Is Geography Our Villain?
‘Geo-strategy’ and ‘geopolitics,’ otherwise important words in diplomatic lexicon have of late become political clichés in our part of the world. For quite some time now, some Kashmiri leaders have been using them so frequently that they have become trite. Some leaders ironically use the term geo-strategy first coined by Fredrick L Schuman seventy years back having emerged as a subject out of the context.
In the post 9/11 scenario, giving a spin to these words some Kashmir leaders, tried to create alternative discourse and making the ‘popular narrative’ subservient to the ‘dominant’ discourse’. Endeavoring to give content to their ‘political fatigue’ some of them tried to weave the crumbling of the twin towers in New York into the Kashmir story and delegitimizing the very edifice of the peoples struggle.
It is not to suggest that Kashmir is not of geo-strategic importance. The geography of the state in fact has conspired against its people and played a villainous role for them. The State of Jammu and Kashmir, when it came into being shared its borders with Afghanistan, Chinese Sinkiang, Tibet and only a narrow tract of Afghan territory separated it from Soviet union. “Its location” says important contemporary Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, “gave the strategic importance quiet out of proportion. The importance increased after 15 August 1947, when Kashmir came to share borders with both the new dominions. The anomaly of a Hindu ruling a mostly Muslim population was compounded by accident of geography: unlike other disputed chiefdoms, such as Junagadh and Hyderabad, Kashmir was contiguous with both India and Pakistan.”
‘The problem of Jammu and Kashmir has its roots in the ideology that caused birth of India and Pakistan as two independent dominions.’ But, it has been geographical location of the state that caused the ‘birth of the tragedy’. As very rightly pointed out by Alistair Lamb, “ Had the state of Jammu and Kashmir been situated almost anywhere else in the Sub-continent, and had it embraced a lesser area, Indo-Pakistan argument over its future might not have been conducted with particular intensity.” The geo-strategic importance of the state for its neighboring and sharing trade routes with Central Asia had attracted the attention of the British strategists about a century earlier to the departure of the British from the subcontinent lock, stock and barrel.
Some historian even today believe that it was for emotional bonds with Kashmir that first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to see Kashmir as a part of India. This might have been a factor. Nevertheless, history throws ample evidence to suggest, ‘it was not his personal passion for Kashmir that affected his political and diplomatic judgment.’ Primacy of Kashmir for Sardar Patel had more to do with its geographical location and Nehru was also fully conscious about the strategic importance of the state. Besides, geo-strategic factors Wolpert writes it, “Nehru was not only obsessed with protecting and at all costs defending Kashmir, but believed, as did Patel, that the war on Kashmir would swiftly bankrupt Pakistan”. Nehru after taking the Kashmir to the United Nations was looking for partition of the state. He did not only suggest it to Liaquat Ali Khan but wrote a detailed letter to Maharaja Hari Singh. In his letter to Maharaja Hari Singh ‘the Indian Prime Minister, outlined the various forms of a settlement could take. There could be a plebiscite for the whole state, to decide which dominion to join. Or the state could survive as an independent entity, with its defence guaranteed by both India and Pakistan. A third option was a partition, with Jammu going to India, and the rest of the state to Pakistan. A fourth option could had Jammu and Valley staying with India, with Poonch and beyond ceded to Pakistan’. Commenting on this letter Ramachandra Guha writes, “It shows that, contrary to received wisdom, the Indian Prime Minister, was quite prepared to compromise on Kashmir. Indeed, the four options he outlined in December 1947 remain four options today. (India After Gandhi).
Nehru’s compromising approach could have crystallized into final settlement of Kashmir problem but for the cold war taking its taking its toll. Kashmir for it geographical location gained centrality in South Asia during the cold war. ‘Numerous historic opportunities were lost to resolve the stalemate on Kashmir, suggest declassified British papers. “The concession from both the sides under UN auspices, as initially agreed by them” writes Iftikhar Malik, “could have helped South Asia avert a continuum of unnecessary tragedies that were to befall on its peoples.” In the wake of Sino-India war of 1962, Pakistan was disenchanted ‘with its Western allies, who did not accord the expected diplomatic support over Kashmir.’ Frank Morass writes that after Nehru’s death Russia’s attitude towards Kashmir changed but fact of the matter remains that it did not help in the resolution of the Kashmir problem.
Even after the end of the cold war the geo-strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir did not diminish but increased.
It could not escape impact of Soviet invasion on Afghanistan and defeat of Soviet troops by Afghan Mujahedeen. Many US think tanks during the past couple of years for geostrategic importance of the state have been looking at resolution of Kashmir as gateway to peace in Afghanistan and South Asia. The year 2014, when US troops will be withdrawing from Afghanistan will be important for entire region. The developments in Kabul will influence India-Pakistan relations as well and these also hold a promise for nudging the two countries to the negotiating table on Kashmir.
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