Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi
Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a self-governing administrative unit of Pakistan which is passing through the worst phase of turmoil along with that in Gilgit-Baltistan too – a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir – due to its possible conversion into Pakistan’s fifth province. And that has gained traction due to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative launched by China. While grim situations have had occurred earlier too in the Kashmir valley but the ongoing chaos being witnessed here are as serious as the one that actually happened after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, which have already taken the toll of around 9000 injured and 100 dead. Though the restlessness among misguided youths of the state is not a new phenomenon as most of them are used to violence and terror, they very often take recourse to lawlessness and anarchy, like stone-pelting or attacking police, security forces and military in their illegal-immoral bid to protect terrorists and anti-national elements.
In fact PoK, or Azad Kashmir, is a part of the greater Kashmir region which unfortunately continues to remain a highly contentious issue between India and Pakistan. The territory of PoK is situated to the west of India’s state of Jammu and Kashmir which was earlier a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. But that ceased to exist as a result of the 1947 India – Pakistan war on Kashmir. Again the territory shares a border with Gilgit-Baltistan, together with which it is referred to by the United Nations and other international organisations as “Pakistan-administered Kashmir.” The territory also borders with Punjab province of Pakistan in the south and Khyber Pakhtunkwhala province in the west. And Azad Kashmir, in the east, is separated from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Line of control – the de-facto border between India and Pakistan.
Considering the sensitive geopolitical nature of Gilgit-Baltistan with respect to its own security and stability, India is bitterly contesting Pakistan’s gamble of granting provincial status to this region, thereby aggravating bitterness to the much thorny India-Pakistan relations. In fact, the region is a crucial land link connecting CPEC from Kashgar to Gwadar and also to the project. Hence the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan as a province is of particular concern for India. While integrating Gilgit-Baltistan as its province by Pakistan may look a win-win game for both Beijing and Islamabad but it may result into severing Islamabad’s link with Kashmir. It is believed that Pakistan acquiring a part of PoK may “set a steady precedent” for India and bestow a “viable fall back option” if it decides to think in terms of the full integration of the state of J&K. Further, Gilgit-Baltistan’s integration into Pakistan is bound to consolidate the supporters within India advocating J&K’s full integration into the Union of India because Kashmir continues to be the lifeblood of Pakistan’s anti-India project.
After asserting its total control over PoK, Pakistan began fomenting all vicious and heinous troubles and that continues still today. Until and unless there is pressure on Pakistan in PoK, including Gilgit-Baltistan, Islamabad is unlikely to mend its ongoing ways in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian leaders and diplomats must forge close contacts with prominent leaders of the different regions in the PoK, including Gilgit-Baltistan, who are living in exile because of Pakistan’s brute and horrific policies; highlight the cases of blatant violations of human rights in the region; expose Pakistan’s double standards with respect to the PoK; and extend all out moral support to the local leaders and people at large in their fight against Pakistani occupation. Fortunately, with a predominant Muslim population, the region was once highly critical of the plebiscite demand repeatedly harped by Pakistan. Unfortunately today the region stands as a tool for protecting and advancing Islamabad’s strategic goals. Being handed transient structures of governance for decades, the region later became a commodity of tussle between ‘AJK’ and Pakistan.
Although the incorporation of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan’s territory may considerably undermine India’s claim on the region but it cannot altogether remove it, because irrespective of the unlawful incorporation India will continue to uphold its claim more vociferously on both parts of PoK as it has been doing since 1947. Though on the domestic front India’s policy on PoK has been dismissed as being inert and least assertive since the very beginning but that has been changed by PM Modi. While boldly raising issues concerning PoK, he (Modi) appears to have redrawn the rules of engagement. Lately, Gilgit-Baltistan has significantly been elevated into India’s strategic calculations due to the Chinese foray into the region.
Undoubtedly, the Indian government should consider the complex issue in a holistic manner by learning from the past mistakes and take innovative and bold measures to solve this vexed issue. As an option Prime Minister Modi’s initiative of practicing a muscular foreign policy not only as regards PoK – as was seen during the surgical strike in the PoK – may prove to be a milestone towards opening for more such actions to follow towards resolving all such pending complex issues towards their positive and lasting solution. But, at the same time, the eternal moral values like, peace, truth, love and justice etc. have no substitutes to invoke upon and use for progress and welfare of humanity in the world. In fact, no issue, howsoever complex or difficult it may be, is beyond any feasible solution because everybody wants peace, love, equality and justice. As there is no dearth of saner minds in the world, sincere and honest efforts must go on till the final solution emerges because nothing is beyond human endeavour.
(The author is Professor, Political Science UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University Allahabad, UP) .