Monday, September 17, 2012

United Nations Maps Show Kashmir as Part of Pakistan

Update:  After contacting the United Nations they have fixed their map production standards

Politics makes cartography hard.  Any disputed land becomes the focal point of angry rants, complaints of biases, threats, and much more.  I have great sympathy for map makers who have to deal with such difficulties.  Most of the time, displaying lines of control appeases people except for the radicals.  Cartographers usually create a note saying something along the lines of "final status undetermined" in these cases.

However, sometimes map designers bring trouble on themselves by being inconsistent.  Disclaimers do not work if the map favors one side more than the other beyond lines of control.  Such is the case with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and their maps showing, in part, the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Normally when it comes to Kashmir third parties show the line of control as the border while making a text or graphical statement showing that the border is not internationally agreed upon like the CIA World Factbook does below:



The UN OCHA, however, map of Pakistan shows all of Kashmir as part of Pakistan though there is a dotted line and disclaimer text.


One would then expect an OCHA map of India to show all of Kashmir as part of India while having a dotted line and disclaimer text.  However, all of Kashmir is shown as undefined.


The graphics imply that Pakistan has legitimate claims to all of Kashmir while India has none.  It equates India's claim to Kashmir to the international stance of ethnic Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh or Syria's claim to Hatay.

I contacted OCHA concerning the mapping inconsistency.  I recognized there was disclaimer text but pointed out how the maps showed two competing narratives.  Below is OHCA's offical response:

Thanks for your message!

Really appreciate you noticing this and passing the message on. I understand the field office is going to re-submit the map with the disclaimer we usually add for cases like this and the correct cartographic representation as per our internal style guide.


As you are probably aware OCHA refers to the UN-wide cartographic standards for mapping, with regard to disputed borders and other political issues. We have clearly established wording that we use for maps that depict the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir:


The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The dotted line represents approximately the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties.
Hope this helps, all the best,


This is all well and good with having a text disclaimer but it does not explain the inconsistency with the mapping.  Whether this is just bad cartography or someone in the mapping shop has a political bias I do not know.  However, the UN, intentionally or unintentionally, is favoring Pakistan more than its official stance through its maps.

No comments: