East Timor and Kashmir: Questioning the Parallels on the Issue of Referendum

Shankari Sundararaman, Research Officer, IDSA


The question of a referendum in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in August 1999 has once again brought to the forefront various issues with regard to the international community's reaction to the concept of a verdict by the people. The term referendum has been defined as the 'principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative'. While the term in itself may seem to have a simplistic logic to it—in that it concedes to the wishes of the majority verdict of the popular sentiment—in the context of present day nation-states and their relation to the international system, referendum can be seen as a more complex and difficult issue. The recent referendum on the status of East Timor was an issue that kept the focus of the international community on the developments that were taking place within Indonesia. Indonesia, which had been in the grip of the financial crisis in the last two years, has also witnessed unprecedented political turmoil within the state. The case here was that the financial crisis had ended the authoritarian rule in the state and while there seem to have been some efforts towards the restoration of a popularly elected government, it has also unleashed upon the state, a level of centrifugal tendencies that may be difficult to curb. One of the constant parallels that has been drawn since the referendum in East Timor is a comparison of the situation with that of the question of Kashmir. In this article, there is an attempt to identify the historical background that was unique to the two cases; the developments between the cases of East Timor with Indonesia and that of Kashmir with India and how these two different cases were addressed by the United Nations.

The Indonesian Scene and the Context of East Timor

The question of East Timor and its relations to Indonesia needs to be analysed from the angle of East Timor's historical background and its association to the Indonesian state. In this context it is significant to bear in mind the fact that Indonesia like India is a multiethnic society with extreme economic diversities and challenges. According to the historian J.D. Legge , Indonesia's 'geographical spread, its archipelagic character, ethnic complexity and economic diversity hardly make it a natural candidate for independent nationhood'.1 This however did not prevent the Indonesian elite in power from consolidating its hold on various parts of the empire left behind by the Dutch. In the case of Indonesia there was more than one disputed territory. Two of the more comparable cases that will merely get a mention here are those of Irian Jaya and Aceh. The region of West New Guinea (Irian Jaya) was earlier a colony of the Netherlands like the rest of Indonesia. But during the course of the Second World War this region was separated from the rest of the colony and was to be administered separately by the Dutch even after the granting of independence to Indonesia in 1949. However this did not occur and the area had been one of the key players in the move to secede from the authoritarian state. Another case that deserves mention in this context is that of Aceh, which was the last Sultanate of the region—in fact the sultanate of Aceh had not even been colonised till about 1870. Actually this area had been one of the few that had managed to resist the Dutch colonisers and had been independent for much longer than the rest of Indonesia.2

The island of East Timor lies in the easternmost part of the Indonesian archipelago and is among the Lesser Sunda group of islands. The area of East Timor is a small one running roughly about 480 kms North to South and about 100 kms East to West—approximately 14,953 square kilometres. The colonial history of East Timor is an interesting one—in fact as early as the sixteenth century the island of Timor was well known and was inhabited by two predominant groups of people that were distinct by virtue of language—the first were a large group of the Atoni who were known as the Vaiqueno. The Atoni people are now the inhabitants of those parts of the island that belongs to Indonesia. The other dominant group are the Tetum speaking Belu group who are present on the coastal plains and in the eastern parts of the island. Thus even before the 16th century the island was constituted of two main groups, the Bellos and the Serviao. As the colonial expansion occurred, language became the main divide on the basis of which two major spheres of influence developed on the Timorese island.3 What is interesting in the case of East Timor is that the island was colonised by both the Dutch and the Portuguese. The early years of the colonial period seem to have been more favourable to the Dutch who, having established themselves in parts of the Malacca Straits tried to extend their economic sphere of influence to the Timor island. The simultaneous expansion into the hinterland by the Portuguese, who had settled as traders along the coastal regions of the island, saw the division of the island into two clearly defined parts. The period during which the colonisers were trying to establish their hold over the island is one that is marked by wars between the Dutch and the Portuguese who tried to overthrow one another. During the course of the changes that took place within Europe in the nineteenth century, like the Napoleonic wars, the power of the Dutch and the Portuguese saw some phases of weakening and stagnation. Interestingly for a brief period the British managed to occupy West Timor which had been under the Dutch. However by the late nineteenth century these two powers—the Dutch and the Portuguese, had clearly established their hold and remained the only two colonial powers to influence the outcome of the Timor island.4 In 1910, the traditional division on the basis of language that had been established was made the criteria for the final border agreement between the Dutch and the Potuguese—thereby recognising the Dutch as the colonial masters in West Timor, which is today a part of Indonesia; and the Portuguese in charge of East Timor.5

