New Delhi: On Tuesday, Pakistan complained to the United Nations that India’s draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, adding to the Line of Control a new dispute – one over the control of lines.
Since India did not object to Pakistan’s own 2014 legislation depicting its version of its national boundaries, most Indian observers consider Islamabad’s protests as overblown.
Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs had issued a statement publicising the “serious concern” it had expressed to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon and the UNSC president about the proposed Indian law.
The bill has already attracted a lot of criticism within India for allegedly stifling digital innovation, but Pakistan seems mainly worried about the penalty clause for wrongful depiction of maps which do not adhere to India’s perception of international boundaries.
“Through the passage of this Bill, the Indian government would penalise the individuals and organizations who depict Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory as per the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions,” said the press release from the Pakistan foreign office.
In her letter, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi said that India’s claim of Kashmir as an integral part of its its territory was a “travesty of history, morality, international law and facts on the ground”.
In retaliation, India’s ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “Pakistan or any other party has no locus standi in the matter”. He noted that it was “an entirely internal legislative matter of India, since the whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India”.
In May 2014, Pakistan’s National Assembly had passed a “The Surveying and Mapping Act, 2014” which aims to regulate the production of geo-spatial data by making the Survey of Pakistan as the nodal agency. One of the objectives given for the act is to “stop unqualified/unregistered firms to take part in Surveying and Mapping activities that can pose a security risk to the state”.
At the time that bill was initially introduced in the Pakistan parliament in 2012, it faced the same criticism as that being lobbed against the proposed Indian draft.
“If the bill passes in to law, the SoP will be the regulatory body controlling all mapping activities. Any other body wishing to create a map will have to apply for permission to do so — and can expect to have their activities and their outputs controlled as a result.”
However, the Pakistani law does not explicitly bar the “wrong depiction” of the country’s official map even if penalties – admittedly much less stringent than the Indian draft law – are prescribed for anyone engaging in unauthorised “geospatial data production”.
The official map of Pakistan may also not exactly adhere to the UN’s depiction of Kashmir. Even though Pakistani maps use the label “disputed territory” on J&K, minus Aksai Chin, the Indian state is still clearly depicted as being part of Pakistan:
According to official sources, India has never lodged any complaint over Pakistan’s legislation.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal described Pakistan’s ‘outrage’ as a “minor issue”. “Pakistan has to do this, otherwise it will be criticised at home,” said Sibal, who had been India’s top diplomat from over a year under the NDA-1 government.
He also agreed that Pakistan’s objection did not seem to hold water at this stage, since India already had strict laws supervising depictions of international boundaries. “This is just about moving the laws for the digital realm,” he added.
Lalit Mansingh, another former foreign secretary, added that perhaps Pakistan’s ire was attracted by the heavy penalties proposed in the bill, which will make firms take the issue of depiction of maps more seriously. “Obviously, companies will have to take greater care in their map-making. Foreign firms, like Apple and Google, will naturally be extra cautious,” he added.
Mansingh noted that Pakistan “had to lodge a protest” as it was “a legal issue”.
In recent times, Pakistan has been active in approaching the UN with complaints against India. While earlier, it was mainly related to ceasefire violations. Lately, it has been related to India’s alleged role in Balochistan, Karachi and Tribal areas.