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Border line case

The story of a map and how India should learn from its old mistakes, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2007 03:30 IST

Washington, February 13, 2007. The US Congressional Research Service (CRS) releases its report on US-India relations. The report is meant for members of the US Congress. On the last page of this document is a map of India. It is a two-tone map showing India in yellow and the neighbourhood in brown. This brings into sharp focus what the CRS considers to be India. It is an India with its crown, Jammu and Kashmir, knocked off substantially. The entire Gilgit and Baltistan region of Kashmir is shown as a contiguous part of Pakistan right up to the Karakoram Pass on the Chinese border. The map depicts Aksai Chin as an ‘Indian claim’. The report is on the internet. So apart from the Congressmen reading this report, thousands of others who would have seen this map would have concluded that this is how India looks on the map.

New Delhi February 14, 2007. There is no visible reaction to the depiction of this map.

Brussels, May 8, 2007. The Pakistani Ambassador, under instructions from Islamabad, writes to European Union Rapporteur on Jammu and Kashmir Baroness Emma Nicholson claiming that the ‘Northern Areas of Pakistan’ were not a part of J&K in August 1947. There must have been some very good reason for this deliberate distortion of history. It was not the negative impact of the contents of the report that seemed to have led the Ambassador’s preemptive letter. Instead, the entire letter concentrated on trying to establish that Gilgit and Baltistan were part of Pakistan and India was in illegal occupation of Siachen.

Brussels, May 22, 2007. Baroness Nicholson refutes the Pakistani Ambassador’s claims. She cites historical evidence right from the 1909 maps to Maharaja Hari Singh’s letter to Mountbatten on October 27, 1947, to show that Gilgit and Baltistan were a part of the Riyasat of J&K. She also adheres to the traditional reference to the area as Gilgit and Baltistan instead of using the Pakistani formulation of ‘Northern Areas of Pakistan’.

Brussels, May 24, 2007. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the EU releases its report on ‘Kashmir: Present Situation and Future Prospects’. The report is also a severe indictment of Pakistani neglect of areas under its control including Gilgit and Baltistan. The document refers to the “considerable evidence that over many years Pakistan has provided Kashmiri militants with training, weapons, funding and sanctuary and has failed to hold militants accountable for atrocities…” It adds that meaningful demilitarisation can only take place in parallel with genuine action to neutralise the threat of infiltration of J&K by militant outfits operating from Pakistan.

New Delhi, February May 24, 2007. There is a subdued reaction in some of the main newspapers, but there is no exultation that the report castigates Pakistan.

From the 1970s, Pakistan began trying to detach Gilgit and Baltistan from the rest of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). By 1982, General Zia was suggesting that while the question of Kashmir could be examined afresh, Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu were an integral part of Pakistan and were separate from POK. Pakistan gradually tightened its hold on the region. Dissent and nationalism have been suppressed with singleminded ruthlessness. There has been systematic discrimination against the locals and Sunni Pathans imported to offset the Shias of Gilgit and Baltistan to change demographic patterns.

In the early 1980s, Pakistan made serious attempts to move from Skardu towards the Karakoram Pass near Aksai Chin. This intended linking with Shahidullah on the Kashgar-Shigatse road that goes through Aksai Chin and runs parallel to the Tibet-India border would have enabled an outflanking of India in Ladakh. Alarmed at this, India asserted that the Karachi Agreement of 1949, which stipulated that the Line of Control (LoC) would run north towards the glaciers from Pt NJ 9842, be fully implemented. North meant the true north and also meant the Siachen Glacier, not the Karakoram Pass, which is north-east from NJ 9842. Troops had to be sent to the Saltoro Ridge to ensure this. Later, in 1994, the Lahore High Court ruled that administrative separation of these areas from the rest of POK was illegal; the Pakistani authorities had the Supreme Court overturn this in 1996.

There are good strategic reasons why Pakistan has followed this policy. The mighty Indus that irrigates Pakistani Punjab passes much of its distance in India through Ladakh and then Baltistan and Gilgit. Imagine for a moment if today the entire J&K were with India. We would have a border with Afghanistan and the Wakhan Corridor would have provided access to Central Asia. India would have had a border with Chitral, Swat and Hazara districts of the NWFP. The Karakoram Highway, which enters China at the Khunjerab Pass and through which Pakistan has acquired strategic material, would not have been built. Pakistan would not have had direct access to China. Pakistan may have its own reasons to keep the Kashmir issue alive. But it wants the world to assume that Gilgit and Baltistan is a settled issue — settled in favour of Pakistan.

China, too, would be interested that Pakistan has total control over Gilgit and Baltistan. Otherwise the $ 298 million investment in the development of Gwadar is a financial or strategic waste. Xinjiang is only 2,500 km away from the Arabian seaport of Gwadar. On the other hand, it is 4,500 km away from the Chinese east coast. A fully developed port at Gwadar would help in the economic development of Xinjiang. Gas and oil pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang and Tibet would enable China to overcome the uncertainty of sea-lanes from the Persian Gulf through the Malacca Straits patrolled by the US. There will be a special SEZ for China in Gwadar.

China has set aside $ 150 million to upgrade the Karakoram Highway and widen it from 10 metres to 30 metres for heavy vehicles in all-weather conditions. A rail link is also planned in the region with technical advice from an Austrian firm to connect Pakistan and China. This link will be connected further south into the main Pakistani rail grid. Fibre optic cables are being laid. An Islamabad-Kashgar bus service will start from August 1.

Both China and Pakistan are getting ready for an economic boom that will include transit trade to Central Asia. The Pakistani Army’s National Logistics Cell, which has a near monopoly, will handle this freight traffic all the way up to Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. There is money to be made. Thus development of both Gwadar and control of Gilgit and Baltistan are interlinked and the Pakistani Army will gain financially from both. In fact, it is going to be a financial bonanza for the already huge corporate interests of the Pakistani Army. All this is being done by using territory that we say is an inalienable part of India.

In retrospect, it can be said that it was a mistake to have halted our troops at Uri and Gurez in 1948. It was a blunder to have then gone to the UN for succour. But it would be a strategic catastrophe to withdraw from Siachen without the entire issue of J&K satisfactorily and unequivocally resolved. Since distortion of facts is possible, a mere signing of documents about the Agreed Ground Position Lines would not be an adequate guarantee enabling troop withdrawals.

History is very unforgiving to those who do not learn from its lessons. The CRS map and the Pakistani Ambassador’s letter tell this story.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing

First Published: Jun 07, 2007 03:07 IST