The administrative structure of the Portuguese was similar in all of its colonies and initially East Timor was administered from Goa and later from Macau. Only as late as 1896, East Timor was separated from Macau and administered as an individual unit. From 1910 onwards the Portuguese consolidation of East Timor increased and as early as 1912 there was a revolt within the island which has been called the Great Rebellion. During the course of the First and Second World Wars the situation within the region did undergo some alterations and changes.6 In the aftermath of the Japanese presence in East Timor the island once again witnessed attempts by the Portuguese to reposition themselves on the island and this was a difficult period with a great deal of economic problems and political unrest. While it is a historical fact that the Japanese were unable to hold on to the positions that they had established in Southeast Asia, their presence did provide a necessary incentive to the colonies in the region to develop their nationalist movements. This proved to be the case in East Timor and the seeds for the Fretlin movement began to develop here. From around the late 1940's the independence movement began to develop in East Timor. The first anti-colonial rebellion took place in 1959.

An important fact to bear in mind in the case of East Timor was that no political parties existed prior to the 1974 revolution in Portugal. The leadership of Salazar ended in 1970 and he was replaced by Marcelo Caetano. In spite of the reforms that were attempted by Caetano, the movement against the leadership gained momentum and in April 1974 the revolution in Portugal overthrew the regime in power. This event paved the way for the prospect of liberating East Timor. Initially Indonesia had refrained from taking any action against the former Portuguese territory and in 1961 Sukarno had even given an agreement to Salazar that East Timor would remain outside the interests of Indonesia. This was in tune with Indonesia's declaration 'that its territorial claims were coterminous with those of the former Dutch empire in Southeast Asia'.7

The development of political parties in East Timor began to take place after the revolution in Portugal. Three dominant groups emerged on the scene at this time—these were the Apodeti, Fretlin and the UDT. The three parties that were formed had different agendas and were known for their divergent views with regard to the position they shared on the issue of closeness to Indonesia and the ties with their former colonial masters, the Portuguese. One of the first to emerge on the political scene was the UDT—Uniao Democratica Timorense (Democratic Union of Timorese). The UDT was the party that reflected a pro-Portuguese stand. The party believed in promoting the 'social, economic, cultural and political development of the Timorese people' and though the party was in favour of self-determination for the Timorese people it called for the move toward a federation with the Portuguese. The composition of the party primarily consisted of Catholics who were either smallholders or administration officials.8

Within a week of the formation of the UDT, in May 1974 the Associacao Social Democratica Timor (Social Democratic Association of Timor, ASDT) was formed. In September of the same year the ASDT changed its name to Frente Revolucionaria de Timor Leste Independente ( Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor, Fretlin). Under the leadership of Jose Ramos Horta the objective of the party was to emulate the ideology of African groups like the Frelimo which were fighting against the Portuguese reign in their own regions. While it has been widely believed that the Fretlin was a leftist oriented front, its political orientation was not so fiery as was assumed. In fact it believed that it was the sole legitimate representative of the Timorese people.9 When the front was started it was meant to open its doors to people of different political philosophies whose main aim would merely be the attainment of national independence and was not meant to restrict its role to include those who believed in the policy of a 'labour-oriented socialist democracy'. The Fretlin, in that sense was more of an attempt to galvanise people from different walks as well as divergent political ideology to combine their efforts to struggle together against colonialism and for liberation from the Portuguese.

The third party that emerged on the scene was the Associacao Popular Democratica Timorense (Popular Democratic Association of Timorese, APODETI). This was the group that was more acceptable to the Indonesian government. The Apodeti was formed in May 1974 and was initially known as the Association for the Integration of Timor into Indonesia (AITI) but later changed its name to Apodeti in order to free itself from the political ideology that was similar to Indonesia. The Apodeti policy was that though it did not favour a policy of annexation of East Timor with Indonesia, it believed that East Timor should become an autonomous province of the Indonesian republic.10 While the Indonesian constitution did not provide for such a clause, the Indonesian government did continue to back the Apodeti. It was believed that once the Apodeti were able to secure their position within East Timor the matter of integration with the Indonesian republic would only be a matter of time. The policy of the Indonesian government at this time was that if clandestine support could be given to the Apodeti, the imminent overthrow of the Portuguese would take place and then there would be a merger of East Timor with Indonesia.11 However, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of Indonesia, the Fretlin gained power in East Timor. The Indonesian government firmly endorsing its anti-Communist position did not recognise the Fretlin and sent in 'volunteers' and by July 1976, East Timor was occupied by Indonesian forces and was integrated into the Indonesian republic as its 27th province.12

