EDITORIAL. Cecil Victor. X.III. X
Not by abdication
by CECIL VICTOR
Most Indians are thoroughly confused over what exactly are we negotiating with Pakistan and China. With Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spoken of “making borders irrelevant”. Irrelevant as in having 11,000 Chinese troops disguised as labourers in the Gilgit valley of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir? They are upgrading the Karakoram Highway and broadening it. They are laying the foundations of a railway line and a gas and petroleum conduit connecting Chinese Xianjiang to Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Iranian oilfields, respectively. When these are completed it is India that will become irrelevant.
With China we have been trying to settle the Himalayan border through talks. The only “progress” that has taken place is that China now claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh not just the Tawang tract and they are painting their names on rocks in the central sector along the UP border. Which makes us wonder where are the Indian border guards while this happens? We have been made to believe that if we put the border issue aside and improve trade and other links there will be peace and tranquility between the two nations. We have been left sucking that lollipop and gazing at our reflection in the incredible blueness of the Panggong Lake even as the ground is being dug away from under our feet.
Even as Pakistan and its catspaw in the Kashmir valley, the Hurriyat Conference, are demanding that India should declare that Jammu and Kashmir is “disputed territory”, Minister of External Affairs S.M.Krishna did finally reiterate that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. That can only be small consolation for Indians because one never knows the true meaning of “making borders irrelevant” or what was going on with untrustworthy interlocutors through “back channels” and track II diplomacy over the past decade when General Musharraf was whispering sweet nothings into our ears and the Chinese were marching down towards Gwadar port and wrapping a “string of pearls” around our neck.
We came back from Shram-el-Sheikh grinning from ear to ear after accepting the odium of sponsoring terrorism in Balochistan! If we are involved in Balochistan then we should do a better job and go wholehog and execute another Bangladesh. Or do we have to rue the passing away of Indira Gandhi every minute of our lives?
While Pakistan and China regularly complain of what we do in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh we have not raised a squeek about what the Chinese are doing to Tibetans in Tibet or the Uighars of Xianjiang or the construction activity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan openly threatened to use nuclear weapons against us to prevent us from dislodging the Pakistan Army Northern Light Infantry from the Kargil-Dras salient overlooking the Line of Control in 1999.
It is time we changed the script. A strong letter of protest ought to be sent to Beijing for its presence and activities in Jammu and Kashmir. If borders are to be irrelevant then India must assert its right to passage across the Karakoram Highway to the Wakhan panhandle for direct access to Afghanistan with which the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir shared about 100 km of border before Pakistan invaded it in 1948. Recently Pakistan signed a trade and transit agreement with Afghanistan allowing Afghan good access to India but not Indian goods to Afghanistan.
India must also protest to the Asian Development Bank over loans given to the People’s Republic of China even as it has sponsored Pakistan’s terrorist activities and is setting up infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which it itself described as “disputed territory”. How can the ADB disburse loans to a nation that is diverting huge sums from its own resources to encourage separatism and illegal occupation by Pakistan. It needs to be recalled that it is Pakistan who is in violation of UN resolution calling on it to withdraw its troops from Jammu and Kashmir.
If, however, in the interest of peace and tranquility in the entire Asian region stretching from the former Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union (now Commonwealth of Independent States) down to the Arabian Sea a modus vivendi can be agreed by India, Pakistan and China to allow India also to utilize the Karokoram Highway and also build a road-rail-pipeline extension through PoK’s border with Afghanistan. That would, more truly, represent the “irrelevance of borders” doctrine enunciated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
This would be a dramatic gamechanger if ever there was one. The European Union would have a land-bridge to the ASEAN!