Homeland Security

Kashmir - The Pivot of Geopolitical Dynamics in South Asia
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Issue Book Excerpts: The Crimson Chinar | Date : 31 Aug , 2018

Despite the commonality of democratic ideals, India remained an enigma and her policy of ‘non-alignment’ was neither understood nor appreciated.[15] To compound her apprehensions, India’s flirtation with socialism reinforced America’s conviction that India was a part of the Soviet camp below the democratic packaging. By 1949, the US-Indian confrontation had come to a head since the Americans failed to make India shift from her principled stance on ‘non-alignment’ and join the collective fight against communism.

Even while the war within Tibet was going on, in 1954, President Eisenhower formalised Pakistan’s role as a ‘key point’ to contain communism in South Asia.

Adding a new dimension to the Cold War dynamics in Asia, the Chinese entered Tibet in 1950 and upset the delicate balance that prevailed in the Trans Himalayan region. Tibet, the traditional buffer between China and British India disappeared between the fledgling nations, both aspiring for regional pre-eminence and this could only portend friction. On the other hand, America took the Chinese entry in Tibet as an opportunity to facilitate their war in Korea and sought military cooperation from India, exhorting her to open up an independent front in Tibet. When this was not taken up, at least not in its entirety, the USA offered aid directly to Tibet, which stretched the Chinese militarily, who at that time were trying to gain control over the roof of the world. However, when the Chinese upped the ante, the Americans pulled in their support and let the Tibetans boil in the stew brewed on the behest of the Americans. This led to a massive crackdown by the PLA, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to India which increased China’s bellicosity towards India.

Even while the war within Tibet was going on, in 1954, President Eisenhower formalised Pakistan’s role as a ‘key point’ to contain communism in South Asia. Though this was to be expected, it fundamentally changed the military equation in South Asia. Pakistan joined the ‘Baghdad Pact’ which was the fore-runner of CENTO, and later extended her role by joining SEATO. What had remained unsaid till then came out in the open. Now it was ‘us’ which included Pakistan and ‘them’ which clubbed the socialist countries and included India by extension. For India, Pakistan being built up could only mean that these arms would be used against her; history has proved that all parties were proved right in their own ways.

In 1978, Zbigniew Brzezinski[16] expanded the battle space and parameters of the Cold War and postulated that future US strategy should include the domination of Eurasia, translating to the Southern Soviet Republics or what he called the ‘Eurasian Balkans.’ As a counter to these provocative moves, the Russians were constrained to enter Afghanistan in 1979 which coincided with the situation in oil rich Iran becoming turbulent and included the overthrow of the pro US Shah. In cricket parlance, this was the ‘turning point’ in the new version of the game and the Russian Bear who had been ensnared to occupy Afghanistan provided the west an invaluable opportunity to do a ‘Vietnam’ on her and it was for this purpose that Pakistan became invaluable.

China also has vast energy requirements and she needs to reduce her vulnerabilities of her SLOCs, and it is for this reason that the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Kashmir and the exploitation of Pakistan as a convenient conduit has gained in salience…

After the implosion of the Soviet Union, America’s victory heralded another war for controlling the oil of the region which started as the first Gulf War and after the incident of 9/11, got labelled as the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). This war was in continuum of the game for control of fossil fuels, which now included the energy reserves of the Central Asian Republics (CAR). China again became the beneficiary of the ‘New Great Game’ as the Soviet Union’s demise became China’s immediate gain. However, this brought with it a new American challenge in her west which she found intimidating as her front now extended from the eastern sea board to her turbulent west.

At the same time, China also has vast energy requirements and she needs to reduce her vulnerabilities of her Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), and it is for this reason that the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Kashmir and the exploitation of Pakistan as a convenient conduit has gained in salience and it is this added factor of the Sino-US competition that enhances Gilgit-Baltistan’s and Pakistan’s strategic importance in the future.

China’s growing presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘all weather’ relations with Pakistan are driven by her long term strategic goals as ‘Pakistan’s utility to China is analogous to what Israel offers to the USA – being a local gendarme as well as being a potential springboard in the area of interest.’ On the other hand, the territory of the erstwhile J&K state offers the only frontier with the two regions simmering under the Chinese occupation-Chinese Turkestan (Xijiang) and Tibet (renamed Xizang by China) and therefore, exposes the Chinese underbelly. It is axiomatic that the increasing interests of China in South and Central Asia will place her in conflict with that of India. By extension, it will also clash with USA and also with a resurgent Russia as the vacuum that is likely to be created by the exit of the US from the region could be filled up by China to the determent of India, USA and Russia.

The issues brought out are also to provide an insight in the dynamics of the many ‘whys’ of the conflict and how they have changed with the times. At the same time, it can be said that nothing has changed fundamentally except for the actors. The Indo-Pakistan animus which has become synonymous with the dispute over Kashmir has grown with time and has assumed ridiculous proportions. For India and Pakistan, Kashmir remains symptomatic of the Indo-Pakistan conflict and if this issue is not handled maturely, it has the potential to conflagrate. Adding to the volatility is the growing importance of Northern Kashmir for China coupled with her time tested collusion with Pakistan. These are major causes of concern for India and need to be kept in mind, not merely for shaping her Kashmir policy, but also for formulating the Indian strategic stance in the coming times which can be transformed as a strategic opportunity more than any time of her troubled history. Seen in the light of the geo-strategic environment and prevailing atmospherics, Kashmir remains a focal point for rivalry and in the light of the spurt of military activism, both from China and Pakistan, ‘resurgent’ India can no longer afford to be reactive in her strategic responses.


