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Will the SCO help solve South Asian Border Disputes?

Before borders can be opened for trade we need to know where the borders actually are. What will happen to Kashmir as China, India, and Pakistan become more politically and economically intertwined?

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The Shangai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a regional framework agreement led by China and Russia and signed by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Seen by some experts as an Asian NATO, the SCO is seeking to expand trade opportunities and economic development throughout the region. With China’s economy booming and its government envisioning a new Silk Road, the organization is looking for a few new friends.

With explicit support from Russia, the SCO is looking southward with India and Pakistan on its radar. Both these countries are already observers to the organization. While this can be seen as a softening of relations between India and China, there is still the messy business of the disputed border along India’s North-East and China’s southwest. Sikkim and Arunchal Pradesh, which are under Indian control are still claimed wholly or in part by China.

Will the SCO’s potential expansion put an end to these disagreements and open more borders for trade?

The countries in the organization are no strangers to internal disputes, whether it’s the Ferghana Valley, Chechnya, or Xinjiang. There is also the not so small elephant in the room of Kashmir. Located in the far north of India, the region has been a flashpoint since the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. India claims the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, agreed to accede to India in the face of a coup by his people. Pakistan says the accession is invalid and the people have a right to a plebiscite or referendum as stated by the UN Security Council. Since 1947 India and Pakistan have fought four wars, all somewhat related to Kashmir or other territorial disagreements.

China is also no stranger to the Kashmir region. In 1962 China and India fought a war in which China gained control over the Aksai Chin glacier (see map). This led to the Sino-Paki Border Agreement of 1963 in which Pakistan ceded control over parts of Kashmir in exchange for Chinese aid in building infrastructure in its Northern Areas. India viewed this infrastructure as an expansion of Pakistan’s military capability. A referendum on Kashmir’s sovereignty essentially disappeared, the Security Council directly called for a demilitarized, democratic solution.

How the organization will directly affect Kashmir and other disputes will be interesting to observe. As details emerge what, if any, mention will be made in official agreements about borders and occupied territories? Especially what will be said about two potential member nations who are at a direct militarized loggerhead?

In the past India has found various legal loopholes to avoid given Kashmir further autonomy. When signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a document which paid direct homage for people’s rights to self-determination India, in its first reservation, stated `the right of self-determination’ appearing in [this article] apply only to the peoples under foreign domination and that these words do not apply to sovereign independent States or to a section of a people or nation — which is the essence of national integrity.

But times have changed and so has the region’s economic clout. In 2010 the UN took Kashmir off its list of disputed territories and with the recent election of Modi, who the Economist called a democratically elected strongman, the time could be economically ripe for a solution.


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Filed under: India, Indian Borderlands

About the Author:

Lawrence Hamilton is a freelance journalist focusing on South Asian security situations and border disputes. has written 52 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Lawrence Hamilton is currently in: Dunedin, NZMap

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