A matter of maps

By: Kamila Hyat

As its answer to India’s oppressive policies on Kashmir, Islamabad has come up with a new map. This map is an improvement on the ludicrous Indian version issued earlier. In fact, looking at all the maps going around, the, South Asian region is beginning to look very different. First, New Delhi included Azad Kashmir in a new map that it put out within the territory of India. Gilgit-Baltistan had been added to Indian Kashmir. In response, in its altered map Pakistan has placed the whole of Kashmir within its own boundaries, while stating clearly the territory is disputed and, on the ground, divided by the Line of Control. As an extra service it has added Junagarh and Sir Creek inside its own space. Making matters even more complicated Pakistan has awarded China portions of India, perhaps as a gesture of friendship. One would have thought a superpower like China could have been left to fight its own battles. India and Nepal have also engaged in a separate effort for different maps, with each country coming up with a slightly different version of how the political map of the area should look like. There are minor disputes over the mountainous border between those two countries. Pakistan has argued that its strategy is based at reminding the world that Kashmir is not a part of India as New Delhi claims. Of course, this is perfectly accurate. Only Kashmiris have the right to determine where they are placed on a map with the right to autonomy also open to them. In Kashmir, it is seen as a very real option and a realistic future given the over seven-decade old battle the Kashmiris have fought for a geographical space that should have been decided in 1947. There has been sharp criticism of the Pakistan government for failing to make the issue taken up more widely at an international level. So far support has come essentially only from Iran, Turkey and Malaysia. But activating other capitals is not easy until they themselves have some motive to raise a voice. Pakistan has tried. Others need to do so too. This is broadly true of the scores of disputes over territory which exist all around the world and on all continents. Only those which impact the most powerful countries on the globe are generally recognized. Without doubt the present fascist administration in New Delhi, and also Indian opposition parties, are mainly responsible for the new round of misery and oppression that the Kashmiris face. However, we should remember the problem initially arose as a result of the manner in which the delicate business of Partition was mismanaged by the British colonial rulers who put their own interests ahead of the welfare of the millions of people who lived in the region. The decision to partition India was taken only on July 15, 1947. Lord Mountbatten was assigned the difficult task of splitting the country apart by the new Labour government in London, which feared that delaying the process would weaken it. In almost unbelievable haste, Mountbatten summoned the unfortunate Cyril Radcliffe to India to carry out the process of drawing a line that would separate portions going to Pakistan from India. The line was to be drawn to both the East and West of the Indian mass given the decision to create an East and West Pakistan. Radcliffe, given only a month to complete this task, himself stated he was extremely poorly equipped for the job as a lawyer who knew little about India and its intricacies. The commission to work with Radcliffe did not know much either. To make matters even worse, Cyril Radcliffe soon came down with both dysentery and cholera, and wished to abandon his task and return home as soon as possible. He was not permitted to do so given the urgency of the situation. In these dismal conditions the borderline was drawn. The new map was handed over to both new countries only on August 17, after the formal events of Partition had already taken place a few days earlier. Some historians who specialize in the events of 1947 believe that the Radcliffe Line contributed considerably to the problems faced soon after division, and in the years to follow. They have pointed out that using districts as the primary means to determine which piece of land went to which country added to the mayhem which followed as millions of people embarked on the biggest mass migration in history. At least one million and very possibly two or three million died in the violence that followed. No consideration was given to dividing villages right through the centre, in an attempt to place a large number of Muslims in Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs in India. It can be argued that the impact of the botched division is experienced even today in both countries. And for Pakistan the lines drawn on a map play an important part on its Western Frontier. A line drawn up in 1893 under colonial rule separated Afghanistan from the Subcontinent. It remains a point of contention even now as an indication of this. It may be wise to consider the past when making out maps. These can be problematic pieces of paper. They can add to tensions, influence decisions of many kinds and indeed act as a reminder of the problems that still divide the world sometimes after many decades of effort to create a resolution. Maps then need to be thought about carefully and as part of a wider process. The most obvious example of this, and issues unilateral decisions regarding borders can cause, is perhaps Taiwan or Chinese Taipei and its flag and map. The issue dates back at least seven decades and involves the ownership of the island that the government in Beijing calls Chinese Taipei and which is known by its own government as Taiwan. The matter dates to the Civil War fought in China between the forces of Mao Tse Tung and Chiang Kai Shek. The matter lives on even if the two leaders are dead. In a display of commendable maturity Taiwan or Chinese Taipei has agreed to march behind the Olympic flag at the Olympic Games to avoid antagonizing China which for years had boycotted the world’s largest sporting event. The matter of Kashmir goes beyond games played over maps, and involves real people and real lives. It is these people who need to be put ahead of everything else. This must be Pakistan and the world’s first goal.