In the aftermath of the integration of East Timor into Indonesia several changes occurred that became an issue for the international community and the supporters of human rights movements. In the years after the policy of integrasi or integration began there has been the steady usage of information as a means to gain a stronger footing in East Timor. In this regard the imposition of language and a new concept of state have been issues that have found considerable opposition. One of the most important aspects of this policy has been through the medium of education. Indonesian sources state that several Timorese students have been enrolled in schools and universities and this is often cited as a case for the success of integration—however there has been a growing resentment against the fact that the Portuguese system had been replaced by one where Jakarta remains at the apex of the educational hierarchy.13 Other issues that have been addressed in the case of East Timor is the issue of economic development and that of demographic and population control. In fact it was these issues which were related to matters of internal development between the province and the republic that kept the question of East Timor's integration festering. Southeast Asian scholars like Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore have cited the case of Goa with India as a classic example whereby a former Portuguese colony was peacefully integrated into the Indian republic as against that of the case between East Timor and Indonesia.14

From 1976, when Indonesia incorporated East Timor and for thirteen years thereafter, the former Portuguese colony remained closed to the outside world. By 1988, many human rights observers of the East Timor scene, particularly groups such as Asia Watch and Amnesty International came out with reports that over 200,000 people had lost their lives in the battle against Indonesia. From 1988 onwards, East Timor was accorded an open status.15 Indonesia believed that there was no longer a threat from the Fretlins and was also keen to give the territory an open status so that it would be endorsed by the United Nations while simultaneously silencing the critics on issues of human rights violations. From 1991 onwards the movement for independence began to gain some strength when in October that year an East Timorese student was killed in clashes with the police. In November, the Indonesian troops opened fire on a pro-independence demonstration in Dili and that massacre received a lot of international attention and support. The movement further strengthened when the political leadership in East Timor received the support of the international community with the recognition given to Father Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos Horta which brought the question of East Timor back on to the map of the international community. Till the onset of the financial crisis the question of East Timor did not really feature so much as a part of the internal developments in Indonesia. However 1998 proved to be a landmark year in the internal political developments of the country and in the wake of the changes that occurred there President Habibie's statement to allow the choice of the people to prevail came as a surprise. There are some analysts who believe that the decision to carry out a referendum in East Timor was more an attempt to appease the international community which was very critical of the human rights conditions that prevailed there. The Indonesian economy in the wake of the financial crisis was beyond repair and its dependence on foreign aid especially through international monetary institutions such as the IMF made it more vulnerable to the changes that the international community would have expected.

The decision of President Habibie to pursue the referendum issue saw a great deal of opposition within the Indonesian ruling elite—the more conservative opinion within the group was that East Timor should be retained and that a referendum addressing either autonomy or independence went against the grain of all the efforts that Indonesia had made to integrate the province as a part of the republic. The August 30, 1999 referendum in East Timor overwhelmingly supported the case for an independent state. However the question was more crucial in that it did not address that role of the Indonesian military which inspite of the political changes in the country had a very vital role to play. The Indonesian military with its strong hold on politics began supporting the pro-Indonesia militia within East Timor, led by the Aitarak militia. The Aitarak under the leadership of Eurico Guiterres came into existence like many other pro-Jakarta militia groups that had begun to emerge from around April 1999. The clash between these groups and that of the independence supporters plunged the province into one of the most violent and bloodiest phases in its political evolution. The United Nations at this time was thinking in terms of constituting a peacekeeping force for East Timor and once this was approved an international force was despatched under the leadership of Australia and peace was restored through this group.16 The ground reality at this time was that the pro-Jakarta militia backed by the military had created an environment of terror in the state. The UN decision to send in a peacekeeping force helped to restore the peace in East Timor and also welcomed the return of the leader Xanana Gusmao to Dili. It is important to remember that the institutions within Southeast Asia were unable to check the violence that had held East Timor in its grip. The changed nature of the region in the aftermath of the financial crisis has undermined the functioning of the regional groupings and their success in addressing issues of concern within their region remains uncertain.

The United Nations and the East Timor Issue

The question of East Timor was raised with the Security Council by the Portuguese. In December 1975, the Portuguese requested a meeting of the UNSC on the grounds that the 'naval, air and land forces of the Republic of Indonesia had launched an offensive action against Portuguese Timor'.17 According to the request made by Portugal, the Security Council was asked to bring an end to the Indonesian aggression in East Timor so that Portugal could continue with the process of decolonisation. Portugal at this time conceded that it had not completed the process even though some of the political parties within East Timor had already declared their independence from Portugal. The issue was placed before the UNSC and two resolutions were passed. Resolution 384 of December 22, 1975, having heard the case by the Permanent Representative of Portugal recognised the 'inalienable rights of the people of East Timor to self-determination and independence in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples' which had earlier been endorsed by the General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960.18 The resolution expressed concern at the deteriorating situation in East Timor and called upon Indonesia to withdraw its forces from the territory and also stated the need for Portugal to responsibly exercise its powers over the territory in such a fashion that would endorse the will of the people. This resolution was adopted unanimously by the Security Council.

