By: Rahul Wankhede
The issue of occupied territories evokes a strong emotional response from many sections of Indian society and even policy circles; more so due to the continuing cross-border security problems arising from Pakistan and China. These events have hugely influenced India’s national security decision-making and resource allocations towards the same since 1947. Maintaining strategic ambiguity on these issues by all stakeholders has not led to any substantive gains.
This article takes a fresh look at the issue of internationalization of the Kashmir dispute and occupied territories on our western borders. It argues that the on-ground realities on the other side of the LoC need to be analyzed from various perspectives before an attempt is made to have a grand strategy on Pakistan. This research paper makes an important observation that residents of the occupied territories should be the central focus of any dispute resolution process.
It concludes with the observation that when it comes to reinstating control of lost territories, the influence over the people living therein is more important than just physical possession of the land.
This paper observes that borders of nation-states change frequently and so they are neither permanent nor sacrosanct. Therefore, it is not a utopian idea to think that the occupied territories of India – are for purely practical purposes and for addressing challenges to India’s security and sovereignty that will arise in the future.
- Introduction :
Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK) refers to the territories held (since October 1947) under an illegal physical occupation, of the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
From a legal perspective, after the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent territorial re-arrangements, PoK is now a part of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Ladakh Union Territory.
Partition of India in 1947 was followed by an invasion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by tribal Pashtun militants from Pakistan (22 October 1947), used as a front by the Pakistan Army to take over the state of J&K militarily, which had otherwise acceded to India. The counter attack by Indian Army pushed back the invaders from most parts of the state, but the subsequent ceasefire agreement led to a ceasefire and both sides held their respective positions. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 39, adopted on January 20, 1948, called for a referendum in the state based on certain conditions, but this proposal now holds no value. The Ceasefire Line or the Line of Control, so declared after the end of hostilities in the 1947-48 conflict separates the Indian side of J&K from PoJK.
Shaksgam Valley, another strategic location in this zone, was illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963 as a part of an agreement and it now forms a part of Xinjiang Province of China. Aksai Chin, (a part of the Ladakh region) which was also a part of the erstwhile undivided princely state of J&K was occupied by the People’s Republic of China in the 1962 war.
The issue of these occupied territories evokes a strong emotional response from many sections of Indian society and even policy circles; more so after increased terror attacks in India, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, and Chinese aggression on the borders. So, the on-ground realities therein need to be analysed from various perspectives, before an attempt is made to have a grand strategy for Pakistan.
- Geo-Strategic Significance of PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan:
The very fact that this zone shares borders with several countries highlights its geo-strategic significance: Pakistan is located to its West, Afghanistan to the North-West, Tibet and China to its North and India falls on the Eastern side of PoJK.
PoJK lies at a tri–junction of South Asia, West Asia, and Central Asia. One of the major negative consequences that India had to face as a result of the partition of the country – the only land access route to Central Asia via the Wakhan Corridor has been cut off. Asian geopolitical situations and the leverage that India would have enjoyed therein would have been different from what it is right now, had these regions remained under Indian control.
There was a certain element of global geo-politics & dominance by a few big powers that influenced the UNGA discussions on Kashmir back then, as these powers were interested in securing their strategic interests in the area. On the Indian part, taking a bilateral issue to the UN proved to be a strategic miscalculation, in the longer run. Lack of strategic hindsight in later wars with Pakistan and China also could not secure back these territories.
Pakistan has since then held on to these territories, ensuring a low standard of living to keep the locals under control. China and Pakistan seek strategic depth in this region to extend their influence: economically, politically and militarily. India, therefore, needs to review its perceptions and policy options concerning these occupied territories in the contemporary security scenario, especially after the abrogation of Article 370 and the formation of two new Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir; a symbolic gesture that has not gone down very well with both of India’s hostile neighbours.
Pakistan renamed the occupied parts of the Jammu division as “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” (AJK), which covers a total area of 13,297 km2 and has a total population of 4,045,366 as per the 2017 national census. Shaksgam Valley, which once was a part of PoJK has also been illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963 under an Agreement, which mentions that the final status of the Valley will depend on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. AJK has its own President, who functions as the Head of State while the Prime Minister, assisted by an executive council is the Head of Government. AJK even has its separate official flag, a High Court, and even a Supreme Court because the territory is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and neither has a representation in the Parliament. A separate entity called ‘The Ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs’ (under the control of Islamabad) has been created for all matters related to this area.
