[Online Update: August 10, 2019]
By Shashi Malla
The semi-autonomous Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has since the independence of India and Pakistan, consisted of four politico-geographical regions:
- Ladakh towards the east and north-east bordering China’s Tibet autonomous region; Buddhist majority
- Jammu in the south, bordering the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, as well as Pakistan proper; Hindu majority
- Kashmir Valley with the capital Srinagar towards the west bordering ‘Pakistan administered Kashmir” (PAK); Muslim majority
- Baltistan areas towards the north bordering Gilgit/Baltistan (PAK) and Xinjiang
Baltistan and a part of Kashmir are under Pakistan control.
The Aksai Chin plateau in eastern Ladakh is claimed by India, but is under Chinese control. Here a strategic mountain road connects Tibet to Xinjiang.
A small slice of territory of the former princely state in Gilgit/Baltistan bordering Xinjiang/China has already been ceded by Pakistan to China.
Three of the world’s highest mountains are situated in Gilgit/Baltistan [ K 2, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum] and Pakistan’s Karakorum Highway traverses this region, crossing the Karakorum mountain range at the Khunjerab Pass (4700 m.) – a vital part of Sino-Pakistani economic cooperation.
The Siachen glacier between Baltistan/PAK, Xinjiang and northern Ladakh is disputed between India and Pakistan. Here the militaries of the two countries face-off under very harsh, artic conditions in the highest combat zone on earth.
The Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir [Indian administered Kashmir/IAK & PAK] are separated by the “Line of Control” (LOC), which is the de facto border between the two countries; the “Line of Actual Control” separates Ladakh proper from Aksai Chin. In this hotchpotch of geographical regions, political affiliations, religion and culture, it appears that PM Narendra Modi has made a surgical incision to breathe new life in a very troubled region. It remains to be seen whether he follows up with non-discriminatory actions, and whether the latest legal/administrative measures will lead to actual, sustained development in all the sub-regions.
On August 5, 2019, the Government of India introduced the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill” in the Rajya Sabha or upper house and moved a resolution to create three new Union territories – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – the first two with legislatures (like the union territory of Delhi) and Ladakh (without one, like Chandigarh).
This means the death-knell of the Indian state of “Jammu & Kashmir”. However, it had already long-ceased to exist as such. India’s Narendra Modi has now presented the region and the world with a fait accompli. It was like the former state of “Yugoslavia” after the death of Marshall Tito – the push and pulls of the various constituent states were just too much to remain a cohesive whole.
In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, the vested and national interests of the countries involved – India, Pakistan and China — are too entrenched for them to budge from their established positions, and a lot of water has already passed under the Indus bridge. From the point of view of realpolitik, perpetual peace can only be achieved by the recognition of the status quo by all parties concerned, i.e. the acceptance of the current de facto borders [Line of Control/Line of Actual Control] as the international borders.
Calling for “maximum restraint” by all sides, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres indicated the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved bilaterally in keeping with the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and by peaceful means in accordance with the UN Charter. Pakistan had sought UN and UN Security Council intervention, but it appears to have not achieved its objectives. In the meantime, it has also unilaterally ruled out any military option.
Last Thursday, Modi hailed his government’s action as a “historic decision” that would bring peace to the region. He also claimed that till date, Kashmir’s special status [i.e. in IAK]
had “not given anything other than terrorism, separatism, nepotism and big corruption. But with IAK now fully part of the Indian Union, the region would enjoy more jobs, less corruption and red-tape, he said, adding that key infrastructure projects would be expedited.
(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])