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Kashmir in geopolitical context

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The decision of the Indian authorities to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has caused a predictably angry reaction from Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has signalled his country’s readiness to use “all means available”  to counteract such a “unilateral” move on the part of New Delhi. Also, a statemetn condemning the decision has been made by Beijing. According to Pakistani media, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while in Islamabad, “stated that China would oppose any unilateral actions by India in Kashmir which could worsen the situation in the region.”  Later, amid reports of cancellation or postponement of the visits of high-ranking representatives of India and China to Beijing and New Delhi at the beginning of September, there appeared  media reports about the possiblity of relations between the two countries deteriorating “over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.” What is happening in this region, which has been torn by geopolitical controversy for decades?

The territory of the former principality of Jammu and Kashmir has been an apple of discord between India and Pakistan ever since the end of the British colonial rule in 1947. Both countries claim full control over the region. Being in a state of war from the first days of independence, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought against one another four times; and three times over Kashmir. At present, India controls 45% of the historical territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where most of the population lives, and Pakistan – 35%. The remaining 20%, a barren and sparsely populated Aksaychin plateau, is under the control of the PRC. India considers Aksaychin an integral part of the historical region of Ladakh – the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir, which is populated mainly by Buddhists. This gives India a reason for disputing it belonging to China. India also claims a territory in the north of Kashmir (northeast of Ladakh), which Pakistan transferred to the sovereignty of the PRC as part of the exchange of territories in accordance with the 1963 border treaty. What gives this region a particular importance is its role in the distribution of water resources of the Indus River basin, an important source of fresh water at the junction of the two most populated countries in the world, China and India, and  Pakistan as well. Most of Kashmir’s 12 million residents are Muslims. For more than 30 years, they have been fighting fierce battles against the policies of the central authorities of India which they say are aimed to restrict the autonomy of the region and weaken the positions of the Muslim majority. India accuses Pakistan of training, arming and sending militants to Kashmir.

On August 5th this year, the Indian authorities abolished the special autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and created two union territories within its borders – two administrative units that enjoy fewer rights than a state and are controlled from the center. Jammu and Kashmir is in the western part of the former state, and Ladakh – in the eastern. The decision was effectuated through the Indian Parliament, by annulling Article 370 of the Constitution, which bestowed a special status on Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, the union territory of Ladakh has lost its own legislative body. In addition, they have lifted a ban on the purchase of land in Jammu and Kashmir by residents of other states of India, which has been in force for decades.

The decisions in question have triggered mass protests from local Muslims. The Indian authorities have brought in extra military and police units, increasing their total number to almost 540 thousand. They have also been blocking mobile communications and the Internet. A curfew was announced in a number of areas on September 8th . According to media reports, thousands of protesters have been detained. Observers say, the decision on Kashmir is a “well-planned and well-prepared” step. However, they point out, the “redistribution” of power in favor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Javat Party (BJP), as well as measures encouraging the migration of Hindus to Kashmir, will surely encourage radical groups that have been fighting against India from the territory of Pakistan.

So drastic and unpredictable by their aftereffects, the moves taken by Narendra Modi can be accounted for by a whole range of internal and external factors that are closely intertwined. After the February 14 terrorist attack in the Jammu and Kashmir region of Pulwam, which became the bloodiest single-blow terrorist attack in the last 30 years, the issue of “foreign policy and national security” for the first time in Indian history became one of the features of the spring election campaign to elect new members of parliament. The retaliatory strike against Pakistan has become the predictable reaction of the Indian Prime Minister to “the Indian society’s demand of tough measures against the sponsors of terrorism.” Besides, in the midst of the election campaign, the prime minister helped to reverse the emerging tendency towards the strengthening of the positions of the party’s political opponents. The “power” measures contributed to the consolidation of voters around the prime minister and cemented the positions of the BJP in parliament. In the case of Kashmir, a number of observers see Modi’s measures as aimed to divert the attention of the Indian society from the worsening economic situation and rising unemployment.

