The Crown Jewel: Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh
Upon entering the National Highway 1 (NH-1) which connects the Rest of India with Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh you might see a board displaying “Welcome to The Crown of India”. Well, that title crown is open to many interpretations, one being that this union territory is in the uppermost part of India but the meaning of ‘ The Crown’ is not so shortsighted, it has a huge geopolitical aspect to it. We will be concentrating on that Geo-political aspect and also the relevance and meaning of the title ‘Crown’ given to the Union Territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This region has always been the soft underbelly of India. With titan neighbours like China and Pakistan, this region makes every National Security Advisor and every Prime Minister of India go sleepless many times.
Why The Title Crown?
The Crown is the Centerpiece of any authority and of any representation of power. Likewise the Region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is the Centrepiece of India's geopolitical standings, strategic high ground and a barrier to any misadventures against India. India very well knows the significance of this region. In geo-politics, you cannot afford to lose the high ground and this crown is the high ground of India. Authority over this region not only helps India command and control the Region in many ways but also serves India’s interests vis-a-vis other nations : be it through the control over Siachen and its resources or the close proximity to Gilgit-Baltistan. Also, the higher ground in Ladakh turns in India's favour. How important is this crown and how apt is this title in geopolitical terms we got to know during the Kargil war. We will examine the major geopolitical significance and international standings of this region.
The Region of Command and Control
When you see the Map of India on the top you see the Union Territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. These Union Territories border some of the most belligerent neighbours present on this earth (China and Pakistan) along with the presence of the Afghan fighters through the mountain ranges and the large chunk of terror outfits like LASHKAR-E-TAIBA, HIZB-UL-MUJAHIDEEN, AL-BADR and the JAISH-E-MOHAMMED. These are just a few of the 35 terror outfits in the region. All this makes the region extremely destabilized and prone to a major escalation not only with the Terror outfits but with the Big nations themselves. In the West, the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), works like a launchpad for major terror activities and intrusions; not to forget the daily ceasefire violations that lead to many economic disturbances in the border areas. In the east and northeast - you have the Rising Dragon breathing fire, eye to eye in the region of Ladakh. Aksai Chin works as China's base-1 against India in this region. Squeezed in between LOC and LAC is the Geopolitical gold of India - The Siachen glacier. It cuts these two volatile neighbours at a major place and also gives India a high-ground which is strategic in military value. India needs to control the Siachen desperately because of its strategic value and yes because it's a glacier, it provides a huge freshwater reservoir in the 21st century when climate change is leaving nations thirsty. Siachen is the main source of the Nubra river which drains into the Shyok river which in turn joins the Indus, which is Pakistan's major water source. Close the Taps of the Shyok to the Indus and a major escalation is bound to happen between the two neighbours. This is what gives India a controlling stake in the Region over Pakistan. Siachen is also a strategic reservoir for a hugely populated nation like India and key to meet its rising demands of water. On the other hand, you have China which desperately wants to control the region to secure its interests and investments in the Region. This is where Gilgit-Baltistan plays a major role. This we will take up next.
The Fundamental reason for the relationship between Pakistan and China is Gilgit-Baltistan (located in PoK). The Day Pakistan loses control of Gilgit-Baltistan, that day China will no longer have a major benefiting relationship with Pakistan which it has now. There are many reasons for this but the major reason is - China's need for an excess of uninterrupted energy resources. China is day by day becoming energy thirsty as it is in its epitome of economic rise. Currently China imports oil and gas from the Middle East. If any conflict ever arises in the South China Sea or the Strait of Malacca - the United States or India need only one aircraft carrier or a Naval fleet to block the Strait and cut China's entire supply of energy, choking China to its knees. This will also disrupt China's trade supply chains and they will have no option but to beg to Russian Federation which is no less than a ‘Frenemy’ and cannot be relied on in case of a global escalation between China and US. This will be a huge geopolitical nightmare for the Chinese. To avoid this geopolitical choke-hold China has invested in creating CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) which is nothing but an uninterrupted guarantee of China's energy demands and trading supply chain savoir. This is also the major reason why China and Pakistan will never afford to give away PoK or land beyond the LAC, not to even dream about the independence of Tibet. Although China is still preparing for the worst case scenario, by building relationships with the Central Asian Countries and also Iran. India taking over Gilgit-Baltistan is the last thing that Beijing and Rawalpindi want. Now you can see the global significance of the region Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Terror in the Crown
Apart from China and Pakistan, the third major player in the Region is The Taliban. Once the Afghan peace deal is stuck between the US and the Taliban, it is easy to guess where the Taliban will propagate and spread its movement next. When in 1989, The Soviet Union lost the Afghan war, the Mujahideen fighters with the active help of outside power like the US and Pakistani handles, returned to Kashmir and trained and equipped the local
and Pakistani terror outfits, causing militancy in Kashmir. In 2001 when 9/11 attacks happened, the US invaded Afghanistan, which resulted in the control of militancy by the Talibani outfits in Kashmir. Now when the Peace deal is coming to near close and The US is preparing to withdraw, India needs to prepare for the worst. All these fighters, heavily equipped and trained, will be concentrating in the Kashmir region once again. This is no good news and to tackle this India has already taken steps for faster and greater involvement in the region. Names of terrorist organisations have changed but the threat remains the same. The major priority of India remains to keep the Crown safe and secure.
