By Syed Ata Hasnain
May 18, 2016
Pakistan is objecting to the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, which will render illegal for anyone in India and any Indian abroad to misrepresent India’s territory. Pakistan perceives Jammu & Kashmir as disputed and therefore wants that international maps should not represent the entire territory of J&K as a part of India. This is an off-beat issue which is not easy to discern in depth, in terms of its value towards security and geopolitics. As a background it may be sufficient to know that modern technology affords the viewing of the earth in all its minutest detail from various ‘eyes in the skies’, and representing the views in different profiles.
It is a revolution in the world of cartography (the science and practice of drawing maps), providing not only accuracy but also information of the existence of habitation, terrain detail and other artificial man made assets. All the latter have intelligence value in strategic terms because before such technology was developed and high quality cameras came into being, obtaining information related to terrain and assets was from ground levels through physical viewing with the naked eye and recording observations; all this with sometimes clandestine entry into territory not under your own control.
Aerial photography was the interim phase but high speed cameras had to match the speed of aircraft. The advent of satellite surveillance and photography along with a revolution in digital photography has transformed all this. Nations can acquire real time information from their various assets in the skies and outer space and use it for different purposes.
With the rise of radical, transnational terrorism and the continuous technological development in the world of imagery and navigational aids, terror organizations wishing to study their targets and objectives have information they need, right out of the World Wide Web. The Web carries cartographic and navigation aids besides accurate information which can be exploited for planning of a terrorist operation. Mumbai’s 26/11 and the Pathankot terror attack were both aided by this technology.
Geospatial Information means imagery or data acquired from space and aerial platforms such as satellites, aircraft, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles, including value addition or graphical or digital data with depiction. The Draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 provides exhaustive directions to prevent the misuse of the technology explained above and very stringent punishment for contravention.
The aspects we are concerned about are two. First In simple terms, any addition or creation of anything that has to do with any geospatial information - or location - within the territory of India will need the permission of the government or, in this case, a Security Vetting Authority. The draft legislation lays down - “No person shall depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form.” In other words, it is not a ban on the use of the technology but a regulation of it.
Now, what is the objection which Pakistan has? It has gone to the UN objecting to India forcing the display of maps of its territories which do not show the supposed disputed status of Jammu & Kashmir. Let me explain this with a little background.
The territory of the State of J&K, currently under occupation of three nations, has always been officially a part of the territory of India; the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on 26 Oct 1947, clearly and legally gives India the right over the entire territory of J&K. It needs to be reminded that J&K is currently under three nation possession/occupation; Aksai Chin illegally with China, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB) illegally with Pakistan and Ladakh, Valley and Jammu with India.
Pakistan has always contested the status of J&K and terms it disputed; it follows a rationale that UN Security Council Resolution calling for Plebiscite has been disregarded by India which remains in illegal possession of the territory under its control.
India is very clear on its own stand which needs to be understood in the light of Pakistan’s objections to the current draft Indian legislation. Firstly, the Plebiscite was to have been conducted after withdrawal of forces which committed aggression on the territory of J&K.
Since the Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 Oct 1947 and Indian troops landed thereafter on 27 Oct 1947 they committed no aggression on their ‘own territory’; hence it is Pakistan which has to withdraw its troops. Secondly, the status of the J&K issue has been altered with China’s occupation of Aksai Chin and hence the UNSC Resolution is void. Thirdly, that Pakistan has attempted three times to change the status by use of force which again makes the UN process void. Fourthly, it is the Shimla Agreement of 1972 which has overridden the UNSC Resolution with bilateralism as the key. Fifthly, with Pakistan launching a proxy war against India in 1989, which is lasting to the day, India declared its position on J&K with even greater clarity. On 22 Feb 1994, the two Houses of India’s Parliament passed a Joint Resolution declaring that the entire territory which formed the erstwhile kingdom of J&K under the Maharaja belongs to India and India will strive for the return of territories not under its control.
Pakistan is objecting to the creating of a law which will render illegal for anyone in India and any Indian abroad to misrepresent India’s perception of its own territory. The issue in contention for Pakistan is that it perceives J&K as disputed and therefore wants that international maps of the region should not represent the entire territory of J&K as a part of India. It also feels that with such legislation and given India’s increasing international clout many other agencies may not wish to contest Indian claims. Facebook, for example, is learnt to have recently issued an apology for not showing the correct boundaries of J&K in its map of India.
Within India there is simply no sensitivity about incorrect representation of India’s national boundaries. I was recently witness to an event in which speakers showed Power Point slides with J&K lopped off in all directions. A foreigner too displayed such a map but on my pointing this out there were apologies for the lack of awareness.
The draft legislation is a smart piece of work on the part of those who are aware of technology and the continuous misrepresentation of our national territories. If, as a nation, we continue to project maps which show J&K and Arunachal Pradesh without our claim lines clearly as part of Indian territory we weaken our own case on moral grounds.
This legislation will force awareness and consciousness about ensuring that we are careful about it. For public information it is good to know that blind downloading of maps from the Internet makes you vulnerable to mistakes if you are not conscious of this. It will also enhance general awareness about national boundaries.
Lastly, the display of geospatial information gained by international agencies on public platforms by international players can always carry material useful for terrorists and this can relate to information on India too. This legislation will put all Indian display under scrutiny so that there is no compromise on security through our own displays.
It is yet to be fully analyzed how much will this legislation assist in curbing information flow to inimical elements. It is also likely to have an effect on commercial exploitation of navigation aids such as satellite navigation systems for automobiles and public transport companies such as Ola and Uber who use this extensively for tracking their cabs.