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Chasing the dragon: Perils of confrontation north and west
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
The 1947 partition of the sub-continent left behind a bloody legacy that continues to haunt endlessly. The un-erasable shame of the memory of butchery of people by fanatics is not the only reason. Bitterness of the past, lack of mutual confidence and security concerns have engendered hostilities and wars, forbidding peace and regional co-operation; thus impacting ordinary lives of peoples caught within the spatial territories called nation-states. The impact of hostilities is further accentuated in the border lands which are far more complex areas and often contested territories. These border-lands are not just spaces where militaries are positioned to defend the respective territories of the nation-states but these are fault-lines where real people live. Hostility continues to chart a narrative for these people where normalcy has a completely different definition. These spaces are markers of hatred, militarization, excessive military presence to the point that ordinary citizens become mere appendages and expendables caught in the quagmire of military hostility, human rights crisis and deprivation of basic human necessities.

Jammu and Kashmir suffers the most aggravated form of hostility and militarization. The contested boundaries of and within Jammu and Kashmir, including both the International Border (IB) and the Line of Control (LoC) are an exceptional case; where people witness the most aggravated form of hostility between the two countries. The unresolved Kashmir conflict is both exacerbated by and contributes to the conflagration on the borders. The insecurities and victimization of people have mutated and transferred from generations since 1947-48, when the cartographic lines on the map and the imagined cartographies carved out a militarised destiny for them.

The latest China dimension to the story, with all its elements of border confrontation in Arunachal, Doklam and Uttarakhand as well as the rhetoric of intervention in Kashmir, is yet another reminder that the tragic tale that began much before 1947 is too significant to be discarded as a sub-text of the India-Pakistan relations, and that it has vast potential to shape the future of rest of the sub-continent. It is also a reminder that the border confrontations have too many stake-holders including the people living in border regions who have no control over their destinies impacted as they are by the machinations and politics of the powerful states involved. China may have got directly drawn into Kashmir when Pakistan handed over a part of the territory annexed in 1947-48 to it. But the border dispute with the mighty dragon, along the Himalayan region, existed much before India and Pakistan became two independent states, to be added by Bangladesh later in 1971.

The Himalayan region has a fascinating history that predates the British empire that by and large gave finality to the shape that united India, and thereafter, two separate states of India and Pakistan, took. Since ancient times, it both acted as a natural barrier for conquerors from the north and provided them routes. The passes in the Himalayan belt have historically, and significantly so, been gateways of not just conquests but also of interaction - economic and social as they also brought traders, thinkers, travelers and displaced communities. This historic significance of the Himalayan belt and its increased strategic worth in the present geo-political context also enhances its vulnerability.

It is this reality that links Kashmir question to not just the more talked about India-Pakistan dispute, of which it is both a cause and a consequence, but also the Chinese syndrome. China shares 3500 kilometre boundary with India, along the Himalayan region. Bhutan and Nepal are crucial stakeholders but stand dwarfed by the ambitions and politics of the more powerful ones. Their fortunes are impacted as much as those of the border people who bear the brunt of the face-offs due to the mind-games played by the larger nation states like India and China. Doklam, which has become the focal point of the present bout of belligerence is a Bhutanese territory. While Bhutan's own claims get completely over-shadowed and dwarfed, India has opposed Chinese attempts to construct a road in the corridor and pushed up its army formations to which China has objected. The confrontation has triggered similar stand-offs in other parts of the border and China has sought to catch India on the back-foot by raking up Kashmir.

Hostile climate, propelled by rigid posturing, is not good for either side or any of the less powerful and voiceless stakeholders. That war is being considered as an option is frightening and adding to the panic. Forget the power of the mighty dragon which enhances anxieties in India, even the Indian Army and the Air Force are not on the same page with respect to war preparedness. Some military experts have also pointed to the exaggerated sense of strategic insecurity that Doklam corridor has triggered. More importantly, war really is not an option when recourse to dialogue and negotiations have not really been tried enough.

Let one not forget that the case of New Delhi's increasing belligerence towards its western neighbour has not minimized but enhanced the sense of insecurity. Since 2013, particularly since 2014, heightened tensions amidst an extremely militant ultra-nationalistic and jingoistic discourse have exacted a huge toll on the border people. Civilian casualties are almost at an all time high with trigger happy armies trying to outdo each other in not just emptying cartridges in their guns or killing each other but also in killing unsuspecting civilians in their homes. Whoever starts the first fire, there is a tendency on both sides to respond in the similar coin. Coincidentally, soldiers are killed for soldiers; civilians for civilians. The situation is particularly precarious with the region being a nuclear flashpoint; and the deteriorating and intensifying Kashmir's internal situation. Added to this, war-mongering right wing government in India and a lack of clear authority in Pakistan with military often having an upper hand, Jammu and Kashmir's borders keep everyone on tenterhooks. Even if a full-fledged war is unlikely, any status quo means the constant element of violence, military, shadow of guns and uncertainty ahead.

The euphoria over surgical strikes is just about a year old, enough time to introspect that what was celebrated as victory last year has only ended up peaking hostilities on the borders with ceasefire violations becoming the norm. Union minister Arun Jaitley informed the parliament this week that the number of violations have gone up from 228 in 2016 to 285. These statistics vary from the previously available replies of the government in Lok Sabha and the parliamentary committee report which put the ceasefire violations in 2013 to 347, 583 incidents in 2014, 405 in 2015 and 449 in 2016. In any case, violence and hostility on the borders has stepped up hugely since the present BJP government assumed the reins of power, revealing the direct correlation between hawkishness and levels of violence. This hike in violence should serve as a lesson of exercising caution and desisting from any mis-adventure on India's northern frontiers, the consequences of which will be far more disastrous.

Writing about the confrontation with China, noted academic and analyst, Prof Sidiq Wahid, highlights the need to view the "entire Himalaya as a complex seam of cultures fraught with potential for conflict between two ambitious demographic giants". There is also need to go beyond connecting the Himalayan region confrontations. Pragmatism demands linking up India's dispute on the western and the northern fronts. Kashmir is a common and central figure in both. Denial may serve no purpose when China holds a part of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The territorial aspect of the dispute (much of its being political) finds a common ground with the rest of the boundaries along the Himalayas. An understanding by viewing the larger picture will make the possibility and success of military solutions even more unlikely. The solution to all these pending disputes lies only in a sustainable dialogue between not just India and Pakistan, as well as bringing people of Jammu and Kashmir on board, but also by allowing China to step in and make the process more meaningful. The question that remains to be grappled with is not whether this should be done or not but how the ground work for this should be laid.

News Updated at : Sunday, August 6, 2017
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