Regional geopolitics: Kashmir geopolitical perspective

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in 1947 because of the differing nationalist ideologies that they subscribe to. The conflict over Kashmir between Pakistan and India was waged in three wars. Both countries felt that the territory belonged to them completely.

But people in Kashmir are hoping that life starts returning to normal. Ever since the Indian government revoked the territory’s limited autonomy, millions of Kashmiris have been cut off from the outside world, living without internet or phone services. But Kashmir is no stranger to unrest.

The valley of Kashmir lies between the vast regions of Central and South Asia and its history has been shaped by the social and political trends of both these regions. During the late medieval era, it was swept by the Sufi influences of Central Asia which mingled with its indigenous Sanskritic culture and forged a unique brand of moderate, artistic and accommodating Islam. In modern times however, it is essentially the political spontaneity of these two regions that has had the greatest impact on this valley. Located in the middle of highly militaristic and nuclear armed nations — India, Pakistan and China, it has become a theatre of fierce geopolitical activity as each player tries to gain an upper hand in the region. Often dubbed as the Nuclear Flashpoint of Asia, the valley of Kashmir today deserves much greater attention of the global community than ever before.

A little perspective from its history

After the withdrawal of the British from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, there was a scramble between the newly created India and Pakistan for the occupation of the then princely state of Kashmir. Despite being a Muslim majority state, the tallest leader of the valley, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, apprehensive about his own political future under the domineering Jinnah of Pakistan, threw in his lot with the Hindu majority India where Nehru promised him extraordinary federal powers through legal instruments like Article 370. Sheikh would however inherit a fragmented Kashmir with chunks of its western areas, i.e. Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, seized by Pakistan in a hasty raid of October 1947. Subsequently, the sparsely populated eastern expanse of Aksai Chin, an area contiguous with the Tibetan plateau, was occupied by China through the 1950s and 60s.

The Indo-Pakistani war ended in 1947 with an UN-mediated ceasefire that set up its forces in an Interzone called the Line of Surveillance. After further fighting in the wars of 1965 and 1971, the Simla Agreement formally established a line of control between the territories under the control of the two nations.

Over the years, the extraordinary federal powers promised by India eroded away but Sheikh continued to remain the undisputed leader and also the lynchpin of Kashmir’s relationship with India. His death in 1982 left his party National Conference rudderless and created a serious power vacuum in Kashmir. This was happening in the backdrop of a significant Islamic revivalist movement in the region.

In 1979, under the immensely popular leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, the spectacular Iranian Revolution had toppled the pro-West monarch and led to the establishment of an Islamic Republic there. In Pakistan, the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq was taking vast measures for Islamization of the society and the body-politic. As a key American ally in the region, General Zia received enormous funding and weapons to organize the Mujahideen who were to be trained in Pakistan and sent into Afghanistan to fight the ‘atheist’ Soviet occupation there. A sentiment to reclaim Muslim territories under the occupation of non-Islamic forces was rife and was beginning to percolate into Kashmir. Rise of the Muslim United Front (a party that demanded the introduction of the Sharia law in its rallies) was a reflection of this growing Islamic sentiment in the politics of Kashmir.

However, in the 1987 state elections, the MUF could manage to win only a few seats due to widespread poll rigging by the anxious National Conference regime. The disaffected members of this party along with their massive following immediately turned to separatism from India.

Over the years, the extraordinary federal powers promised by India eroded away but Sheikh continued to remain the undisputed leader and also the lynchpin of Kashmir’s relationship with India. His death in 1982 left his party National Conference rudderless and created a serious power vacuum in Kashmir. This was happening in the backdrop of a significant Islamic revivalist movement in the region.

In 1979, under the immensely popular leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, the spectacular Iranian Revolution had toppled the pro-West monarch and led to the establishment of an Islamic Republic there.

In Pakistan, the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq was taking vast measures for Islamization of the society and the body-politic. As a key American ally in the region, General Zia received enormous funding and weapons to organize the Mujahideen who were to be trained in Pakistan and sent into Afghanistan to fight the ‘atheist’ Soviet occupation there.

A sentiment to reclaim Muslim territories under the occupation of non-Islamic forces was rife and was beginning to percolate into Kashmir. Rise of the Muslim United Front (a party that demanded the introduction of the Sharia law in its rallies) was a reflection of this growing Islamic sentiment in the politics of Kashmir.

However, in the 1987 state elections, the MUF could manage to win only a few seats due to widespread poll rigging by the anxious National Conference regime. The disaffected members of this party along with their massive following immediately turned to separatism from India.

This was exactly the opening that Pakistan had been waiting for! By the late 1980s the war in Afghanistan was coming to an end and the euphoric Mujahideen were returning after having decisively defeated and expelled the mighty Soviets. Emboldened after a successful Jihad in Afghanistan, they were only glad to be redirected by Pakistan to now fight against the ‘infidel’ Indian occupation forces in Kashmir.

