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PEPE ESCOBAR: The India-China, Himalayan Puzzle

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Valley near Kangan, Kashmir.
Valley near Kangan, Kashmir.
(Image by (Kashmir Pictures, Flickr))
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It was straight from an Orientalist romantic thriller set in the Himalayas: soldiers fighting each other with stones and iron bars in the dead of night on a mountain ridge over 4,000 meters high, some plunging to their deaths into a nearly frozen river and dying of hypothermia.

In November 1996, China and India had agreed not to use guns along their 3,800 km-long border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which sports an occasional tendency to derail into a Line Out of Control.

Yet this was not just another Himalayan scuffle. Of course there were echoes of the 1962 Sino-Indian war -- which started pretty much the same way, leading Beijing to defeat New Delhi on the battlefield. But now the strategic chessboard is way more complex, part of the evolving 21st Century New Great Game.

Indian army marching in 1962 war, during which Indian Air Force was not used.
Indian army marching in 1962 war, during which Indian Air Force was not used.
(Image by (Indian Defence Review))
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The situation had to be defused. Top military commanders from China and India finally met face to face this past weekend. And on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Zhao Lijian confirmed they "agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation."

The Indian Army concurred: "There was mutual consensus to disengage (...) from all frictions areas in Eastern Ladakh."

A day later, the breakthrough was confirmed at a videoconference meeting of the three foreign ministers of Russia, India and China, also known as the RICs: Sergey Lavrov, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Wang Yi. President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping Xi will meet in person on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Saudi Arabia next November.

And that will follow probably another videoconference special next month, in St. Petersburg, during the combined summits of the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO.)

So How Did We Get Here?

Our Himalayan drama starts way back in October 1947, when the Maharaja of Kashmir signed an Instrument of Accession -- joining the dominion of India in return for military support. As much as the Raj, Kashmir was also partitioned: West and North became Azad ("Free") Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, under Pakistan; the state of Jammu and Kashmir was to become an autonomous part of India; and significantly Aksai Chin, historically part of Tibet, became part of China.

On a personal level, this has always been among my top "roof of the world" travel/reporting areas. Not only for the unrivalled, breathtaking geological apotheosis, but for the people -- Hunzakut, Baltistanis, Kashmiris, Tibetans.

Both Kashmirs -- Pakistani and Indian -- are majority Muslim. Everywhere you go you feel you're in Central Asia, not India. Barren Aksai Chin is virtually population-free, apart from scattered military posts. Eastern Ladakh, historically and culturally, was part of the Tibetan plateau. The people are Buddhist, and speak a similar Tibetan dialect to the people of Aksai Chin.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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