Gilgit–Baltistan is a tribal inhabited area, which was once a part of western Ladakh, that was occupied by Pakistan in the 1947 invasion. This zone, known as Northern Areas before 1947, is remote, under-developed with a very thin spread of population. Gilgit-Baltistan area is more remote in terms of connectivity and infrastructure and has been largely cut off from modern-day facilities. Extreme rains and extreme winters make the zone out of bounds for non-residents. This area has abundant fresh water and other natural resources, unpolluted environment and huge vacant lands. This area has a direct land route to Afghanistan, via the Wakhan Corridor.
- The International Geopolitical Perspective
When Pakistan ceded the Shaksgam Valley and surrounding areas to China in 1963, local people protested strongly, but this went unnoticed due to ignorance by the international community, including India; the psychological trauma of the 1962 defeat may have been a reason here.
The Agreement then signed by both countries mentions that the status of this area ‘may change the following resolution of the Kashmir issue between India & Pakistan”. Shaksgam Valley now is a part of the restive Xinjiang Province of China. The Uighur crisis in this province and the changed geopolitical situation after the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan have increased China’s stakes in PoJK and Gilgit–Baltistan. The Western Theatre Command of the Chinese PLA is responsible for the security of Xinjiang and surrounding areas.
China wants access to the Arabian Sea and West Asian countries directly via its BRI projects in Pakistan. The CPEC which is a part of the larger BRI passes through the Trans-Karakoram Highway, constructed in 1978, that lies in this disputed territory and connects Xinjiang with the KPK region of Pakistan; almost 500 km of which passes via Gilgit-Baltistan.
A huge network of connecting roads has been set up to facilitate all kinds of exchanges between Kashgar and Gwadar. Regular maintenance and upgrade activities are carried out by China, which has made this highway functional all around the year. The highway allegedly has been used for the clandestine transfer of nuclear material from China to Pakistan, reports the IDSA project on PoJK.
Apart from this, China is involved in many other projects in PoK like dam building, water diversions, civil infrastructure, etc. This has huge strategic implications for India as many reports have indicated a large presence of Chinese workers, engineers, and even military personnel inside PoJK. Most of the financial and technical investments in these projects also come from China and go back to their source, since the contracts are awarded to Chinese firms and contractors. It is said that the soldiers from the Chinese PLA have been deployed for the security of CPEC projects inside Gilgit-Baltistan as well as PoJK.
Security discussions within Indian media, policy circles, and even the public continue to remain Pakistan centric, while the Chinese continue to create troubles on our eastern and western borders. So, India must make a grand strategy towards Pakistan (keeping in mind the China factor , of which the policy on PoJK, will just be one part of the whole.
- The War of Narratives:
This issue has seen India and Pakistan fight a war of narratives and perceptions. India has painstakingly built a good reputation in J&K by implementing Operation Sadbhawna.
Pakistan has always sought to damage this reputation by consistently peddling fake news on various media platforms, bringing up the Kashmir issue on international platforms, circulating fake videos and pictures from other conflict regions as the situation in Kashmir, etc. The tactics to carry out such propaganda against India have been mentioned in the 2020 edition of the ‘Green Book’ (an internal publication) of the Pakistani Army.
India has not been able to counter this information warfare by DG ISPR – the media wing of the Pakistani Army.
India needs to be much more proactive when it comes to narrative building and shaping the perceptions of people, about Kashmir. Effective engagement via social media platforms, prime-time debates on TV channels, etc. are some of the ways to do this. But it will require sustained institutional backing – a factor that is currently missing in conflict management in Kashmir. India also needs to bring out the on-ground situations in PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan on international platforms like the UNSC. One aspect in this where India has scored a point over Pakistan is – it has been able to convince the world that the so-called insurgency or freedom movement in Kashmir is not indigenous, but externally motivated. The world has also accepted India’s position that security disputes started in J&K only after the tribal-led invasion of J&K in 1948. Therefore, it is essential to bring this narrative to a logical end by first winning over the hearts and minds of the people living on the other side of the fence.
- The Security Perspective
Since the time the Afghan Jihad started in the late 1980s, these areas have become a hotbed of radicalization and terror-related activities. Most of the terrorists infiltrating India come from launchpads located in PoJK. They are actively supported in all aspects by the Pakistan Army, ISI, and the respective tanzeem that they belong to. Large-scale ceasefire violations by the Pak Army hit-and-run kind of attacks by their Rangers and para-military forces etc. have kept the Line of Control burning. Civilian properties, lives and their very existence are under threat on both sides of the LoC due to these actions.
