By Nayyar N Khan
Armed conflicts both on micro and macro level have always played a significant role in shaping the political trends in South Asia when visualized through the prism of modern day evolving tendencies. The entire region has been shadowed by the alarming apprehension of security concerns, cross-border conflicts and poor connectivity. The fragile situation of the one of the thickly populated region in the world has made it one of the least integrated in the world besides having certain common bonds across the international borders. India and Pakistan being two nuclear rivals and key states of the region have always been on forefronts since their creation in 1947. Religion has always been a dominant factor in classifying the geo-political trends while analyzing the Indo-Pak relations. Although India maintained her secular traditions as promised by her founding fathers but in practice religion was one of the fueling elements that impacted the Indian politics. 2014 victory of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) headed by Prime Minister Modi have altered the designs and corridors of South Asian politics in general and that of India in particular. While Pakistani politicians, on the other hand have consistently failed to identify the common “Political Nomenclature” as a characteristic symbol of their country. Instead of looking for the common bonds among masses to strengthen the democratic character politicians have always preferred to take refuge under the imported umbrella of identification and sadly ignored the true sentiments of the struggling masses. With the new Indian identity after BJP’s victory the dimensions of regional conflicts also shifted from political to more deeply implanted in religious ones. The conflict over Jammu Kashmir has its historical roots in human rights and right of freedom and development. Over the years and decades both India and Pakistan have turned the Kashmir conflict into a religious one and have deliberately ignored the important variables to find the lasting solution of the conflict.
While, on the other hand, the emergence of China as a regional and global leader and her stature as an influential economic giant has further complicated the regional conflicts in South Asia because of the growing Chinese political influence accompanied by the goods and services of Beijing in the region. At one hand China has influenced the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of disputed state of Jammu Kashmir bordering Xinjiang, while on the other continuous diplomatic muscles are used while determining the border issues with India. Rising fundamentalism within the Chinese territories and counter strategies to tackle and handle the deteriorating situation has widen the range of conflict from territorial to an ideological and regional one ranging from China to Central Asia and on the other side of the border into Pakistan.
NATO and U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan to combat and curb extremism had put a halt on the other regional conflicts in the region. Organized extremist movement in the tribal areas of Pakistan have provided shelter to the Islamic militants of the region that would probably ignite the situation after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
After the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan to combat the growing phenomenon of terrorism China is committed to an ever-increasing presence in Pakistan and Pakistani administered Kashmir (Gilgit Baltistan). Since the past few years, Chinese strategy vis-à-vis Gilgit Baltistan appears to be ranging toward gaining unspoken control of the region — both economically and politico-diplomatically. By snowballing investments and subsidizing various “development projects” in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of PoK, the activities involving several thousand Chinese personnel belonging to the construction giants (apparently) of China seem to point towards an interventionist Chinese geo-strategic agenda in the region. After the Chinese President’s recent official visit to Pakistan and trade agreements including a Pak-China Trade Corridor passing through Gilgit has exposed the futuristic designs by ignoring the internationally disputed nature of the territory. Chinese physical presence and developmental projects in the disputed regions of Jammu Kashmir under Pakistani occupation further complicates the Kashmir dispute by adding the conflicting variables and making the triangular nature an imbalance one. Considering Chinese involvement at one hand and Af-Pak fragile situation on other hand with Hindu nationalist party BJP in power in India projects the frightening situation in the region if International community does not take the strategic importance of Jammu Kashmir into priority list of immediate considerations. Four neighboring countries of Jammu Kashmir namely India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China contribute 40% of the world population and three are nuclear powers out of seven in the entire world. The passage and corridor that opens to Central Asia passes through the mountains of Jammu Kashmir where Chinese are eying for a trade-route thus combining it with the strategic and security importance in the decades to come. Core nations and ruling elites will be the beneficiaries of the growing tendencies in the region but an adverse effect on the peripheries and poor masses will deepen with these growing ties in the region. Out of peripheries Jammu Kashmir is strategically located at the mid of all these expanding designs and might prove to be the epicenter of ignition.
Having been a victim of the bi-lateral tensions and clashes between religiously divided India and Pakistan for the last almost seven decades and now the geo-strategic involvement of China in the region, Kashmiri people are being deprived of their fundamental human, democratic, economic, cultural, social and political rights with every passing day. Kashmir issue is more deeply embedded into human rights regime, right of the people to live in peace and harmony than the “political-economy” of its geographical location and thus needs to be addressed in a more humane way transcending the egoist politics. If only the political-economy is taken into consideration by the trio of China, India and Pakistan then most likely a clash of interests between Communism, Hinduism and Islamic fundamentalism will deepen the crisis in Himalayas. These growing tensions between the trios will solidify the Huntington’s theory of “Clash of Civilizations”. According to Samuel Huntington’s classification of Civilizations three out of eight are surrounding the geography of Himalayas and directly connected to Kashmir dispute. These are Confucian, Hindu and Islamic Civilizations. The political economy of geo-strategic importance of Jammu Kashmir would prove one of the major fault lines for these three civilizations to clash in future, and again Kashmir dispute would be derailed from its original spirit And yet again the victims of this geo-political strife would be primarily the poor masses of Jammu Kashmir along with a catastrophic effect on the economic conditions of the poor masses of entire region majority of whom is already living below the poverty line in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Therefore, Western nations, being the vocal advocate of international human rights need to practically step in to resolve the Kashmir conflict according to the democratic wishes of Kashmiri people living in a heavily militarized fragile region. Almost every second person of the total human population on Earth is residing on the borders of Jammu Kashmir, thus the conflict intensity is threatening directly to the very survival of half of the world population. At this crucial juncture of history it is also a litmus test for the leadership of Jammu Kashmir (on both sides of LOC) whether their political wisdom have graduated or they still live in a fantasy world dreaming about the unachievable and impractical solutions. The political wisdom of Kashmiri leadership in particular and other affiliated parties in general could detour a possible clash of civilizations in the region taking into account the catastrophic aftermaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and rest of the Middle East where clash of civilizations have sent the regions into stone age. Amid the increasing volatile situation, a pluralistic approach ensuring the protection of a separate, secular national identity of Jammu Kashmir, respect of international human rights and democratic practices can only guarantee the lasting peace in the entire region.
(Writer is a U.S. based political analyst, human rights activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org)