The United Nations Security Council again reiterated its position with regard to the question of East Timor in April 1976. Resolution 389 (1976) was proposed by three powers and was adopted by the UNSC with twelve votes and two abstentions. This resolution further reaffirmed the stand that had been taken by the UNSC in its earlier resolution and once again stressed the importance of the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination.19 The question of East Timor was not only addressed by the UNSC but also by the General Assembly. From 1975, the United Nations General Assembly too had passed resolutions every year on the situation in East Timor - these were resolution 3485 of December 12, 1975; 31/53 of December 1, 1976; 32/34 of November 28, 1977; 33/39 of December 13, 1978; 34/40 of November 21, 1979; 35/27 of November 11, 1980; 36/50 of November 24, 1981 and 37/30 of November 23, 1982. These resolutions of the UNGA endorsed the right of the people to self-determination and called for the concerned parties to abide by the United Nations resolutions in achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict in East Timor.20

The question of the East Timor case is clearly one that is very distinct in its character. The only point of reference to which it may even be comparable is the case of Goa and that has been mentioned earlier. The conduct of a referendum in East Timor has brought to the forefront another case, which is that of Kashmir and the conflict which has been so integral to Indo-Pak relations. The following section discusses the case of Kashmir and has tried to analyse the salient features that distinguish the Kashmir case from that of East Timor.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir: Independence Versus Accession

Whenever case studies are referred to, there always seems to be a greater academic exercise involved in the process. That holds true for the present case too where there has been an attempt to compare the situation in East Timor with a point of reference closer to home—the Kashmir case. The question of Kashmir was more complex and was not resolved till after independence. There is every evidence to suggest that Kashmir had the right of accession to either of the two dominions of India or Pakistan. What is important to bear in mind is the fact that while the Indian Independence Act of 1947 theoretically left behind states which numbered over 500, in practice such independence was ruled out. The British Empire however did not have the ability to coerce the states into joining either of the dominions. Under these circumstances it was left to the ruler to choose, with the view of the majority community in mind, the dominion to which he wished to accede. In both the cases of Hyderabad and Junagarh though the ruler chose otherwise, in keeping with the view of the popular sentiments the decision to stay with the Indian dominion was expressed. The question of actually remaining independent was not one that was very welcome and this was well expressed by Mahatma Gandhi in July 1947 when he stated that it would be wise for the Princes to choose one Dominion or the other in keeping with their 'geographical position and the compulsion of that position'.21 In the case of Kashmir the question of geography was also more complex—not only did it share borders with India and Pakistan but Kashmir had at a time shared common borders with China, Afghanistan and Tibet. A brief look at the internal politics of the state may help in understanding the situation a little better.

The history of Kashmir is a complex one and has been a history of the growth of local kings and rulers who were often 'overpowered by emperors from the heartland of India.' During the 3rd century B.C. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced in Kashmir by Ashoka. From the early 6th century till A.D. 530 , the Huns and some local rulers were in control. It then came under the suzerainty of the Ujjain Empire. The golden period of Kashmir's history is believed to be from the end of the Ujjain rule till the Muslim conquest in 1339 —the period witnessed the fusion of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies as well as the growth of Shaivism.22

From the time of the Muslim rule till about 1819 Kashmir had been under the rule of the Afghans. In that year Raja Ranjit Singh of Punjab had conquered the Vale of Kashmir and Gulab Singh, a Dogra Rajput who was a scion of the ruling family of Jammu, was made the Raja of Jammu. The Kashmir valley however, remained in the hands of the Sikhs till the end of Ranjit Singh's death and had been governed by governors of the Punjab court. In 1846, after the death of Ranjit Singh the British conquered Punjab and in recognition of the assistance given by Gulab Singh the British allowed him to purchase the Vale of Kashmir for a price of 75 lakhs in cash and a nominal tribute to acknowledge the paramountcy of the British empire. The initial response from the governors of the Valley was to put up a token resistance but in view of the combined efforts of the British and the Raja of Jammu, the Governor of Kashmir, Imamuddin surrendered. With the transfer of a few territories established under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, the state assumed its present shape and Gulab Singh was the ruler.23 This was the background to how the Hindu Dogra rulers came to rule a state which had a Muslim majority of 78 percent.24

