Friday, February 3rd, 2023 19:34:10

Why PoK is “Pak” for India

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: August 18, 2022 9:24 am

Much to the consternation of India, China and Pakistan are continuously coming closer in various sectors of mutual co-operation and have entered into Geo- strategic and military coalition too. This coalition is getting all the more advantageous for both the partners because of Pak- Occupied Kashmir- a landmass connecting Pakistan with China’s territory directly. In November 2016, a new coin had been added to this series of increasing mutual co-operation when, Karakoram Highway, a part of China Pakistan economic corridor, made operational. This project connects Gwadar port of Pakistan with China’s town Kashgarh. Though this 3000 Km long network of Rail, Road and Pipelines is apparently an economic project but substantially it has number of other implications including many concerns for India.

Today, India on ground, controls only 60% of the area of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir- Jammu, Kashmir valley and Laddakh; Pakistan controls 30% of the region- Gilgit ,Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and China occupies 10% of the state- Aksai Chin and Trans Karakoram Tract. Actually,The Karakoram range or Trans Karakoram Tract wherein the four lane roads being developed by China fall in Pak-Occupied Kashmir- legally an Indian territory captured by Pakistan in 1947 and apparently ceded to China after an agreement in 1963.[3] Whole region of POK comprises of Azad Kashmir which is 13297 KM , Gilgit- Baltistan region of 73000 KM2 and Karakoram range which extends 9900 KM2 , thus has total area of 96197 Km2 approximately. [4]The hilly landmass mostly of lower Himalayan region is of immense strategic value for India also attracts a much Geo-political and security implications due to recent aforesaid development in the region, the region shares its border with Indian administered Kashmir to east, Khaiber-Pakhtunkhwa pass and Afghanistan to west, China’s eastern Uighur (Xinjiang province) to northandPunjab province of Pakistan to its south which makes the region strategically much crucial and important for not only India but equally for Pakistan and China even Afghanistan and Central Asian countries in many ways. The region occupied and controlled by Pakistan has grave and profound negative implications for India, affecting India’s strategic interests and potentially making them vulnerable in the future. Despite being an Indian territory, the region has been controlled by Pakistan since its illegal capture in 1947. The region has lower Himalayan hills, which make it not only beautiful from an aesthetic standpoint and imbued with a large tourism potential, but it is also much more difficult to pass through from the east than from the Indian side and provides easy access from the west, allowing Pakistani militants and terrorists to intrude and enter Indian territory. On one side, hills and valleys enable terrorists to conceal themselves, elude security guards, and sneak into India; on the other, rough terrain and unfavourable weather conditions make it difficult to monitor and hunt for these intruders. POK’s status as an Indian territory would provide India a significant geostrategic advantage in the region as Pakistan’s Punjab opens up in the region’s western plains. POK shares a small border with Afghanistan, allowing India to link with Afghanistan directly by road and play a more decisive role in Afghanistan’s problems than it already does. Tajikistan and other central Asian nations that are rich in natural gas and fissile material are also relatively near by. Additionally, geographical proximity would help India counterbalance China’s expanding influence in the area. The Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative became a reality, due to Pok.

According to Dawn, Imran Khan had requested his Law Minister, in July last year, to expedite a draught bill creating Gilgit-Baltistan as a province. The bill has since been finished and submitted to Imran Khan as the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill. According to the bill, Gilgit-Baltistan would be accorded interim provincial status by altering Article 1 of the Constitution because it is a component of the unresolved Kashmir issue. In addition to the Assembly’s creation, a set of modifications would be submitted to grant Gilgit-Baltistan representation in Pakistan’s parliament. Additionally, it is rumoured to include provisions for regional participation in the National Assembly and Senate.

The Pak-China link, Afghanistan’s precarious strategic position, and difficult transit to central countries are consequences of India’s hesitation to retake POK during the last war; otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for China to gain direct access to the Arabian Sea because they would have stayed geographically apart, and neither for Pakistan to easily find refuge from a rising superpower like China. POK has established itself as a bridge between the progressive unification of the two countries of distinct regions—Central Asia, East Asia, and South Asia and forge a strong connection. India is quite concerned about the expanding economic, political, strategic, and defence partnerships because China and Pakistan have both historically taken a very hostile stance toward India, their common rival. Indian borders are hence dangerous from both the north and the west.

Priyanka Singh, a fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, says “The surge in official references to PoK has disrupted the inertia of the past years. Stridency in statements that talks with Pakistan will only be on PoK seems to be graduating towards an attempt to turn the tables in dealing with Pakistan. The perceptible impression is that the rules of engagement will have to change. India’s insistence that talks with Pakistan cannot be held until Pakistan stops fomenting terror has so far been received well at the regional and global levels.

To trace the beginning of this policy shift, forceful assertion of India’s claim on PoK began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech in August 2016, when he made explicit reference to parts of PoK. Media coverage pursuant to the surgical strikes of September 2016 further sensitised the people about PoK. Besides, repeated references to terror camps in PoK by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar sustained the government’s focus on PoK.

Even prior to Prime Minister Modi’s speech in August 2016, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in May 2015 spoke of factoring in the 106-km long border with Afghanistan. The annual reports of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) too began using the term Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), instead of PoK. It is believed that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as the flagship project of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in clear disregard of the Indian sensitivities, might have provoked the political establishment to rejuvenate its extant claims on the territory. More recently, the favourable outcome of the 2019 general elections and the subsequent abrogation of Article 370 by the Union government reorganising J&K into two Union Territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh – infused further energy into the government’s articulation of its position on PoK.

The return of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government led by BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) with an overwhelming majority in June 2019 certainly raised hopes among the people regarding a decisive move on the long-pending and geopolitically sensitive security matter.”

Even if the illegal inclusion of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan’s sovereignty may significantly impair India’s claim on the area, it cannot completely abolish it because India will continue to vehemently defend its claim on both parts of PoK as it has done since 1947. Even if on the home front India’s policy toward Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has long been criticised for being ineffective and lacking in assertiveness, PM Modi has changed that. While adamantly bringing up PoK-related issues, he (Modi) seems to have altered the game’s regulations. Due to China’s incursion into the area, Gilgit-Baltistan has recently received major strategic consideration from India.

It has been argued that bolstering India’s claims on PoK and incorporating it into its Kashmir strategy could strengthen India’s negotiating position against both Pakistan and China, both of which currently hold portions of the former princely state, including the Trans-Karakoram Tract that Pakistan provisionally ceded to China in 1963. India’s Kashmir strategy previously evolved in response to intense pressure from the world community that was stoked by dishonest, anti-India propaganda spread by Pakistan. The effectiveness of India’s Kashmir policy will increase if PoK is given high priority in its strategic planning. However, India needs to get ready for some more significant obstacles to come.

 

By Nilabh Krishna

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