India, geographically and politically, was never a single entity or a country. It is the British who, after the Mughals, were able to bring the subcontinent under a central control. Exposure to European education and modernity laid the foundations of nationalism and modern nation-state in the subcontinent. Resultantly, Hindu and Muslim nationalists started their freedom struggle for a sovereign republic, collectively under the banner of Indian Congress. At this juncture Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah rightly identifying that Muslims and Hindus were two different nations, demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims of subcontinent on the basis of religious identity. Resultantly British divided the subcontinent into two countries; India and Pakistan in 1947. At Independence, Jammu and Kashmir comprised of an 80 percent Muslim majority region and still had not chosen whether to join India or Pakistan. As per the principle of partition being the contiguous Muslim majority area the state of Kashmir should have formed the part of Pakistan. However, India occupied it illegally in 1947-48 through military aggression and went to United Nations against Pakistan. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 was adopted on April 21, 1948 to assist in the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir Conflict by setting up a five-member Commission. The five-member commission made up of Argentina, Belgium, Columbia, Czechoslovakia and the United States drew up a resolution calling for the withdrawal of troops by both the countries, and a referendum to decide Kashmir's future through plebiscite. The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1949, and the United Nations by declaring Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory determined the Line of Control (LoC), by which Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan were given under Pakistani control, while Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) remained under New Delhi’s occupation.
India inheriting the legacy of its British masters to grab and absorb the land of other countries, therefore, has had serious territorial disputes with almost all its neighbors since its inception. Over the past 73 years, India has succeeded only to resolve its boundary issues with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The un-demarcated disputed boundaries with Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan have often flared up tensions in the region.
Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership
Recently China and India have engaged in very serious military confrontation in Ladakh. Though on the face it appears to be a simple border clash, however, this confrontation has much larger regional and global underlying reasons. The United States of America is an empire which wants to maintain its political and economic dominance in the world. However due to economic constraints, it cannot contain China on its own; doing so would exhaust its resources and leave it vulnerable to challenges from potential rivals. As a consequence, it is using its military, economic and political influence to exploit regional rivalry among India and China/Pakistan. Growing Indo-U.S. defence cooperation is one of the most important strategic partnerships of the 21st century which is likely to have profound effects on Asian and global politics in the future. The U.S.’ growing defence partnership with India has multiple aims in mind. However, the broader efforts are aimed at containing China's growing influence around the world and to keep the Muslim countries under check so that they cannot pose any threat to Israel. To achieve these objectives the U.S. policymakers are terming this bilateral defence cooperation as “an anchor of global security”.1 Backed by Washington and Tel Aviv and with improved ties with EU, Japan and Australia, New Delhi is working on the agenda of becoming a world superpower and assuming the role as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).2 India sits astride the Indian Ocean, creating with its inverted triangular shape the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Due to its geographical position, size, population and large navy it considers Indian Ocean as an Indian lake.
As discussed earlier, India aspires to become a global power. To achieve this end India must maintain dominance over South Asia and the Indian Ocean. However, China’s milestone infrastructures under Belt and Road initiative (BRI) such as Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, Sino-Maldives Friendship Bridge in Malé, Maldives and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are challenging New Delhi’s hegemonic designs in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Since CPEC is likely to integrate the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia with Western China through Pakistan, this would bring enormous economic benefits to the region and make Pakistan the pivot of Asia.
It is a known fact that the Indian Ocean is one of the most important oceans of the world as majority of world energy is transported through it to Europe and East Asia. Similarly, the Indo-Pacific is a vast expanse of water connecting Eastern and Western Hemisphere. Dominance of Indo-Pacific region is American foreign policy’s priority; for this purpose the U.S. has revived the Quadrilateral Security Group (Quad) comprising the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.3 The aims of the Quad are: to control Sea Lanes of Communication in the Indo-Pacific, to counter BRI and enforce a sea blockade at the Strait of Malacca in case of a showdown with China if required. It is pertinent to mention that bulk of the Chinese POL from the Gulf and trade goods from China to the rest of the world pass through the narrow Strait of Malacca.
