The map controversy

Why is the Modi regime in a hurry to seek international legitimacy as far as the map of J&K is concerned?

The map of India which was depicted by the then High Commissioner of India to Singapore, Mr TCA Raghavan during his talk on ‘Indian Foreign Policy’ at the Rajaratram School of International Studies (RSIS) Nanyang Technological University, Singapore delivered in February 2011 included Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as part of India and showed Afghanistan as a neighbour of India. In 2013, Raghavan was posted as India’s Higher Commissioner to Pakistan.

According to the reports, on January 25 this year, some of the lawmakers in Pakistan’s National Assembly expressed their resentment and concern over depicting GB as part of India in Google and other internationally recognized maps. It was pointed out by a member of National Assembly that “if India has a right to show Gilgit-Baltistan as its territory, then what action our Foreign Office has taken so far to address the issue?” Whereas, in UN maps, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) are showed as a disputed territory but it is not the UN maps of J&K which is referred by the concerned people, but they usually use maps of that region showed in Google.

The myth of Akhand Bharat (United India) still runs deep inside the Indian mindset particularly among those who have not reconciled with the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Unification of India may seem to be a fallacy but not a forgotten goal of those in India who want their country to expand beyond their existing borders

India’s seriousness to show J&K in official maps can be gauged from the fact that in May 2016 it introduced draft of geospatial information regulation bill in its parliament which depicted the whole of Jammu and Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan as its integral part and suggested that “wrong depiction of the map of India could land the violators in jail with a maximum term of seven years and impose a fine up to Rs 100 crore, according to the draft ‘Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016.’

The map controversy got an impetus when in May 2016 in a statement Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced serious apprehensions over the Indian manipulation of the map of J&K and said that “Pakistan had expressed serious concern to the UN Secretary General and the President of the UN Security Council with regard to the Indian government’s efforts to introduce controversial Geospatial Information Regulation Bill in the Indian Parliament. In violation of the UN Security Council resolution, the official map of India has been depicting the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir as part of India which is factually incorrect and legally untenable. Through the passage of this Bill, the Indian government would penalize the individuals and organizations who depict Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory as per the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.”

The Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup however rebuffed the criticism of Pakistan by stating that, “the proposed Bill is an entirely internal legislative matter of India, since the whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan or any other party has no locus standi in the matter. The Government firmly rejects Pakistan’s repeated and increasing attempts to impose on the international community matters that India has always been open to address bilaterally with Pakistan.”

It should be noted that it is under the National Map Policy of India introduced in 2005 that the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill was introduced in the Indian parliament and such a step enabled New Delhi to provide a legitimacy to its claim over the whole of J&K.

Why is the Modi regime in a hurry to seek international legitimacy as far as the map of J&K is concerned? Will the UN take notice of India’s drive to replace the disputed status of J&K by showing it as its integral part in its official maps and maps published by other international publishing companies? Will it make any difference by depicting G&B as the integral part of India in its official maps when the reality on the ground is different?

A country’s sovereignty and territorial boundary is recognized on the basis of maps. If maps are manipulated, in that case a wrong impression is sent to the outside world. That is what India is doing at the moment by manipulating the map of J&K and contrary to the realities showing it as its integral part. There are three major realities behind India’s map making drive. First, since granting independence from the British, India projected expansionist designs which were proved when it occupied huge chunk of J&K and refused to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions calling for the holding of plebiscite. The manner in which India absorbed the princely states of Hyderabad Deccan and Junagadh also proved its expansionist territorial ambitions. The rulers of these two states had acceded to Pakistan but India occupied these two princely states. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are determined to legitimise the map of India which is questionable to the extent that under such maps India is showing its borders with Afghanistan.

Second, the reality that the United Nations, which should have prevented India from publishing maps which contradicts its own map on Jammu & Kashmir failed in its duty. It should have been the task of the UN Secretary General and the Security Council to stop India from issuing maps which lack legitimacy and is devoid of reality on the ground. Unfortunately, the failure of the UN in taking notice of Geospatial Information Regulation Bill in its parliament is an unfortunate act reflecting its non-serious attitude and lack of any policy response on a matter which contradicts with the official UN policy on Jammu & Kashmir. Finally, the success of India in getting its official map recognised by Google and other search engines cannot be taken lightly. As was rightly pointed out in Pakistan’s National Assembly the other day that Pakistan should have approached google and other publishing houses to remove controversial maps from its sites and publications and show only UN maps which depict Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Behind India’s drive to legitimize its illegal occupation of territories since 1947 till today, is its age old ambition to gain more and more territories at the expense of neighbours.  The myth of ‘Akhand Bharat’ (United India) still runs deep inside the Indian mindset particularly among those who have not reconciled with the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Unification of India may seem to be a fallacy but not a forgotten goal of those in India who want their country to expand beyond their existing borders.

Is it not a reality that since 1947 till today, India has not lost an inch of its territory but on the contrary has gained its area and hopes to expand further in the days to come. But, if India has expanded at the expense of its neighbours, it means growing insecurity and fear in its neighbourhood about New Delhi’s territorial ambitions. Unfortunately, no country in South Asia has the courage to challenge India’s expansionist designs except Pakistan which has suffered most as a result of Indian policy of expansion and absorption of Hyderabad Deccan, Junagadh, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, including Siachen.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations, University of Karachi. He can be reached at amoonis@hotmal.com

Published in Daily Times, February 2nd 2018.