Is a part of Kashmir that is controlled by China

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The territorial affiliation of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has so far been the subject of two largely independent conflicts: (1) the well-known dispute between India and Pakistan; (2) the little-known dispute between India and China over the definition of their approximately 3,500 kilometers long border, of which approximately 1,600 kilometers run through Kashmir. The latest developments could lead to the two previously separate conflicts becoming more closely interwoven in the future.

The Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir

After the independence of British India and the founding of India and Pakistan in August 1947, a number of princely states initially remained independent, including Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). When tribal warriors from Pakistan invaded, supported by Pakistani officers, the Hindu maharaja from J&K turned to the Indian government and asked for military assistance. At the end of October 1947, the princely state joined the Indian Union, which in return sent troops to support the Maharajas. The first Indo-Pakistani war developed out of the fighting against the tribal warriors, which ended in January 1949 with an armistice. The former princely state has since been split into an Indian and a Pakistani part.

Kashmir has a high symbolic power for India and Pakistan in the context of the respective state idea. Pakistan, which was founded as a state for the Muslims of British India, claimed the majority Muslim Kashmir for itself. For India, Kashmir has long been a symbol of secularism and the openness of the new state to all religious communities.

The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan can still be divided into two major phases. In the first phase from 1947 to 1972 there was an internationalization. Indian Prime Minister Nehru brought the conflict to the United Nations (UN) and proposed a referendum to decide whether the area belongs to India or Pakistan. Since 1948 the Security Council has passed a number of resolutions. The general tenor of these resolutions is that, first of all, all Pakistani troops must withdraw from J&K. Second, an interim administration is to be set up, assisted by Indian troops. Thirdly, this would have to prepare a referendum in all of J&K. The independence of Kashmir was not provided for in the resolutions and is opposed by India and Pakistan. China was not a member of the Security Council until 1971 and was therefore not involved in UN resolutions.

In 1948 the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) was established to settle the conflict and monitor the ceasefire that has been in force since 1949. In 1951 the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) took on this task. Up until the 1960s, Security Council veto powers such as the USA, Great Britain and the Soviet Union made various unsuccessful attempts at mediation.

The second phase brought about a bilateralization of the conflict. It begins with the Shimla Peace Treaty in 1972, which followed the third war between India and Pakistan in 1971, in which East Pakistan was split off and Bangladesh was founded. The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi failed at the time to take advantage of Pakistan's military defeat and to achieve a final solution to the Kashmir issue. In the Shimla Treaty, both states agreed on the bilateral treatment of outstanding problems and on a new Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. India subsequently discontinued its cooperation with UNMOGIP, which is still monitoring the ceasefire along the LoC to this day.

Pakistan continued to try to internationalize the Kashmir issue: for example, by provoking regional crises such as the Kargil War in 1999, by the Pakistani army and secret service supporting terrorist groups that carried out attacks in the Indian part of Kashmir, or by Pakistan in international forums Denounced human rights violations by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

The international community gradually moved away from the UN resolutions. All veto powers of the Security Council have repeatedly spoken out in favor of a bilateral solution to the conflict. In December 2003, the Pakistani President Musharraf also distanced himself from the UN resolutions and thus paved the way for the so-called alliance dialogue with India. In 2007, both sides agreed on a compromise on the Kashmir issue that has never been made public and essentially enshrined the status quo. The terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), supported by the Pakistani secret service, carried out an attack in Mumbai in 2008 that brought the end of the joint dialogue.

The different positions of India and Pakistan are also reflected in the official maps. Since India believes that all of Kashmir joined the Union in October 1947, Indian maps logically show the entire territory of the former princely state as Indian territory. Because J&K has a border with Afghanistan in the north, India sees itself as a direct neighbor of Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, saw the whole of J&K as a controversial area within the meaning of the UN resolutions, whose membership would only be decided in a referendum. So far, Pakistani maps have not graphically shown Kashmir as part of their own country, even if the regions Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and the formally independent state Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are de facto governed by Islamabad.

The Indo-Chinese conflict in Kashmir

In the international perception, "Kashmir" is synonymous with the conflict between India and Pakistan. However, since the late 1950s, the People's Republic of China has also been an actor in the dispute over the territorial legacy of the former princely state, albeit so far neglected.

The longest disputed border in the world, at around 3,500 kilometers, runs between India and China. Its course follows the colonial McMahon line in the Himalayan region and is particularly controversial in Kashmir and northeast India. At the end of the 1950s, China built a year-round road to Tibet through the Aksai-Chin region in Kashmir. In 1959, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai proposed an area swap. China would have received the Aksai Chin region and, in return, given up its territorial claims in northeast India, today's state of Arunachal Pradesh. However, the Indian government rejected the proposal. After India's military defeat in the 1962 border war, both sides broke off their diplomatic relations, so that the course of the border remained unclear.

In the course of their political rapprochement after 1988, the border question also moved back into focus. Among other things, the two states set up a joint working group to clarify the course of the border and appointed special envoys. Since then, India and China have made a number of agreements (1993, 1996, 2003, 2005, 2012, 2013) to increase stability in the border region and reduce tensions through confidence-building measures. With the 1993 agreement, the current Line of Actual Control (LAC) was established, which is more like a space with mutually accepted patrol routes and military posts than a "line".

