Research Fellow at Dalhousie University Halifax, Canada
Over the past six decades, three parties to the Kashmir dispute — India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir — have tried everything but have failed to reach a solution. Perhaps, it is time to bring in the fourth party — China — without whose involvement any solution may be unworkable. Let us look back at history.
The 1947 Indian Independence Act gave rulers of 562 Indian states the right to accede to India or Pakistan. Hari Singh, the then ruler of Kashmir, vacillated. Fearing that he may merge his state with India, against the wishes of his predominantly Muslim subjects, Kashmiris rose in rebellion. The Dogra army slaughtered the rebels. Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen rushed to help their Muslim brethren and entered Kashmir. A desperate Hari Singh signed his Instrument of Accession to India on October 25, 1947, which India accepted and sent troops in to save Srinagar. War broke out between India and Pakistan in 1948.
Not content with India’s astonishing success in Kashmir, Nehru declared Aksai Chin, a territory contiguous to Kashmir, a part of India. China, which also claimed ownership of Aksai Chin, rejected India’s claim and built a road from Xinkiang to Tibet through the Aksai Chin area. India began building military posts in the Chip Chin Valley of Aksai Chin. Chinesepatience ran out. On October 20, 1962 its troops marched in, threw out the Indians from Chip Chin and established control over Aksai Chin, which India has refused to accept.
Pakistan had also laid claim to Aksai Chin (as a part of Kashmir) leading to some tension with China. Conditions improved after the India-China War of 1962. A Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement was signed on March 2, 1963 in which Pakistan surrendered its claim of territory in Aksai Chin, while China transferred Hunza to Pakistan. India rejected the agreement, claiming the entire territory belonged to India.
The situation today is that India occupies Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley, which Pakistan refuses to accept; China occupies Aksai Chin in Ladakh, which India refuses to accept; while Pakistan occupies Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Nagar and Hunza, which India refuses to accept. Obviously, India, China and Pakistan are all parties to the Kashmir dispute and have an interest in resolving it. Why China has been excluded from talks on resolving the dispute is a phenomenal mystery.
The United Nations sent out the hero of the Pacific War, Admiral Chester Nimitz, to oversee a plebiscite in Kashmir to decide whether it should accede to India or Pakistan. That option was abandoned when both countries failed to follow the UN Security Council Resolution, which called for troop withdrawals from Kashmir. So, a plebiscite is no longer an option. International efforts to foster peace between Pakistan and India, including the Tashkent Declaration of 1966, have failed. Scores of bilateral efforts up to the heads of state level have got nowhere. Pakistan thrice tried the military option, in 1948, 1965 and Kargil. All of them failed. Kashmiri insurgencies, in retaliation for Indian military high-handedness, have also failed, despite tens of thousands being killed. The unleashing of extremist groups in Kashmir has complicated the issue.
The dividends of Chinese participation, therefore, are huge. Pakistan’s position will be strengthened by the presence of a powerful friend at the table. Prospects of a peaceful solution will become brighter. Violence, born of the deep frustration of Kashmiris, will end. Indian military atrocities will reduce. Army units can withdraw, particularly from Siachen. With Kashmir becoming a trilateral issue, all bilateral issues can be delinked from Kashmir, without appearing to abandon the Kashmiris.
Trade can blossom, bringing widespread prosperity to a poverty-stricken region. Issues like Sir Creek, maritime boundary, detained fishermen and easier border controls will also become simpler to resolve. The upside is phenomenal, the downside negligible.
So let us go talk to the Chinese.
The writer is a former Naval officer, philanthropist and a Research Fellow at Dalhousie University Halifax, Canada
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2014.