Implications of cold war and new cold war for Kashmir Conflict

The nineteenth century and early twentieth century contest for domination of present day Afghanistan between Czarist Russia and British India referred to as the classical Great Game, in the immediate neighborhood of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir had prompted the British Government to establish the Gilgit Agency in 1935 to guard the British India against the southward march of the former Soviet Union. The demand for separate Muslim homeland by Indian Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah was considered favourably by the British Government due the geopolitical significance of the proposed Pakistan for the Great Britain to contain the growing influence of the former Soviet Union in the mid-1940s. Since Indian freedom struggle launched by the Indian National Congress especially the “Quit India” Movement started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1919 was inspired by the success of Great Soviet Revolution in 1917 against the Czarist Russia as the Communist ideology had enough potential to liberate the Indian peasantry and the artisan class from poverty, illiteracy and exploitation by the British imperialism considered by the communists as the highest form capitalism, the socialist model of economic development became very popular in India. Given the anti- colonial nature of Indian freedom struggle, strong Communist movement in India and the geographical proximity of India to the former Soviet Union, the development of post-independence Indo-Soviet friendship was very much expected. In order to thwart the former Soviet Union from exerting it’s influence in the Indian subcontinent and to deny her the warm waters of Indian Ocean the creation of pro-Britain Pakistan fitted well into the geopolitical and geostrategic objectives of the British Crown. So to secure it’s strategic objectives the British Parliament accepted the partition plan of the Indian subcontinent on 3rd June 1947.

Following the approval of the Indian Independence Act by the British Parliament on 18th July 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh the autocratic ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was advised by Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General of India to take the decision regarding the accession of Jammu and Kashmir State keeping in view the principles of geographical contiguity and demographic composition of his kingdom but he suffered from indecision because the princely state was geographically contiguous with both India as well as Pakistan. More importantly he wanted to safeguard the future of his Dogri speaking Hindus of Jammu region but the 77 percent population of the state was Muslim. To protect the territorial integrity of Jammu and Kashmir as well as his authority as the sovereign ruler of the Himalayan state, he was contemplating the vision of an independent country to be named as Kashmiristan. The creation of an Independent Jammu and Kashmir was not in the interest of both Great Britain as well as the United States as it would have become a Soviet satellite, thus posing threat to both the geopolitical interests of both the countries in the Western High Asia. The Pakistani tribal raid in Kashmir on 22nd October 1947 and the landing of Indian troops in Kashmir on 27th October 1947 put the forces of the two newly establish sovereign nations in a situation of direct war with each other. Since the military officers on the both sides were the British, Lord Mountbatten suggested the reference of the territorial dispute over Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations. When the Kashmir issue was discussed at the United Nations Security Council in early 1948 for geostrategic location of Jammu and Kashmir State in the immediate neighbourhood of Soviet Union, the option of establishing an independent country was ruled out. However, when Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah began to talk about an Independent Kashmir with American diplomats the Soviet Union became apprehensive about growing American influence in its immediate neighborhood with the result there was a Soviet pressure on India to permanently get rid of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah’s was both an asset as well as a liability for India so Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru though it proper to remove him from power and immediately arrest him on 9th August 1953. Whenever the Kashmir issue was discussed during the Cold War period both former Soviet Union as well as United States saw the issue through the prism of their geopolitical interests in the geo-strategically important region for both the Cold War power players. The former Soviet Union used its veto power as well in on 20th February 1957 to benefit India and jeopardize the American and its ally Pakistan’s interests. The rise of militancy in Afghanistan and Kashmir in late 1980s was guided by the convergence of geopolitical interests of Pakistan and United States in the strategically important territories of Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The disintegration of former Soviet Union in 1991 put an end to half a century Cold War between United States and the former Soviet Union. However, the emergence of China as a major world power in the twenty first century has led to the New Cold War between the United States and China, referred to the Pivot of Asia by the American geo-politicians.

Given the Indian foreign policy tilt towards the United States during the post-Cold War era and the growing relationship of Pakistan with Russia is transforming the traditional pattern of international alliances in the contemporary world. The decades old Pakistan-China strategic alliance and the growing bilateral cooperation between Pakistan and Russia has transformed regional cooperation in Eurasian into a super-continental cooperation during the 21st century. Russia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asian Countries form a compact geographical territory of the continental size. South of the lofty Himalayas the Indian landscape is transforming in to an American arena to contain China. Apart from China’s claim on eastern Ladakh as a part of Tibet the construction of the Karakorum Highway through the territory of Jammu and Kashmir State, when Pakistan handed over on lease 6,993 square kilometers to China on lease in Shaksgam Valley in 1963 did enhance the geostrategic and geo-economic significance of the divided state for China. The recent US $ 75 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through the territory of Jammu and Kashmir State has further enhanced the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic significance of Jammu and Kashmir State for both China and Pakistan in the recent years. The nuclear power status of Pakistan and its alliance with the major nuclear powers like China and Russia has still further increased the importance of Pakistan in the New Cold War period.

Since there exists India-China hiatus since 1962 War between the two countries and China is encircling India both on the land in the north and in the sea on the south, the United States and India are deepening their strategic partnership as two natural allies to counter Chinese dominance both in the Himalayas, Tibetan plateau and the Indian Ocean. So United States and its West European allies would not like Kashmir slipping away from the Indian control, nor would China and Russia like the surrender of Kashmir by Pakistan to India. So the status quo between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir State is reinforced by the West-East balance of power in the Eurasian supercontinent. Since Kashmir is under the control India for the last seven decades, Pakistan leaves no chance to take advantage of anti-India sentiments as and when these erupt in Kashmir. The dismissal of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah in 1953, theft of holy relic of Prophet Muhammad in 1963 and the rigging of elections in 1987 were the major occasions when anti-India sentiments ran very high in Kashmir. The response of Pakistan to these volatile situations was moral and material support to Plebiscite Front from 1955 onwards, War with India in 1965 and proxy war with India from 1988 onwards. The people of Kashmir have been at no point of time in the past 71 years assured by Pakistan that the country would facilitate their national independence like India did for the people of East Pakistan in 1971 when they fought against the West Pakistan to establish an independent Bangladesh. The nuclear weapons with both India and Pakistan are a deterrent against any large scale decisive war between the two countries, that’s why the Kargil War in 1999 didn’t escalate into a major war between the two hostile neighbours. Therefore the people of Kashmir need to be realistic in assessing the contemporary geopolitical reality in the Western High Asia, so must accordingly exhibit political maturity while articulating their pragmatic political aspirations. The Kashmir issue can neither be resolved through any political struggle nor through the armed struggle by the militants using small weapons against the Indian forces in Kashmir. The Kashmir issue can be solved only through a sustained result oriented Kashmir-specific negotiation process or a decisive war between India and Pakistan. Given the nuclear capability of the two countries and the closeness of their major cities to the international border between them the war between India and Pakistan is not an option any more. The Kashmir issue has therefore to be resolved through sustained dialogue process between India and Pakistan. Since neither India nor Pakistan is as of now ready to recognize the people of Jammu and Kashmir as a basic party to the territorial dispute between the two countries, so given the nature and structure of New Cold War between United States and China, the United Nations Security Council is unlikely to have a consensus on the demand of Kashmiri people to grant them as the ‘Basic Party’ status in the bilateral dispute over Kashmir.

Prof. G.M.Athar can be reached at