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Its Geography And Strategic Importance
Bansi Lal Kaul

Jammu and Kashmir as it was on August 15, 1947 had come into existence through the efforts of soldier-statesmen Maharaja Gulab Singh and his son Maharaja Ranbir Singh. It was the skill of Maharaja Gulab Singh that brought the people belonging to diverse Geographical regions with different backgrounds into a single political entity whose only binding link was its administration owing allegiance to the Maharaja.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab with a View to create a subordinate military power between the Sikhs and Afghans granted a number of estates that included Jammu and title of Raja to Gulab Singh with authority to have his own armed forces. With the assistance of his capable General Zorawar Singh, Gulab Singh came to be undisputed rulers of Reasi, Rajouri, Chanani, Kishtwar and Ladakh by 1841. After the defeat of Sikhs, two treaties: treaty of Lahore 9-3-1846 between Sikhs and the British and treaty of Amritsar between Gulab Singh and the British were concluded. Maharaja Gulab Singh was recognized as the independent ruler of all territories in his possession and the valley of Kashmir which was transferred to him on payment of Rs 75 Lakh on account of war indemnity on behalf of Sikhs to the British. Maharaja Gulab Singh in order to establish his authority over Kashmir had to undertake military operation against the local governor of Sikhs who was defeated. Gilgit too was under the Sikhs but after treaty o f Amritsar Nathua Shah was holding Gilgit on behalf of Sikhs transferred his allegiance to Maharaja Gulab Singh. Maharaja Ranbir Singh annexed the areas of Hunza, Nagar and Ishkuman to the State.

It is a misnomer to call Treaty of Amritsar 1846 a Sale-deed as was done by National Conference in 1946.Infact in nineteenth century similar treaties were executed by the East India Company with the Princely rulers of India. None of these treaties has been labelled as sale deed. The Governor General Lord Hardings in a despatch dated March 19, 1846 explained the purpose of this treaty:

"As it was of utmost importance to weaken the Sikh nation before its government could be re-established, I considered the appropriation of this part of the ceded territory to be most expedient measure, I could devise for that purpose, by which a Rajput dynasty will act as a counterpoise against the power of a Sikh Prince, the son of late Ranjit Singh, and both will have a common interest in resisting attempts on the part of any Mohammedan power to establish an independent State on this side of the Indus, or even to occupy Peshawar".

It was to further their imperial designs, that British executed this treaty.

The State has three distinct geographical regions. Areas criss-crossed by the Sivalik hills extending from Basholi and Kathua in the east to hills of Poonch up to banks of river Jhelum in the West, lying to the north of the plains of the Punjab extending up to Pirpanchal range in the north. Rivers Chenab and Ravi with their tributaries flow through the area. Kashmir Valley, the oval shaped stretch of land is in-between the inner Himalayas drained by the river Vithasta (Jhelum), is one of the most beautiful part of the world. Arid highland region of Ladakh, a cold desert, Gilgit (Dardistan) and Balthistan drained by river Sindh and its tributaries is the third region.


The invaders who entered into Indian plains from the northwestern passes of Himalayas generally by-passed the hilly mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite the protective security of the mountain ranges around Kashmiri, there is evidence to suggest that the Kashmiri rulers even in the earlier periods of history were not oblivious of the political charges which were taking place around their domain. M.A Stein in his Kalhana's Rajtarangini records that king Candrapida sent in 713 A.D an "embassy to the Chinese imperial court to invoke its aid against the Arabs". Again during the reign of Samgramaraja (1003-28 A.D) Kalhana supplies the record of the account of the expedition which was despatched by the Kashmir ruler under Tunga (his minister and general) to assist Sahi king Trilochanapla against Muhmud Ghazni.

The local Muslim Sultan ruled Kashmir for hardly 246 years. The political isolation of Kashmir form the main Indian heartland was broken by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1585 AD. All the political changes in Kashmir since then up to date have also been influenced and shaped by events that took place outside Kashmir.