Another factor is the long-nurtured plans of the Indian leadership to centralize the state and consolidate the country. Without this, as they say in the Indian establishment, it is impossible to upgrade and strengthen national might, including in international affairs. From the domestic point of view, these plans are designed to ensure the growth of Hindu national-religious identity. Without eliminating the only predominantly Muslim state, it is difficult to talk about the ultimate goal of the BJP and the forces supporting it – the proclamation of India as a Hindu nation. The strengthening of such tendencies in the Indian leadership will inevitably lead to tougher measures against Pakistan. Islamabad was quick to  condemn the decision to abolish the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, describing it as “a gross violation of international law and the rights of ordinary Kashmiris,” “and refused to recognize it as an internal affair of India.” Meanwhile, the military escalation that took place last February demonstrated how quickly the flames of war flare up between old enemies. Given the situation, there have sprung up more fears that a new Indian-Pakistani conflict could deteriorate into an exchange of nuclear strikes. However, according to realists, it is precisely the prospect of mutual nuclear destruction that should stop the two parties from allowing an “excessive” escalation of military conflict at the moment. And it will continue to keep them from going over the line in the future.

The interests of New Delhi and Islamabad clash not only in Kashmir, but also to the north of it – in Afghanistan. According to experts from the US Stratfor Center, US negotiations with Taliban, a movement banned in the Russian Federation, on prospects for the withdrawal of most of the American troops, potentially contribute to the strengthening of Pakistan’s geopolitical standing. A stronger position of New Delhi in Kashmir should become a counterbalance to a stronger position of Pakistan in Afghanistan and, as a result, should add to the consolidation of Islamabad’s resources in confrontation with India. In this respect, it seems that the “reformatting” of Kashmir appears yet another milestone in a series of steps demonstrating that India has a political will and intends to dictate its terms to the other side; including using its advantage in conventional weapons. At the same time, in case of failure of a new conventional military escalation with Pakistan, we will not talk about returning to the status quo, but about the deterioration of India’s position; and it will give a new impetus to the Pakistani policy of tacit approval of terrorist attacks on India.

The Chinese factor attaches a relatively new but significant reality to the Kashmir issue. In recent years, Beijing has become a major strategic ally of Islamabad. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through the diputed territory of northern Kashmir, is key to the success of the Road and Belt Initiative.  It provides  alternative access route to the Indian Ocean, bypassing the potentially vulnerable to blockade waters of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Finally, the dispute with New Delhi over the ownership of the Aksaychin Plateau, an area covering 42,685 km² located on the border of China, Pakistan and India, is also dragging Beijing into the territorial problems of Kashmir.

Meanwhile, China has an objective need, if not for full normalization, then for  stabilization of relations with India. First of all, Beijing is concerned about the potential participation of New Delhi in the creation of anti-Chinese coalitions in Asia. In the event of a new war between India and Pakistan, Beijing will find itself in a difficult position. By supporting Pakistan, China risks throwing India into the arms of the United States. Supporting New Delhi will jeopardize many of its strategic projects in South Asia and Eurasia as a whole, as the implementation of these projects largely depend  on the Pakistani port of Gwadar. In addition, it will set the stage for Islamabad’s return to the bosom of Washington. On top of all that, it would also be difficult for China to act as an intermediary for the parties involved, first of all, due to its “special” relations with Islamabad, which cause growing suspicion within the Indian elite.

Therefore, the decision to centralize power in the former Jammu and Kashmir was seen by a number of Indian experts quoted by Deutsche Welle as speaking of New Delhi’s  concern over the “growing presence” and influence of the PRC in Ladakh. It was also described as an intention to draw the attention of the metropolitan bureaucracy to the problems of the region. Beijing’s initial reaction to the decision of the Indian authorities was fairly harsh. On August 16th, China secured a discussion on Kashmir in the UN Security Council. But the discussion was held behind closed doors in the format of “consultations” in which the Security Council called on both sides to resolve problems through bilateral dialogue. Neither a formal meeting was convened nor an official statement was issued. A number of commentators classified the discussion as “lukewarm”, or neutral, by nature.

The intention of leading powers, as well as the entire international community, to avoid direct involvement in a long-standing and extremely complicated territorial dispute, clearly discourages the leadership of India and Pakistan. And China, even despite the actual threats against it from one of the members of the Indian Cabinet, was allowed to speak out in favor of resolving the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan “on a bilateral basis.” That de facto supports the status quo provided by the Indian-Pakistani Declaration of 1971, according to which, controversial issues in bilateral relations should be resolved solely between India and Pakistan, without involving other states.