India Changing the Status of Disputed Territory of IIOJ&K Unilaterally
On August 5, 2019, in utter disregard of the UN resolutions and international norms, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the Article 370 of Indian Constitution which granted special autonomous status to the occupied territory of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). BJP government also retracted Article 35A, which restricted non-Kashmiris from buying land in the state, opening the way for non-Kashmiris and Hindus to migrate to the state and convert its Muslim majority into minority. Indian government also passed a bill dividing the IIOJ&K into two Indian Union States: namely Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Pakistan outrightly rejected the move of revoking Article 370 and division of IIOJ&K. Pakistan also took up the matter at the UN. Meanwhile on August 6, 2019 China strongly objected to India’s decision to declare the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir as a territory to be separately ruled directly by New Delhi. China also raised serious concerns that Ladakh includes Aksai Chin. Further stating that India should avoid “unilateral actions” in J&K that could spark tensions in the region as it described New Delhi’s decision to declare Ladakh a union territory as “unacceptable”.
Why India Wants to Annex Kashmir Despite Resistance from Kashmiris
As a matter of fact, from the Indian point of view, the state of Kashmir is a critical matter of strategic fundamental national interest for the following reasons:
• Occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is rooted in national strategy of the Indian Union. According to Indian thinking the agreement to the partitioning of the subcontinent was an unfortunate departure from this ideal, and to allow further secessionism from the union on the basis of religion, especially Islam, would imperil the national integrity.4
• The more of Kashmir that India held, the less viable was the Sino-Pakistani relationship. India believes that the control of major part of the region could give it control over the axis of a possible Pakistani threat and placed limits on Chinese assistance.
• India needs Jammu-Srinagar-Leh road, running through the heart of the valley of Kashmir, for supply of troops standing guard in the Ladakh area of Kashmir, an important area for India’s defence against the Chinese in Tibet and Xinjiang.
• Through Gilgit-Baltistan India believes it could have direct access to Central Asia through Wakhan Corridor bypassing Pakistan, while stalling CPEC.
• The headwaters of many of the rivers vital to Pakistan’s agriculture are in Kashmir. India wants to deny this access to Pakistan.
• CPEC, once completed, would decrease China’s reliance on the vulnerable Strait of Malacca by creating an overland trade route connecting the Arabian Sea to western China's Xinjiang province for trade and energy. This would not connect energy rich Central Asia and the Gulf region with China/South Asia but ultimately it would also make Pakistan pivot of Asia. One of the terminus ports of the CPEC is Pakistani port of Gwadar, that is located near the mouth of Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway from where 40 percent of world energy flows. Connecting this port with Xinjiang province would not only enhance Chinese energy and trade security manifold but would also reduce transit time substantially.
From the current standoff with China, New Delhi wants to achieve a number of strategic objectives; Firstly, it wants to dissuade China from supporting Pakistan on Kashmir issue. Secondly, it wants to receive unconditional economic, military and diplomatic support from the West by raising the bogey of Chinese threat as it did in 1962. Thirdly, it wants to annex IIOJ&K and change the demography of the area. Fourth, India wants to become a main player of the new great power competition with the U.S.-led alliance on one side, and China and Russia on the other side.
India-China Border Dispute
The entire Sino-Indian border (including the western Line of Actual Control/LAC, the small undisputed section in the centre, and the McMahon Line in the east) is 4,056 km (2,520 mi) long. It traverses five Indian states: Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh (created in 2019, disputed area since it is part of IIOJ&K).5 On the Chinese side, the line traverses through the Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Regions. China possesses extensive territory in the northwest of India's Illegally Occupied Kashmir in three areas: the Shaksgam Valley, Aksai Chin and Demchok. Nepal and Bhutan are two independent countries and considered buffer states situated between the northeastern and northwestern sections of the India-China border. The mountainous state (with special rights) of Sikkim was the third buffer, located between Nepal and Bhutan. By inciting anti monarchy riots through political maneuvering and military coercion, India forced the last monarch to accept Sikkim as India’s 23rd state of Indian Union in 1975. Today India has absorbed this state fully into the Indian Union and using it as a springboard to sponsor terrorist activities in Chinese Tibet. Arunachal Pradesh is located in the far northeast, a state of India which was created by New Delhi on January 20, 1972. The majority of the territory is claimed by China as part of South Tibet. The Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are located between Nepal and Kashmir along the border with China. Indian defence analysts consider these states vulnerable to Chinese military incursions. In recent years, this perceived threat has led New Delhi to enhance its military defences and communication networks in the area.
Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) which lies in Ladakh is located near the eastern most point of the Karakoram Range in the far north of India, just 8 km south of the Chinese border and 9 km northwest of the Aksai Chin, Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India. Other than Siachen Glacier military bases, it is India's northernmost military base. Apart from having Brigade size force, the Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel air strip there, the highest airstrip in the world. Routine sorties are carried out using An-32 aircraft to provide relief and supplies to the troops stationed nearby. The Indian government first announced the plans in 2001 to construct a motor able road from Leh to DBO. Despite Chinese serious objections the road was completed in 2019. The 255 km is an all-weather road in eastern Ladakh close to the Line of Actual Control with China. It connects Ladakh's capital city Leh, via the villages of Darbuk and Shyok at southern Shyok Valley, with the DBO military base near the China border. Darbuk-Shyok-DBO (DS-DBO) Road runs at elevations between 4,000-5,000 metres (13,000-16,000 ft). Since Ladakh is a disputed territory, therefore, construction of a road and enhancing of military footprint by India in Ladakh is considered a violation of the agreed principle of maintaining status quo in disputed areas by China.
The Karakoram Pass lies to the North West of DBO at a distance of approximately 17 to 18 kilometers. This area is contiguous to Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir of Pakistan. Adjacent to the portion of the Gilgit-Baltistan is the famous Shaksgam Valley which was handed over by Pakistan to China in 1963 through a mutual border agreement between the two. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is a 1,300 km (810 mi) national highway which connects the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa plus Gilgit-Baltistan with China's Xinjiang Province. The KKH therefore is considered the backbone for CPEC. In addition, the China National Highway (G219) passing through Aksai Chin which connects Xinjiang Province with Tibet also has strategic significance for China. When viewed from military/economic perspectives, the area between Karakoram Range and Kunlun Range, including the area of Aksai Chin, is of vital importance to both China and Pakistan. Therefore, strong Indian presence at DBO could radiate serious threat to Gilgit-Baltistan, KKH, Chinese National Highway G219 and in turn to CPEC.
The Galwan Valley refers to the land that sits between steep mountains that buffet the Galwan River. The river has its source in Aksai Chin on China’s side of the LAC, and it flows from the east to Ladakh, where it meets the Shyok River on India’s side of the LAC. The valley is strategically located between Ladakh in the west and Aksai Chin in the east. At its western end are the Shyok River and the DS-DBO road. Its eastern mouth lies not far from China’s vital Xinjiang Tibet road, now called the G219 highway. As evident in the map, Galwan Valley is located on Chinese side of the LAC. China contends that despite their strong protest, India has been building roads, bridges and other infrastructure on Chinese side of the LAC since April 2020. Troops from both sides clashed briefly on May 6. Following an agreement between the Chinese and Indian officers on June 6, 2020 tension started to ease after Indians demolished the infrastructure it had built on the Chinese side of the LAC and withdrew its personnel. On June 15, Indian troops again crossed the LAC for deliberate provocation and violently attacked the Chinese officers and soldiers who went there for negotiation. Thus, triggering fierce physical conflict and causing casualties in which at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed and more than 70 injured.
After the incident China showed a lot of maturity and restraint by releasing the Indian Prisoners of War, withholding the exact number of causalities suffered by the Chinese side and indicating willingness to discuss the matter with India. However, on June 17, Prime Minister Modi on television made a very strongly worded televised address stating that the sacrifice of the 20 Indian soldiers who died in clash would "not be in vain," and that "nobody" could stop India from defending its "sovereignty and integrity." He further added that India would use force if pressed further. Following the address Indian Air Force (IAF) moved Su-30MKI, Jaguar and Mirage jets and Apache helicopters to the key air bases including Leh, Srinagar, Ambala, Adampur and Halwara. The IAF base in Bareilly was put on high alert for operations around the Tibet region. The air defence systems of both Indian Army and the Indian Air Force including Akash missiles were deployed in Ladakh. Indian Army also moved three additional divisions, artillery and T-90 tanks to Ladakh region.
