geopolitics/Kashmir
Geopolitical Pivoting in Kashmir - Kashmir

Geopolitical Pivoting in Kashmir

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

Like the great Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and Himalayas, the world’s three most complex mountain ranges, meet at their extremities in Kashmir – they separate at their feet, three distinct cultures, Islam, Hinduism and Communism. Three cultures that are just as well-grounded as the Karakoram, as stanch as the Hindu Kush and as definite as the Himalayas, and that have proven to be unsurmountable by the other. 

As of the Kashmiri people themselves, the prevalent theory is that they were of Aryan descent, their language being an Indo-Aryan Dardic one. Based on similar physiognomy between Kashmiris and Jews and many similar names and toponyms, Jewish descent of the Kashmiri people is also claimed. Yet at the accumulation of their long historical evolution, they chose Islam as their way of life.

The Greater Kashmir that is disputed between Pakistan and India includes Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract (Shaksgam Valley).

War broke out between India and Pakistan in 1948 over the enticed accession of Kashmir to India. As a result Pakistan was able to liberate Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan from Indian occupation, while Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Vale remains under Indian occupation to this day.

Aksai Chin is a large swath of land controlled by China, bordering both Gilgit-Baltistan and Indian Occupied Kashmir. Aksai Chin is vital for China as it connects the remote provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. In 1962, China and India fought a war over Aksai Chin; in 1996, the two countries signed agreements to respect the Line of Actual Control. In 2014 China made a build-up of troops in Aksai Chin that made incursions into Ladakh causing a stand-off between the two countries. This is in addition to the Arunachal Pradesh tension, which China claims to be a part of its province Tibet.

Gilgit-Baltistan, the cradle of the Hindu Kush Mountains, was not a part of Kashmir when the British sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh, founder of the Dogra Dynasty, in 1846, after they had defeated the Sikhs in the First Anglo-Sikh War. But later the Dogra waged a number of battles to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan. The Dogras incorporated Gilgit-Baltistan into Kashmir even though the people had more cultural affinity to the peple of Ladakh. As of post-partition, the population of Gilgit-Baltistan wants to be merged into Pakistan as a separate fifth province and is opposed to integration with Indian-held Kashmir. But the Pakistani government has to pend the Gilgit-Baltistani calls for integration with Pakistan on the grounds that this would jeopardize the resolution of the Whole-Kashmir Issue according to UN resolutions.

Both Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir are self-governing units, referred to by the United Nations and other international organizations as Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Azad Kashmir has its own Parliament, Supreme Court and a High Court, and the Government of Pakistan's Ministry of Kashmir Affairs serves as a link between it and the Azad Kashmir government. The people in these regions live a free life with no Special Forces Act to intervene in their daily lives.

In 1963, Pakistan handed over 5,800 square kilometers of the Shaksgam Valley, a territory of Gilgit-Baltistan to China, in the Sino-Pak Agreement. The agreement assumes this temporary hand-over as a means ‘for the development of good neighborly and friendly relations, (and) also (to) help safeguard Asian and world peace’. This agreement is valid only until the Kashmir dispute has not been resolved between India and Pakistan – after which Pakistan ‘will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People's Republic of China’…‘to sign a formal boundary treaty’.

The Shaksgam Valley bounds in it the Trans-Karakoram Tract, a natural pathway that connects China’s Xinjiang to Aksai Chin. At its southeast end the valley lies adjacent to the highest battlefield in the world, the Siachen Glacier region. Since 1984, when India occupied the whole glacier, Pakistan and India have constantly had skirmishes at the unmarked borders. Both countries maintain a permanent military presence in the region at a height of over 20,000 ft. Pakistani posts are 3,000 ft below the 100 Indian posts on Saltoro Ridge. The Kargil War in 1999, was a bid from the Pakistani side to regain some of the high altitude posts.

If we look at Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley as one Greater Kashmir, we may be able to realize the strategic importance of this land-locked region. As an assemblage it becomes a state, bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China’s two remote provinces Xinjiang and Tibet. This Greater Kashmir, with its probable pro-Pakistan foreign policy owing to its Muslim majority, making a formidable block with Pakistan and Afghanistan, would isolate India from Central Asia, and crush forever India’s dream of entrenching its influence in Afghanistan or breaking apart Pakistan.

On the other hand if India would ever be able to occupy the whole of Kashmir, India would sever Pakistan’s link to China via the Khunjerab Pass in Hunza, annihilating the Silk-Road Project. It would try to sabotage the natural flow of waters from Kashmir to Pakistan. It would obstruct the passage way from Xinjiang to Tibet and would be one step further in its long-held effort to liberate the whole of Tibet from China. India would also have ease of access into Central Asia and would be crouching at Pakistan and Afghanistan in its vicious imperialistic bestiality.

