The Old Silk Route stopover, a remote location known as Daulat Baig Oldi, lies in the upper Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. Located at an altitude of 16,600 ft, on the Old Silk Route into the Tarim Basin through Karakorum pass, it is the Indian connect with the trading history of Asia.
Quintessentially speaking Jammu & Kashmir has been a restive geopolitical hotspot for centuries. Unbeknownst to many, ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ was the second largest princely State under British India; the largest being the State of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam.
To understand the checkerboard of J&K genealogy, three landmark zones in history hold the key. Future of the conflict in Kashmir lies in the past; where the mountain borders have vacillated to the nationalistic fervour of the powers that be.
Zone One – 19th Century
With the decline of the Mughal empire, the Durrani empire at Kabul stretched to Kashmir regions in the late 18th Century. Post 1816, the northernmost regions of India consisting of 16 Hindu and 6 Muslim States were carved out by the Sikh Empire from the Amir of Afghanistan. Post the defeat of the Sikhs in Anglo Sikh wars, the treaty of Lahore in 1846 saw Maharaja Gulab Singh as the ruler who paid a princely sum of Rs 7,50,000 to the Crown for the control of J&K and the Dogra rule commenced over J&K. The region witnessed four ruler dynasties in just 50 years.
Zone Two – The Two-Nation Hurdle
In 1947, Gulab Singh’s descendent Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on 26 October 1947 within four days of the Pakistan-sponsored Waziristan tribesmen’s mayhem at Baramulla. The very next day, on 27 Oct, the Indian Army landed in Srinagar and held off the raiders at Pattan, East of Baramulla. Colonel Rai, the Commanding officer of the Sikh battalion, was the first Indian military leader to be a martyr on the first night.
While the promptness of the Indian Army response surprised the Pakistan leadership, the Pakistan army, officered largely by British officers, could not join the fray initially due politics of ‘Accession’ clause. The Pakistan army joined in soon after and by Dec 1948, a ceasefire was declared with the Indian Army keeping the larger share of J&K with Line of Control along the watershed. The ceasefire was internationally seen as India’s victory.
Zone Three – The Kargil War
After two wars in 1965 and 1971 where the Line of Control was in contention, in a brash and ill-conceived plan, NLI battalions of Pakistan army posing as Mujahideen encroached upon the Line of Control up to Tololing, overlooking the strategic road to Ladakh. The Pakistan army’s misadventure across the Line of Control was met with the Indian Army Infantry onslaught and Bofors heavy artillery.
Interestingly, the deeply plotted Pakistan rationale of “holders’ keepers” was negated smartly by India — A Shimla Agreement 1972 vintage map signed by Pakistan and Indian Generals on the Line of Control gave away the ground to India internationally. Within the first month of battle in face of severe reverses, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed from Beijing to Washington on 4th July to meet an unwilling Bill Clinton. India beat back the intruders as Tiger Hill was taken by 4th July.
Quite like the chess two-piece endgame, India did not cross the LoC, China did not enter the fray, and the US did not play the ball. Pakistan soon lost the conceived aims. India came out the ‘Victor without a vanquished’.
Paradigm Shift on Kashmir
Kargil faded from the public memory in nearly two decades. Then on 16th of Feb 2019, a suicide bombing that caused 40 CRPF casualties put Pulwama on the international terror map.
The world condemned
Pakistan-sponsored terror. India seemed to be ready for a befitting response to the instigators. On 26 Feb 2019, the Indian Air Force crossed the Pakistan airspace and took on the Balakot hideout of the Jaish.
The media hotly pursued the 300-odd terrorist casualties. However, the nationalistic fervour that was unleashed in wake of the strike was brought to the fore by the capture of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan. India was baying for blood and Pakistan, realising the virtue of ‘Dove of Peace’ move, returned the pilot and managed to stall a rising conflict. As a takeaway, the ‘Indian political will’ is today firmly included in the arsenal.
But Kashmir watchers know that the story is far from over. The ridgelines of the Shamshabari Pir Panjal and Karakoram ranges are the fault lines of a nation. Pakistan needs the ‘K’ rhetoric for an IMF bailout. The Kashmir unemployed need a way out, the politicians of Kashmir Valley realise the Indian economic might and welfare-in-jobs theme but are unwilling to take the bait.
Last, but not the least, the Indian polity has tasted blood — the nuclear bluff has been called.
Proponent of the ‘Two Nation’ theory, Pakistan, always reaches out to highlight Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint. With its Kashmir rhetoric at the UN, Pakistan screamed about how it was the world’s responsibility to solve the dispute between the two nuclear nations. The nuclear bluff has since been called on the 26th of February. While on the other hand, the Valley politics has reacted sharply to the announcement of the general elections alone in J&K without Assembly elections. The Governor continues to rule Kashmir.
Internationally, India is on the chair of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Pakistan has shown its belligerence once again with its latest request at the international arena to keep India out of the co-chair of the FATF. The people of the five districts in Valley should take a cue from the rest of the State of J&K and see the virtues of joining mainstream India.
Whosoever wins the elections, time seems to be ripe now for the Indian leadership, by mid-2019, to carry this position of advantage to the next level and push for larger influence in the South Asian subcontinent.
(The author is an Army veteran with wide operational, academic and administrative experience)