The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto — but not de jure — part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto — but not de jure — parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel.
Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.
“¦Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning Indias locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past.
China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J&K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plan paper visa and not on their Indian passport.
While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports.
Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.
The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:
- Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories.
- Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J&K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J&K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J&K.
- Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India’s sovereignty over J&K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.
India must woke up to the changes in the Chinese policy last year when it noticed that the Chinese had stopped issuing regular visas to residents of J&K and have started issuing plain paper visas.
The modification in the Chinese position on J & K and its active involvement in infrastructure and other development projects in POK and GB have coincided with indicators of active Pakistani assistance to China in quelling the revolt of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region which has a common border with GB. These indicators include an increase in the number of Chinese intelligence officers posted in Pakistan to keep a watch on the Uighur community living in Pakistan, Pakistani intensification of the surveillance of the members of the Uighur community and restrictions on their travel in Pakistan, rounding up of members of the Uighur community living in Pakistan who are accused by the Chinese of being members of the Eastern Turkestan lslamic Movement and their being handed over to the Chinese authorities without following the due process of law, intensification of the intelligence exchange and the recent joint counter-terrorism exercise, which was, in effect, a joint counter-Uighur exercise.
In the Chinese perception, their ability to pacify Xinjiang would depend on continued co-operation from Pakistan and strengthening Pakistan’s control over POK and GB. Their modification of their policy relating to J&K is as a quid pro quo to Pakistan playing the role of their frontline ally in the fight against the Uighur freedom fighters represented by the Munich-based World Uighur Congress and Uighur jihadis belonging to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement. The Chinese decision to modify their policy even at the risk of its coming in the way of their developing relations with India is indicative of their serious concerns relating to Xinjiang. The need to pacify Xinjiang has assumed primacy in Chinese policy-making over the importance of misunderstanding-free relations with India.