The political changes that have been reflected in the new maps and territorial claims since summer 2019 seem to usher in a new phase in the dispute over Kashmir.

The "old" position of India

The starting point for the new conflict dynamic was the decision of the Indian government on August 5, 2019 to split the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into the two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The political leadership of the predominantly Muslim state of J&K had received a number of privileges upon accession, which later repeatedly led to clashes between the government in New Delhi and the state government in Srinagar. This has been a thorn in the side of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for many years. With this decision, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is honoring one of its election promises. In contrast to federal states, Union territories in India are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior in New Delhi.

With the decision, based on purely domestic politics and communicated to the international community, New Delhi affirmed India's well-known position that all of Kashmir has been formally part of the Union since joining in October 1947. So there are again 24 seats in the newly elected assembly of the Union Territory J&K for the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir.

The decision of the BJP government sparked violent protests in the former state. Above all, it was an affront to the moderate parties which, regardless of all political disputes over the structure of autonomy, had always spoken out in favor of the federal state remaining in the Indian Union. In the last state election in 2014, voter turnout was over 65 percent, despite calls for a boycott by Islamist parties calling for affiliation with Pakistan. Political observers had taken this as a clear vote for India.

The "new" position of Pakistan

With its new card dated August 4, 2020, Islamabad underlined its stance on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan's national borders encompass all of Kashmir, which reinforces the political claim to the area. In the course of its political rapprochement with China, Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley, located in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, to the People's Republic in 1963 (see Map 3, p. 7). The Aksai-Chin region claimed by China is known as the "undefined border". This was in line with the position agreed by both states in a 1963 treaty. Earlier maps, on the other hand, depicted Kashmir - including the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) region - often graphically separated from the Pakistani state territory in order to make it clear that Kashmir is a disputed area within the meaning of the UN resolutions.

Pakistan now also changed the nomenclature for the Indian part of Kashmir. The previously used term "disputed territory" was replaced by "Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir" (IIOJ & K). On the official map, the reference to the UN resolutions can only be found in the Indian part. This implies that the referendum mentioned in these resolutions only has to take place in the Indian part. This may correspond to Pakistan's self-image, but the UN resolutions provide for a referendum in the entire former princely state.

Finally, the map also includes areas such as the Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek, in the mouth of the Indus Delta, which have repeatedly been negotiated with India. Another surprise was the renewed claim to the former princely state of Junagadh, in what is now the Indian state of Gujarat, which India joined after a referendum in 1948.

Ali Amin Gandapur, Minister for the "Affairs of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan" in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, announced in September 2020 that the Gilgit-Baltistan region would soon become a province of Pakistan. This has been demanded by the people living there for many years. However, this has hitherto stood in the way of Pakistan's traditional position, according to which Kashmiri membership will only be decided in a referendum. Given this link, it is unclear whether the UK can become a full province or only be given provisional status giving it expanded powers for better self-government. The UK elections announced for November 2020 could provide further information on the future status of the region.

In Pakistan, it is pointed out that the announcement that the UK will be a province of its own is also accommodating China. The lifeline of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the largest and most expensive individual project under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), runs through the Gilgit-Baltistan region. From a geopolitical perspective, the CPEC is an idiosyncratic construction. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, it has long spoken out in favor of a bilateral solution to the Kashmir issue. However, this was more in line with the Indian than the Pakistani position. Against this background, the investments in the CPEC after 2015 could also be seen as support for the then status quo in Indian-Pakistani relations, as it existed before the start of the BRI. A stronger constitutional integration of Gilgit-Baltistan would indirectly secure the Chinese investments. At least the UN resolutions, even if they are only hypothetically relevant, demand that Pakistan withdraw from the territory of the former princely state as a precondition for a referendum. In addition, the Kashmiris could also vote for India in this referendum.

The fact that the CPEC runs through the Pakistani part of Kashmir is also the main reason why India refuses to participate in the BRI. China had long campaigned for India to participate. Because it claims all of Kashmir, the Indian government sees the CPEC as a violation of its national sovereignty.

With its new map, Pakistan is reaffirming its political claims to Kashmir, but despite all the statements it has made, it is also moving further away from the UN resolutions. India's decision to split up J&K provided Pakistan with a welcome opportunity to re-mobilize on the Kashmir issue, which had faded into the background in recent years due to economic and political problems. The hardliners have thus also prevailed in Pakistan. Before August 5, 2019, Imran Khan tried several times to resume dialogue with India, but has since refrained from doing so.

The continuation of the conflict with India is likely to be primarily in the interests of the almighty army, which has determined foreign and security policy towards India for decades. Despite all the economic problems, the Pakistani defense budget for the 2020–21 financial year was increased by 11.9 percent.

