Did China act hastily in India-Pak row over J&K?

China did not have a case for taking the Kashmir matter to the United Nations Security Council.

Articles 370 and 35A became applicable to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) by a sovereign decision of Indian Parliament several years after a cease fire as also the UN Security Council Resolution in 1948 (following the first India-Pakistan war). There was no external pressure on India to do so. Its revocation by the government in August 2019 was equally a sovereign decision of both houses of Indian Parliament approved by an overwhelming two-thirds majority.

As it happens, Pakistan violated the 1948 UNSC resolution early on when it unilaterally ceded a portion of the Northern Areas, a disputed territory claimed by India, to China. The transfer of Shaksgam Valley to China amounted to permanent alienation of the territory ceded to a country outside the subcontinent.

China’s support for Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute can be seen as a necessity that is quite delinked from the dispute. It is constructing major infrastructure projects through the disputed territory and is also believed to have sent in thousands of troops, thereby threatening the security of India in an attempt to permanently alter the status of the territory. Therefore, its intervention in the dispute can be reckoned to be mala fide.

There are several objections that have been raised. Let’s address them one by one.

The first is the legality of the move. India, unlike Pakistan or China, has an independent judiciary. Indira Gandhi, one of the most powerful prime ministers of India, was unseated by a judgment of the Allahabad High Court.

The second is that a flood of settlers will swamp Kashmir. This is a future possibility that is dependent on the political, social, and importantly, the economic situation in the state and also a function of government guidelines. China’s record on resettlement is well known. It has always demographically swamped the territories it occupied. In Xinjiang, it is reducing the Uighurs to a minority. The same goes for the Tibetans. It has brutally curtailed the movement, religious freedom, and liberty of these people. So far, most Muslim countries, including Pakistan, have refrained from criticizing China for incarcerating over a million Uighurs in camps.

In the case of Pakistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, over the years, has been settled with ex-servicemen. The original inhabitants are fast being reduced to a minority. For example, there are reckoned to be more Mirpuris in Bradford in the UK than in POK.

The third is the bogey of ethnic cleansing that is being raised. It isn’t clear how a country like Pakistan can dare talk of ethnic cleansing. When the partition of India took place, the Hindu population of Pakistan was 25%. Today it should have naturally grown to 50 million out of Pakistan’s population of 200 million or thereabout. What happened to the missing Hindus over generations? Raped? Killed? Converted? At the same time in India, the Muslim population has grown to over 180 million. There has been a Muslim Chief of the Air Force. Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam remains one of the country’s most revered presidents.

For India and the region, especially Russia, and Central and East Asia, the fallout of happenings in the UNSC last week is a potential setback to the growing India-China bonhomie after Wuhan. A lot of ground will have to be covered between now and October, when the next informal meeting between the leaders of the two countries is scheduled in India.

That China may have been motivated by factors other than just its long-standing relations with Pakistan is a possibility. Was one of them the pressure that the US President has been putting incrementally on China? Has the recent unrest in Hong Kong that does not seem to be coming under control added to its predicament?

Whatever the reason, India has so far refrained for criticising China for its actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, and also been silent on Hong Kong. That is likely to change.

The UNSC meeting itself achieved little. It remained closed door and informal, which means no resolution was passed at the end of it. Still, Pakistan’s representative to the UN and their Prime Minister expressed satisfaction that they had succeeded in internationalizing India’s action, although the fact remains that most members chose to believe India’s position that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral one.

Interestingly, China’s initial reaction to the developments in Kashmir referred only to Ladakh and many in Beijing will believe that the country had unnecessarily alienated India and put the growing warmth in relations between the two under strain. India’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, said that China and Pakistan had passed off “national sentiments as the will of the international community”. He was open about India’s position and also took all questions that came his way after the UNSC meeting. The China and Pakistan representatives chose not to.

(Vinod Saighal, a retired major general is a commentator on strategic affairs and author of Third Millennium Equipoise)

Hindustan Times