From 1920 onwards the pace of the national movement began to have its effect within the state of Jammu and Kashmir too. The movement which started in the form of demands to ensure a better lifestyle for the Muslims in the state was led by a radical young man who had been educated at the Aligarh Muslim University, Sheikh Abdullah. By 1931 Maharaja Hari Singh had declared martial law in the state and had arrested Abdullah. In the following year he was released and immediately resumed his political activities and started the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. By 1939 the move towards independence had received an added impetus and within Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah opened the membership of the Muslim conference to non-muslims too and it was converted to the National Conference which has strong links with the Indian National Congress. By 1941 the Muslim League had made clear its demand for a separate state of Pakistan and even within the National Conference a segment led by Ghulam Abbas split from the main group and this aligned with the demands of the Muslim League and formed a separate group under its earlier name, the Muslim Congress.25 There is an opinion by people like Josef Korbel which states that the mood in India in general and in Kashmir in particular was towards the concept of Pakistan being a homeland for the Muslims. He writes 'as Muslims in British India became more and more pronounced in their support for an independent Pakistan , the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir began to return to the Muslim Conference led by Ghulam Abbas, abandoning the National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah'.26

There are, however, other accounts that contradict the opinion of Korbel and some of the points in this regard have been discussed below. By the early 1940's Abdullah's group had made every attempt to identify with the secular movement that was taking shape in India as opposed to the demands of the Muslim League. In spite of the split and the breaking away of the Abbas faction, the orientation of the group did follow a policy of secularism. This is obvious from the fact that Abdullah invited Pundit Nehru to Kashmir—which in itself had a tremendous political implication. According to Sisir Gupta, ' Nehru was not merely a national leader of repute; he was a socialist for whom communal differences were irrelevant and the task was one of relentless opposition to the feudal elements in society, irrespective of their religious belief'.27 It seems evident that the political sympathies of the National Congress and Sheikh Abdullah were definitely more in tune with the struggle as envisaged by the Indian National Congress and were not in sync with the Muslim League. In this environment of politics within Kashmir, both Jinnah and the League recognised that the trend toward secularisation of politics in Kashmir did not favour the furtherance of Pakistan's interests especially since the National Conference became a platform for both Hindu as well as Muslim aspirations in the state. Sheikh Abdullah, realising Jinnah's ambition, was not willing to risk the loss of his own popularity within the state and that is when the Muslim Congress split and the section under Abbas began to support the call of the Muslim League for an independent Pakistan. From 1941 onwards the National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah outlined a social and economic programme for the state that was based upon principles of secularism and socialism called the New Kashmir Plan. In an attempt to contain the growing discontent within the state the Maharaja offered the National Conference a seat in the Council of Ministers which it accepted. But by 1946 the National Conference realised that these measures taken by the Maharaja were merely symbolic and the agitation led by Abdullah became more militant and became known as the Quit Kashmir movement.28 At this time the Maharaja himself was unwilling to lose the position that he had and remained completely ambiguous about his intentions to accede to either India or Pakistan. By August 15, 1947 there was no decision by the Maharaja on whether he intended to accede to Pakistan or to India and he had in fact signed Standstill Agreements with both. India at this time was too preoccupied with the developments in Hyderabad but Pakistan's reaction was to place an economic blockade against Kashmir which 'interrupted the flow of essential commodities to Kashmir'.29 This caused grave concern to the state since the geographical position of Kashmir was such that its vital communications links with the outside world lay through Pakistan. In fact N.C Chatterjee stated that 'the state was dependent for all its imported supplies like salt, sugar, petrol and other necessities of life on their safe and continued transit through areas that would form part of Pakistan'.30 In spite of this economic blockade there was no move by Kashmir to accede to Pakistan and it was in this phase that in October 1947 some 2000 Pathan tribesmen crossed over the Kashmir-West Pakistan border and entered through the Jhelum Valley road and moved towards Srinagar. By October 24 when the threat to Srinagar was imminent, the Maharaja appealed to India for help and in response the Indian government sent V.P. Menon to study the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Later on the advice of Lord Mountbatten, India agreed to send troops for the protection of the state but this was done only after the Treaty of Accession was signed. It is believed that when the Indian forces landed in Kashmir the Pathan tribesmen were merely 10-15 miles away from the capital and were pushed back by the Indian troops. The presence of the Indian troops received the support of the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah.31 What needs to be seen in this context is the fact that India's response to the situation was a slow one. Even when the Maharaja of Kashmir requested Indian assistance by October 24, India did not immediately take advantage of the request. Alistair Lamb in his work, 'Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846-1990', has supported the Pakistani viewpoint that India had long cherished ambitions to bring Kashmir into the Indian union. This view is one that has been expressed by both Pakistani as well as Western analysts of the South Asian conflict.32 Whatever be their opinion on the matter, there is no denying the fact that the unwillingness of India to react and respond immediately to the request of the Maharaja was a positive one that proves that India did not really take advantage of its position. In fact it was only after the signing of the Instrument of Accession, that India airlifted troops to Srinagar. Despite the fact that the invaders were pushed back they managed to retain their hold over one third of the state which then came to be known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and was also referred to by Pakistan as Azad Kashmir. In January 1949 a cease-fire agreement was signed between India and Pakistan , with Pakistan continuing to hold on to one third of the state. According to the treaty of accession the Indian government was responsible for matters relating to defence, foreign affairs and communications while other matters of the state were to be dealt within the autonomous rights of the state, which was incorporated in the Indian Constitution under Article 370. This later on became an issue of great debate. With the establishment of the cease-fire the first Indo-Pak war over Kashmir ended.

