J&K and PoK: Why MEA Jaishankar’s Comment Isn’t the Last Word
There is a bit of over-interpretation going on over Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s statement, that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a part of India, and the country expects to have “physical jurisdiction” over it one day.
What else is a Union Minister to say when he is asked at a press conference to comment on statements of his colleagues, that talks with Pakistan will henceforth only be on PoK and not Kashmir ?
The reason why India must insistently assert its claim is because the international community and the United Nations believes that Jammu & Kashmir is disputed territory, whose future needs to be worked out through dialogue between India and Pakistan. Were India to concede that, maybe, India would be content to live with the status quo; it would be a poor negotiation strategy to concede your final position at the beginning of the negotiations.
International Community’s Stance On J&K
If and when serious talks do take place between India and Pakistan, the position could change, as indeed it has in the past. India’s goal has largely been to go along with the status quo. For this, there are historical and demographic reasons, as well as realpolitik ones.
As for the international community, its position is summed up by the 8 August statement of the UN Secretary General, which notes that the position of the UN “on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations, and applicable Security Council resolutions.” But it also referred to the Simla Agreement of 1972 which says that the status of J&K be settled “by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
This authorised the organisation to remain institutionally involved through the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).
Why India Failed to Recover ‘Azad Kashmir’ Through Military Means
The primary reason why India failed to recover the band of territory called ‘Azad Kashmir’ through military means, is that it is populated by non-Kashmiri speaking Muslims who were strong supporters of Pakistan. In 1947, the Indian Army quickly cleared out the areas of the Kashmir Valley occupied by the indigenous ‘raiders’. But when they tried to go beyond Uri, they found the going tough.
Further, by the end of December 1947, the political leadership had to worry about the safety of Poonch, Naushera, Rajauri and Jammu. The fall of Mirpur and the horror stories of Hindu women being raped and sold, persuaded the government to put all the efforts to shift the initiative to the region. This was not an easy task — intense fighting took place in the region around Kotli, Jhangar, Naushera, and Poonch itself was besieged for nine months.
For this reason, they lacked adequate forces to recapture Gilgit and Skardu. The Indian Army was hard put to defend, though it eventually retained Kargil, Dras and Leh.
PoK & the Big Demographic Question
Today, even if Pakistan were to quietly hand back PoK to India, things will not exactly be easy. True, India will have a border with Afghanistan and break the overland connectivity between Pakistan and China. But it will be faced with holding down a population that is not — by any stretch of imagination — favourable to India. Indeed, the 44 lakh strong population of the sliver of territory called ‘Azad Kashmir’ is populated by a mix of Sudhans, Gujjars, Jats and Rajputs — a mix of martial groups who are hostile to India.
The 20 lakh people of Gilgit-Baltistan, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, too, are not too inclined towards India, and over the years, Sunni migration has reduced the salience of the Shias in the region.
Beyond its specious political claim on J&K, Pakistan has its military compulsions for strongly holding on to ‘Azad’ Kashmir. A look at the map shows that if India controlled the region, it would be just 35-50 kms away from Islamabad and the Pakistani heartland. For this reason alone, the Pakistan Army will strongly defend the region.
Balakot is One Thing — Physical Re-Capture Is Another
These days there is a lot of fantasy about how the Indian military can recapture the territory through a war. If the past has lessons, this is unlikely to happen, and attempts in that direction could lead to disaster. There is nothing in the balance of forces to show that India can overwhelm Pakistani defences in the region. You can carry out strikes like Balakot, but physically recapturing the region is another thing.
An important consideration for ceasefire by December 1948 was that by that time, India controlled the Kashmir Valley and the road to Ladakh. There was a feeling that maybe Pakistan would be happy with what it had.
Subsequently, it developed a fake narrative which decreed that Kashmir was the ‘unfinished business of Partition’.
Even so, faced with the need to get India to release Pakistani POWs after the Bangladesh War, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto agreed to work towards making the ceasefire line into a permanent border. To this end, the Simla Agreement of 1972 was renamed as the ceasefire line, a military fact, into a neutral-sounding ‘Line of Control’. This may have been one reason that led to his overthrow by Zia ul Haq five years later.
Again, between 2001-2007, the two countries, under Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh on the one hand, and President Pervez Musharraf on the other, were near an agreement that would have frozen the borders where they were. Unfortunately, Musharraf lost traction in Pakistan, and that was the end of that.
In these circumstances, you can be sure that Jaishankar’s declaration, no matter how vehement, is not the last word on either Jammu & Kashmir or its Pakistani occupied portion.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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