The row over the U.S. terming a part of Jammu and Kashmir as being “India-administered” is a bit overdone, if not hypocritical. Especially Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Kashmiri, and a Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, attacking the government for not contesting the American characterisation. Mr. Azad called it a ‘compromise’ as regards national security.
The Americans were being merely factual, consistent with the reality on the ground when they said that “Under (Syed) Salahuddin’s tenure as senior (Hizbul Mujahiddeen) HM leader, HM has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people.” We may have our cartographic interpretations on the State’s boundary but they have to be considerably hemmed in by the larger political and military realities.
Consider the map of Jammu and Kashmir. Not the one that we have been used to seeing in school geography books, the one in which we are shown sharing a border with Afghanistan, because that is totally off the mark. The reality is quite different, not at all consistent with notions of ‘Akhand Bharat’ that seemed fashionable some time ago. It sometimes result in bizarre situations like when a Kashmiri politician like Mr. Azad may get inadvertently caught in a controversy for releasing a booklet showing Kashmir as ‘Indian-occupied Kashmir’, as happened in Lucknow in June.
Or, a situation like Prime Minister Narendra Modi telling an appreciative American desi audience in Virginia that no country uttered a word in reproach against the ‘surgical strikes’ conducted to defend Indian territory. Consider that territory: It lies along the Line of Control (LoC), in the areas which Pakistan controls.
No amount of hair-splitting can take away the fact that there are areas in Jammu and Kashmir which are in the control of Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan controls a significant portion of its western and northern parts. Some 78,000 sq. km of it, to cite a statement made in Lok Sabha. Any Indian, including Mr. Azad, needs special travel documents to get to the other side of the LoC. Similarly, it is absurd to think that we should attack our own territory to defend ourselves so that Pakistan can be taught a lesson in deterrence.
Cartographic ‘Lakshman rekha’
Even at the height of the Kargil conflict, we did not cross the LoC. Was it strategic restraint? Common sense? Or acknowledgement of a reality that stares us in the face? It is certainly not cartographic aggression on the part of Pakistan or China. It is instead a cartographic Lakshman rekha that our politicians hold in utmost respect, even though there are resolutions in Parliament which exhort us to do the opposite and do everything within our means to recover all the territory we have ceded to Pakistan and China. This was formalised in April 2005 when we began permitting Pakistanis to come into Jammu and Kashmir in batches of 30 via Muzaffarabad on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, not with a passport but with special travel documents. In other words, if someone staying on our side of the LoC wants to go to, let’s say, Gilgit or Neelam Valley, his/her travel has to be sanctioned by Pakistani authorities.
In the area our maps refer to as Jammu and Kashmir, about 37,500 sq. km, comprising the Aksai Chin, is controlled by China. In addition, some 5,180 sq. km was gifted to China by Pakistan. How much does that leave with us?
The important thing is that our own politicians have in the past declared that the era of map-making has ended. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh once said that map-making in the subcontinent has to end. He might as well have been echoing then-U.S. President Bill Clinton’s injunction, after General Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure, of ‘four Rs’: restraint, renunciation of violence, resumption of dialogue and, most importantly, respect for the LoC. That was the first time that the status quo was elevated to such a level as to provide the basis, a glimmer of hope, for a possible eventual outcome of one of the biggest outstanding differences between India and Pakistan. A question arises: If Kashmir is a formal outstanding bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, what will be China’s role in an eventual outcome?
It is therefore logical that there exist vast areas of Jammu and Kashmir we have no control over whatsoever, administrative or otherwise. It is equally logical that the areas under our control, we administer. After a fashion, of course, but that is another debate.