In modern times Jammu and Kashmir assumed strategic significance only after rise of Sikh empire in the Punjab in early nineteenth century. The shrewd and far-sighted Maharaja Ranjit Singh was quick to realise the strategic importance of this region which made it imperative for him to create a vassal Dogra ruler as buffer between his empire and the Muslim states on the northwest of India. After the fall of Sikh empire in the Punjab, the British rulers too continued the policy of Sikhs in respect of this region. Accordingly the Britishers did not annex the mountainous region lying in between river Ravi and Indus to their empire but allowed it remain with the Dogra rulers under their suzerainty.

With the extension of Czarist Russian empire into Central Asia, during nineteenth century, Jammu and Kashmir assumed more strategic significance for the British government of India in the context of an European power reaching north-western borders of t heir empire in India. The Russian Czarist empire's penetration into Central Asia, apart from its expansion was looked at by the Britishers as an effort on the part of Russia to have access to the 'warm-waters' of the Persian Gulf and Arabian sea. It was t o keep close watch over the developments in Central Asian Russian empire and to protect their sphere of influence in that area, the British government of India took on lease Gilgit in March 1935 for sixty years which was however, terminated on August 1,19 47 and Gilgit was again restored to Maharaja's government.

The geo-political changes of far reaching consequence took place in and around Jammu and Kashmir in and after 1947. Large areas of the state were forcibly and illegally occupied by Pakistan. In the neighbourhood, the communists took over Control of Chin a. Soon thereafter, the Indian government as a goodwill gesture towards China withdrew their armed garrison from Lassa and further recognized Tibet as an autonomous region of China.

Jammu and Kashmir was pushed into vortex of world politics and intrigue in wake of India's reference to the United Nations Security Council on December 30,1947. The Indian request to the council was to prevent Pakistan from participating or assisting in the invasion of India in Jammu and Kashmir. The United Nation's Security Council miserably failed to respond to the Indian complaint in a positive manner and has unnecessarily allowed to keep this item on its agenda for nearly last half century even when it has not been discussed in the Council for several years. The sooner the council deletes the item from its agenda the better it would be for securing peace in South-east Asian region.

In early fifties, the USA began to involve Pakistan in its global policy of containing communist USSR and stopping the spread of communism or its influence in the South-east Asian region. Pakistan became member of military alliances sponsored by the USA and even allowed the use of its territory for establishment of military bases against communist Russia. In the process Pakistan accumulated huge stockpile of modern armament which emboldened it to launch wars against India in 1965 and 1971 to grab Jammu an d Kashmir. The results of these wars were humiliating and disastrous for Pakistan. Simla agreement was concluded by India and Pakistan in 1972 to normalise their relations. The cease-fire line in Jammu and Kashmir was slightly modified and named 'Line of Actual Control'. The political boundaries in South-east Asia were redrawn. East Pakistan separated from the parent country giving birth to independent Bangladesh. Over 90,000 war prisoners of Pakistan were released by India and the two countries agreed to settle their unresolved problems through mutual discussion. After the implementation of the terms of the agreement which were favourable to Pakistan, that country adopted hostile attitude towards India particularly in regard to Jammu and Kashmir.

The communist regime of China questioned in early fifties the validity of Mac-Mohan Line that was drawn by the British Government of India to demarcate the border in the north-east. They crossed this line and occupied large pats of Indian territory in 19 62. In Jammu and Kashmir the Chinese forces had occupied illegally 37,555 sq. km. In Aksaichin plateau of Ladakh without being noticed by the Indian Government. The Chinese had even constructed an all-weather road across this plateau to connect their Sinkiang province with Lassa in Tibet. The Chinese also struck in the eastern Ladakh at an important Indian out-post at Damchuk.

During the Chinese aggression of India in 1962, Pakistan adopted menacing posture against India and mounted diplomatic pressure through USA so as to grab the Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir. But thanks to the preserving and patient handling of discussions by the Indian External Affairs Minister with Pakistan, the situation was saved.

It seems China has attained its territorial objective by occupying the Indian territory in 1962 war. While the illegal occupation of the Indian territory by China continues, the government of India has allowed the situation to freeze over the last thirty five years.