The situation within the state after this began to cause concern. In the initial years of the National Conference some changes were instituted—in 1950 two legislations were passed which became an issue of controversy later. These were the Abolition of Big Landed Estates Act and the Distressed Debtors Relief Act. The first act targeted the landed Hindu community of Jammu and the second created a board for the relief of debt.33 In 1953 Abdullah's government was dismissed because it was believed that he was conspiring to declare Kashmir's independence from the Indian Union. It must be stated that as far as the economic situation was concerned inspite of the fact that Kashmir received a bulk of the central government's economic share, there have been enormous difficulties since much of this has not reached the objective for which it was meant. The subsequent National Conference governments that emerged have been inept and corrupt. A viable political opposition has also not emerged since the groups have repeatedly rejected participation in election to the state assembly on the basis that the elections have been sponsored by the Indian government—a case in example here is that of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Moreover, the growing awareness of the local people on the basis of increased educational opportunities have furthered the exisiting discontent.

The most crucial factor is that these groups have received support and sustenance from Pakistan—in fact it can be stated categorically that the change in complexion of the Kashmir issue to an ethno-religious one has been done at the behest of Pakistan. Taking advantage of the Indian position, Pakistan has for years funded, organised and trained an incoherent and loose movement into a structured and well-defined problem that threatens the Indian position in Kashmir.34 The question of Pakistan's involvement in the Kashmir case is probably the most destabilising factor in the restoration of peace and stability to the region. With one third of the state under its control, Pakistan continues to see Kashmir as an unfulfilled aspiration of its nationhood.

The United Nations and the Kashmir Issue

The irony of the Kashmir situation and its internationalisation is that India itself was the first to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council. In the aftermath of the Pathan invasion, India was the first to carry the issue to the Security Council and on December 31, 1947, the Kashmir conflict was referred to by the UNSC. It seems that Nehru's objective at that time was to get the Security Council's censure of 'Pakistan Government's personnel, civil and military, participating in or assisting the invasion'.35 On January 1, 1948, India requested a meeting of the Security Council because it felt that 'international peace and security was likely to be endangered by the continuation of the situation between India and Pakistan: invaders were drawing aid from Pakistan for operations against the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This assistance was an act of aggression, which could compel India to enter Pakistan territory in self-defence'.36 On January 15, India's case was presented before the Security Council by the Prime Minister of Kashmir, Gopal Swami Ayyangar. India's representation to the UNSC was on the basis that the two countries had recognised that the right of accession was to be decided by the rulers of the states that acceded to either of these countries and that in the case of Kashmir the decision of the Maharaja was to accede to India inspite of the fact that there was a muslim majority population and that it was contiguous to the territory of Pakistan. What is salient here is that despite this the population of Jammu and Kashmir did not go against the decision of the ruler. Based on this fact, India's contention was that the Indian forces had a right to be there, while the Pakistani forces were guilty of aggression. India called for the Council to pass a resolution under Article 35 which would ask Pakistan to refrain from interfering in Kashmir and to prevent Pakistani nationals from doing the same.37

Pakistan's case at the United Nations was represented by its Foreign Minister Sir Zafrullah Khan . In its argument Pakistan denied that the support for the Kashmir issue was from outside and that the fighting was the outcome of internal revolt over the ruler's decision to accede to India. Pakistan's representation challenged the very legality of India's right to Kashmir and also accused India of not allowing the will of the population to prevail as it had done in the cases of Junagadh and Hyderabad. It further stated that the very treaty of accession was a fraud and did not take into consideration the wishes of Pakistan. Pakistan further accused India of interfering in Kashmir and of oppressing the muslim population there.

