China Will Return Akshai Chin'
16 December 2004
Kolkata: That is what Azad Kashmir leader Abdul Majeed Mallick believes, and hence insists that China be made part of the Indo-Pak peace dialogue.As India and Pakistan on Tuesday began talks in Islamabad on how to avoid an accidental nuclear war, Kashmiri leaders on both sides of the border closely monitored the meeting. The talks came close on the heels of a Kathmandu conference that for the first time brought the two sides together to discuss a peaceful resolution to the issue that has made India and Pakistan go to war thrice. Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Rome-based NGO that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for improving communications between the USA and the former USSR, hosted a three-day meet in the Nepalese capital from 11 December, where it brought together people's representatives from both Jammu and Kashmir in India and Azad Kashmir in Pakistan, intellectuals, former government officials and even the present political advisor to the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, to discuss how to further the process of dialogue. The conference ended with the unanimous decision that Kashmiris from both sides of the border - or their representatives - should be part of the Indo-Pak talks since it's their fate that is being decided, that there should be people-to-people contacts of Track II diplomacy besides government-to-government meetings to make the decisions broad-based and put pressure on both governments to resolve the row, and that migrants who began leaving J&K in the 90s, should be allowed to return with honour and dignity. However, amidst all this, a new voice was heard. Abdul Majeed Mallick, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Azad Kashmir and leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation League party, says China needs to be brought into the dialogue. The disputed Kashmir region, occupying more than 2,20,00 sq km, lies divided amongst three countries. Azad Kashmir, also known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, lies in Pakistan and comprises the lion's share of the area - about 45 per cent. About 37 per cent of the territory lies in northern India and is known as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. While the current debate mostly focuses on India and Pakistan, few mention that a third part of Kashmir lies in China. Known as Akshai Chin, the area covering about 38,000 sq km was originally part of Indian territory. An unpopulated arid area, it was occupied by China after Beijing's annexation of Tibet and went unnoticed by the Indian authorities for a long time. It was virtually conceded to China by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the ground that 'not a single blade of grass grows there'. However, Mallick's party is pressing for an independent Kashmir with India, Pakistan as well as China returning the areas in their territories. According to him, Beijing has pledged its commitment to return the annexed land. 'Last year, the Chinese ambassador to Islamabad gave the assurance that if India and Pakistan returned the parts of Kashmir they controlled, China would do the same,' Mallick said. Once it is unified and independent, Mallick says Kashmir will sign a four-party agreement with India, Pakistan and China to the effect that the neighbouring countries will ensure the security of the fledgling nation and not interfere in its internal matters. Despite the majority of Kashmiris being Muslims, Mallick says independent Kashmir will be a secular country where all communities will have equal political rights and equal shares in the administration, legislature and all other aspects of the government. Mallick is confident that the day will come when his vision shall prevail and there will be an independent Kashmir, though at present some Kashmiri leaders are pressing for a unified Kashmir under Pakistan and some for one under India. 'Truth and reality have to prevail,' he says. 'Peace and prosperity in South Asia depends on the settlement of the Kashmir problem. While other regions have advanced economically, South Asia has been lagging behind. Things have changed internationally and both India and Pakistan have to realise that. Enough is enough.'