6. This meant that the UN finally accepted the fact that it cannot solve the issue on its own and asked the concerned parties to get to an amicable solution and somehow agreed to the clauses of Simla Agreement regarding Kashmir.

The need for resolving this crucial issue has become vital for maintaining peace and stability in the region. Since only the last 16 years, there were three occasions on which the two countries almost came to the brink of a nuclear war over Kashmir and terror related incidents. Such instability shall likely invite a dangerous precedence and diplomacy must be given priority to prevent any further crisis. Multilateral approach by Pakistan will not bear much progress and bilateral approach is the only way forward if both sides are truly sincere for a meaningful dialogue.

A perfect example of this was an approach to bilaterally reach a final peaceful solution between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian PM Manmohan Singh which would have been agreeable to both countries back in the mid-2000s. However, its process was sabotaged in wake of uncertain political scenario in Pakistan back in 2007. Further dialogues and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) during President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure bore little to no results due to the fact that the Indian government keeps demanding meaningful trial of the alleged perpetrators of November 2008 Mumbai Attacks which continue to this day. However, Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif’s statement last year stating that Kashmir was Islamabad’s “jugular vein” sent negative signals to India which called the region its ‘integral part.’ Furthermore, the new Indian government led by Narendra Modi went further by planning to remove Article 370 from the Indian Constitution that gave special autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir but has decided to uphold it for the time being.

These actions of India negate any efforts for a meaningful solution to the Kashmir dispute and show that in reality neither side is willing to take back its stance over the region. Nevertheless, talks should continue to regain trust and proceed with further positive plan of action.


In conclusion, it is to be stated that the peace process should be given a chance through bilateral approach between India and Pakistan. The only things required as mentioned previously are the trust and sincerity factors that can greatly help in reducing tensions and coming to a similar solution as Musharraf and Manmohan had envisaged some years ago. The limited involvement of Kashmiri leaders in this process shall also help in defusing the crisis due to the fact that the region belongs more to them than either of the two quarrelling states. Multilateral approach shall not help either side as it failed in the past and has less rate of success than a bilateral approach, which was more successful during Musharraf-Manmohan dialogue. A positive solution to the problem shall result in not only peace but also permanent harmony and stability in the already volatile South Asian neighbourhood.


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