Jun 9, 2007

What if Nehru Never Took the Kashmir Issue to the UN?

Vikram Sood, former head of RAW in an article writes on the major implications of Nehru's first blunder.

From the 1970s, Pakistan began trying to detach Gilgit and Baltistan from the rest of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). By 1982, General Zia was suggesting that while the question of Kashmir could be examined afresh, Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu were an integral part of Pakistan and were separate from POK. Pakistan gradually tightened its hold on the region. Dissent and nationalism have been suppressed with singleminded ruthlessness. There has been systematic discrimination against the locals and Sunni Pathans imported to offset the Shias of Gilgit and Baltistan to change demographic patterns.

In the early 1980s, Pakistan made serious attempts to move from Skardu towards the Karakoram Pass near Aksai Chin. This intended linking with Shahidullah on the Kashgar-Shigatse road that goes through Aksai Chin and runs parallel to the Tibet-India border would have enabled an outflanking of India in Ladakh. Alarmed at this, India asserted that the Karachi Agreement of 1949, which stipulated that the Line of Control (LoC) would run north towards the glaciers from Pt NJ 9842, be fully implemented. North meant the true north and also meant the Siachen Glacier, not the Karakoram Pass, which is north-east from NJ 9842. Troops had to be sent to the Saltoro Ridge to ensure this. Later, in 1994, the Lahore High Court ruled that administrative separation of these areas from the rest of POK was illegal; the Pakistani authorities had the Supreme Court overturn this in 1996.

There are good strategic reasons why Pakistan has followed this policy. The mighty Indus that irrigates Pakistani Punjab passes much of its distance in India through Ladakh and then Baltistan and Gilgit. Imagine for a moment if today the entire J&K were with India. We would have a border with Afghanistan and the Wakhan Corridor would have provided access to Central Asia. India would have had a border with Chitral, Swat and Hazara districts of the NWFP. The Karakoram Highway, which enters China at the Khunjerab Pass and through which Pakistan has acquired strategic material, would not have been built. Pakistan would not have had direct access to China. Pakistan may have its own reasons to keep the Kashmir issue alive. But it wants the world to assume that Gilgit and Baltistan is a settled issue - settled in favour of Pakistan.

China, too, would be interested that Pakistan has total control over Gilgit and Baltistan. Otherwise the $ 298 million investment in the development of Gwadar is a financial or strategic waste. Xinjiang is only 2,500 km away from the Arabian seaport of Gwadar. On the other hand, it is 4,500 km away from the Chinese east coast. A fully developed port at Gwadar would help in the economic development of Xinjiang. Gas and oil pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang and Tibet would enable China to overcome the uncertainty of sealanes from the Persian Gulf through the Malacca Straits patrolled by the US. Therewill be a special SEZ for China in Gwadar.

China has set aside $ 150 million to upgrade the Karakoram Highway and widen it from 10 metres to 30 metres for heavy vehicles in all-weather conditions. A rail link is also planned in the region with technical advice from an Austrian firm to connect Pakistan and China. This link will be connected further south into the main Pakistani rail grid. Fibre optic cables are being laid. An Islamabad Kashgar bus service will start from August 1.

Both China and Pakistan are getting ready for an economic boom that will include transit trade to Central Asia. The Pakistani Army's National Logistics Cell, which has a near monopoly, will handle this freight traffic all the way up to Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. There is money to be made. Thus development of both Gwadar and control of Gilgit and Baltistan are interlinked and the Pakistani Army will gain financially from both. In fact, it is going to be a financial bonanza for the already huge corporate interests of the Pakistani Army. All this is being done by using territory that we say is an inalienable part of India.

In retrospect, it can be said that it was a mistake to have halted our troops at Uri and Gurez in 1948. It was a blunder to have then gone to the UN for succour. But it would be a strategic catastrophe to withdraw from Siachen without the entire issue of J&K satisfactorily and unequivocally resolved. Since distortion of facts is possible, a mere signing of documents about the Agreed Ground Position Lines would not be an adequate guarantee enabling troop withdrawals.[Vikram Sood]

With China's strategy of encircling India with its strategic string of pearls, India too should have some strategic pressure points that can make China vulnerable. India should not waste anytime in making the Karakoram Highway this very pressure point. And RAW should be very active in the Northern Areas.

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