Six years back this newspaper published my article “Kashmir solution lies in Beijing”. It highlighted that China is a party to the Kashmir dispute. As such it has to be part of any solution of the dispute. Nothing happened for years. But recent events have brought matters to a head.
India occupies Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley, which China and Pakistan refuse to accept; China occupies Aksai Chin and parts of Ladakh, which India refuses to accept; Pakistan occupies Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, (including 750 sq m ceded by China) which India refuses to accept. China is as much a part of the Kashmir dispute as India and Pakistan.
The Indian Independence Act gave rulers of 562 Indian states the right to accede to India or Pakistan. Hari Singh vacilated. Kashmiris rose in rebellion. His Dogra army slaughtered the rebels. Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen rushed to help their Muslim brethren and entered Kashmir on 23rd October 1947, in a lightning strike reaching tantalisingly close to Srinagar. Hari Singh signed his Instrument of Accession to India on 25th October 1947. India airlifted troops to save Srinagar. War broke out between India and Pakistan. It ended on 21st April 1948 under the non-binding, Chapter VI, UN Security Council Resolution 47 which called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops, followed by a plebiscite to determine the future of the State. Both countries agreed to a ceasefire but refused to withdraw troops.
Not content with his astonishing success in Kashmir, Nehru declared Ladakh and Aksai Chin a part of India based on an arbitrary “Johnson Line”. China rejected India’s claim and built a road from Xinjiang to Tibet through Aksai Chin. India began building military posts in the Chip Chin Valley of Aksai Chin. Chinese patience ran out. On 20th October 1962 their troops marched in, threw out the Indians and established control over Aksai Chin, which continues till today. In disputed Ladakh, troops were separated by a temporary boundary called the Line of Actual Control.
Pakistan had also laid claim to Aksai Chin (as part of Kashmir). A Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement was signed on 2nd March 1963. Pakistan surrendered its claim over 2,050 sq m of territory in Aksai Chin, while China transferred 750 sq m in Hunza to Pakistan. India rejected the Agreement, claiming the entire territory belonged to India.
In 2019, India annexed Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh by abrogating Articles of their Constitution under which Kashmir had been declared a disputed territory, accepted as such by the UN and the international community. Simultaneously, India also claimed China’s Aksai Chan and Pakistan’s Jammu, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which China and Pakistan rejected. The Indians began expanding their military infrastructure in Ladakh, much to the chagrin of the Chinese.
Last year, at a meeting with Prime Minister Modi, President Xi tried to defuse the situation, expressing a desire that the Kashmir dispute be resolved by China, India and Pakistan — a political warning which India ignored.
In April 2020, China brought additional troops to Ladakh and occupied territory which it claims on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. This was a military warning, which India again ignored. By 15th June 2020, tension among troops facing each other escalated, leading to physical violence at Galwan. As many as 22 Indian and unknown number of Chinese troops were killed, besides several more being injured. Troops, guns, tanks and aircraft have since been moved into the area.
China has demonstrated a remarkable ability to resolve border disputes peacefully. Their key is patience. At its independence in 1948, Hong Kong was ruled by the British, Macao by the Portuguese and Taiwan by Chiang Kai Shek. Disputes also existed on both the 1,416km Korean border and the 4,300km Russian border. Britain peacefully vacated Hong Kong in 1997 after 100 years of occupation. The Portuguese vacated Macao, (which they had ruled since 1557) in 1999. China and North Korea resolved their border disputes on the Yalu and Tumen Rivers and at Mt Paiktan. Following 40 years of negotiations, Russia and China signed an Agreement on 14th July 2008. Russia surrendered 174 sq km comprising Yinlong and half of Heixiazi to China, while China gave up its claim on the rest of Heixiazi. This settled all their outstanding border disputes peacefully. Taiwan’s case is even more spectacular. While claiming Taiwan is not a country but China’s breakaway province, Beijing patiently waits for its re-integration into the mainland. Meanwhile there is peace, people are prospering and bilateral trade is booming, pending a peaceful solution.
The Indian record is just the opposite. At Independence in 1947, the Rulers of Hyderabad, Junagarh and Manavadar states refused to join India. Indian troops marched in, threw out their governments and absorbed the states into the Indian Union. Worse was the treatment of the Portuguese. India brazenly sent in troops and conquered the Portuguese territories of Goa, Diu and Damman, in complete disregard of international law. In 1975, Indian troops also conquered Sikkim, another small country on its border, again in violation of international law.
As for Kashmir, the Indian record is even worse. Summersault after summersault have followed pledges and commitments to Pakistan, to the international community and to the UN. The people of Kashmir have been held in bondage for 70 years by a 700,000-strong Indian occupation army that prides itself on its atrocious record of rape, looting, pillage and slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslim Kashmiris. The UN sent out the hero of the Pacific War, Admiral Chester Nimitz, to oversee a plebiscite. That option was abandoned as both countries failed to follow UN Security Council Resolution 47 which called for troop withdrawals from Kashmir. International efforts, including Tashkent, have failed. Scores of bilateral efforts up to Heads of State level have gotten nowhere. Pakistan thrice tried the military option, in 1948, 1965 and Kargil. All of them failed. Kashmiri uprisings against Indian military high-handedness have also failed, despite tens of thousands getting killed. The unleashing of Lashkar-i-Taiba and the like has not only failed but risk Pakistan being declared a terrorist state.
The one option never tried before is a peace initiative by China, India and Pakistan to resolve their common border disputes through resolution of the Kashmir issue. Since its latest humiliation in Ladakh, India has become fully aware that its traditional policy of highhandedness and bullying of weak opponents will not work in Kashmir. India’s strategic blunder in absorbing the occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union has unleashed forces beyond its ability to control and has brought China on to centre stage.
India is being egged on by the US, its latest and totally unreliable ally. After the independence, India joined the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) with Tito, Nasr and Sukarno. That policy failed. Abandoning NAM, India joined the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union collapsed. India then joined Russia, which itself declined economically and militarily. It then shifted towards an alliance with the US which is already proving a disaster. Donald Trump has moved away from all major international and bilateral treaties, in pursuit of his isolationist and “America-first” policies. That leaves India in a quandary, with no other option but to mend fences with China, the lone emerging global power. That will happen only by resolving the Kashmir dispute, the upside of which is phenomenal, the downside negligible. Both India and Pakistan will also have to get in step with China for a slow, deliberate and peaceful solution, not one mired in conflict, terrorism, rape, loot and plunder.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2020.