The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto—-but not de jure — part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto—- but not de jure—parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.
China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J & K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plan paper visa and not on their Indian passport.
While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.
The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:
- Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories.
- Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J & K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J & K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J & K.
- Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India’s sovereignty over J & K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.
EDIT (01/09/2010): The Chinese foreign ministry has also denied sending troops into Gilgit.
EDIT (01/09/2010): Selig Harrison, the author of the New York Times‘ report, has been caught fabricating details in the past. Unless the Indian government’s report verifies Harrison’s claims, it looks as if the Times will have to publish an apology column.