Indians are masters of deceit and bluff. Despite being the aggressor and on the wrong side of the law most of the time, they built a very plausible narrative to garner sympathies and support from the West and international community. It is evident from facts that since August 5, 2019, India has taken a number of steps to raise tensions in the region. First, India annexed IIOJ&K defying UNSC resolutions and made 8 million Kashmiris hostage by clamping an indefinite curfew there and putting their leadership in jail. Later it started killing unarmed Kashmiri youth in the name of anti-terrorist operations. Now it is changing the demography of the area by issuing domiciles to non-Kashmiris. Facing scrutiny from the international human rights organizations and important leaders of the world regarding crimes committed against humanity and human rights abuses in IIOJ&K, India very aptly has diverted the world attention towards so-called Chinese aggression at the LAC, after the Coronavirus pandemic which originated from China. From current standoff with China, New Delhi wants to achieve a number of strategic objectives; Firstly, it wants to dissuade China from supporting Pakistan on Kashmir issue. Secondly, it wants to receive unconditional economic, military and diplomatic support from the West by raising the bogey of Chinese threat as it did in 1962. Thirdly, it wants to annex IIOJ&K and change the demography of the area. Fourth, India wants to become a main player of the new great power competition with the U.S.-led alliance on one side, and China and Russia on the other side.
Riding on the Hindu extremist ideology of Hindutva under Prime Minister Modi, India is relentlessly pursuing the goal of becoming a superpower of the world. For that purpose, India is trying to enhance its sphere of influence in South Asia, IOR and beyond. However, Chinese economic prowess and launching of BRI are considered major impediments by New Delhi for achieving its goals. In order to contain China, New Delhi is following a very dangerous path by joining an American led alliance. Not only has New Delhi forged strategic partnership with the U.S. but it has also signed defence agreement for extending basing and logistic facilities to the American navy. Meanwhile, India is also expanding its maritime cooperation with the Quad countries to dominate IOR. On land it is enhancing its military footprint near the LOC and LAC. Moreover, it is accelerating development of infrastructure near the LAC in contravention to bilateral agreements with China. In an utter disregard to international norms India also continues to host Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile. Similarly, by unleashing reign of state sponsored terrorism in IIOJ&K it is killing Kashmiris and changing the demography of the state. New Delhi is also harboring designs to occupy Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and working on the agenda of somehow rolling back of CPEC.
If we critically observe the developments mentioned above these are very critical and alarming with far-reaching regional and international consequences. In international arena the countries could project power based on their actual power potential. Despite pomp and show and selling Indian battle-hardened armed forces through Bollywood movies, recent events have determined beyond doubt that Indian armed forces are no match to Chinese or Pakistan Armed Forces. It is also a fact that India, China and Pakistan are nuclear armed neighbors. New Delhi’s illusion that it could get away with whatever it wants is farfetched and dangerous. Any attempt by India to change the geography of the region or roll back any major project could lead to an all-out war and even to nuclear exchange. This could have catastrophic consequences for the region and globally. Instead of pursuing unrealistic goals, India, like other civilized nations, must resort to dialogue while reviving the status of IIOJ&K and restoring the rights of minorities in India.
The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of the Pakistan Navy and was the Ambassador of Pakistan to Maldives.
E-mail: [email protected]
1. India-US defence ties to become anchor of global security, Business Standard, Washington, December 11, 2015. https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/india-us-defence-ties-to-become-anchor-of-global-security-us-115121100008_1.html
2. India as a Net Security Provider: Concept and Impediments, Anit Mukherjee, Policy Brief August 2014, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/PB_140903_India-Net-Security.pdf
3. Second track on Indo-Pacific and the Quad by Graeme Dobell, 04 Mar 2019. https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/second-track-on-indo-pacific-and-the-quad/
4. 1968 CIA report on India, Pak’s claim on Kashmir made public by Wasim Khalid, Kashmir Reader, June 5, 2017. https://kashmirreader.com/2017/06/05/1968-cia-report-india-paks-claim-kashmir-made-public/
5. Line of Actual Control. http://ilearncana.com/details/Line-of-Actual-Control/388
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