After Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh, now S. Jaishankar has also made a strong statement on PoK. The External Affairs Minister Tuesday said, “PoK is part of India and we expect one day to have physical jurisdiction over it.”
Is there a paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy and national security strategy?
The parliamentary resolution of February 1994 clearly said that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is an integral part of India. So, why is there a need to reiterate it, and that too ahead of the key UN General Assembly meeting?
The latest policy shift has put both Pakistan and China on notice, especially because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which includes strategic road and rail links, passes through Gilgit-Baltistan.
Building the narrative
A day after the Narendra Modi government removed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last month, Home Minister Amit Shah said in Parliament, “Kashmir is an integral part of India… When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it”. Citing the Constitution vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir’s boundary, Shah said, “We will give our lives for this region”.
Barely a week after Shah’s statement, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, “If there will be talks (with Pakistan), it will be on PoK”. He reiterated the stand this weekend when he said, “The next dialogue will be about terrorism and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and nothing else.”
Last week, Minister of State Jitendra Singh said, “It is not only my or my party’s commitment, but it has been a resolve of Parliament who (sic) unanimously adopted a resolution in 1994 during then Congress government headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, saying that Kashmir is an integral part of India and the only issue left to be resolved with Pakistan was Pakistan occupied Kashmir.”
Army chief General Bipin Rawat in a recent interview to ANI said, “The next agenda is retrieving PoK and making it a part of India. The government takes actions in such matters. The institutions of the country will work as per the orders of the government. The Army is always ready.”
While Akhand Bharat is a lofty concept, the BJP and the RSS are ideologically committed to recovering the territories under illegal occupation of Pakistan and China.
Strategic shift in foreign policy
There is no doubt about our de jure claim over PoK, which is enshrined in the Constitution based on the Instrument of Accession signed 26 October 1947. The same has been upheld by a resolution moved in Parliament in 1994.
PoK consists of ‘Azad Kashmir’ and Gilgit-Baltistan (both pseudo autonomous states but de facto governed by Pakistan), with Pakistan ceding Shaksgam Valley to China in 1963. India is also committed to the recovery of Aksai Chin and other areas of J&K occupied/annexed by China through a parliament resolution passed on 14 November 1962.
In the past, despite reiterating its claims over PoK and Aksai Chin, India had in real terms accepted the partition of Jammu and Kashmir with the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the de facto borders.
But the Narendra Modi government’s policy shift has now rattled both Pakistan and China.
Abrogation of Article 370 and its endorsement by the international community have sealed the issue as far as the present borders of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned. In future, these borders will be non-negotiable both at the international fora and in dialogues with Pakistan.
The recent strategic shift with respect to PoK will further deny Pakistan any leverage during bilateral talks, forcing Islamabad to discuss cross-border terrorism and economic cooperation with New Delhi.
The China factor
By comparing the illegal occupation of PoK with that of Aksai Chin, India for the first time has diplomatically put China on the defensive.
China is Pakistan’s all-weather friend and would want to make CPEC a success. India has strongly opposed the CPEC because it passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan. Now by design or default, in formally reviving its dormant claim on PoK and clubbing Aksai Chin with it, India has placed itself in a good bargaining position to formalise the LAC as a mutually acceptable border.
In my view, China has a lot at stake in Gilgit-Baltistan and it will strive to keep the region conflict-free.
India’s military position
Given our limited technological military edge over Pakistan, we simply do not have the capacity to make major gains in PoK in a limited war before the nuclear weapons come into play. But a J&K-centric limited war has always been on the radar of the Indian armed forces. We have the capacity to extend the LoC by 5-10 kms in selected areas in a 7-10-day limited war. And, this is what we should do at an opportune time to make our intent credible.
With respect to the recovery of Aksai Chin, given China’s overwhelming military and technological edge, we can do little more than maintain a firm stand. Also, due to China’s high stakes in CPEC, major operations launched by India in ‘Azad Kashmir’ and/or Gilgit-Baltistan will force Beijing to open a second front anywhere along the LAC.
Notwithstanding the Shia-Sunni divide in Gilgit-Baltistan, religion binds the people of PoK to Pakistan. The unrest stems from a long-standing demand for autonomy. In the long-term, it will be worthwhile for India to exploit these fault lines in the pursuit of national interests.
Three factors to consider
The success of Narendra Modi government’s strategic foreign policy shift is contingent upon three factors.
First, we have a serious situation in J&K, and Pakistan will try its best to exploit it. Our political strategy in Jammu and Kashmir is riding on the military strategy, which is not going to solve the problem. Until we don’t find a solution to the deadlock, our claims on PoK will not draw any support from the international community.
Second, our political aim to recover PoK is not backed by our military capacity. To establish overwhelming military edge over Pakistan and at least near-parity with China, we need to undertake holistic national security reforms and treble our defence budget. Also, rhetoric apart, it would take a long time to exploit the evolving fault lines in PoK.
Third, by raising the pitch on Aksai Chin and PoK – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through PoK – we have made sure that we will fight on two fronts in a future conflict.
It should suffice to say that our strategic shift on PoK is an excellent tool for diplomacy. But militarily, we may not be able to achieve much.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.