In 1963 Pakistan bartered away illegally the Indian territory of 5,180 sq. km. in Gilgit to China to seek nuclear know-how from that country. The Chinese have turned the ancient Silk-Route which passes through this area into modern road that connects Gilgit with China which is already linked with Abbatabad and Muree in Pakistan.

Among the kaleidoscopic changes taking place around Jammu and Kashmir was the formation of a pro-USSR communist government in Afghanistan which was followed by the entry of USSR armed forces into that country to support and protect the communist regime which was not to the liking of the USA. The Afghan rebels who had taken refuge in Pakistan were armed by Pakistan with the supplies of armament received by them from USA, to fight the infidel anti-Islamic communist regime in Afghanistan. In the process Pakistan cornered a good portion of this armament which is being used by them since 1989 to arm the Kashmiri terrorists for creating turmoil to oust India through insurgency from the valley of Kashmir. Pakistan has used Islamic card effectively to seek the support of all Islamic countries particularly that of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran etc. to fight in Kashmir against India a proxy-war.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has evoked great interest of western powers particularly that of USA with the emergence of Common-wealth of Independent State(C.I.S) in place of erstwhile USSR. The Central Asian states of CIS are populated by Muslims where Pakistan, Iran, Turkey along with the USA are eager to extend their sphere of influence to get access to the rich natural resources of these states by expanding their trading interests. China also has keen interest in the developments that are taking place in this region particularly as one of the CIS has huge stockpile of nuclear arms. Jammu and Kashmir being surrounded by Pakistan and Afghanistan in the West, Tajikistan and China in the north and Tibet region of China in the east makes it an area of interest for all these powers. This interest has been heightened due to unresolved conflict over Jammu and Kashmir that exists between India and Pakistan.

By constructing two strategic roads within the illegally occupied territory in the north-east in Aksaichin plateau in Ladakh and in Gilgit area in the north-west of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian defence has been made more vulnerable by China and Pakistan . The Indian defence strategists had no option but to strengthen the vigil over 70 Km long Saichin glacier involving huge cost in men and material. The "high-cost low-intensity proxy-war" that has been thrust on India in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989 by Pakistan is a source of constant worry and threat to the defence of the country. The serious situation that has developed in Jammu and Kashmir poses a serious challenge to the Indian Defence strategists. It has to be decided by them how long they can afford to allow "no-war no-peace situation" to continue within Kashmir valley and on the borders and Line of Actual Control of Jammu and Kashmir state touching Pakistan. They will have to give a serious thought whether the continuance of current strategy can prove beneficial to the long-term defence requirements of the country?

Over the years India has lost much of its prestige by adopting both foreign and defence strategic policies which do not help in giving this country of ninety crore inhabitants the place that it deserves in the world. In the disarmament Conference on CTBT held at Geneva on June 20,1996, the Indian representative declared that the treaty perpetuated inequity among the nations and did not take seriously the national security concern of India arising from the existence of nuclear arms stock-pile available wit h the neighbouring countries. Accordingly India finally opposed the CTBT. Not withstanding this decision, it was not followed up by making desired budget allocations available for 1996-97. In the last seven years there has been no enhancement of these allocations in real-terms.

Despite our claims that we are the largest stable democracy of the world, we have received a serious diplomatic set-back due to lack of support from the member countries of the United Nations to get two year membership of the Security Council. In face of our recent poor performance, it is highly doubtful if it can be possible for us to secure a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council in the next couple of years.

The policy of "Track-II Diplomacy" relating to Pakistan involving unilateral adoption of confidence building measures by India has not been reciprocated by that country. The relations between the two countries have sunk to unprecedented depths with the recent violent attack on Wahi couple who were on diplomatic assignment in Pakistan. The way Islamabad has dealt with the Indians posted there especially the knifing of Indian lady by Pakistani security personnel is first of its kind. All these events point to the fact that Indian diplomatic postures presented to Pakistan are not based on realistic assessment of the situation. At present our diplomatic clout among the world community is obviously quite low. Can our defence strategists afford to ignore these discouraging signals given to us by the world community and by our unfriendly immediate neighbour?.

The author is the Chairman, Advisory Board of PKM.

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