Asian Powers in Kashmir

Some eighteen years back British Historian Alastair Lamb, in his second book ‘Birth of a Tragedy’ raised some important questions about the birth of the ‘Kashmir Dispute’. In the questions posed, he looked for the attributes for the cause and perpetuation of this dispute. One of the questions that he raised is about the geographical location of the state:

“Had the State of Jammu and Kashmir been situated almost anywhere else in the Sub-Continent and had it embraced a lesser area, India-Pakistan argument over its future might not have been conducted with particular intensity. The State, however, lay not only adjacent to both India and Pakistan but also on a key frontier region which gave access to Central Asia, a part of the world which had for more than a century attracted attention of British strategists whose attitude were inherited by their successors.”

He finds geographical location as an attribute for the birth of Kashmir dispute. He believes but for this attribute and implications of certain decision made in 1947, ‘ the state of Jammu and Kashmir in general and the Vale of Kashmir in particular might indeed have enjoyed a happier future’.

History testifies that many decisions that had far greater implications for Kashmir, even before India and Pakistan were born had their roots in the geo-strategic importance of the state. Some contemporary historians do hold the view that the Treaty of Amritsar (Amritsar Sale Deed) was executed by the British with Gulab Singh to create a buffer between powers in the North  and the British Empire.

A lot has been written about how the Cold War added complexity to the resolution of the Kashmir problem. Peter Lyon in his article Britain and the Kashmir issue quoting a senior British diplomat significantly suggests that all major powers including Britain, United States, and Soviet Union, and after 1960 China, competed with each other to retain their influence in the region. He writes that ‘It thus became virtually an article of faith in official Washington and Whitehall that only if Kashmir dispute could be resolved would a lasting improvement in Anglo-American relations with South-Asia become possible’. It was ‘tenuous belief of the British governments and American Administrations that their policies in South-Asia would be successful through ‘concerted efforts’ rather than if each of them operated alone. In this post-cold war situation the United States and Britain lost their interest not only in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute but in the region as such. In the post-cold war United States concluded in the words of Thomas P Thorn that ‘it is not and, for foreseeable future cannot be militarily threatened from South Asia. The region is not particularly useful as a base of operation for the US to use against its principle rivals. South Asia is of virtually no importance to it economically.’  It did recognize that a third of humanity lives in the region but did not think it of ‘immediate relevance to American Security.  Notwithstanding sticking to its ‘broad objectives’ of maintaining a balance of power and preventing other nations from dominating the region it lost its interest in India-Pakistan relations and resolution of the Kashmir problem.

 This self-centered post-cold war thinking about South-Asia in the United States and allied countries changed only after the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of Soviets troops from Afghanistan the United States not only dumped its ally in war but also counted disputes in the region of no consequences to its interests. In the scenario that has now been emerging in the region the resolution of the Kashmir problem is slowly gaining centrality for ensuring peace in the region.  In his article titled ‘Road to Kabul Runs Through Kashmir’, Ahmed Rashid wrote in November 10, 2010 issue of prestigious international magazine Foreign Policy; “There can be no peace in Afghanistan until these two neighbors sit down and talk about a common approach to both Kabul and Kashmir, rather than negotiating by proxy war.” Ahmed Rashid is not the only expert to believe that Kashmir dispute affects security in South Asia but a galaxy of international experts; scholars from Daniel Markey to Howard Schaffer have been sharing his views. Many international think tanks in USA, Britain and other parts of the world have renewed their interest in the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Institutions like the Harvard University Carr Centre, USA, the Chatham House, UK and Royal United Institute of Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) have not only renewed their interest in Kashmir dispute but are actively engaged in identifying road map for resolving the sixty three years old dispute that in fact has brought the South Asian region to a “precipice’ of a nuclear war and is causing concern for wider global security. The Howard University has been engaging scholars in its series of conference titled “World’s Highest Militarized Dispute”, the Chatham House, recognizing the human dimension of the dispute and threat it has been posing to the peace in South Asia and beyond conducted the first opinion poll on both the sides of the Line of Control and the Royal Institute For Defence and Security Studies since 2009 has been involving international for analyzing the implications of the perpetuation. Besides, these premier institutes, there are many other institutions that of late have been looking at various dimensions of the Kashmir problem. On 25 January this oldest British think tank held an international conference on Kashmir titled “Asian Powers in Kashmir”.  The conference was  ‘aimed at examining   the potential ‘spill over’ from the conflict in Afghanistan and the effect of a protracted conflict on Pakistan’s western front on Kashmir’s security.’  It had been divided in four sessions;   violence in Kashmir – the global context, the Kashmir Dispute and South Asian regional Security, the role of China and Sino-Indian rivalry in the Kashmir dispute and the Post-Simla agreement environment and Indo-Pakistani dialogue. Besides eminent experts on global security, international relations, Indo-Pak relations and Kashmir dispute delegates from India, Pakistan and both sides of Kashmir participated in the deliberations at the conference. Every session of the conference was important and needs to be debated over and analyzed separately in context of need for resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Three important factors that have caused renewed interest in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute have been rise of extremism and Taliban in Afghanistan and its spillover effects on the region,    India-Pakistan tension and dangers of bringing two nuclear countries ‘toe-to-toe’ and India-China rivalry and role of China in Kashmir. Of the three factors it is the ‘creeping influence of the regions superpower China in Kashmir dispute that has caused worry in the United States and other Western powers. China’s issuing visa on a separate sheet of paper and not on Indian Passport to people of Jammu and Kashmir and issuing visas on Pakistan passport to citizens of AJK and refusing Visa to a senior Indian army serving in Jammu and Kashmir is seen as major development by many eminent international experts and many have been seeing it as its ‘grand designs’ in the region.

It is a very difficult question if China’s interest could add complexity to the Kashmir dispute or prove as a catalyst in its resolutions.

 (In coming columns I will be analyzing  the four major subjects dealt in the conference)
zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com