The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto—-but not de jure — part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto—- but not de jure—parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.
2. China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J&K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plain paper visa and not on their Indian passport.
3. While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.
4.The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:
Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories. Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J&K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J&K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J&K. Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India’s sovereignty over J&K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.
5. The modification in the Chinese position on J & K and its active involvement in infrastructure and other development projects in POK and GB have coincided with indicators of active Pakistani assistance to China in quelling the revolt of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region which has a common border with GB. These indicators include an increase in the number of Chinese intelligence officers posted in Pakistan to keep a watch on the Uighur community living in Pakistan, Pakistani intensification of the surveillance of the members of the Uighur community and restrictions on their travel in Pakistan, rounding up of members of the Uighur community living in Pakistan who are accused by the Chinese of being members of the Eastern Turkestan lslamic Movement and their being handed over to the Chinese authorities without following the due process of law, intensification of the intelligence exchange and the recent joint counter-terrorism exercise, which was, in effect, a joint counter-Uighur exercise.
6. In the Chinese perception, their ability to pacify Xinjiang would depend on continued co-operation from Pakistan and strengthening Pakistan’s control over POK and GB. Their modification of their policy relating to J&K is as a quid pro quo to Pakistan playing the role of their frontline ally in the fight against the Uighur freedom fighters represented by the Munich-based World Uighur Congress and Uighur jihadis belonging to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement. The Chinese decision to modify their policy even at the risk of its coming in the way of their developing relations with India is indicative of their serious concerns relating to Xinjiang. The need to pacify Xinjiang has assumed primacy in Chinese policy-making over the importance of misunderstanding-free relations with India.
7.India woke up to the changes in the Chinese policy last year when it noticed that the Chinese had stopped issuing regular visas to residents of J&K and have started issuing plain paper visas. There has been a further jolt to the Government of India in this matter by the reported disinclination of the Chinese to issue a visa to Lt.Gen.R.S.Jaswal, chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army, to make an official visit to China as part of the high-level military exchanges agreed to by the two countries. The reasons for which they expressed their disinclination are not clear. Some reports say that it was because the Northern Command is responsible for external security in the J&K area along the Line of Control and the international border and they consider J&K to be a disputed territory. Some other reports attribute the Chinese disinclination to the fact that Lt.Gen.Jaswal was perceived to be a hawk who believed that China posed a military threat to India. There are still other reports claiming that Lt.Gen.Jaswal is actually a Kashmiri native and hence the Chinese objection to him. One does not know whether this is factually correct.
8. Whatever be the reason, the Chinese disinclination to issue a visa to him has to be strongly opposed by the Government of India. New Delhi has done well to suspend military-military exchanges till this issue is settled to the satisfaction of India without allowing it to affect the other aspects of the developing relations with China and come in the way of the on-going border talks. India’s response has been limited to the military-military relationship.
9. The issue has tactical and strategic aspects. The tactical aspect relates to our response to the non-issue of a visa to Lt.Gen.Jaswal. We have reacted in adequate measure.
10. The strategic aspect relates to the following:
How are we going to counter the Chinese attempts to question the legitimacy of our sovereignty over J&K and to re-open the entire issue? How are we going to counter the repeated Chinese actions in ignoring our protests and concerns relating to their involvement in the POK and GB? 11. Our response at the strategic level cannot remain confined to the suspension of military exchanges. It has to go beyond that. We had recognised Tibet as an integral part of China. We have shown good faith in adhering to that position. China has not shown good faith on the issue of J&K being an integral part of India. The time has come for us to re-examine our position in matters relating to Tibet. We have to make it clear to Beijing that our continued adherence to our present position on Tibet would depend on its respecting our sensitivities in matters relating to J&K, POK and GB. If it does not respect our core interests in relation to J &K, POK and GB, it cannot expect us to continue to respect its core interests relating to Tibet.
12. As a starter in the re-examination of our Tibetan policy, we should make evident the seriousness of our unhappiness with Beijing on this issue by immediately associating His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the project for the revival of the Nalanda University.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )