India and Pakistan have traded barbs over a draft ‘Geospatial Information Regulation Bill’ introduced by the Narendra Modi government in the Indian Parliament earlier this week.
Immediately after the Indian government made the move, Pakistan approached the UN Security Council against the draft bill, alleging that New Delhi was acting in violation of the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir. India hit back strongly, with senior spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup saying: “The proposed bill is an entirely internal legislative matter of India, since the whole of the Jammu and Kashmir Province is an integral part of the country. Pakistan or any other party has no locus standi in the matter.”
According to the draft bill, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India. The bill, which triggered protests from Indian internet activists, also envisages stringent penalties for the wrong depiction of India in maps, including a fine of up to INR 1 million and a jail term of up to seven years. It further proposes to restrict the use of real-time mapping of data.
On Tuesday, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a statement, saying that the Indian government’s move is a matter of “serious concern”, as it has no right to make unilateral decision on the map of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the ministry, India’s move prompted Pakistan to urge the world body to uphold its resolutions and stop New Delhi from making such law. The Nawaz Sharif administration also sent letters to the UN secretary general and the president of the UNSC through Pakistan’s permanent representative in New York, requesting the world body to look into the matter. Islamabad argued that it would be “factually incorrect and legally untenable” to depict the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir as part of India in its official map. The Pak Foreign Ministry stressed: “Through the passage of this bill, the Indian government would penalise individuals and organisations who depict Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory as per the UNSC resolutions.”
Meanwhile, India rejected Pakistan’s attempt to impose on international community matters that New Delhi is open to address bilaterally with Islamabad. Commenting on the issue, Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said: “We do not take cognisance of Pakistan’s objection to the draft bill. We will take suggestions and views of citizens, experts and various stakeholders before finalising it. But it is the duty of the government to see that India’s map is depicted properly.” The minister made clear that the draft bill is an entirely internal legislative matter of India, as the whole Jammu and Kashmir Province is an integral part of the country. He explained that the draft bill’s objective is not to ban services that provide geospatial data, but to regulate them for several reasons, including securing the country’s strategic installations.
Indian foreign policy experts believe that Pakistan’s repeated and increasing attempts to involve the international community in outstanding bilateral issues will ultimately hamper the ongoing peace process between the two South Asian neighbours.