Counterpoint Kashmir: CPEC & more
CPEC is developing fast against the backdrop of Kashmir-centred turmoil.
China, yet again, refused to make any specific comment about Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan Order and reiterated that the matter is a bilateral one between India and Pakistan. This is a small diplomatic wonder considering that China ceded Jammu and Kashmir's Trans-Karakoram Tract from Pakistan in 1963 and exercises sovereignty over it. Pakistan's move to exercise administrative control in Gilgit-Baltistan beyond Kashmir is understood to be for the purpose of establishing greater authority in the disputed region for better and unhindered execution of the USD 30 million China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. It is for business that territorial disputes are once again raked up. The history of how Gilgit and Baltistan fell in the hands of Pakistan is an interesting one.
Distinct from PoK (what is called Azad Kashmir on the other side), Pakistan was handed possession of the northwestern region of Jammu and Kashmir by connivance of the British officials of the Maharaja of the Princely state. Considering the formation of USSR in 1917 and the changing global power equation, the British took Gilgit Agency (one of the five regions of Jammu and Kashmir which is now effectively reduced to just three) on a 60-year lease for strategic reasons in 1935. With the happening of the Partition, Gilgit Agency was returned to the Maharaja upon Independence. Under the lease, Gilgit-Baltistan was protected by Gilgit Scouts, a British-controlled force. After the British terminated the lease, they loaned two of their officers to the Maharaja to look after the defence of Gilgit-Baltistan till an alternative arrangement was made. After Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 31, 1947, one officer revolted, captured the king's Governor and informed his British superior of the decision to accede to Pakistan. This decision was prompted keeping in consideration the response of the Arab nations. It was important to not provoke oil-rich states by taking an ('anti-Muslim') stand against Pakistan. Thus, the Pakistani forces occupied Gilgit-Baltistan on November 4. This sequence of events foreboded the politicisation of religion in the region.
On May 21, a fortnight back, Pakistan Cabinet approved the Gilgit-Baltistan Order which the region is reported to be in consonance with. This Order is for incorporating the region as Pakistan's fifth province. Naturally, India has strong reservation against this for its fundamental illegality. Gilgit-Baltistan has been treated as a separate geographical entity by Pakistani governments and finds no mention in Pakistan's Constitution. On the contrary, the Indian Constitution has special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir, and the exceptionally allowed Constitution of J&K acknowledges its Accession to the Union of India and its relation with it as an integral part to secure the territorial entity.
Pakistan has successfully established its influence in Gilgit-Baltistan region and has altered its ethnic composition to suit its agenda after Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 70's abrogated the State Subject Rule to allow Sunni Muslims to settle in the Shia-prominent region. Cases of human rights violation and massacres abound but do not find sufficient voice, and are almost never highlighted for political mileage the way violence in Kashmir valley is by Pakistan and foreign media. India has been continually refraining from making any critical move with regard to settlement – not establishment – in Kashmir and it is demographically left unattended from the side of the Centre. An "integral" part of the nation cannot be truly integral without being integrated into the nation. One-third of the state dominates the politics of the entire state. Ironically, on the international front, this dynamic isolates the Kashmir region.
Separatist leaders assert that apart from the people of J&K and Indian Union, Pakistan is a stakeholder in the matter. Insisting on Pakistan's 'stake' in the state is to negate the state's voluntary accession to India. The local politics of the valley compounds the conflict more than anything else. The release of 634 stone-pelters by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, just before the outbreak of street violence in Kashmir in July 2016 in an amnesty scheme is suspected of clandestine motives. A protestor that was run over and killed by a CRPF vehicle was at the "weekly stone-throwing demonstrations", as reported by Al Jazeera. The politics of stone-pelting is exploited for separatist intents. Not all denizens subscribe to the separatist ideology but dissent against that is quelled perforce; non-conformists would be hunted down and killed by terrorists if they did, as many have been.
The separatist cause is a hoax. A hypothetically separate Kashmir will also need the basic necessities to sustain its economy, society, and people. If those essentials can be ensured then, what stops them from coming about now? The separatist confederate gets amply funded by the Indian Union to do the job outsourced to the state. There is also plenty of financial aid streaming in from Pakistan to aggravate and nurture anti-India sentiment by means of terror. A separate Kashmir will cut the massive funds from both sources. A Kashmir annexed by Pakistan will still not be the free and peaceful place that is romanticised about. It is common to see Pakistan's flag waved as a symbol of resistance during protests but the J&K state flag never makes an appearance. The separatist agenda has little concern for the people who are at the receiving end of politics of indifference and occupation. The disdain and lack of fear of the security forces is a factor that instigates unrestrained protests which, in turn, keep the forces engaged in bringing rebelling civilians under control. Law and order is not a military matter but a governance issue. The constant news updates dedicated exclusively to the conflict serves to only desensitise and stoke more alienation.
Internationalising the dispute is a distraction to bide time. China vouches for remarkable development in the region that the disputing states did not count as a priority. China assures that Gilgit-Baltistan will draw huge economic gains from cooperation and this will facilitate peace and prosperity. Although this collaboration has incited a conflict within the small Pakistani left, there seems to be little they could do as it is China that calls the shots. Pakistan depends heavily on Chinese armaments and it is not spared from China's debt-trap diplomacy since USA announced to cut security assistance of over USD 1 billion. This has paved the way for Pakistan's entry into the relentlessly expansionist China's orbit. CPEC is developing fast against this backdrop of Kashmir-centred turmoil. The lack of political will to resolve the Kashmir conflict is turning out to be more unforgiving— and now in a severer way.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The Views expressed are strictly personal)