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Shadows of history fall long and it is important for the present generation to understand the genesis of the Kashmir issue and for  understanding the context of the conflict objectively and therefore need to see the conflict in continuum, as despite the numerous cease-fires, the conflict has invariably mutated to re-appear another time and in another form.

Reference & Notes:

[1]      Hilali AZ, Historical Developments of the Kashmir Problem and Pakistan’s Policy after September 11.

[2]      Sarila Narinder Singh, The Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold Story of India’s Partition, Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 2005.

[3]      After the collapse of Germany, Churchill came up with a war plan codenamed ‘Op Unthinkable ‘aimed to contain Soviet Russia. The called for a combined Anglo-American thrust towards Stellin and Poznan to evict the Russian. Bizarre as it may appear, Churchill at that stage even sought ten German and Polish divisions each to add to the forty-seven already with the Allies in Europe.

[4]      Economically, India had been ravaged by British colonisation. In 1750, India had accounted for 24 percent of the global manufacturing which was the second highest in the world after China; by 1950, this had dropped to one percent. Indian manufactured goods industry had been wiped out and the negative effect of paying for imports had become a running sore. After the World War, out of a national debt of 3 Billion Pounds Sterling Britain owed to its colonies, India alone accounted for 1250 Million Pounds, making it the largest of UK’s liability.

[5]      After the grim post war fiscal predictions made by the English economist Keynes, ‘Scuttle’ all economic liabilities, including her pride-India, become the British mantra after Sir Winston Churchill was voted out of power in 1946.

[6]      Clarke Peter, The Last 1000 Days of the British Empire, Penguin Books Ltd, London, 2007, p. 176.

[7]      NSC 5401, extracted from Singh Gajendera K, the Mother of all Battles for Oil, 12 July, 2006, www.aljazeerah.info.

[8]      Peshawar became an active US Base in the Cold War. Located in the heart of the NWFP, it remained an important base for operations in Afghanistan, during and after the Soviet occupation of the country.

[9]      Ankit Rakesh, The Cold War and its Impact on the Evolution of the Kashmir Crisis, 1947-48, Journal of the Oxford University History Society, St Hilda’s College, Oxford, 2009.

[10]    Tunzelman Alex Von, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, London, 2008, p. 109,

[11]    The Chittagong Hill Tract was predominantly Hindu, but despite this demographic reality, the port was considered strategically important. British plans even included the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with East Pakistan for maintaining control over the strategic Malacca Straits.

[12]    Sarila Narinder Singh, The Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold Story of India’s Partition, Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 2005.

[13]    As quoted by Tunzelman Alex Von, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, London, 2008, pp. 201-202.

[14]    Lamb Alistair, Crisis in Kashmir, 1947 to 1966, Rutledge and Kegan Paul Limited, London, 1966, p. 12.

[15]    Field Marshal Ayub Khan has given his own interpretation of India’s ‘Non-Alignment’ He had opined that the policy failed to keep the Cold War away from India as Nehru had intended it to do. In his autobiography, he called the policy of “sitting on the fence and seeing how best it can take advantage of both sides; at worst it is a kind of sanctimonious hypocrisy and a subterfuge.”

[16]    Basu Dipankar Dr, A New Cold War and Implications for India, Professor in International Economics, Nagasaki University, 11 September 2008, http://www.invarta.com/…/blog-156.htm.

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6 thoughts on “Kashmir – The Pivot of Geopolitical Dynamics in South Asia

  1. All said and done, India must accept its share of responsibiity for not defending the lives of innocent Hindu, and Sikh families during partition. Even prior to partition, the demand for the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims was accompanied by serious communal clashes in which Hindus paid a heavy price. This kind of ethnic cleansing with huge human cost must be fully anticipated. As a precondition for partition, India could have demanded the deployment of Indian Army in towns and cities of Pakistan where Hindus and Sikhs faced dangers to their lives. At present, in my view, Pakistan is of no further use to the West. I doubt if Pakistan can continue to exist as a viable state. It is the role of China in Tibet is of interest and is of particular concern to me. Because of my lifetime affiliation with Special Frontier Force, I am reasonably hopeful that China’s military occupation of Tibet would eventually fail and when the opportunity arrives, we would evict this military occupier.

    • Rudra. While I endorse your point of China being the larger of the threats, Pakistan continues its nefarous games. Even if it implodes as you have suggested, ripples would be felt in India. We cannot afford to let our guard down.

  2. Shashi. I agree with you entirely. You may sense my take in Chapter six of the book in the section titled ‘ Can an Iron Fence save a tree hollowed by termites.’ Short term politics has been and remains the bane of Kashmir. In a way, this makes the conflict unfortunate as much that has gone wrong was avoidable.

  3. If the British wanted Kashmir to go with Pak, then why did they let Gurdaspur, through which the arterial road to Kashmir links Indian mainland passes, go to India?
    As in every complex issue, and division of a huge country was complex, there are too many factors involved and some of the actors see some and not others and place greater importance of some and not others, therefore, unless all the factors are taken into consideration, probably the strongest and the weakest factors that motivated such cataclysmic events cannot be agreed upon. Even then, there will always be dissent in every such matter.
    Anyway, for whatever reason the region of central and south Asia, comprising of Afghanistan and Kashmir, has always been coveted for many conceivable reasons and it continues to be so.

    • Very true Suresh. While I agree that there are many dynamics behind suchlike actions, the question of Gurdaspur and related issues are covered in detail in section four of this very chapter. This is titled ‘Kashmir and the Run Up to Independence.’ Not sure if the publisher would be extracting and posting that. You may like to peruse. Regards. Amar Cheema

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