How the UN Has Failed Kashmir

Image Courtesy of Flickr.

Andrea Douglas, Queens University.


The heavily disputed state of Kashmir has long been the at the centre of tensions between the nuclear states of India and Pakistan. As of August 2020, they possess 150 and 160 nuclear warheads respectively, which presents a security threat, not only to neighbouring countries but to the entire global community because both have the potential to unleash disaster.

Kashmir has been a contested area between Pakistan and India since before the two countries gained independence from the British Empire in 1947. However, it was only after independence that the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, the UNCIP, adopted a number of resolutions to try and ease tensions in the region. The resolutions were to call first for a “ceasefire, [a] withdrawal of forces, and an internationally-supervised plebiscite in which the Kashmiri people would decide whether to join India or Pakistan.” Despite these resolutions, only the first of the three was actually fulfilled and no option of independence was given to the Kashmiri people.

After India and Pakistan gained independence, the maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, chose to accede to India. As a consequence, a two-year war erupted in 1947 and while brutal, it did little to ease tensions. The Indo-Pakistani War began in 1965 and another brief but vicious conflict erupted between India and Pakistani-backed forces in 1999. Presently, the Kashmiri people are experiencing unrest in large part due to the treatment of Kashmiri people facing human rights violations at the hands of the Indian administration. In addition, 68% of the Kashmiri people are Muslim which serves to further divide the majority of the population with that of primarily Hindu India. In contrast, the large Muslim population of Pakistan appeals to many of the Kashmiri people who have become disillusioned with the government that controls them.

The conflict in Kashmir has also been heightened by relentlessly “high unemployment [rates] and complaints of human rights abuses by security forces battling street protesters” and other “fighting insurgents.” This conflict in Kashmir is particularly dangerous because it is an issue that bleeds beyond the Indian and Pakistani borders, and has the potential to spread to nearby countries. Maleeha Lodhi, the Pakistani UN ambassador, expressed concern that the “escalation in the subcontinent poses a threat to prospects for peace in Afghanistan” to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Looking at both the past and the present, the United Nations has not taken much action to intervene in or mediate conflict between the two hostile neighbouring states. Within the last century, there have been “four wars” prompted by  Indian and Pakistani disputes over Kashmir. In each war, the UN failed to prevent thousands of deaths and this lack of substantial, effective action has now left the region vulnerable. The potential for “a full-scale war, involving dozens of nuclear weapons, [which] could engulf the subcontinent with grave consequences for the whole region and the world” is high considering the nuclear arsenals of both states. From its inception, the state of Kashmir have been “granted the right of self-determination under the UN Charter” and falsely ensured the right to a democratic plebiscite under the UNCIP. The UN reasoned that this resolution would allow for the people of Kashmir to decide their own fate and choose for themselves which country to accede to. In reality, no plebiscite was ever held and Kashmir has been controlled and divided by foreign governments for over half a century.

The UN did take action during the 1947 war, which came to an end through a ceasefire and a deployment of UN peacekeeping forces. This UN mission in Kashmir then became “the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), and it has supervised the State of Jammu and Kashmir ever since 1949.” This mission and its mandate have no expiration date and do not require renewal. The only way for the mission to be terminated is for the Security Council to do so and thus, the UNMOGIP continues to simply observe the border between the partitioned state and report to the main branches of the UN any ceasefire violations. It seems that at the moment, the United Nations has not done anything more than observe the conflict and offer its services of mediation.

The effectiveness of this action is arguably limited because the United Nations is rather restricted in their ability to physically intervene. The differing political inclinations of the five permanent Security Council members also pose a problem as to how effective the UN forces can be in Kashmir. For example, in the past and throughout the 1950’s, it looked to many as if the Cold War had come to the sub-continent. The Soviet Union at the time “fully endorse[d] India’s position on Kashmir [and] made it certain that Moscow would veto any proposed UN Kashmir resolution not acceptable to New Delhi.” While this direct support from Russia for India may have faded, the problem this partisanship presents the Security Council is still an issue. China for example is “‘all weather’ strategic partners” with Pakistan and the two have “always supported each other,” which explains China’s alignment with Pakistan on the more recent Kashmir issues. China has the ability to veto any measure the Security Council may suggest to reduce the tensions, should it go against Pakistan’s interests. As an example, “France, Britain and the United States were said to be considering a new push at the Security Council to place Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM, on the UN terror list. China, a strong economic partner for Pakistan, is said to be resisting.” This creates gridlock where the UN in aware of how drastic the situation is yet unable to do anything because of their organizational structure.

More specifically, not many of the UN’s past actions, such as the three resolutions and the UNMOGIP, have come to fruition. The resolutions were for the most part unfulfilled and only the 1949 ceasefire was actually accomplished. However, even the term ‘ceasefire’ can only be applied loosely because there have been three more subsequent conflicts fought between India and Pakistan since the ‘ceasefire’. In addition, the main role of the UNMOGIP is to simply man the Line of Control – the defining border between Pakistani-administered and Indian-administered Kashmir – then report to the UN any breaches of the ceasefire. There do not appear to be many explicit repercussions to the countries who breach the ceasefire, which calls into question whether or not that are positive results to this endeavor.

The second action on behalf of the UN involved them offering to mediate talks between India and Pakistan. This could, in theory be beneficial because it would bring the two rivals together in a place where they could discuss their issues rather than fighting in skirmishes on the borders. The UN would be ideal as a leader in these talks because other countries may not be “taken seriously as a credible mediator.” Few “have deep, trusted relationships with both India and Pakistan.” The only nation who could potentially have positive connections with both countries is the United Kingdom, however, “it’s unlikely the UK would be interested in this role, given its own history in the region.”

It is for this reason that a neutral international body like the UN would be the best choice to lead these talks. The effectiveness of the UN offering to mediate peace talks has not been very pronounced. Pakistan has repeatedly “appealed for help from the UN to ease tensions, saying India blaming Pakistan before any investigation had been carried out was ‘absurd’.” However, as of late there have not been any reports of the United Nations meeting with any of the countries to organize peace talks.



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