New Delhi and Islamabad, while continuing to publicly exchange harsh statements and threats, are unofficially trying to enlist the support of Beijing, Moscow and Washington. However, the United States has said that its policy in the region remains intact. Washington has also given up on the initial idea of acting as an intermediary between India and Pakistan. Russia has supported New Delhi, reiterating its commitment to resolving the Kashmir problem in a bilateral Indian-Pakistani format. Pakistan’s traditional allies, including China, have distanced themselves from the Kashmir problem. China has formally accepted India’s assurances that its actions in Kashmir are not aimed against the interests of China. The tough diplomatic rhetoric between China and India in the first weeks after New Delhi’s decision to eliminate autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir were replaced by a search for ways to ease tensions in course of consultations among  middle-level officials. So far, there have been no reports of Beijing’s intention to disavow the Wuhan format and cancel a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to India which is scheduled for October this year.

Neither Moscow, nor Beijing, nor Washington, though for different reasons, can mediate between India and Pakistan. All three direct participants in the disputes over Kashmir are of tremendous importance for foreign policies of both Russia and the United States. Pakistan does not fully trust Russia, India does not trust China, while the United States does not enjoy the trust of either New Delhi, or Islamabad, or Beijing. And none of the external powers is interested in an escalation of the Indian-Pakistani conflict. Therefore, it is likely that, sooner or later, a compromise will be found, that is, a solution that will return the region to stability, whichever is possible under the current circumstances. But this compromise will likely leave everyone dissatisfied.

From our partner International Affairs

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Arrogance in Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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On October 31, 2019, India formally split up the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal (union) territories. By doing so India violated the UNSC resolutions on the matter and officially issued a new political map indicating Ladakh and Jammu as Indian Union Territories. According to this formal split,both the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories will be administered by two lieutenant governors, Girish Chandra Murmu and Radha Krishna Mathur respectively. They are supposed to report to the Indian home secretary based in New Delhi. This clearly defines the motives of the Hindu nationalist government of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which revoked Article 370 on August 5.Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by the BJP, which has led India’s arrogance to determine the fate of the disputed region.

In the same vein, right before the formal enforcement of the constitutional split, a local body electoral exercise was carried out in the region. The maiden Block Development Council (BDC) Election was held on October 24 under much hype due to the evolved dynamics of the region. However, the region’s main parties such as the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Peoples Conference and other small parties had boycotted the local elections terming them as an ‘undemocratic’ exercise. These parties which have remained the major stakeholders in the politics of the region had turned out against the abrogation of Article 370 that granted the region special rights. It was also observed that the political parties had perceived this election as instead a “forced election” primarily because the region was still then under severe restrictions. Contrary to this general perception, the Indian government still carried out the post-revocation electoral exercise. This arrogant policy adopted by the Indian government seems to forcefully instill this notion of ‘our plan our vision’ by the BJP to decide the fate of the Kashmir region.

In addition to this notion, the Hindu-supremacist government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been shamelessly flaunting the narrative that Kashmir has been ‘put in its place’. This means that contrary to the previous position of the Kashmir region as an autonomous entity under the Indian Union, it has been demoted to now being a ‘union territory’ like other union territories under the federal (Union) government of India. By doing so it seems that India is following a dangerous trajectory of dealing with Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan and the international community. In pursuit of its fascist vision inspired by its RSS ideology, the BJP led Indian state has blatantly ignored the global implications which its moves could have regarding the disputed region. Moreover, the ongoing crisis also provides an insight into Kashmir being a victim of the so-called rules based international order that has repeatedly failed to shield the Kashmiri people from the human rights violations of the Indian forces and protect their sovereign will.

It is worth mentioning here that Kashmir is one of the oldest issues pending at the UNSC table. The international community acknowledges Pakistan’s significance as the most important stakeholder vis-à-vis any development on the Kashmir issue. Contrary to Indian moves and suppression of Kashmiris, Pakistan has always insisted on the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute under the UN mandate. Moreover, Pakistan has always encouraged international mediation offers from influential countries especially by the U.S. This was evident during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, when President Trump had offered to mediate  between India and Pakistan. The offer was greatly appreciated by Pakistan as it was aimed at some prospect of seeking a settlement given the evolved security dynamics of the South Asian region for the last few months. Whereas, India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and as a potential superpower that can do whatever it pleases with a complete disregard for basic human rights. Under this notion, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Modi and inspired by Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of India via its brutal political and military actions. The most considerable aspect of such belligerence is that India wrongfully perceives that Pakistan is unlikely to or perhaps unwilling respond to any Indian move based on certain political, economic and strategic restraints vis-à-vis India. This however is once again a grave underestimation of Pakistan’s resolve and the sensitivity with which such moves are being taken by the Pakistani leadership.