The terrorists of 26/11 Mumbai attacks were trained in a militant camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoJK. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) headed by Hafeez Saeed, is very active in PoJK since the 2005 earthquake because of the extensive relief they provided to the people, under a new name of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) that acts as a front organization of LeT. LeT and JuD both are legally banned in Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed has not been seen in public after a mysterious car bomb blast blew up a section of his house this year.
Looking at the massive incoming of international aid workers for rebuilding infrastructure aft the earthquake, forced Pakistan to shift the terror groups into interior areas of PoK. But the human rights violations could not be covered up and were widely reported in international forums, some of which have been cited in the IDSA Project on PoJK.
Maximum casualties suffered by the Indian Army, BSF, CRPF, and other security forces are in J&K due to the infiltrating terrorists from PoJK and other counter-terror operations It has cost India very heavily as a nation, owing to the huge resources that are spent in maintaining the security within J&K . It has also lagged the development work in the state due to the security crisis. Many scholars have opined that if the terror threat coming via PoJK is eliminated, most of the problems in J&K can be solved in a time-bound manner.
Above mentioned situations have an impact on India’s long-term peace, safety, and stability. Therefore, we need to clearly define our strategic objectives on PoJK. This requires clear articulation of the problem, followed by a strong political resolve to achieve the same. Our armed forces have on many occasions been vocal about the recovery of this region, provided the political executive gives official orders.
- When it comes to reinstating control of lost territories, it must be remembered that the influence over the people living therein is more important than just physical possession of the land. Various tools of statecraft like propaganda, espionage, causing internal rebellions, etc. are available to establish control over other territories; direct military action in which, is always the last step. Ancient scholars like Chanakya have very well outlined the approach to be followed in such campaigns, which if used well and adapted as per the present conditions by India, can change the tide in India’s favour, not immediately, but in the coming future.
- In consonance with the UN Resolution and the 1994 Parliamentary Resolution on Kashmir, India should assertively claim its rightful position on PoJK at relevant domestic and international forums; supported by national media and India-friendly foreign media firms. Reports prepared by scholars and journalists highlighting conditions inside PoJK need to be discussed at global-level meetings which would need strong state support from India.
- A very strong information warfare campaign needs to be started, with strong institutional support from the Indian state, civil society, and the military as well to counter the false narratives being peddled by Pak on social media platforms.
- On the security front, sustained overt and covert operations against terrorists should be done regularly, employing all possible means to stop infiltration and cross-border terrorism emerging from PoJK. This must be complemented by a comprehensive approach to security and development going together on the Indian side of Kashmir.
- Scholars like Bharat Karnad had suggested steps like getting the Pakistani elites to invest economically in Indian projects or elsewhere in the world to create a vested interest for them, on not attacking the place of their investments. The first step towards using the economy as a tool of strategy has been successfully taken when India last month signed a deal with Dubai for infrastructure development in J&K – something that Pak-backed terror groups would not dare to attack. Such steps are effective in isolating Pak at the global level and turning the opinion of the “Islamic World” against Pakistan. But this will not help much in the longer run, as other parts of the state may come under attack.
- Apart from these state-level solutions, the common people of India need to engage with Kashmiris on both sides of the border, as their fundamental duty, and to realize national integration, in letter and spirit. People-to-people contact is the best way to resolve isolation and alienation and integrate our fellow citizens into the national mainstream.
It must be mentioned that the borders of nation-states have been changing frequently over the last many centuries. This points to the fact that state borders are neither permanent nor sacrosanct. Therefore, it is not a utopian idea to think that the occupied territories of India, can be regained, not for emotional or nationalistic ideals, but for purely practical purposes and for addressing challenges of security and sovereignty that will arise in the future. As the nation waits for that opportune moment, our capability development and plans to manage the acquired territories should be ready before we decide to intervene in PoJK.
About the Author
Rahul Wankhede is a post graduate in Defence and Strategic Studies with a gold medal. Rahul has worked with think tanks and NGOs in the domains of research, analysis and mentoring and is a former Assistant Professor in the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India. Currently he is doing PhD from JNU Special Centre for National Security Studies. The views expressed are personal.