The "new, old" position of China

The Chinese government also criticized India's decision of August 5, 2019 and the creation of the Union territory of Ladakh, which formally also includes Aksai Chin. The fact that Ladakh is now administered centrally from New Delhi made it easier for the Indian government to expand the military infrastructure in the border region with China. China had a clear advantage here, which Indian military experts had repeatedly criticized. After all, there had been repeated incidents in this section of the LAC in the past. In addition to the expansion of the infrastructure, a statement by the Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah is likely to have caused anger in Beijing. Immediately after the decision of his government, he had reaffirmed India's claim to Aksai Chin in parliament. Chinese experts saw the fact that Chinese troops had crossed the LAC in Ladakh / Aksai Chin several times since the beginning of May as a reaction to the Indian decision of August 2019. On June 15, there was a momentous incident in the Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed (see SWP Comments 63/2020).

The rhetoric in the Chinese media has intensified significantly. India is now portrayed as a provocateur in the border conflict, which legitimizes a Chinese reaction in the form of military defense measures. According to a Chinese poll by the party-affiliated magazine Global Times and the August 2020 Chinese think tank CICIR said more than 70 percent of respondents said India was overly hostile to China; 90 percent supported retaliatory actions against India.

While the tensions in the border region continued, the Chinese side also increasingly emphasized the geopolitical dimension, especially the intensified military relations between India and the USA and their political cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including within the framework of the Quadrilateral Group (Quad) which also involve Australia and Japan.

At the end of September 2020, representatives of the Chinese government surprisingly announced that China's territorial claims also include the areas of the former LAC from 1959. This was the first time China moved away from the 1993 agreement that established the current LAC, although the course of the agreement was never clearly defined. Despite countless rounds of talks in the past, the two sides never exchanged official maps of the critical areas, including Aksai Chin / Ladakh. The mutual territorial claims therefore remained vague.With its new position, China reverted to its old one from 1959, which had not been recognized by the Indian government at the time.

Indian military experts pointed out that Chinese troop transgressions since May have largely focused on regaining control of the 1959 LAC territories. According to Indian sources, China now controls around 1,000 square kilometers of territory that previously controlled India.


In 2000, US President Bill Clinton called Kashmir "the most dangerous place in the world". At the time, this referred to the explosive mixture of terrorist attacks and a possible military escalation of the conflict between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan, which was observed during the Kargil War in 1999 or after the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.

The political changes reflected in the new maps could usher in a new phase of the conflict. There is a possibility that the two long-separated conflicts in and around Kashmir will become more closely linked through closer anti-India cooperation between Pakistan and China. Politically, this was already evident in August 2019, when China, in its role as a permanent member of the Security Council, obtained an informal meeting of the body on the Indian J&K decision. Even if the meeting was unsuccessful, it was hailed as a great diplomatic success in Pakistan.

China's 1959 LAC claims threaten the infrastructure India has built in recent months in some areas. In the event of a military escalation, Chinese troops could block access to Daulat Beg Oldie. The military airfield there is of central importance for the supply of the Indian troops on the Siachen Glacier. The glacier is the highest theater of war in the world, where Indian and Pakistani troops have been facing each other since the mid-1980s. Aside from the possibility of Pakistan and China working together politically and militarily on Kashmiri in the future, recent developments have added another component of the conflict to the "most dangerous place on earth." Because China now sees its border conflict with India no longer only as a bilateral problem, but also as part of its geopolitical dispute with the USA, one of whose camps India is counted. This also applies to the LAC in Ladakh / Aksai Chin.

The Indian government's decision to dissolve the state of Jammu and Kashmir has proven counterproductive in several ways. The protests from Pakistan were to be expected, and criticism from Western governments and human rights organizations of the massive restrictions on freedoms in Indian Kashmir is unlikely to have impressed the Indian government, as in the past. The massive reaction of China, on the other hand, which de facto also questioned parts of the bilateral rapprochement of the last 20 to 30 years and India presumably resulted in a permanent loss of territory, was obviously not factored in by the Indian side. India's decision, based purely on domestic politics, added a geopolitical dimension to the conflict and thus made it more international, something Indian governments have so far tried to avoid at all costs.

German and European politics are likely to have problems with the positions of all parties to the conflict. During her visit to India in November 2019, Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation in Indian Kashmir as "untenable" because there were massive restrictions on civil rights there after the conversion into a Union territory. Pakistan's initiatives to internationalize the conflict will continue to be barely heard in Berlin and Brussels. Beijing's efforts to restore the current control line from 1959 will not diminish the growing reservations about it in Germany and Europe.

Berlin and Brussels share an interest in regional stability, but have little opportunity to influence the conflicting parties. The approach that India and Pakistan agreed on in 2007 essentially entailed establishing the political and territorial status quo in Kashmir. In the new conflict scenario, an intergovernmental solution is likely to be a long way off. Because Kashmir has different strategic meanings for the three countries. For India it was, is and will remain a purely domestic issue. The new developments offer Pakistan once again the opportunity to mobilize nationally and internationally for its cause. For China, the conflict is another, above all, foreign policy arena in the geostrategic struggle: On the one hand, India is fighting for the future role of both countries in South Asia, and on the other, indirectly also with the USA, for the future distribution of power in the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. habil. Christian Wagner is a Senior Fellow in the Asia Research Group.
Dr. Angela Stanzel is a scientist in the Asia research group.

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doi: 10.18449 / 2020A85