So for Pakistan, pushing India downward is an existential necessity, while India’s upward thrust is imperialistic.

The China-Pakistan alliance against India is also based on these same concerns. The Silk-Road from Xinjiang to Gilgit-Baltistan and Gawadar is, in present geopolitical scenario, the shortest and most workable route for China to warm waters, the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean. This route has become vital for China also because of recent US polices of pivoting Pacific countries against China, if that happens that would make the traditional route via the South China Sea vulnerable for China.

India’s strengthening also means the strengthening of the US. Letting India succeed in Kashmir would mean letting the same dominos that are right now seeming to be falling on the US and its allies, fall back on China, Russia and their regional allies.

But having a Greater United Kashmir is a dream that does not seem to be coming true in near future. Present freedom struggle in Indian held Kashmir is focused on liberating only Occupied Kashmir from India, not on having a bigger Kashmir. Many aspirants of freedom also relate their liberty in adjoining with Pakistan – as a smaller, landlocked Kashmir, with less resources and difficult terrain would be difficult to self-sustain and permanently vulnerable to India’s ambitions. 

In present scenario however, the China-Pakistan alliance creates another threat to India in Kashmir. Not only does China threaten to occupy Ladakh on the plea of its being part of greater Tibet – it also threatens the much cherished Indian possession of Siachen. There is no marked boundary between Pakistan and India in the Siachen region, but despite of the acute terrain, the high altitude and extreme human conditions, both side were constantly at their toes on the matter. In 1984, India was able to take the lead by procuring all the high post and therefore occupying the Siachen Glacier. The 1999 Kargil War was Pakistan’s retaliation to the 1984 act. In the misadventure the Pakistani side aimed to capture Kargil and sever India’s supply route to Siachen – but the war was resultantly lost and the tension on Siachen remains.

Now if China, who is already present and active in Shaksgam, would make a military join-up with Pakistani troops in the lower posts of Shiacen, they would definitely be able to out-do the Indian side and perhaps Shiachen could be regained. India would look at such a breach as a threat to its entire northern frontier, with its two biggest rivals, capable of a joint and potentially decisive military action against it, stationed at its border. Surely China would not be led into such an extreme action, involving three nuclear states – unless and until a clearly decisive moment has arrived. But this does show India’s vulnerability in Kashmir – where China is practically as much pro-Kashmir as it is pro-Pakistan, and for all the same reasons.

The annexation of Kashmir by Pakistan or the creation of an independent Kashmir would also create a regional block of potential Islamic fundamentalist states. A bulwark block containing Kashmir, Afghanistan and Pakistan would give the three, the strength needed to keep ambitious occupiers at bay, and peace and stability to the region that is needed to put it on the long-awaited route of progress. 

The recent ambitious occupier in the case of Afghanistan have been the US. If the US and their allies would have succeeded in Afghanistan and if they had entrenched India in Afghanistan under their security umbrella – this would have emboldened the two to have joined up in an attempt to snatch the whole of Kashmir for India, before decisively sandwiching Pakistan from all sides. If this three-prong fall were to happen, the three countries would remain trapped in decades of small war, while the US would once again gain the means of dominating the world-order in reverse of Russia-China interests.

So in geopolitical prospective, the blood of innocent Kashmiris is not just human suffering that has to be addressed in the human way – it is like the Palestinian Issue – which has evolved to be not just an issue of a homeland for the Palestinians and the return of the refugees and answering the calls of an oppressed humanity – rather it has become the pivot where the Sunni world is crossing the Shia one; where the Arabs interests clashes with non-Arabs one; where the pro-US and pro-Russia do their proxy wars; and where resolution might be just as problematic or even more than the status-quo.

Likewise Kashmir is a potential pivot for the Great Game that has traditionally been fought at the expense of Afghanistan and Persia. India’s apprehension that once Afghanistan is lost to the US, the mujahedeen may turn to Kashmir as their next playground, may be based on exactly this same theory. Because Kashmir is the crossing that divides the Muslim world from the Hindu world; it is the line that connects the Communists with Muslimists; it is the testing ground for the strength of US-India bonding; it is the string where Indian expansionism will be broken; and it is the high ground where Pakistan will have to be heedful not to hurt an already hurt humanity. 

Even as the world and Kashmir’s neighbors tend to be oblivious to its strategic value, Kashmir’s fate is constantly effecting and shaping the fate of all its neighbors. And the blood from its wound is slowly and quietly seeping into the veins of the global village.

This article was originally published at OracleOpinions