Significance of the Crown for India
Every year India loses hundreds of its brave-hearts, countless civilians and spends billions of dollars to keep peace in this region. India also has a huge deployment of troops, weaponry, and all of India's major bases are designed in near proximity to this region's neighbours. India also has been building the state of the art infrastructure in this region like four-lane roads, tunnels, highways, railways and air-strips not just for the development of this region but for the major military advantage- to facilitate faster deployment of the Military and its equipment to the places of urgent need. India is also building hydro-projects in this region to secure its water and energy interests. The reason why India is spending all this chunk of money on defence and development in this region is due to its heavy geopolitical significance to India. If this region is lost, India immediately loses control of Indus taps, water and electricity supplies in huge volumes, mineral wealth, tourism potential and the religious shrines which have the faith of billions in them. If India loses this Geopolitical high-ground, China and Pakistan will be able to partner up with the more military ground and may even have railway links to fasten up the supply chains, not to forget the Military bases that would increase drastically. The last but not the least would be the result that China and Pakistan would be in close proximity to the seat of power of India, i.e., New Delhi. Delhi would always have to be on high alert to keep this nation together. There will be many separatist movements all over the nation just because of losing this region. Losing the Crown Jewel of Indian geopolitics will be a great blunder. All this sums up The Crown’s relevance.
Current conflicts - Insight into future
Increasing infiltration from PoK, frequent ceasefire violations, huge deployment of Pakistan’s forces, and on the other hand, current conflicts and stand-offs between India and China in the Region of Galwan valley, Rezang la and Chinese manoeuvres in Shaksgam valley; all signal to the Future conflicts that await this region. Both China and Pakistan are concerned about any unilateral move by India to change the status quo in future or present. That's what they use as a justification to provoke India. Stand-off between China and India is nothing but China’s frustration that Pakistan may lose Gilgit-Baltistan. So China keeps pushing India to send a message or warning not to act on POK or in Aksai Chin. Current conflicts and confrontations are all insight into the future. This partnership between Pakistan and China to push India is what India fears or what our military experts call the Two-Front war.
What does the future hold
The 21st century is the Turning point for this region and is going to be one of the most important phases for this region. This region will witness major changes not only in the terms of economic, military or political angles but in terms of demographics, democracy and demonstration of power and by all the stakeholders. India is already gearing up for this future change. India has learnt from the past failures in this region and now is not only building up new defence mechanisms but greater economic, greater constitutional, law, political and developmental involvements. This is evident by the decision of abrogation of Article 370 which India has done much for both the internal aspects of greater reach, involvement, demographics, democracy and refugee crisis and also external aspects like tackling the Taliban threat, China’s greater involvement and Pakistan's belligerence. Power play by all three titans- China, India and Pakistan along with smaller players like the Taliban in Afghanistan will decide the fate of this region not only at a regional level, but global level too. Future will not be like a cakewalk for this region, conflict and confrontation is here to stay due to the huge stakes involved in this region. What remains to be seen is how the key players will deal with it. The crown has to be kept safely to keep the Geopolitical High Ground with India always.
By Harsh Suri
Harsh is on his mission with political science as his partner. Hindu College has given him a lot of know-how too. He is driven by geopolitics and geo-strategic issues. he loves to blend and understand international affairs with the domestic characteristics that shape it. Harsh believes in digging down the topic rather than having a cakewalk on it. you can ping him up on foreign policy anytime.