Author: Namrata Hasija
Pakistan has unilaterally ceased all diplomatic relations with India after India abrogated Article 370 in its state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Other countries have issued statements reacting to this development as well. This article discusses the external factors that have prompted the Indian government to act in Kashmir.
The Kashmir issue has its roots in the Partition of colonial India into the postcolonial countries of India and Pakistan. During Partition, all the princely states were given a choice to join either of the two countries or remain independent. Many such states, including Hyderabad, Junagarh, and Kashmir, decided to remain independent; their independence did not last long. The erstwhile ruler of the princely state of J&K, Maharaja Hari Singh, acceded to India by a treaty in 1947. Singh signed the accession when he wanted Indian forces to defend his kingdom from the marauding Pakistan Army and ‘irregulars’ (frontier tribesmen). At the time, a number of British officers were helping lead the Pakistan Army through the transition to independence. The first Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, General Messervey, planned the invasion of Kashmir, called Operation Gulmarg, which was later executed by his deputy General Gracey.
The Instrument of Accession of Kashmir was identical to that signed by other approximately 650 princely states. It made J&K constitutionally a part of India; the J&K constitution also mentioned it as a part of the Indian Union. This ended the question of Pakistan’s meddling in the affairs of an integral province of India. Pakistan’s reaction to the removal of Article 370 is, therefore, uncalled for because Kashmir is an internal matter of the Indian Union.
It is important to consider, however, why Article 370 was removed in its entirety even though it has been diluted over the years. There are two critical external players in the region, China and Pakistan, with others like the United States and Afghanistan in the game.
The first major player, Pakistan, has over the years exploited the Kashmir issue domestically and internationally. Even before the Instrument of Accession was signed between India and Singh, the Pakistan army led by British officers annexed Gilgit Baltistan region before Singh’s forces could take hold on the area. Since then, by internationalising Kashmir, Pakistan has kept the Gilgit Baltistan region out of the discussion and focussed solely on the valley. Even after the removal of the Article, Pakistan portrays Kashmir valley as the only cause of the problem while keeping areas under Pakistan’s illegal occupation in the region out of the equation. Areas under POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) have seen heavy investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and there have been plans to induct it as the fifth province of Pakistan. Also, over the years, Pakistan has tried changing the demography of the region. Despite these developments, Pakistan has neither discussed issues of human rights violations nor the independence of the region as part of bilateral relations between Pakistan and India. Meanwhile, both China and the US have offered to mediate, increasing the danger of international meddling in India’s affairs.
The second important external player has been China, which has also laid claim to Kashmir. An official Chinese map published in 1954, still used in Chinese school textbooks, depicts territories it claims to have been taken by ‘imperialist’ powers and which China says it would ‘recover’. Ladakh is a part of these territories along with Arunachal Pradesh and the Andaman Islands. On March 1, 1992, ‘Shijie Zhishi’ (World Affairs) published a map depicting India without the state of J&K and Kashmir as a part of China. From August 2010, China designated the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘disputed’ and began to issue ‘stapled visas’ to residents of the state, aimed at downplaying the Indian citizenship and nationality of the passport holder. In August (2014), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference in New Delhi, reiterated Beijing’s stand in a carefully worded statement asserting that issuance of stapled visas was a “unilateral,” “flexible,” and a “goodwill gesture” by China, In other words, the status of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir remain disputed within the Indian union. Furthermore, China’s invitation to the Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, for a visit and its direct contact with other separatist leaders was a matter of concern for the Indian government.
Through intrusion in the Depsang Plains in Ladakh, immediately prior to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first visit to India as Premier in April 2013, Beijing reiterated its claim over Ladakh. Subsequently, Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth News), the influential high-circulation official mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League (CYL), published a lengthy article claiming that the Ladakh region “has been part of Tibet since ancient times …” and that “Ladakh was under the jurisdiction of the central government of China’s Qing Dynasty until 1830s.” It added, “although it is under Kashmir, Ladakh shares similarities with Tibet in terms of culture, religion, customs, and language, and it has long been dubbed “Little Tibet.”
After the removal of Article 370, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China opposes India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. He further accused India of continuing to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice, he said, was unacceptable and would not come into force. China urged India to exercise prudence in words and deeds concerning the boundary question, to strictly abide by relevant agreements concluded between the two sides and refrain from making moves that may further complicate the boundary question.
Earlier this month, China expressed its serious concern over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. It argued that internationally there is a consensus that the Kashmir issue has been a persistent problem between India and Pakistan and that both countries should prevent further escalation in the region by unilaterally changing the status quo. The only resolution is to be achieved through dialogue and consultation to safeguard peace and stability in the region.
Indian security expert, Ranade has pointed out that “The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will increase pressure on India as it progresses. Already, China’s strategic long-term interests in the northern areas of Pakistan, in the Karakorum region and port of Gwadar are evident. The supply of warships and submarines by China to the Pakistan Navy enhance the direct threat to India. A prime example is a manner in which Pakistan is formally integrating PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan in order to safeguard Chinese investments in CPEC projects in these areas.”
China’s initiative of calling a closed-door meeting of the UNSC to discuss the issue even after many countries like Russia, France, UAE, Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and so on had considered it an internal issue, is a clear indication of its India’s fear of China’s growing interest in POK especially after heavy investments under the CPEC. The meeting at UNSC also did not go the way Pakistan and China would have wanted it to go, but China’s initiative does not go by the ‘Wuhan Spirit’.
However, other than China and Pakistan, major countries like Russia, France, UAE, Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh have supported India in its decision indicating the increased stature of India in the global community. This decision also clearly demonstrates that a new and robust India has emerged with a decisive leadership that will not compromise on its territorial issues and will not let outsiders meddle with its internal affairs.
Namrata Hasija is a Research Fellow with the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy; President, Taiwan Alumni Association and Taiwan Fellow, 2019. She has been a visiting researcher at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University, Taipei. Her areas of interest are India-Taiwan relations and Chinese Foreign Policy.