Friday, June 10, 2011
Disputed borders are both a cause and a symptom of tensions between big neighbours in South Asia. When the colonial power, Britain, withdrew from India it left a dangerous legacy of carelessly or arbitrarily drawn borders. Tensions between India and China flare on occasion, especially along India’s far north-eastern border, along the state of Arunachal Pradesh. In recent years Chinese officials have taken to calling part of the same area “South Tibet”, to Indian fury, as that seems to imply a Chinese claim to the territory. A failure to agree the precise border, and then to demarcate it, ensures that future disagreements may flare again.
Pakistan, too, is beset by difficult borders. Afghanistan, to the north, has long been a hostile neighbour. This is largely because Afghanistan refuses to recognise the frontier—known as the Durand line—between the countries, drawn by the British.
Most contentious of all, however, are the borders in Kashmir, where Pakistan, India and China all have competing claims. By the time of independence, in 1947, it was clear that many Indian Muslims were determined to break off from Hindu-majority India. It fell to a British civil servant, who knew nothing of the region, to draw a line of partition between territory that would become Pakistan and India. Pakistan was given Muslim dominated areas in the far north west, plus territory in the east (which itself got independence as Bangladesh in 1971). The rulers of some disputed areas, notably Kashmir, were told to choose which country to join.
While Kashmir’s Hindu rulers prevaricated, hoping somehow to become an independent country, Pakistan’s leaders decided to force the issue. Since Kashmir was (and is) a Muslim majority territory, Pakistan felt justified in seeing Pushtun warlords charge in from the north-west of Pakistan, late in 1947, to seize control of Kashmir. In response India, apparently invited by Kashmir’s rulers, deployed its national army and stopped the invaders taking Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, located in the Kashmir valley, the most coveted part of the territory. The resulting line of control, by and large, remains the de-facto international frontier within Kashmir and, in effect, is accepted by Paksitan and India. Huge numbers of Indian and Pakistani soldiers remain in Kashmir today as both countries profess to be the rightful authority for the rest of Kashmir.
Complicating matters, China has also extended its influence, and control, over portions of Kashmir, largely with the support of Pakistan, an ally.