Kashmir issue losing its significance

By K.N. Pandita

President Barack Obama’s recent statement that Kashmir question be solved by India and Pakistan without any role for an outsider including the United States has bearing on the stand of Kashmir “freedom fighters” and their cohorts.

The statement speaks of a solution of the issue through bilateral and not trilateral talks. It excludes third party, namely the people of Kashmir, on both sides of the Ceasefire Line.  

Isn’t that indirect recognition of the division of the state between the two countries along the LoC?  Shimla Agreement converted cease fire line into the Line of Actual Control (LOAC). The agreement was ratified by the UN and with that, the role of UN Observers in J&K came to an end.  Pakistan formally recognized that there are only two parties to Kashmir issue and there is no mention of the third party in the Shimla Agreement, something which Obama has precisely repeated.

Kashmir issue lost its significance for the Americans with 9/11. They began to consider Kashmir turmoil as an adjunct of terrorism expanding its tentacles in different parts of the world. Thus religion-based terrorism began to be considered anti-democracy movement sponsored by the jihadis and something absolutely not palatable to the US policy planners.

With the Taliban groundswell in war ravaged Afghanistan and US-NATO led forces engaging the Taliban and their associates, Pakistan tried to impress upon US administrations,  first Bush and then Obama, to dovetail Kashmir armed insurgency to the solution of Afghan crisis. Some quarters went to the length of saying that there wouldn’t be peace in the region unless Kashmir issue was solved. For some time Washington did toy with the idea, but soon found that Kashmir juggernaut could be intractable?

In the meantime, rise of China as an economic giant with great reach to the Asian and Western markets marked the beginning of an era of new strategy in the region called Asia-Pacific for the US. China was expanding its fangs along two flanges, the Pacific Ocean and the great Himalayan watershed.

China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean area focused on control of trade channels through the strategic Straits of Malacca to the Arabian Sea, the great line of supply of energy from the Gulf States.

The Himalayan watershed is a component of Chinese reach westward to the hydrocarbon-rich Central Asian States of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. China needs to secure the gas pipeline she is laying along the Karakorum Highway that will carry Iranian gas to Xinjiang via Pakistan.

With that Beijing has plans of wooing both Tajikistan and Afghanistan to contiguous countries to her west. Tajikistan is emerging as the most important strategic Central Asian State in China’s political chemistry of Central Asia. President Rahman’s seven-day visit to China yielded several protocols all favouring Tajikistan, and underlined several new projects for Tajikistan including a cement factory with the capacity of producing 1000 tons of cement per day. It will begin to function by the end of this year. President Rahman succeeded in obtaining 1.5 billion US dollars by way of assistance to ongoing projects. And in all 11 mega projects would be executed by the Chinese including laying of railway line.

China’s sudden diversion of attention to Tajikistan shaped after Beijing realized that the US was giving due importance to India for a role in the post war reconstruction of Afghanistan. India had committed hefty amount of 2 billion dollars towards strengthening of infrastructure in Afghanistan. As long as the US remained lukewarm towards India’s claim of a role in Afghan scenario particularly after 2014, China kept watching the situation.

But in his recent interview to the correspondent of PTI President Obama has not minced words in conceding a vital role for India in post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan. Hitherto Beijing thought that Pakistan’s Afghan policy was good enough to stonewall India’s aspirations in the region. But that thinking does not seem to hold good.

On the home front China feels that India is making large scale preparations for her encirclement. Indian Army has lately deployed nearly one lakh of troops along her border with China in the eastern sector with strong backing of Brahmos missiles. India is building roads and rail links close to the border with China as also air strips. In naval sector, India has three aircraft carriers stationed in the Bay of Bengal and Gorchakov will be joining them in December this year. India has extended strategic reach to Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan. With the last one she has been conducting military exercises also. India has singned defence cooperation with Mongolia. All this makes Beijing feel that new alliance is emerging in the region aimed at containing her influence in the region.

However, New Delhi has been playing low about her military preparedness though she has not minced words in saying that she cannot lower her guard in view of the designs of Beijing over Indian territories in the East. China has given many occasions to make India suspect her intentions. Issuing of visas to some Indians on a separate sheet, sporadic trespassing in Ladakh border and elsewhere and doing childish things of marking stones with Chinese slogans or confronting India on certain issue of international significance including opposing India’s candidature for a seat in the UN Security Council, all are indications that there is trust deficit between the two.

China is also realising that Pakistan could be nothing more than spent force. With internecine conflict raging mad in the country and the Muslim World faced with Arab Spring have considerably reduced Pakistan’s influence and impact and even the OIC, the brainchild of  Pakistani planners, seems to be in doldrums.

In this situation, slogans of “azaadi” arising from Kashmir seem much misplaced. With India determined to raise three new mountain corpse for reinforcing the security and defence of her northern frontier all along the Himalayan foothill from Sikkim right up to the western flanks of the Karakorum, China understands the consequence of this deterrent.

Washington has already obtained strategic military bases in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and is likely to renew her efforts in Tajikistan to ensure that after the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014, anti-democratic and fanatical forces like Taliban do not raise their head.

Indo-Pak talks on bilateral issues are being conducted on official level and there is definitely convergence on many issues.  That two parts of the divided State should be facilitated to interact briskly and on viable basis is what has been accepted and measures are taken from time to time to keep the process ongoing. Movement of men and material would naturally and by sheer momentum make the border irrelevant. Of course people on both sides of the dividing line have to be given a fair deal. No group can be discriminated against and development has to take place on equitable basis. That makes Kashmir issue irrelevant to the international body. However, local separatist leadership will have to be answerable to the people sooner or later. The treatment meted out by the public to two Hurriyat leaders at the shrine of Dastgir Sahib should be an eye-opener.

But then that is an internal matter. There is no Kashmir issue: but, of course, there is the issue of good governance, of development, of eradicating unemployment and sensible, creditable and meaningful rehabilitation of the displaced persons back in the valley with honour and dignity.

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