It is evident that the initial responses within the United Nations did not show any favour to either of the two sides—on January 20, 1948, the United Nations introduced a resolution on the basis of which a United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) was established. The UNSC Resolution 39 of January 1948 referred to the issue as the India-Pakistan issue which till then had been discussed as the Jammu-Kashmir Question. Initially the response that was given to India and Pakistan had been of equal status due to which India had not been in favour of it.38 As regards the issue of a plebiscite—this has been discussed at great length in the UNSC Resolution 47 of April 21, 1948. It reaffirmed Resolution 38 of January 17, 1948. In this it resolved to increase the membership of the UNCIP from three to five members. Further the resolution instructed the commission to proceed to India and place its good offices for the mediation and resolution of the conflict in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The change in the circumstances took place only on the UNCIP's assessment of the ground situation when they realised the presence of Pakistani troops in the region and this altered their stance to a degree. The UNCIP in its report stated that the presence of Pakistani troops did change the perspective on the issue and in August 1948 it called for the following: first a withdrawal of all foreign troops from the region of Jammu and Kashmir; second when the withdrawal of foreign forces had occurred then the Indian troops in the state would be reduced to the levels that were required only for the maintenance of law and order and to help the civilian government in the state. If these two prerequisites were met then there would be the third step of holding a plebiscite. In fact one of the stands taken by the UNCIP was that it recognised Sheikh Abdullah's government as a legitimate one and denied Pakistan any role in the plebiscite. This stand of the UN has been maintained and India contends that even the call for a plebiscite is a matter of internal policy between the Indian government and the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


When one compares the two cases of East Timor and Kashmir several questions come to mind and some remain unanswered. Can parallels on the issue of referendum be drawn? The changes that occurred in the case of Jammu and Kashmir are very different from those which took place in East Timor. First, is the fact that unlike East Timor which had been a colony of the Portuguese, Kashmir was a large princely state that had an independent treaty with the British empire. The very fact that it came under the same colonial power changes the status with which it should be viewed. The dispute in the case of East Timor was between a colonial power which had not relinquished its hold over the territory and that of Indonesia which had annexed the state. In the Kashmir context the dispute was between India and Pakistan—two independent states that had emerged as a result of decolonisation. Second, in the case of East Timor once the independence movement began to grow in the province, Indonesia which had earlier given an assurance to the Portuguese of not interfering, went against this promise. In the case of Kashmir, the Indian presence in the state occurred only after the acceptance of the Instrument of Accession. In stark contrast to this is the role of the Pathan tribesmen from Pakistan who had invaded the state along with regular Pakistani army troops and had managed to capture one third of it by taking advantage of its vulnerable position. Third and the most significant distinction is that there has been no involvement of a third power in the East Timor question. The demand for independence of East Timor emerged from within whereas in the case of Kashmir the issue has been sponsored from outside. In fact when one looks at the complexion of the insurgency in Kashmir, it has undergone a tremendous change. In the wake of the Afghan crisis, the Kashmir insurgency is largely being fought by mercenary groups from areas such as West Asia, and even Africa. These Mujahideen groups have been instrumental for the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, and the spread of its tentacles in Kashmir is a key factor that has undermined the restoration of peace and stability in the region. Where then can one draw parallels on the issue of referendum? The mere usage of a word that is common to both is certainly not enough.



1. Legge, J. D., "Indonesia's Diversity Revisited", Indonesia, Vol. 49, 1990, p. 127, cited in Robert Cribb, "Not the Next Yugoslavia: Prospects for the Disintegration of Indonesia", Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 53, no. 2, 1999, p. 169.

2. For a detailed analysis of the cases of Irian Jaya and Aceh see the following, Robin Osborne, Indonesia's Secret War: The Guerilla Struggle in Irian Jaya (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1986); Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin, The Republican Revolt: A Study of the Acehnese Rebellion (Singapore: ISEAS, 1985).

3. Jill, Jolliffe, East Timor: Nationalism and Colonialism (Queensland: University of Queensland Press,1978), pp. 12-16.

4. For a detailed study of the shifts and changes that took place between the colonial powers in the case of Timor see, ibid., pp.12-60.

5. Ibid., p. 19.

6. The details of the changes that took place within the region are not being discussed at length in this paper. It is evident that even during the Japanese expansion in Southeast Asia East Timor had a role to play in terms of Japan's interests even though Portugal had declared itself to be a neutral nation during the war.

