During six-plus decades of Kashmir issue, China generally maintained silence and let stakeholders guess what her line of thinking about this festering South Asian sore would be. Despite her close and rather clandestine relationship with Pakistan, China did not openly take sides in the dispute, and remained confined to pontification, which was not hurtful either. She has had Tibetan constraint.
But now Beijing’s South Asian think-tank seems to have modified its traditional policy of feigned neutrality. Without focusing on Kashmir dispute as such, sequence of events shows a definite move towards some hitherto unknown agenda in hand.
At a time when under US pressure Pakistan has intensified military operations in Waziristan, China’s increased military movement along our North-East border is meant to boost her morale.
Additionally, China let her border guards deployed along Ladakh-Tibet border make clandestine and provocative forays into Indian territory in Ladakh sector, airdrop some leaflets proffering claim to vast border tracts in Ladakh, and then her soldiers avoiding detection by Indian border post, sneaking into our territory and besmearing stones and rocks with red colour and some Chinese slogans. These are all low-key hostile tactics.
Then there came the news of Chinese embassy issuing visa to Kashmiris on a separate sheet of paper attached to the passport of the applicant. This is a blatant violation of international law and a direct assault on the sovereignty of a state.
These antics show that China has changed her long-standing posture on Kashmir issue, and is now openly pandering to the interests of separatists in the valley.
The sudden and dramatic statement by APHC chief Mirwaiz that he would be visiting China soon has to be understood in the background of above mentioned recent Sino-Indian relations. Mirwaiz’s statement came just a day after President Obama pontificated in Beijing that China had a role in the political affairs of South Asia. Mirwaiz has echoed the spirit of Obama’s Beijing statement.
Let us remember that only a couple of days prior to the announcement, Mirwaiz had met with the Pakistani Ambassador in New Delhi. Mirwaiz’s statement that China has a role in Kashmir dispute is the reverberation of Obama’s subtle and diplomatic pronouncement in Beijing.
As a citizen of India, Mirwaiz cannot be denied passage to Beijing. However, it is for the security staff at the IGI Airport whether rules allow them to let a passenger clear immigration with Chinese visa affixed on a separate sheet and then attached to the passport.
But what should the Mirwaiz be talking to Chinese authorities? We think there are some serious questions. Let us proceed.
The joint Sino-US statement has this crucial sentence.
“The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”
This means that Washington has formally accepted China as co-partner in South Asian strategy without even dropping any hint to the fact that China is in illegal occupation of 5000 square kilometers of Indian territory in Aksai Chin region gifted to her by Pakistan as a result of Sino-Pak Agreement.
Evidently, Washington’s move aims at reassuring Pakistan that two leading world powers do not overlook her larger strategic interests in the region and they are willing to promote them because in their political chemistry India stands excluded as one of the main actors on South Asian political stage. It diminishes India’s chance of finding a berth for the membership of UN Security Council.
Mirwaiz’s surprise statement that China is a stakeholder springs from the Sino-Pak Agreement of 1963 by virtue of which Pakistan gifted away 5000 square kilometers of Aksai-Chin area to the north of Ladakh to China. What Mirwaiz presumably contemplates is to convey to China that in case of settlement of Kashmir issue, his party would not want to raise hackles over the Sino-Pak
Agreement even if Kashmir gets illusory “aazaadi”. If this is what he intends to convey, it would be unpardonable disservice to Kashmir’s movement of sub-regionalism, and betrayal of armed insurgency something which the separatists have been holding dear all the years of turmoil.
Article 6 of Sino Pakistan Border Agreement 1963 says:
‘The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of the sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan.’
In the first, place this agreement violates the UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir, which stipulate that none of the two contesting parties will do anything that changes status quo in Kashmir. By contracting the agreement with a third party, Pakistan has given India the space and justification for rejecting the stipulations like “plebiscite” in the said UN Resolutions. By not contesting the Sino-Pak Resolution, and by raising China as a stakeholder in Kashmir issue, the Hurriyat leader indirectly concedes to India the right to reject plebiscite and attached obligations of Security Council’s Resolutions.
The signatories to the Sino-Pak Agreement have not right to dictate the eventual “sovereign authority” to sign or not to sign any agreement leave aside replacing the present agreement with a fresh one. This makes the Agreement null and void in the eyes of international law. Will Mirwaiz invite the attention of Chinese authorities to the legalities of the issue and jurisprudence of the Agreement when he talks to them as “stakeholder” in his own words?
But it appears that the Mirwaiz has not either read the text of the said agreement carefully so as to analyze its implications or wants to take shelter behind the changed Sino-US strategy on Kashmir essentially initiated by Islamabad. Let us focus attention on some crucial parts of Sino-US statement.
The Mirwaiz should know that it is not without specific context that the joint statement speaks about peace and stability in South Asia. Amusingly, the statement is silent about large-scale unrest in Eastern Turkistan (Xingjian), the Eastern province of China with nearly thirty million Uighur Muslim inhabitants. Recently, almost swept the region in which hundreds of people of two rival ethnic communities, namely Uighur Hanafi Muslims and Han Chinese, clashed fiercely resulting in cold-blooded killing of hundreds and destruction of huge properties. Chinese authorities arrested hundreds of Uighurs, tortured them in prisons, and prosecuted many. Nine of them accused of murder were executed only last week.
Will the Mirwaiz take up the question why China should be worried only about peace and stability in South Asia particularly the sub-continent, and not about Chinese Turkistan where deadly ethnic clashes occurred owing to Beijing’s sustained agenda of settling Hans Chinese ethnic population in the region where historically the Uighur Muslims had been in majority for many centuries, but are now reduced to minority owing to covert demographic change fostered by Beijing. We have very little hope that the Mirwaiz will raise this crucial issue with Chinese authorities. The reason is that he has never spoken about the denial of rights of the people in Gilgit and Baltistan, legally part of India but illegally occupied by Pakistan. He never protested to wholesale demographic change brought about by General Musharraf (as Corps Commander of Northern Areas) in which Sunni Wahhabi Pathans from NWFP were settled in the area in large numbers over-arching the numerical strength of other faiths like Shias, Nurbakhshiyas, Ismailis/Agha Khanis and Ahmadiyyah etc.
Secondly, is Mirwaiz going to ask the Chinese to rescind Sino-Pak Agreement of 1963 and return an area of 5000 square kilometers which originally belonged to the State of Jammu and Kashmir but was clandestinely given away by Pakistan being in control of that part of the state? Likewise, is Mirwaiz going to tell the Chinese to vacate another 6000 square kilometers area illegally occupied by her during Sino-Indian war of 1962?
Lastly, the joint statement says that they will “support the efforts of Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight terrorism”. Is the Mirwaiz going to ask the Chinese to identify the terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Will he remind them what their reaction was when the US decided to pump billions worth arms, ammunition and war material into Pakistan for transmission to Afghan mujahideen during the regime of General Zia? Will he remind them that two years ago Beijing arrested many fundamentalists operating in her eastern province and identified some of them with Pakistani nationality, executing two and deporting others to Pakistan? These questions will help Mirwaiz understand his hosts better and how he should proceed in his deliberations with them.
The author is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, J&K, India.