To those who watched the recent India-China clashes with dismay and a sense of betrayal by the northern neighbour, one of the most galling aspects was the unreserved glee with which Pakistanis greeted the conflict between their worst enemy and the all-weather friend. Even as Delhi began to gird itself for a possible war, the Pakistani Foreign Minister was on the phone with his Chinese counterpart, swearing that both would stand together on “core interests”.
But what many may have forgotten how China began to nibble away at what Pakistan regarded as its territory, long before Beijing began its forays into Aksai Chin or Ladakh. Even today, China continues its expansion, although in a slightly different format.
China’s steady expansion into Pakistani territory began with entirely imaginary versions of events translated over time into its maps and claim lines. This is a story whose lessons need to be learned well, as Beijing makes new claims in Eastern Bhutan, in addition to the Galwan Valley.
China’s covetous eyes were first cast on Hunza, now part of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, but at the time a kingdom strategically placed with ingress into Afghanistan, the Pamirs, Russian Central Asia and South Xinjiang, as also the Shaksgam Valley that bordered Xinjiang.
That’s when China first extended the hand of ‘friendship’. But the Mir of Hunza too had an expansionist vision, and thus laid claim to the Raksam Valley and the strategic oasis of Tashkorgan in Xinjiang, both in present day China. As a new ‘friendship’ was gaining ground, the Mir’s claims did not prevent Qing commanders in around 1847 from “granting” to Hunza, the areas between Yarkhand and Tashkorgan.