~ By Charmaine Mirza
Geopolitics in South Asia just took a twist – but it’s hardly a new one, is it? Revoking the status of Article 370 and “regularizing” the status of Kashmir is like a brutal post-independence hangover that won’t be shaken off, no matter how many placebos it’s fed. Two generations later, how many people even know how or why Article 370 came about?
It’s important to understand the entire area under contention first, India and Pakistan aren’t the only actors vying for control in Jammu &Kashmir. In reality, the region is split among India, which holds 45%, Pakistan which controls 35%, and China which occupies 20%.
China has built the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) highway through the Aksai Chin plateau in the northernmost reaches of Kashmir and Ladakh. India has been protesting for years but dithered to take constructive action.
Recently, the stakes just got a lot higher now that the CPEC has become a part of China’s New Silk Road for trade. India maintains a stand-offish stance and shuns participating in the New Silk Road, but the fact that it’s hemmed in by it’s own thorny offspring – Pakistan on the one side and Bangladesh on the other – is becoming painful to ignore.
The Modi Muscle:
Fast forward to the present. During Narendra Modi’s first prime ministerial run four years ago, Article 370 was a campaign major platform. He guaranteed to assimilate Kashmir and abolish Article 370. But it didn’t happen during his first term. Come the second term in 2019 and his party wins a thumping majority. His erstwhile campaign manager is now Home Minister, and the time has come to deliver on that promise.
Does enforcing Article 370 really protect India’s (dubious) right over Kashmir? Or will it actually result in India getting cornered into becoming a reluctant partner in China’s New Silk Road?
In order to understand the geopolitics in the Kashmir Valley, it is vital to understand the realpolitik of the Instrument of Accession to the Republic of India, and the infamous Mountbatten manoeuvre, in context with the creation of Pakistan (which didn’t exist at that time) and the shadow politics and economics of British imperialism in China that preceded that time.
The Sino-Indo Border Conflict:
When a ginned-up general during the British Raj at a Shimla retreat drew a wavy line across a map of South Asia and declared that on one side of it lay China and the other India, he unwittingly created what came to be known as the McMahon Line, an irrevocable boundary. The line wavered across the Trans-Himalayan region, all the way over to the Eastern Himalayas. An arbitrary boundary, with little regard for the people of the region or their ethnic roots, the division became a bone of contention between both countries.
The Mountbatten Manoeuver:
Kashmir’s accession to India was a chequerboard of political pawns. Facing a massive revolt after he oppressively annexed the independent state of Poonch, Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir was at his wit’s end. He sought to flee and signed away Kashmir on a “temporary” basis to garner the protection of Nehru (a fellow Kashmiri) and Mountbatten. Mountbatten double-crossed the people of Poonch who had fought for the British Allies in World War II and British troops subdued the rebellion to saving Singh’s skin. In return, Kashmir “acceded” to join the Indian constitution.
In 1947, Pakistan made it’s bloody debut on the global stage. An irrevocable gash between the newly carved out federation of India and the newly born country of West and East Pakistan begins – one that has yet to heal. What is East Pakistan? The erstwhile state of East Bengal that was the original Guinea-pig for Britain’s Divide & Rule Policy.
Seventy years down the line:
While Delhi still struggles to lend a hand to it’s far flung territories in the north and north east, and cracks the whip from time to time to reign in insurgency, Beijing is happy to hold out the gilded carrot in the form of aid, infrastructure and security – but there’s no such thing as a free Chinese dim sum – there’s a payback price tag attached, as both Bangladesh and Pakistan have already discovered.
India and China played an uneasy game of chess as multiple administrations struggle with balancing out concerns over border security with the need for China’s investment in India’s growing and youthful population. In the meanwhile, China has turned the other cheek and beguiled Pakistan to take it under it’s wing. China is the latest ally for the Pakistani state – even when it’s knowingly harbouring terrorists and renegades within its nuclear program.
Something needs to give. India needs to take a stand and iron out the Kashmir issue. It’s already blown up in her face – multiple times. Staking it’s claim and voicing it’s desire to amalgamate Kashmir wholly into the Indian republic is a peremptory step, warning it’s neighbours to back off it’s borders. It also flexes it’s muscle with Pakistan who covertly backs jihadi-style terrorism in the valley. It renders itself stronger in the face of a growing security threat from China and is literally a stepping stone towards a tougher stance.
But while Beijing and Delhi may bicker, the question that remains unanswered is “what do the Kashmiris want?” Perhaps its time we listened to the voices that are echoing from the valley.