The withdrawal of special provisions granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the biggest political gamble. For decades, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) occupied a back-seat in the political narrative of J&K. Is it time to reclaim it and bring closure to J&Ks integration?
In August 1947, 560 princely states concurred to a union with India or Pakistan and were duly amalgamated. Hari Singh the ruler of Jammu & Kashmir State had dithered, having signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan (India refused) which committed Pakistan not to invade Kashmir. In October 1947 tribal levies (lashkars) under Pakistani military leadership, command and control and with Pakistani Army logistic support swept unopposed into J&K wreaking pillage, rape, murder on the hapless citizens.
A panicked Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 Oct 1947 agreeing to join the Indian Union. Faced with the almost impossible task of stopping the Pakistani invasion due to no prior notice, the Indian military quickly responded and by the end of 1947, the onslaught had been stemmed and pushed back with severe losses inflicted. At this critical juncture, while fighting was still in progress, Mountbatten recommended to the Indian Prime Minister to take the matter to the UN, where he said it would have a "cast-iron case". He believed the UN would direct Pakistan to withdraw. On 31 December 1947, India referred the Kashmir fighting to the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The matter was debated at length while fighting continued unabated in the Kashmir mountains. UNSC issued its now-famous Resolution No 47 on 21 Mar 1948, which stipulated a three-step process - withdrawal of all Pakistani forces, India to progressively reduce its forces to the minimum level required for law and order and make arrangements for a plebiscite. Pakistan continued to pump in forces into J&K – in an attempt to capture/retain whatever it could before a cease-fire took effect.
A cease-fire was achieved by the UN-appointed Commission at the beginning of 1949 which left India in control of the Kashmir Valley, most of the Jammu province and Ladakh; while Pakistan gained control of the western districts comprising the present-day Pak Occupied Kashmir (POK), Gilgit Agency and Baltistan.
India went to the UNSC in good faith, confident in its premise that the Instrument of Accession had sealed the legal question of Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union. From an Indian point of view, the aggressor was Pakistan who had dispatched tribal “marauders” to seize Kashmir, despite signing a standstill agreement that committed Pakistani forces not to invade Kashmir.
On the respective legal position of both countries at the time of the dispute, noted American political scientist C. Christine Fair has this to say “First, Pakistan was not entitled to Kashmir. Second, India has an instrument of accession”.
Naive to the geopolitical machinations of world powers, Indian political leadership failed to see the inadequacy of relying on international intervention to regain Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). As regards the Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan) in a request to the UN-appointed commission, India demanded that these areas should be restored to the government of Jammu and Kashmir and India should be allowed to defend its borders. The commission was unable to ensure this.
Contrary to Indian expectations, the UNSC Resolution 47 went on a tangent and was bereft of any practical and implementable solutions to the problem. India expected in all fairness, the world body to label Pakistan the aggressor and coerce it to vacate its illegal occupation of the erstwhile Kashmir state.
In India, there is unanimity that PoK is an integral part of the country, and that the country needs to regain physical control over it and bring closure to the unfinished agenda of Indian nationhood. The 1994 Indian parliamentary resolution asserting that POK is part of India and efforts should be made to liberate it from Pakistan occupation, reiterates this objective. Unfortunately, this clear and unambiguous resolution was not appropriately acted upon as economic and other imperatives hijacked the national narrative since then.
Ironic as it may sound today, it was Indian leaders who suggested the plebiscite. The people of J&K had faced Pakistani tribal lashkars in their true colours and had little taste for more of the same. It was therefore not surprising that the Pakistani leadership demurred.
Jammu and Kashmir is a kaleidoscope of communities: Ladakh Buddhist, Jammu Hindu, Kashmir a mix of Sunni and Shia and some Christians and Sikhs also spread across the territories. However, the anger over the rapacity and brutality of the Pakistani invaders was common to all.
- While Pakistan may be very vocal in advocating its case, it has been in breach of international law on several counts. For one it has unilaterally absorbed the disputed Northern Areas into its Federal Structure, illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley to China and allowed strategic infrastructure to come up in disputed POK as part China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
- In a situation with the potential for nuclear confrontation, discretion is the better part of valour and therefore, an all-out military offensive to recapture POK may not be the most prudent solution.
- Consistent and sustained diplomatic and political efforts over an extended period are called for. Notwithstanding the nuclear overhang, there is a window existing for conventional options, as was so graphically shown by Pakistan itself in 1999. India has the ability and capacity to create similar opportunities in POK.
- In the interim, India must continue to lay stake to its claim over POK in all international fora, to drive home the clear message that integration of POK with J&K is the only unfinished agenda of Indian nationhood.
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