A Forgotten Piece of Kashmir:The Story of the Yarkand-Karakash Tract

Ishaan Busireddy

The tripartite dispute over the region of Kashmir has strained Indo-Chinese and Indo-Pakistani ever since 1947 and has led to numerous armed conflicts. The dispute stretches all the way back to the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir within British India. Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja (King), but the majority of the population of Kashmir was Muslim (with a considerable Hindu minority). This peculiar situation resulted in some of the population and the Maharaja wanting to join India and the rest of the population wanting to join Pakistan. After armed conflict sprang up in the region, the Maharaja ceded his lands to India in order for its support against pro-Pakistani militants; the result was the First Indo-Pakistani War, which was followed by many more. Additionally, China invaded India in the Sino-Indian War and seized parts of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh that China claimed to be part of Chinese Xinjiang (East Turkestan) and Tibet. China withdrew from Arunachal Pradesh due to American pressure. Still, China continues to control regions claimed by India as part of its Union Territory of Ladakh; the largest of the Chinese-occupied regions is Aksai Chin. Just last year, several deadly border skirmishes occurred along the Line of Actual Control, the de-facto border between India and China, in which aggressive actions from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were repelled by the Indian Armed Forces. Many of these clashes have been fought in Eastern Ladakh/Western Tibet as India does not claim any Chinese-controlled territory to the adjacent north of the de-facto border. But, why is this the case? Maps of the British Raj in the 20th century drew the border between the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir and Qing Chinese Xinjiang and Tibet along the Yarkand and Karakash Rivers (see blue circle and line in the map).



However, modern Indian claims, which are primarily inherited from the border agreements between the British Raj and Qing China, do not extend up to the Yarkand and Karakash Rivers. It seems that in the midst of, or even prior to, the Sino-Indian War, China occupied the tract of land, shown shaded in blue in the map, and India simply dropped its claim to the area, unaware that it was administered and ceded to India by the Maharaja of Kashmir; there is no available information as to why the tract of land, which India has a historical basis by which to claim considering its other claims, is not currently claimed. China administers the perhaps “forgotten” tract of land as a part of three administrative divisions: the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Kargilik County, and Pishin County, all of which come under the Chinese Xinjiang Province, which has become infamous for the oppression of the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples. Taking all of this into consideration, this may be a very non-strategic blunder on the part of the Indian Government and one of the exceptionally rare cases in which a piece of land was simply “forgotten” about and occupied by a bordering nation.

Image Sources: CIA (Left; modified by Ishaan Busireddy)

Edinburgh Geographical Institute (Right; modified by Ishaan Busireddy)