Hence at the present, the rash and irresponsible actions of the BJP led Indian government has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire South Asian region, bringing it once again to the brink of conflict. Despite all the criticism worldwide, with its politico-military offensive in Kashmir, it seems that India has already decided to determine the fate of the disputed region through sheer arrogance and brutality. India is mistakenly perceiving that such moves would likely tighten its grip over the restive region that is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir a part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve as a dangerous precedent. This poses a serious detriment towards the long-desired peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute and even with more disastrous consequences for the whole region.

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Remapping Indian Occupied Kashmir: A Multipronged Travesty

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The second Presidential Order on the Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir by India in 2019 is yet another outlandish decision to challenge the objectives of a peaceful coexistence. It is a call for altering an International Order more conversant to breach the democratic political norms, history and fundamental rights. Kashmiris are once again rebuffed of their demand for self-determination while being locked in an unprecedented brutal curfew entering into more than one hundred days. The desecration is obviously offensive.

Including the areas of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947, a part from the remaining areas of Leh and Ladakh districts of 1947 into the Indian Union is a violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions passed decades ago. The Kargil District was already carved out.

Historically, there were 14 Districts of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of partition, which included Kathua. Jammu. Udhanpur, Reasi,  Anantnag, Baramullah, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gigit, GilgitWazarat, Chilas and Tribal Territory. The new districts included were Kupwara, Bandipur, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Shupian, Kulgam, Rajori, Ramban, Doda, Kishtiwar, Samba and Kargil. The illustrative declaration of Muzaffarabad and MirpurKhas areas of Azad Kashmir which are under the administrative rule of Pakistan is an untenable denial of the history of the region.

To refresh their memories India needs to remember that at the time when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the controversial Instrument of Accession with India in October 1947, Gilgit was already inflamed with the passions of rebellion against Hindus and Sikhs living in Gilgit. While representing the will of his people, Muzzaffar, the raja orderly in Chilas said:

“The whole of Gilgit Agency is pro-Pakistan … we could never swear allegiance to Hindustan. Apart from religion, the Gilgit Agency is really a part of the NWFP and is therefore a part of Pakistan. If Kashmir remains independent, well and good … .But if the Maharaja through pig headedness and bad advice, political pressure or attractive remunerations accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here!”

This was sensed by the British Administrator William Brown as well and decided to overthrow the then Governor Ghansara Singh in a bloodless coup d’etat in November 1947 and a provisional government was established by the locals of Gilgit. Raja Shah Rais was appointed as the president and Mirza Hassan Khan as the Commander-in-Chief. Pakistani political agent took over the region, once Khan Abdul Qayyum received a telegraph from Brown on November 16, 1947.

By May1948, the Gilgit Scouts had already taken over Baltistan, Ladakh and Skardu as well. Indian reinforcements were blocked at Dras and Kargil which helped them cut off Indian communications to Leh in Ladakh. However, Kargil was recaptured by them in autumn 1948 but Baltistan remained in control of Pakistan, after which India itself took the issue to the UN.

The current remapping of the region of Jammu & Kashmir is nonetheless not only a snubof facts but also adding into already destabilising factors in the region.The Pakistani parts of Kashmir to the north and west of the cease-fire line established at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, or the Line of Control as it later came to be called, were divided into the Northern Areas in the north and the Pakistani state of Azad Kashmir in the south. The name “Northern Areas” was first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. Pakistan has declared that “no step by India could change the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognised by the United Nations”, and has pledged time and again that it will continue to support the just struggle of the Kashmiris.

