‘August 5 Sparked It All’

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A scholar of Central Eurasian and Tibetan history Prof Siddiq Wahid, the former Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology, tells Masood Hussain that the Ladakh happenings are the outcome of the recent decision-making that withdrew the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its quick conversion into two centrally governed territories

Prof Siddiq Wahid

KASHMIR LIFE (KL)Professor, what are we actually witnessing in Ladakh?

PROF SIDDIQ WAHID (SW): What we are witnessing, in the broadest term, is a forced look at maps for the first time in the last 70 years. When people look at a map they see that the non-resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute has caused the ambiguities along the line of actual control (LoAC) and the LoC. It has come into view because, after August 5, 2019, India published maps where it has made certain claims and that are being challenged by China.

KL: Amid incursions, China is now claiming Galwan valley. Is there any historical reference to this claim?

SW: I don’t know whether they are making references to historical texts. We also don’t know if India is making references to them because the talks have been localized between two army generals and not between the two states. And when you don’t know what the parameters of their discussions are it’s very hard to comment.

KL: Everybody is well versed with the LoC but not the LoAC between Indian and Chinese territories. What is the LoAC history?

SW: In this context, history is of the same length as that of LoC. When India and Pakistan were born in August 1947, you suddenly had another state [the state of J&K]that had to be discussed – but never was. I suspect the reason that it was not discussed as much as the LoC was because after 1962 there were no wars along it and there was some understanding reached again. We are not aware of all those understandings, but they did agree that they are not going to shoot at each other with guns. It is amazing that people on the Indian side did not look at a map to see that all the territories they are talking about now – the Pangong lake, Galwan valley, Dulat Beg Oldie, Hot Springs etc. are all areas that fall within the erstwhile former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. So, obviously, it is part of the unresolved dispute [over J&K]situation.

KL: Delhi says that post-partition, Pakistan gifted territory to China. What is the fact?

SW: This is a reference to the Shaksgam valley. It’s ceding by Pakistan was negotiated between Beijing and Islamabad in 1963, with the understanding that the final resolution of what would happen with the Shaksgam valley could be when the Jammu and Kashmir dispute was resolved. China will then negotiate with whoever has Shaksgam valley; that is a fairly open understanding. I think there are some other minor issues as well.

KL: Jammu and Kashmir as a heterogeneous entity has been seen as the illegitimacy of history and the outcome of the Great Game. Is a new Great Game in action?

SW: It is an oversimplification to say that. I hesitate to use terms like the“new great game”, or “new cold war” because these are very catchy phrases, marketing terms. Historically you need to be much more familiar with the story and geography to apply those terms. At base – when they use such terms as the “great game”, the “cold war” or any such – it is, at the base, nothing but power politics with different motives in history. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was all about territory. Today it is all about energy, sources of energy and climate through the water. All these reasons are interconnected now. The terms change but, at the bottom of it, it is all about powers and how they deal with each other.

KL: There are different interpretations of what is happening. Delhi is saying that it invested in road infrastructure that infuriated Chinese. Then another theory is that it is because the Dulat Beig Oldie is very close to Aksai Chain and the Karakorum Highway. Which one is correct?

SW: All of them. Why does it have to be only one reason? Jammu and Kashmir comes into the picture because every part of the territory you are talking about belonged to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir and it is, as it happens, a dispute that has not been resolved; that is why it centres on Jammu and Kashmir or the erstwhile state that is comprised of Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh, Kashmir, Jammu. August 5 sparked it. You will recall that Delhi published a few maps after that date and those maps created problems because they curb Pakistan’s and China’s ambitions on the territory of the erstwhile state of J&K.

As for infrastructure development, well before August 5 – in about 2013 or 2014 I think – India suddenly realized that there was no infrastructure that India had created along the LoAC. They have been trying to catch up to create infrastructure on this side. Once that got serious, it alerted China. 

But also, since August 5, Delhi ministers made a lot of noise. Ram Madhav, as recently as May 21, said that all that remains for India now is to take Gilgit and Baltistan back. What does that do to China’s investment in the CPEC of about US $ 64 billion? So obviously there will be push back.

KL: Earlier we used to talk of two parties, is China the third player?

SW: First, yes, China is emerging as the “third party” – in a sense Delhi has invited them to it. But in fact, that makes it the fourth party, including the peoples of the erstwhile state of J&K. I would maintain that there have been no real talks because the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was never involved in discussions.

The BJP government has wanted to make it a unilateral issue; that is, forget even the bilateral and make it unilateral. But ironically, it has internationalized the issue as never before.

KL: So, what next? How do you foresee things?

SW: It is hard to foresee. I’m a historian, so I don’t try to predict events. But it is a problem that is here to stay for a while with the current status quo in place. I think that it will not be settled as quickly as we all would like it to.

KL: Is there any likelihood of India and Pakistan talking though they have downgraded bilateral diplomacy?

SW:  I hope so, but I don’t see yet happening it immediately unless there is some quiet understanding. If that happens, then I think it is important that both the LoC and LAC be decided in the same process.

KL: In South Asia when the LoC and LoAC have come together, how is American responding?

SW: America has not really responded. The first response was a month ago after the incursions when the US took a very strong stand saying that China is interfering and it should back down. But that is not really a reaction. That was a formal statement or rhetoric.

I don’t think the US has given its position fully on it. But somebody had written that America cannot send its troops to help India. So what does it mean to “help” India now?

KL: But not many countries came out with statements after the two sides clashed in Galwan?

SW: It was not a clash, not even a shot was fired. It was a brawl in which many deaths took place after 45 years. If the world wanted to make statements then it would need to understand Jammu and Kashmir problem in some depth and I’m afraid that very few countries in the world have a full understanding of it, its dangerous dimensions.

KL: Are we looking at war? 

SW: I hope not, but in this day and age, we can’t rule out anything. Who would have thought, a month or a year ago, that China would be this thickly involved in South Asia?

I am sure that both the states would want to avoid war but it is unpredictable at the same time.

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