Land of Lost Enchantment
Kashmir was a place of stunning beauty under The Raj, a veritable Shangri-La. Jahinger wrote,'If there is heaven on earth, it s here....it is here.....it is here'. It still is a magical and enchanted place. Yet today there is a border standoff between Indian held Kashmir and Chinese Kashmir, Aksai Chin, which has already seen a number of deaths on both sides of the border.
This is not the first time there have been clashes since Indian/Pakistani Independence in 1947. A look at the map on the left shows that Chinese Kashmir was a result of the Indo-China War of 1962, in which China occupied Indian territory, and a new border was established called 'The Line of Actual Control'. It is that border which has witnessed the latest clashes, in the Galwan Valley, roughly half way down the Indian - Aksai Chin border. Both sides claim territory on the other's side of the 2,500 mile long border.
Conflict over the princely state of Kashmir erupted at the time of independence. The princely ruling family under British rule was Hindu, whilst the overwhelming majority of the people were Moslem. In the over hasty British withdrawal from India, each of the rulers of the many Princely States, over 550 in total, were free to choose to join either India or Pakistan. The Maharajah of what was then Jammu and Kashmir was pressurised by Pakistan to join that country. He hesitated and a month after independence Pakistani tribesmen seized the western part of the state (v. map above and Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir). The Maharajah appealed to India for support. Nehru promised support in return for Kashmir's accession to India. This was agreed, and so Kashmir became part of India, retaining partial internal autonomy. But, Pakistan now effectively controlled the western part.
War was inevitable between the two major countries and it lasted from 1947 to 1948, when a ceasefire was finally agreed on New Year's Day 1949. The ceasefire was intended to be temporary, and yet the agreed 'Line of Control' remains the international border still. Two further wars followed in 1965 and 1971, and a smaller border clash in 1999, when Clinton negotiated a ceasefire.
In 1963, Pakistan handed over territory in Pakistan controlled Kashmir to China, situated just north of Aksai Chin (v. map above), whilst China handed territory over to Pakistan. This was to resolve border issues between the two nations. The agreement lessened the chances of Pakistan-China border clashes such as those currently being seen between India and China. The big gain for Pakistan was that China officially recognised Pakistan's sovereignty over Indian disputed Pakistani Kashmir. A further bone of contention with India.
Part of the build-up to the present crisis is that in August last year the Nationalist Government of India ended the partial autonomy over its internal affairs which Kashmir had enjoyed since becoming part of India in 1947. A further factor has been Covid-19, as China has sought to extend its influence and power in the region from Hong Kong to Taiwan.
The worry for international observers is always the chance of Pakistan being drawn into any wider conflict, let alone the fact that we are now talking about three nuclear Powers. Some wild journalism has even referred to the start of World War III. We are a very long way from that, but there is no denying the situation is worrying at a time of a weakened USA and an almost silent Britain. The Times ended an editorial on the subject with the simple observation, 'The western democracies could help to contain Beijing's ambitions by making clear its friendship with India'. Although support for an avowedly nationalist Government in India is itself problematic.