Azad Kashmir

In 1989, backed by surplus American funding and weapons, Pakistan launched the Kashmir insurgency in full earnest. A string of training camps were established in Azad Kashmir where the fresh militia would be trained and then infiltrated into India across a very difficult hilly terrain which had numerous tracks and passes that were impossible to guard.

After entering the towns and villages, the militia would try to loosen the administrative and police control of the Indian government by a series of abductions and assassinations of key officials and local politicians. This quickly discouraged the local Kashmiris from participating in the political process under the Indian setup. Many prominent workers of political parties announced their retirement from politics and their non-affiliation to any party through local newspapers.

India reacted to this emergency by drastically increasing its armed presence in Kashmir. The army not only enhanced its guard on the borders but also encamped in towns and villages. Armed presence amidst civilian settlements, as was seen in conflict zones like Vietnam, led to inevitable human rights violations.

The conflict in Kashmir, explained
Vox Mar 21, 2019

This further fuelled the resentment of Kashmiris against the Indian government while the militants began to be hailed as heroes who were fighting for the just cause of liberating the valley from oppression. Public support to the militants, both indigenous and Pakistani, became the most critical aspect of the Kashmir insurgency and posed a formidable challenge to the Indian troops, creating a vicious cycle of encounters followed by violent protests and civilian killings.

In 1999, an armed conflict between the two countries broke out again in Kargil, which did not change the situation on the ground. It is important to note that Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1994, so this fact also brought balance to the relations between the two countries.

Geopolitical significance of Kashmir

The conflict between the two countries mainly causes the involvement of other countries, both to resolve and suppress the conflict, and for their interests. War is the most primitive form of conflict resolution. However, there are geopolitical points in the world that, due to their strategic value, are an important aspect of the relationship between states and continents, so military conflicts are difficult to avoid. Political conflicts, which often result in wars, primarily disrupt domestic and world security, and consequently endanger the health of the population, destroy the economy, education, energy security and create an impossible flow of food to populations.

Every war in the world is especially felt in developing countries. If the conflicting countries are also nuclear powers, then they automatically become the main topic of the international community. One of the most important geopolitical points with strategic value in the world is the wider area of Kashmir, which is located between the three nuclear powers of India, Pakistan, and China. Kashmir also borders Afghanistan, which is located at the crossroads connecting South and Central Asia, while Central Asia is itself a geographical bridge between Europe and other parts of Asia.

That is why Kashmir has a unique geopolitical status. Additional importance to this region is given by the access of Pakistan and India to the Arabian Sea, which gives them a direct connection with the maritime corridors and the Persian Gulf itself. We should not forget the fact that today unhindered traffic both by land and sea is just as valuable as the goods and services themselves that are transported through these corridors. The accelerated process of globalization has changed a lot and thus increased the value of sea and land routes.

The traffic enables the circulation of money and the corridors’ unhindered flow. That is why the great geopolitical feature today is precisely transport, within which the transport of oil and water, as energy drivers of the present and the future, are at the very top. The territory is valuable, along with oil and water, as much as it is connected to the rest of the world. Considering all the above, Kashmir is a vital component of China’s national interests, especially because of the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Perspectives views from India

India without Kashmir would not have such a significant position on the map of Central Asia, in that case, it would not have a connection to land trade routes. Control of the area provides a valuable advantage in positioning all sides, where we should not forget the proximity of Tajikistan, which still has strong ties with Russia.

Although India is much larger than its northern neighbor, it still has a less favorable geographical position in the context of China’s new land transport infrastructure investment plans. That is why India is trying to connect with the trade route through Afghanistan, which leads through Central Asia to Russia and Europe.

India sells a good part of its goods to world markets via the Arabian Sea and Iranian ports. Through Kashmir, India would have direct access to the same land routes that Pakistan has. In their endeavors better positioned in the region and on the global stage, India has the support of Japan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, France, Bhutan, Australia, Afghanistan, Canada, North Korea, and the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s economy is integrated into world trade with strong trade ties with the European Union, but also with Asia. Pakistan has a very important strategic position given that it is on the way of the main maritime and land transport connections going from Central Asia and the Middle East to the center of South and East Asia. Stretching along with the Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative) as well as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), they make this country an even more significant crossroads.

Pakistan has developed very close diplomatic relations not only with the People’s Republic of China but also with Turkey and the Arab states.

Relations with the United States are volatile due to differences in interests during the Cold War and the war on terror.

Based on all given, it is clear why the security of Kashmir is important for the national interests of both Pakistan and India. Although not a direct participant in the conflict in the region, China is very interested in stability in that part of the world. A strong and developed economy of any country, especially of populous countries like these three, is not possible without secure transport corridors through which goods, capital, and people pass.

All countries around Kashmir are very aware of that, and in principle, none of them is interested in a conflict, but also in deviating from the territory. The question of how to achieve the rule of law and lasting peace and stability on this piece of land remains unanswered.

Read more:

Kashmir: A Water War in the Making? Pakistan and India are locked in a bitter water conflict centered on the explosive Kashmir issue, The Diplomat

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