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China's long shadow: Kashmir narrative is being hijacked by Beijing, New Delhi must be on its guard

An ominous script is being prepared, which could be deployed to try and rivet the negative attention of world powers on Kashmir. According to this new narrative, Indian forces are using chemical weapons, specifically to 'dissolve' and render bodies unrecognisable in Kashmir.

File photo of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Reuters

File photo of Xi Jinping. Reuters

This narrative surfaced for the first time earlier this month: A little before China’s intervention came to the fore. So audacious have these intertwined strands become that the Pakistani extremist Islamist outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, has officially adopted and promoted both in tandem.

Immediately after asserting its appreciation of China’s "immense militarily and moral diplomatic support to the freedom struggle of Kashmir," it stated that "India has been using deadly chemicals weapons on innocents since long (sic). The houses and properties are destroyed under the disguise of fake search operations while the bodies of victims are dissolved with chemical weapons, rendering them unidentifiable.’

Lashkar also endorsed Chinese suzerainty in the region: "China is the key player in this region and can play a vital role in its stability. We urge them to take more steps so as to pressurise India in implementation of UN resolutions and expose the barbarism of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir.’

Abdullah Ghazanvi, the militant outfit’s spokesman, issued this statement on 14 July on the behalf of Lashkar chief Mahmood Shah.

The statement indicates that China did not use its veto to prevent the UN from naming Lashkar founder Hafeez Saeed as a 'terrorist' just to please its ally Pakistan.

Analysts ought to examine whether the sophistication of the attack on Mumbai in November 2008 could have stemmed from Chinese training and logistics. Which ought to lead to further questions about how much US intelligence agencies knew of the involvement in the Mumbai attack of a US citizen of part-Pakistani descent, David Headley.

Horrific precedent

If this chemical weapons narrative gathers steam, China could seek to use it to horrify and harness world opinion against India. The US has provided potent examples for this. It demonised Iraq over chemical weapons before invading it in 2003. And it used reports about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime to attack Syrian military installations earlier this year.

China’s massive investments in a wide variety of countries around the world gives it leverage to influence what they might say at the UN and elsewhere. These include many African countries, which are already deeply distressed over racist attacks against African expatriates in places such as Noida.

The government and various security-related think-tanks appear to have underestimated the range and potency of recent international antagonism against India over Kashmir. It is unprecedented.

Last week, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei all but urged a struggle against India over Kashmir. And not long ago, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered to mediate between India and Pakistan while on an official visit to India.

Already, it is clear that Russia stands with the China-Pakistan axis, while it is not clear what the US will do (on anything) under President Donald Trump. One hears disturbing reports about what other important powers are up to.

Conflict economy

Narratives about human rights abuses in Kashmir have generally had a free run. The gamut of Indian agencies have watched while narratives about mass graves, mass rapes, mass disappearances and half-widows have become run of the mill since 2008. Some key officials and functionaries have even facilitated such narratives: Which tend to keep the lucrative conflict economy in place.

There is no doubt that disappearances, rapes, and killings have taken place in Kashmir, particularly during the 1990s. Ironically, very little notice was taken of these at the time. The narratives got going after the Vajpayee-Musharraf peace process.

In fact, most Kashmiris were acutely aware around the mid-90s (before the depredations of mercenaries and police Special Operations Group kicked in) that violations had taken place from both sides. By and large, rural people were keenly aware of the complexity of the truth regarding abuse. Which was reflected in voter turnout.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 07:12 AM

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