In December 1955, the President of Soviet Union, Khruschev and the Prime Minister Bulganin visited Kashmir and declared: ‘The question of Kashmir as one of the states of India has already been decided by the people of Kashmir.’
Soviet Union, India’s new strategic partner, vetoed all resolutions on J&K that were contrary to the Indian position.
Geopolitically, the Soviet support as a spinoff of the Cold War was a blessing for India. India was no longer beholden to the Anglo-American camp internationally and at the UN. Soviet Union, India’s new strategic partner, vetoed all resolutions on J&K that were contrary to the Indian position. The Americans, however, only stepped up their activities in the Kashmir Valley by creating new leverages, which included Sheikh Abdullah. He was proving to be too malleable to the strategic agenda of the Anglo-American camp. The American strategic embrace of Pakistan spurred Sheikh Abdullah to make a secret bid for independence from India. He was arrested with his lieutenant Mirza Afzal Beg and 22 others for conspiring against India.
Bolstered by the Soviet support, the Indian leaders grew increasingly bold on the Kashmir issue. In 1957, the then Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, visited Srinagar and declared that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was integral part of India and question of plebiscite did not arise. The impact of the new geopolitical equations is best summed up by Gunnar Jarring, the UN representative in 1957. Mr Balraj Puri quotes him: “I could not fail to take note of the concern, express in connection with the political, economic and strategic factors surrounding the whole of the Kashmir question, together with the changing pattern of power relations in west and south Asia … implementation of international agreement … may become progressively more difficult.”
The favourable geopolitical situation owing to the Soviet strategic patronage emboldened the Indian leadership to effect a slew of Constitutional amendments in 1964. Articles 356 and 357 were made applicable to the State, which gave the Center the power to dissolve the State Assembly and the head of the State (now the Governor) was no longer to be elected by the State Assembly but was to be nominated by the Center. This could not have been possible without the strong Will of Chief Minister GM Sadiq, known to be close to the Soviet Union.
The Cold War exposed the truth that the J&K problem was a British construct to meet the Communist challenge. Later when Britain lost its numero uno position in the region, the mantle was taken over by the US…
The Cold War exposed the truth that the J&K problem was a British construct to meet the Communist challenge. Later when Britain lost its numero uno position in the region, the mantle was taken over by the US and J&K subsequently became an American project.
Period of US Unipolarity
Once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in the end of 1980s, the Cold War had come to an end, the J&K arena was left entirely to the machinations of the US. J&K again became leverage or a stick to strategically and diplomatically manipulate or intimidate India. The blow-back of the defeat of Soviet Union in the grand finale of the Cold War in the battlefields of Afghanistan was most severe on J&K. Foreign jihadis imbued with the agenda of global jihad were redirected by the Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into J&K. This fallout possibly was not calculated by the US.
As the proxy war by Pakistan intensified, the US began to create new leverages. One such leverage was the Hurriyat conference created by the joint effort of the Robin Raphel and Pakistan High Commissioner to India Riaz Khokhar. Robin Raphel, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia under the Presidentship of Bill Clinton, was a India hater and known for ‘pro-Pakistan’ proclivities. This former CIA analyst served in the US Embassy in India between 1991 and 1993. Significantly, her husband Arnold Raphel was US Ambassador to Pakistan and was killed with Zia-Ul-Haq in the plane crash. While in India, she made several visits to the Kashmir Valley and propagated the Pakistani position on J&K.
The unipolar global situation restricted the diplomatic maneuver space for India internationally with regard to J&K. The leaders of the Kashmir Valley, which includes the Muftis and Abdullahs exploited the Indian geopolitical compulsion. This explains the reason for the Kashmiri leaders, both mainstream and Hurriyat, to disregard the nationalist sensitivities of Indians and strut around on the Indian canvas with impunity. They carried with them the American and Pakistani stamp of authority. For the Hurriyat and the Kashmiri leaders, the High Commission of Pakistan became their second home.
The unipolar global situation restricted the diplomatic maneuver space for India internationally with regard to J&K. The leaders of the Kashmir Valley, which includes the Muftis and Abdullahs exploited the Indian geopolitical compulsion.
Very many of these compulsions have been rendered effete by the radical change in the geopolitical circumstances, especially by the strategic challenges unleashed by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
The China factor has always weighed heavily on the J&K geopolitical narrative. It was very much a factor in the Great Game and thereafter. Even as the status of J&K remained disputed, Pakistan had begun to negotiate the borders of J&K with Xinjinag. The 1947-48 war in J&K was later to have a great significance for Sino-Pak partnership and now the CPEC. By managing to retain the POK after the ceasefire, Pakistan carved direct geographic interface with China. Pakistan without the POK would have little strategic value for China. It would not have been able to cede 5000 square kilometer territory of POK to China and 1300 kilometer Karakoram Highway that connects Islamabad with Kashgar in Xinjiang. Without this territory the CPEC and the strategic thrust to Gwadar Port would also have not been possible.
