Is Kashmir becoming a part of new Great Game in South Asia? It is. In fact, the lingering political conflict in Kashmir is putting it at the centre of the changing geo-politics of the region. And this is not good for the state. Graduating from a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan into a playground for the great game will make it further resistant to an easy solution.
Since past two centuries, Afghanistan has been the hunting ground for the Great Game between world powers. But now it has a competition: the state of Jammu and Kashmir split between India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both. New geo-political alignments in the region – India's growing closeness to US and the deepening Pakistan-China 'all-weather friendship' – have threatened to turn Kashmir into a new battleground.
Some of the developments that point to this direction of the events played out over the past two months. In October, a Chinese flag joined with a Pakistani flag was waved at North Kashmir town of Baramulla, first time ever this flag was waved in the state. The joined flags were emblazoned with the message: "We welcome China's support to Kashmir".
Similarly, the 51 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which also passes through a part of Pakistan controlled Kashmir is a part of China’s ambitious One Belt One Road project. The corridor has put Kashmir further into the middle of the new Great Game. On the other hand, Russia-China ties have significantly improved and now there is even the talk of Russia wishing to join CPEC. Though India had earlier objected to Pakistan-Russia military exercises in a part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control, even urging its cold war ally to abandon the exercises in view of the cross-border militant attack in Uri which killed 19 soldiers, Russia didn’t take heed. While Moscow did oblige by shifting the location of exercises away from Kashmir, it didn’t cancel the exercises.
Also during the BRICS summit in Goa, China and Russia refused to play along with India’s call for isolating Pakistan for its alleged sponsorship of terrorism in India, particularly in Kashmir. This has made US-ally India chary of the development of a China-Russia-Pakistan axis to its detriment.
One more indication of this shifting geopolitical reality was provided by the recent visit to US by Pakistani leader Mushahid Hussain. He made it clear that the path to peace in Afghanistan lay through Kashmir. This effectively meant that Pakistan would help in the stabilization of Afghanistan as a quid pro quo to US help in resolution of Kashmir. India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is also seen to have become important to China to contain India, its rival in the region now backed by US. Now likely more so under President Donald Trump who has made no secret of his preference for India in his theatrical presidential campaign. These developments should cause some serious thinking in Kashmir, especially among the pro-freedom camp. That is, if they get any time off from issuing endless hartal calendars and ensuring Kashmir economy is completely ravaged.
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