In an attempt to rewind the India of antiquity or revitalize the Indian Civilization lost in the international order of nation-states in the post WWI era, Narendra Modi’s arrogant Hindutva regime is non-realistic. The current attempt is a follow up of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (GIRB) passed by the Indian ministry of Home Affairs on May4, 2016, during his earlier tenure of rule on India. The Bill was meant to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India. It restricted the addition or creation of any information related to geospatial imagery, data acquisition through space or aerial platforms such as satellites, aircrafts, airships, balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles without the permission of the government of India. The Bill also made its violation indictable in contravention of the section 4 with a fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to 100 crores or imprisonment for a period of up to seven years. The draft resolution had also decided to set up an Apex Committee, A Security Vetting Authority and an Enforcement and Appellant authority to only allow the distribution of maps considered right by the Indian government. It was deceptively declared to ensure the security, sovereignty and integrity of the state of India with impact on all who may or may not agree with the Bill defining the geographical boundaries of India. The spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup once reiterated that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an “integral part of India” and the GIRB was an “entirely internal legislative matter of India.”

Assaulting the international political system, human dignity, basic liberties and perpetual boundary disputes by the Indian offensive posture have added to the stressed political environment of the region. In case of the failure of the domestic proceedings to address human concerns, it becomes mandatory for the world community to ensure the respect of the world peace. History records that after the WWII, there had been 14 out of 21 major inter-state wars on territorial conflicts. Global history of cartography has always been closely linked. Situating the “geobody,” along with altering the archival documents by the nationalist regime of Modi largely emboldened by the Western powers for their own strategic and economic preferences, is a teasing question on the UN partiality. The history of border violations or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict and nonbinding management.

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Kartarpur Corridor: A message of Peace and Prosperity

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Kartarpur corridor was opened on 9 November 2019 (Saturday). It paved the way for the Sikh community to visit one of the most important religious shrines without a visa. There are approximately 150 million Sikhs around the world, out of which around 120 million are living in India. The other countries having the Sikh community are Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK, Canada, and USA.  However, the origin of the Sikh religion in Punjab, which was divided into Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab in 1947 at the time of independence of the sub-continent from British rule. The partition of Punjab has divided many Sikh families between Pakistan and India.  Due to political rivalry, among Pakistan and India, has adversely affected the Sikh Community. Some of the family members have never met in the last 72 years and few of them have already expired already.

While Sikh, Muslims and other religions lived together for centuries, especially in Punjab, and enjoyed complete harmony as the language and cultures are identical. But after partition, in 1947, the rivalry between Pakistan and India kept them separated for 72 years. With the opening of this Corridor, the Sikhs community in India becomes the most beneficiary and they are grateful for the gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects between Pakistan and India, the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and GurdwaraDarbar Sahib (in Punjab, Pakistan). The corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa.

The Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy. On 26 November 2018, the foundation stone was laid down on the Indian side and after two days, on 28 November 2018, the foundation stone on the Pakistani side was laid down by Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. The corridor along with all its allied services and amenities was completed in a record time frame. The corridor was completed for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on 12 November 2019. As a special to mark the 550th birth anniversary, the Government of Pakistan has waved the fee amounting to US Dollars 20 for three days. It has created a huge good-will.

The corridor has not only connected the Sikh community on both sides of the border but also opened a new chapter of religious tourism in Pakistan. There are many other religious sites in Pakistan, which belongs to Hindus or Sikhs religion and may attract devotees and visitors in thousands of thousands in number. Kartarpur corridor is just a beginning, if it goes smoothly, many new sites will be open to Hindus and Sikhs as well.

This will also generate an opportunity for economic activities and enhance people to people contact. Promote harmony and understanding between the two hostile nations. In fact, Kartarpur Corridor is a message of Peace and Prosperity.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a very responsible state. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is well matured, visionary leader. He said on this occasion “Pakistan believes that the road to the prosperity of the region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, adding that “Pakistan is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community”. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, compared the decision to go ahead with the corridor by the two countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that the project may help in easing tensions between the two countries.

Previously, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is 125 km journey although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see GurdwaraDarbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated observation platform had also been constructed on the Indian side, where people use binoculars to get a good view.

Indian Prime Minister Modi has thanked PM Imran Khan for his good-will gesture. It is hoped that India will reciprocate in the same manner and provide an opportunity to the People of Pakistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to thanks Indian Prime Minister Modi.

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