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Opinion: What is China's agenda in Kashmir?

September 11, 2010

Army's presence in disputed Gilgit-Baltistan area
is an ominous sign for India given the events of
1962, but Pakistan is key to resolving the problem
By Kuldip Nayar,
Special to Gulf News
September 11, 2010

I was then home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's
press officer in 1962 when India and China fought
a war. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's
disappointment was clear from his remark that he
never expected "a communist country attacking a developing country."

His daughter, Indira Gandhi, who later became
prime minister, explained the country's reverses
as a choice between postponing economic
development, which her father thought was the
immediate need, and stepping up expenditure on
defence, which "we believe could wait for some time more".

This may again be the dilemma before New Delhi,
although it is better equipped and better
prepared than it was in 1962. The lack of
infrastructure on the border, modern equipment,
roads and aerodromes, once again tell the same
old story of not coming up to the standard which
the Chinese claims or probes demand.

There may be something in the argument that the
rhythm of 8-9 per cent growth rate may be
disturbed if more funds are diverted towards
defence. It is equally pertinent to know how much
should be allocated for one and how much for the
other is never clear even though the threat perception has to be kept in mind.

When China built the Aksai Chin road in Ladakh in
1954, despite knowing that it was Indian
territory or at best a disputed one, it should
have been clear to New Delhi that the clash over
the unsettled borders was bound to come "sooner than later".

Nehru depended on diplomacy and came a cropper.
Whether the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has
come to the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan area for
flood relief work or as a force to stay there is,
no doubt, a point of concern. But New Delhi's
grievance should be more directed against Islamabad.

Pakistan angle

If Pakistan, whatever its compulsions or
considerations, is not opposed to the presence of
PLA, India's protest would have little meaning.
True, technically, Pakistan Kashmir is part of
Jammu and Kashmir which acceded to India in 1947
after the British left. But it is an open secret
that India has often discussed agreements which
would make the present line of control as an international border.

In 1972, when the Shimla pact was signed, then
Pakistan Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was
made the offer. He reportedly agreed to it, but
could not sell it to his colleagues.

No doubt, India has passed a unanimous resolution
in parliament to get back the Kashmir under
Pakistan. But then parliament has also passed a
resolution to secure every bit of Indian
territories that China has "occupied". Rhetorical
statements may be part of politics but not of well-considered foreign policy.

Even for a settlement on Kashmir, India and
Pakistan have to discuss the territorial claim
which both countries cherish. The involvement of
Kashmiris — a must for any solution — makes things more complicated.

But why should China try and divide the state
into the ‘northern part of Pakistan' or
‘India-controlled Kashmir'? This indicates that
Beijing has already decided upon the status of Kashmir.

For example, the Chinese Embassy at New Delhi
gives visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir on
a paper, stapled with the passport. Does
Beijing's Islamabad office follows the same
practice? And why should China deny a visa to Lt.
Gen. B.S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding in
Chief, Northern Command, because he has been serving in Kashmir?

Beijing's gameplan

Beijing's role is not confined to semantics. It
has its own agenda. On top of it, the presence of
about 10,000 men of PLA in Gilgit-Baltistan is
ominous. Of course, Islamabad is the immediate
power to react to it, even though the two countries are close friends.

The various steps China has taken should make
things clear to New Delhi. However, it would be
naïve to play into the hands of China as India
did in 1962. A sense of growing strength has
given Beijing a measure of superiority. It is crudely exhibiting it.

Beijing is also an emerging power in Sri Lanka,
Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. New Delhi should
also reach out to Taiwan, Vietnam and other south
Asian countries which are feeling the assertiveness of China.

Beijing should be made to realise that India has
accepted China's suzerainty over Tibet, but not
the demographic change or the ruthless repression in that territory.

Nehru warned India in 1962 that "It is a little
naïve to think that the trouble with China was
essentially due to a dispute over some territory.
It had deeper reasons. Two of the largest
countries in Asia confronted each other over a
vast border. They differed in many ways. And the
test was as to whether anyone of them would have
a more dominating position than the other on the border and in Asia itself."

If India continues to feel the "assertiveness" of
China, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said,
Beijing would have to do more to win India's
trust. Once a Pakistani foreign minister told me
that the road to peace from Delhi to Beijing goes
through Islamabad. Can Pakistan help?

* Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High
Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.
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