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OPINION | The Kashmir Conundrum: Pressures and Pulls of Geo-Politics

The Indian decision to liberate Ladakh and bring both regions of the former State under central rule is indication that the powers that be in India are acutely aware of the challenges of current geo-politics and are seeking to protect India’s national interest.

Sonali Chitalkar |

Updated:November 4, 2019, 2:58 PM IST
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OPINION | The Kashmir Conundrum: Pressures and Pulls of Geo-Politics
File photo of police personnel blocking the road near the residences of former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, in Srinagar. (PTI Photo)

Why is an economically unstable Europe worried that the ‘Current situation in Kashmir is not good and not sustainable?’ How does Kashmir figure in the geo-political strategies of UK and USA at present? Simply, what, if any, is the link between past and present geo-politics in Kashmir?

The Background

The Second World War had ended in 1945 with the USSR emerging as the second pole in a bi-polar world. The sun was finally setting over the European Centuries and the unchallenged supremacy of the British Colonial Empire. UK and USA were defining their strategies in a ‘De-colonising’ world. George F Kennan, a career Foreign Service Officer in USA, formulated the policy of “containment” — the basic United States strategy for fighting the Cold War (1947–1989) with the Soviet Union.

Kennan’s ideas, which became the basis of the Truman administration’s foreign policy, first came to public attention in 1947 in the form of an anonymous contribution to the journal Foreign Affairs, the so-called “X-Article”. “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union,” Kennan wrote, “must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. In UK, the concerns regarding the geo-political implications of Indian Independence were equally clear. When Mountbatten came to India, his objectives were spelled out to him. He had to secure the North- western borders of India from the danger of Soviet expansion across Central Asian republics and Afghanistan.

Gilgit Agency

The British Government was aware of this danger even before the idea of Indian Independence was mooted. As Kashmir was central to this scheme, the government had forced the Maharaja of Kashmir to sign an agreement that allowed the British to have military control over the long corridor from Kashmir Valley to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This highly strategic corridor consisted of Gilgit, Baltistan (Skardu), Hunza, Nagar, Chitral, Yasin and Ponial A Gilgit Agency was created for this area and was put under the control of the British Army. But with the Independence of India, this agreement lapsed. It was apparent that Pakistan was going to be the anchor for both USA and UK in the region. USSR could be contained only through Pakistan’s control over the Jammu and Kashmir State.

A defiant Maharaja

The Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, had already earned the displeasure of British imperialists by demanding Independence for India. In the Round Table Conference held in London in 1931, Maharaja Hari Singh made this demand as the chairman of the Chamber of Princes. He was a suspect for the British even before, since he had not allowed the British unfettered control over Gilgit, nor did he allow them to meddle in civil administration. This was specifically made clear in the Gilgit Agreement.

A series of pressures and geo-political games followed and the maharaja joined India on October 26, 1947. The general belief in the country is that Maharaja Hari Singh offered accession of his State only on October 26, 1947. The fact of the matter is that he proposed accession immediately after Pakistan broke the standstill agreement and invaded Jammu & Kashmir on October 20, 1947.

Thus, it is clear that Maharaja Hari Singh was under great deal of pressure from various quarters and that he was susceptible to the great geo-political game being played out by colonial powers in 1947. Was the tribal invasion a part of the British-Pak strategy to control the region geo-politically? How well entrenched were American interests in this game given the Nehruvian proclivity for USSR? Did Nehru or the Maharaja know about the Kabaili raids in advance? These are questions that need to be brought forward to present times.

Geo-politics at present

There has been much transformation in the geo-politics of the region from 1947. The USSR disintegrated and re-emerged as a strong Russia. No longer communist, it is however still a major geo-political player challenging USA. China has also emerged as a challenge to USA and UK. America under Donald Trump is disengaging from direct wars. It would much rather that local players fought each other as in Syria recently. Pakistan has retained its position as a geo-political ally for China and Russia as well as UK and USA.

The Pakistan and China axis in Kashmir is actually the doomsday scenario that India faces in the region. It is rapidly forgotten that both Pakistan and China together hold 55 per cent of the former J&K. It is also forgotten that Pakistan ceded a sizeable slice of its own J&K to Beijing in March 1963. Pakistan’s transfer of the Shaksgam Valley gave China a permanent seat in the region. There is virtually no media or transparency in the regions that China holds. India is placed between two nuclear-armed allies that defy basic international norms. For India, the China-Pakistan axis represents a dangerous combination of an expansionist communist power and an aggressive Islamist Pakistan. This time, USA faces communist China and is in no position to ‘contain’ the regime.

India also looks to engage Saudi Arabia whose influence in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley is to be seen in the deepening Islamist nature of Kashmir Valley’s socio-political profile. The unmistakable stamp of European geo-politics could be seen in the middle-east from 2011 onwards. The NATO presided over the dismemberment and genocide in the middle-east. In such a complex geo-political scenario, it was very difficult for India to shield the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir from becoming a Syria in its backyard. The Indian decision to liberate Ladakh and bring both regions of the former State under central rule is indication that the powers that be in India are acutely aware of the challenges of current geo-politics and are seeking to protect India’s national interest.

(The author is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Miranda House, University of Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)

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