The China factor in J&K also came into play before 1965 war. In February 1965, Sheikh Abdullah toured Europe, West Asia which included a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was accompanied by his wife and Mohammad Afzal Beg.He met the then Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai in Algiers. The Indian government construed this as an act of treason and threatened to cancel his passport if he did not return immediately. On his arrival at the Delhi airport in May 1965, he and Beg were arrested.
CPEC is the lynchpin of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Setback to BRI will be setback to China’s maritime strategic thrust in the Gulf region. The US and its allies are loath to the presence of a another robust player in the oil-rich region. Pakistan’s facilitation to Chinese thrust in this region will not be taken kindly. It will be contested in by every means and every form.
The China threat card was sort of ploy to compel India to push for permanent territorial settlement of J&K, in deference to CPEC.
This strategic reality is not lost out on China. It is acutely conscious that it cannot pour billions of dollars on CPEC whose most critical segment traverses Gilgit-Baltistan, a territory rightfully claimed by India. Hence it has been leveraging on Pak based jihadi outfits like the Jaish-e- Mohammad (JeM)and Kashmiri leaders, and hence it has been coming to the rescue of JeM and its chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Geopolitical orientation of Kashmiri leaders with regard to China and CPEC was underscored by Naeem Akhtar, the PWD minister in J&K government in a recent interview to the Indian Express. He said: “The Kashmir issue is not limited to the fight between India &Pakistan. There is another major factor involved. It is’nt Pak alone, it is China too. General (Bipin Rawat) said that the Army is ready to fight on both fronts—but there aren’t two fronts any more. Now it is one single front circling around. From Bhutan to Arunanchal, Ladakh Valley to Jammu, Sri Lanka and Maldives, it is all one front. Pakistan and China aren’t separate.’’ Akhtar unequivocally accepted that Beijing has literally adopted JeM. His arguments finally culminated in the suggestion which implied that because of the emergence of China factor, India must talk to Pakistan. The China threat card was sort of ploy to compel India to push for permanent territorial settlement of J&K, in deference to CPEC. Again, the prized territory, which the march of history could not alter, is Gilgit-Baltistan. Only the player has changed, this time it is China.
Use of jihadi outfits and leaders in quest of endurance and stability of CPEC is not confined to J&K. In fact the CPEC has pitched China into many conflict zones, including Balochistan. Reports reveal that China has been directly confabulating with Baloch militants for last five years. As per Financial Times: ‘’China has been in direct contact with militants in the south-western province, where many of the schemes of most important projects are located.’’
Reportedly, the Chinese are offering money to those Baloch youth who surrender weapons. China has recently manipulated the change in the provincial government of Balochistan guided by the exigencies of the CPEC. In Kashmir Valley too, the Pro-China and Pro-CPEC proclivities of the Kashmiri leaders is getting increasingly pronounced, primarily because Pak-China strategic and territorial embrace hurts India.
Pakistan’s strategic embrace of US has been supplanted by territorial embrace with China, much to the strategic chagrin of larger international community. The entire narrative on J&K has altered and will remain so if CPEC persists.
Earlier China did political manipulation in target countries through the communist parties. Now with very deep pockets it is brazenly manipulating mainstream political parties. The visit of Rahul Gandhi to the Chinese embassy at the height of Doklam crisis, is an open invitation for political interference.
The J&K problem is a foreign creation, rooted in colonial manipulation. J&K without respite has served strategic playground for Britain, then US, then Soviet Union and now China. Article 370 and Article 35(A) actually are reminder and instrumentalities of slavery under neo-colonialism. India can indeed adjust to geopolitical circumstances but cannot be perpetually subservient to it. The government and the judiciary must redeem India from this curse.
In the post Independence history of India, the geopolitical situation has never been so favourable. The J&K issue has lost traction in in the international arena. Pakistan’s strategic embrace of US has been supplanted by territorial embrace with China, much to the strategic chagrin of larger international community. The entire narrative on J&K has altered and will remain so if CPEC persists.
These realities and opportunities should not be wasted by the government. Article 370 and 35(A) should not be permitted to strangle India. Article 35(A) did not dissuade the anti-national leaders in Kashmir and their patrons in Delhi from settling Rohingyas around most sensitive army installations in the Jammu region.
Article 370 and 35 (A) be a crying case for judiciary to adjudicate after delving deep into geopolitical and strategic aspects of J&K.