7. It was believed that this policy of the Indonesian regime under Sukarno was followed so as to dispel fears among its neighbours about Indonesia's expansionist tendencies and also to send a more positive message to the Western countries upon whom Indonesia was dependent for aid. See, D.R. Sardesai, Southeast Asia: Past and Present (Boulder: Westview, 1994), p. 248.

8. Jill Jolliffe, n. 3, p. 62.

9. Ibid., p. 63.

10. Ibid., p. 64.

11. D.R. Sardesai, n. 7, p. 248.

12. Geoffrey C. Gunn, East Timor and the United Nations: The Case for Intervention (Eritrea: The Red Sea Press Inc, 1997), p. 12.

13. John J. Taylor, Taylor, Indonesia's Forgotten War: The History of East Timor, (London: Zed, 1991), pp. 125-27 cited in Ibid., p. 14.

14. The reference made to Goa will not be discussed in detail here as it deviates from the main theme of the essay. What needs to be said is that there were other colonial powers that had a stake in India and these included both the French and the Portuguese. After India's independence in 1947, negotiations were started with both these in order to ensure the peaceful transfer of their colonies to India. The French transferred their colonial possessions of Mahe, Karaikal, Yanam and Pondicherry to India in 1954 when it relinquished its hold on the Indochina states. The repeated efforts of India to negotiate the transfer of Goa from the Portuguese did not meet with much success. As early as 1954 two smaller enclaves of Dadra and Nagarhaveli were brought under Indian control. The continued intransigence by the Portuguese government perhaps irked the impatience of India. The situation was even addressed to the Security Council and there were domestic demands for the incorporation of Goa, Daman and Diu with India. There were several incidents when there was exchange of fire between the Indian troops and the Portuguese troops. In December 1961 Indian troops entered the state and occupied the territory. While the issue was debated in the Security Council there was no change and it was accepted as a fait accompli especially since Russia vetoed the resolution. Several reasons have been given for the acceptance of the Goa situation by the international community. Aggression as a means to end colonial rule was not condemned. Moreover, the recognition to the independence of smaller states was not so clearly articulated as it is in present times. For an analysis of the Goa situation see, Evan Luard, A History of the United Nations Vol.2: The Age of Decolonisation, 1955-1965 (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 317-326.

15. D.R. Sardesai, n. 7, p. 251.

16. The Hindu (Madras), September 13, 1999.

17. Karel C. Wellens, Resolutions and Statements of the United Nations Security Council (1946-1989)—A Thematic Guide"(Martinus Nijhoff: The Netherlands, 1990), p.345.

18. Ibid.,

19. Ibid., p. 346.

20. Official Records of the General Assembly, Thirty-Seventh Session, Supplement No. 23 (A/37/23/Rev.1).

21. Hindustan Times, June 14, 1947, cited in Sisir Gupta, Kashmir: A Study in Indo-Pak Relations (New Delhi: Asia Publishing, 1966), p.90.

22. Ibid., p. 18.

23. Ibid., pp. 19-22.

24. For details see, S.M. Burke and Lawrence Ziring, Pakistan's Foreign Policy: A Historical Analysis (Karachi, OUP, 1990), pp.19-21.

25. Ibid., p.20.

26. Ibid.

27. Sisir Gupta, n.20, p. 54.

28. Sumit Ganguly, The Origins of War in South Asia: Indo-Pak Conflict Since 1947 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), p.44.

29. Ibid.

30. This statement by N.C. Chatterjee was quoted by Sheikh Abdullah in his article to the Foreign Affairs of April 1965 titled "Kashmir, India and Pakistan" and has been cited in S.M. Burke and Lawrence Ziring, n.21, p.19.

31. Ashutosh Varshnney , "Three Compromised Nationalisms: Why Kashmir Has Been a Problem", in Raju G.C. Thomas (ed.), Perspectives on Kashmir: The Roots of Conflict in South Asia (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992), p.210.

32. For details see, Alistair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846-1990 (Hertingfordbury: Roxford, 1991).

33. Sumit Ganguly, "Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilisation and Institutional Decay", International Security, vol.21, no. 2, Fall 1996, p. 96.

34. Ibid., p. 103.

35. Ashutosh Varshney, n.28, p.210.

36. Karel C. Wellens (ed.), n.16, p.322.

37. According to Article 35 of the UN Charter the United Nations Security Council could recommend appropriate procedures or measures of adjustment for the peaceful settlement of disputes. For details see, Evan Laurd, A History of the United Nations Volume 1: The Years of Western Domination 1945-1955 (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp.275-294.

38. Karel C. Wellens (ed.), n. 16, p. 322.