Published On: Mon, Mar 18th, 2013

A Lesson in Self Determination

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Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani

UN Resolutions on Kashmir started in 1948 are 65 years old. The UN Resolutions on Falkland Islands started in 1965 are 48 years old. Without waiting for the United Nations or the two disputing sovereign states of Britain and Argentina, Falkland Islands Government representing a population of 2,900 organised a two day referendum to ascertain the free will of the people. 99.8% of Falkland Islanders want to stay British on a non-British territory.

The United Kingdom and Argentina both claim responsibility for the Falkland Islands. The UK bases its position on continuous administration of the islands since 1833 and the islanders having a “right to self-determination, including their right to remain British if that is their wish”. Argentina maintains that it gained the Falkland Islands from Spain, upon becoming independent from it in 1816, and that the UK illegally occupied them in 1833. Argentina regards, that the islanders are an “implanted” population lacking the right to self-determination.

Argentinian position is that The British inhabitants of the Malvinas unquestionably enjoy civil and political rights, but they do not have the right to decide this dispute. Argentina has said that “We want to make it clear that we are wholly and unconditionally committed to respecting the identity and way of life of the inhabitants of the Malvinas, as we do with the 250,000 British descendants living in mainland Argentina. They are British, but the territory where they live belongs to Argentina.”

Regardless of what, UN, Argentina and Britain have said on the matter, the small population of 2,900 held an impressive referendum on March 10 and 11, 2013. The referendum was one of the more unusual exercises in democracy, involving mobile polling stations – four-wheel drives equipped with ballot boxes – criss-crossing the lonely landscapes of East and West Falkland, the two main islands. A light aircraft acted as an airborne polling station for even more remote communities in areas inaccessible by road and smaller islands.

Ten international observers from North and South America and New Zealand observed static polling stations in Port Stanley, Goose Green, Port Howard and Fox Bay and trailed mobile polling stations in East and West Falkland, as well as four outlying Islands, to observe the voting process on March 10 and 11. A full and complete referendum observation report, including any recommendations for future elections, will be publicly released by March 23 by International Observation Mission (RIOM). It will be posted on www.RIOM-MIOR.com.

Members of the Falklands assembly have travelled to Washington to present the result to Congress in the hope that the United States will abandon its fence-sitting on the issue of self-determination for the islanders. Jan Cheek, a member of the Falklands eight-strong legislative assembly said “It would be a nice if one of the greatest democracies would show its support for one of the smallest ones.”

British Prime Minister has come out in full support of the referendum results and said, “The Falkland (Malvinas) islanders couldn’t have spoken more clearly. They want to remain British and that view should be respected by everybody, including by Argentina.” Cameron insisted that the islanders were entitled to the right to self-determination. “It is the clearest possible result there could be,” he said. “The Islands may be thousands of miles away but they are British through and through and that is how they want to stay. People should know we will always be there to defend them.

David Cameron said, “We believe in self-determination. The Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result.”

Right of self-determination of a people regarded as “implanted” population, living on a territory belonging to Argentina, has found its expression through a referendum. The Islanders want to remain British and have a “mummy country.” Argentina does not want to have a ‘colonial enclave’ on its soil. It wants to treat these 2,900 Islanders just as it treats 250,000 British descendants living in mainland Argentina. Argentina holds that The British inhabitants of the Malvinas unquestionably enjoy civil and political rights, but they do not have the right to decide this dispute. Likewise, the region rejects unilateral British activities exploring and exploiting natural resources on the Argentine continental shelf, as well as the British military presence.

The Islanders have challenged the Argentinian position through this referendum and their assembly has set upon a fresh agenda to enlist international support.  The presence of observers from various countries has its diplomatic sensitivities attached to their quasi-endorsement of people’s right to self-determination opposed by Argentina.  In regard to this Uruguayan lawmaker Jaime Trobo who was in the Falklands for the referendum on the Islands political status and future stated that “voting is a human right that supports freedom of expression”.  “Voting is a human right and electoral observation does not validate a thing, it is a simple act of analysing if those conditions people have proposed for the ballot event, are fully complied” he said.

The Falklands’ referendum and its repercussions have become headline in world media and also in Uruguay, which has mixed feelings about the people’s right to vote and decide on their future, and Argentina’s claim over the disputed South Atlantic Islands. Britain and USA are getting deeply immersed in the result of the referendum. The presence of observers from Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, USA and Uruguay has added to the substantive merits of the referendum.

Falkland Islanders self-determination has some parallels with the issue of referendum of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Islanders have one government, while as the people of Jammu and Kashmir have three governments. Two of them at Muzaffarabad and Gilgit claim to be independent Governments provisionally charged to seek the resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNCIP resolutions. Although the said claim is embedded in the Constitution as well, yet, they have not shown any credible and genuine desire as has been shown by the Government of Falkland Islanders.

There is a moral in the political narrative of Falkland (Malvinas) islanders for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Our leadership in December 2012 decided to visit Pakistan to seek legitimacy and to urge upon Pakistan to ensure that they are included in the India-Pakistan dialogue. A people’s leadership, which has remained associated with a political and a militant struggle for the last 23 years and in the process has suffered the death of a generation, remains unconvincing in regard to its legitimacy, needs to revisit its vires.

On the one hand it disputes the merits of a bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan and at the same time offers itself for an endorsement from either one or the other parties to the dispute.  Pakistan or India could not be regarded as the parties qualified to endorse a political party or political opinion in Kashmir. The title of the people of Kashmir to self-determination has been certified by the world community through UN Resolutions and the final arbiters of any legitimacy of a political party or opinion are the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, the habit and common reflex to nudge pass the people of Kashmir and rush for any accreditation from Islamabad  by the Hurriyat or accreditation from Delhi by other political parties does not add up to their representative character in Kashmir.

In fact our leadership seems to have compromised itself either wittingly or under duress of circumstances to feed the political habits of Islamabad and Delhi. At this point these political parties suffer from a double speak. On the one hand they are opposing bilateral dialogue and on the other in practice, these parties have been endorsing the on-going bilateral-dialogue. The Indian stand and the practice continued by Pakistan and its retention of all Kashmir related powers under the Constitution would not permit any tri-lateral space for the Kashmiri leadership.

If at all Kashmiri leadership has to seek a way forward, Falkland Islanders Referendum serves as the most recent example. Indian response to Pakistan on the latter’s resolution on Afzal Guru should not leave any doubt in the minds of the leaders of Kashmir (Valley Muslims) that there is no space for them in any tri-lateral dialogue, if they remain intent to ignore their standing under UN Resolutions.

Author is London based Secretary General of JKCHR – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.  He could be reached on email dr-nazirgilani@jkchr.com


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