Why India needs to talk more about Shaksgam Valley (IANS Column: FairPoint)
<br>India and its political dispensation have been raising the illegality of Pakistan- Occupied Kashmir, but the continuing occupation by China of some areas of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir never finds an adequate mention. It is time that there is a change in the stance and a beginning be made by mandating Parliamentary and Assembly seats for PoK and Shaksgam Valley.
A Forgotten Fact
The original Jammu and Kashmir geographical area, which was controlled by the last Maharaja, Hari Singh, at the time of his accession to India, was much bigger than what India is holding now. It had PoK in addition to Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin. Pakistani raids in Kashmir soon after Independence took away what is now called PoK as well as Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin.
The Shaksgam Valley was ceded to China by Pakistan on March 2, 1963, under an agreement that laid the foundation of the Karakoram highway, which was built by China and Pakistan jointly in the 1970s. At present, China occupies 5,180 sq. km. in Shaksgam Valley and approximately 38,000 sq. km. in Aksai Chin.
The legitimate frontiers of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir comprised a total area of 2,22,236 sq. km., which rightfully belonged to the Maharaja. Upon the signing of the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, the territory passed into India. Of the total territory, 78,114 sq. km. are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan; 38,000 sq. km. are under Chinese control; and a further 5,180 sq. km. in Shaksgam Valley and the main Karakoram Range have been illegally ceded by Pakistan to China.
China, Pakistan Obfuscate Facts
For the past 75 years Pakistan has been trying to portray Kashmir as its "unfinished agenda of partition". It does not miss any opportunity to attack India at any international forum on the Kashmir issue, but never mentions anything about the parts that it gave away to China.
China and Pakistan have colluded to obfuscate these facts. Instead, they brazenly promote the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through parts of these occupied areas that lawfully belong to India.
The fact that China occupies approximately 42,735 sq. km. of the territory of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir hardly figures in any reference to the Kashmir issue at the UN. India needs to highlight this on every occasion, whenever the issue of Kashmir is raised by Pakistan.
China has had a free run so far and its status as an occupier of territory in Ladakh, which was a part of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state, has not been adequately publicised and even questioned. This has to be highlighted aggressively across all international platforms.
Exposing Pak-China Designs
Post the Russia-Ukraine war, a conducive situation has emerged and it demands a set of measures that may serve as vital components of a long-term strategy on PoK and China-occupied areas. Apart from launching a diplomatic onslaught in world forums, India needs to push its claim on PoK, Shaksgam and Aksai Chin.
In reply to a question raised in Parliament on February 4 -- whether the government is planning to ask China to de facto return Shaksgam Valley illegally occupied by China since 1963 -- the government said:
"China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq. km. of Indian territory in the Union Territory of Ladakh for the last six decades.
"Further, under the so-called China-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' signed in 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km. of Indian territory in Shaksgam Valley from areas illegally occupied by Pakistan in the Union Territory of Ladakh to China.
"Government of India has never recognised the so-called China-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' of 1963 and has consistently maintained that it is illegal and invalid. The fact that the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are an integral and inalienable part of India has been clearly conveyed to Pakistani and Chinese authorities several times."
More than making occasional statements, India needs to club the case of China's illegal occupation of Shaksgam Valley whenever it raises the PoK issue.
The present world order presents an opportunity that must be seized upon to enunciate a coherent, policy-oriented discussion both on Chinese occupation and PoK.
Mandating Assembly & Parliamentary Seats
In a strategic move, the Centre should reserve seats in the J&K Assembly and in Parliament from the Indian areas under illegal occupation of China and Pakistan. The Delimitation Commission should mandate Parliamentary and Assembly seats for PoK, Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin.
When Parliament ended Jammu and Kashmir's special status in August 2019, it retained the provision of the J&K Constitution that reserved 24 seats from PoK for the Legislative Assembly of the present Union Territory of J&K. When the J&K Constitution was in force, these 24 seats in the Legislative Assembly were left vacant and not contested during state elections.
The Delimitation Commission has the mandate to redraw the boundaries of the existing constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and has been collecting the views of all, including political parties, on the matter. A view that has been strongly articulated is that the Commission must take into consideration those parts which are under illegal occupation of Pakistan and China.
Delimiting additional Lok Sabha seats for Parliament and the Assembly of the two union territories for PoK, Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin can be a strategic move towards reinforcing legitimacy. And this can be an important step in the direction of exposing the designs of China and Pakistan on Kashmir.
(Deepika Bhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)