On maps, borders and national narratives

“Are all these maps really pro-Pakistan?”, Tom Wright asked in his blog post on the Wall Street Journal writing about India’s recent complaint over a map on the U.S. State Department’s website. While this news byte did not manage to get any critical attention in mainstream U.S. media, Wright wrote about it in considerable length and insightful comments on the issue.

The map in question showed showed Pakistani occupied Kashmir as part of Pakistan and Indian occupied Kashmir as part of India created quite a stir in New Delhi. Following an application by the Indian government, the U.S. State Department took the “inaccurate” map down.

Screenshot of the U.S. State Department

While the entire Kashmir region is disputed territory by India, Pakistan and even China, India insists on depicting all of Kashmir as part of India. As Wright notes, last year India objected on Google’s depiction of Pakistani administered Kashmir as part of Pakistan. Currently, Google Maps in India shows all of Kashmir as part of India, and therefore India shares a border with Afghanistan, at least on Google.

Google Maps in India show the country sharing a border with Afghanistan. (Google Maps)

The State Department’s quick response in taking the map down until a more “accurate” map is available shows how reluctant Washington is in addressing the Kashmir issue with India and Pakistan. India’s furor, on the other hand, represents how much in denial they are about the reality on the ground.

Kashmir, which is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, has been a source of major conflict and animosity between pakistan and India for decades. Over the years, India has managed to suppress Kashmiri voices but denying them space in it’s mainstream public imagination. It justifies the heavy military presence and repression in Kashmir through the secular-nationalist argument that Kashmiris will turn into radical Muslims under the influence of Islamic militants. However, in reality, the Kashmiri’s are possibly as tired of Pakistani backed radical Islamists as they are of the Indian military.

In a recent discussion at the Asia Society, Indian authors Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra along with Kashmiri anthropologist Mohamad Junaid spoke in length about how the Kashmir issue is unrepresented in both the Indian media and the Western media. While many Indian’s and Pakistanis believe that Kashmir is rightfully a part of their country and not the other’s, Junaid, a Kashmiri, has a very different perspective. He believes that most Kashmiris want political independence from India, Pakistan and China especially after having lived under military repression for so long. He goes on to say that even culturally, the Kashmiris feel much closer to Central Asia rather than the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

Earlier this month, as an attempt to normalise trade relations with India, Pakistan decided to grant its eastern neighbor the status of Most Favored Nation (MFN). While countries under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, cannot discriminate between their trading partners, the Most Favored Nation status allows trading partners to grant certain special privileges which are also extended to other WTO members. This decision (supported by Pakistan’s military) has not been received favorably by Kashmiri leaders across Pakistani-administered Kashmir and Indian-administered Kashmir as they believe such an agreement will allow India to dominate the region economically.

As oversimplified as it may sound, but as I have mentioned in an earlier post, regional stability in South Asia cannot be reached unless Pakistan and India resolve their conflict over Kashmir. However, it’s not an issue that can be resolved by India and Pakistan alone without taking into consideration the varying Kashmiri perspectives.

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