"Remove the 'r' from chinar and what do you get?" This is the sort of cryptic reference one gets these days to what might ensue in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Already, China controls the vast Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest of the state, which Pakistan formally declared to be its fifth province recently.
China’s strategic objectives with regard to the rest of the state are not entirely clear. It really is time for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to gird itself for the extremely tough and challenging diplomatic engagements over the troubled state.
It is quite possible that the Kashmir issue will figure prominently at this year’s United Nations General Assembly. While India may be used to answering Pakistan with aplomb, the range of supporters for China’s cause may prove to be another matter altogether.
China has influence in many parts of the world. This includes a large number of African nations, many of whom have been deeply upset in recent months about the treatment of African expatriates in India.
Already, photographs and videos from Kashmir have shaped strong sympathy for the cause of Kashmiri independence across the world. Leading western media platforms, including The New York Times, have weighed in strongly on the issue.
The government not only needs to respond with far greater sensitivity on the ground, it also needs to change its mindset with regard to its external opponent. Focusing on Pakistan as a specific country is inadequate. It is a Sino-Pak axis that stares India in the eyes.
That axis has evolved gradually over the past 54 years. Even if it was possible to avoid ostrich-like to acknowledge that in the past, it has loomed unavoidably large since last year.
Viewing the issue through the prism of religion-based antagonism has greatly damaged India’s cause. The worst part of this is that this prism is a major part of our ruling strategists’ equipment.
On the ground in Kashmir, there have been several straws in the wind over the the past couple of years to indicate that the issue has plugged into the unstated but the obvious Sino-Indian rivalry over future strength vis-a-vis each other.
A Chinese flag was put up by protestors in Baramulla last year. And one has occasionally come across even villagers talking of Chinese claims and interests in Kashmir.
There can be no getting away from the fact that the state is central to the CPEC project in which Chinese President Xi Jinping has invested much money and personal prestige. The Sino-Pak relationship has deepened into one of the most important ones in the emerging world.
China has periodically sent troops into India-controlled parts of the state since late 2008. India has termed these invasions as "intrusions," but there is no getting away from the fact that China’s intentions with regard to the state are not benign. It also stopped accepting the Indian passports of residents of the state for a while in 2009.
One hears there was another "intrusion" in Chushul on 25 April. This is where Chinese troops arrived in 1962 too. The need for careful assessment and preparations have increased after China’s angry reactions to the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh.
Trio of ministries
The unfolding situation in the Kashmir Valley too must be viewed in the light of the geostrategic context.
It was already clear immediately after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed last July that the Home Ministry had failed comprehensively. It was time already then for the Defence Ministry to pull up its socks.
It has now become clear that, while the Defence Ministry needs to make very urgent preparations, it is already time for the third of the central ministries that have traditionally handled Kashmir, MEA, to also pull its act together, urgently.
Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 20:16 PM