India's Assertiveness on Pakistani Occupied Kashmir is a Breath of Fresh Air

If India is to make headway in Kashmir, the Modi government's new diplomatic strategy must be accompanied by bold measures to resolve the internal dimension as well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, NSA Ajit Doval and army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag at a high level meeting in the wake of Uri attack, in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, NSA Ajit Doval and army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag at a high level meeting in the wake of Uri attack, in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI

If the September 17 attack on an Army camp in Uri is a reminder of the military challenge India still confronts in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to be more assertive on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), including Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), is a significant if belated addition to the Indian diplomatic armoury. In fact, assertiveness on this issue should have been Indian policy as soon as it became clear that UN Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir could not be implemented because of Pakistan’s intransigence in taking the mandated first steps.

To comprehend the matter in its entirety, it is essential to refer to four important documents: (i) Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession to India, signed on October 26, 1947, (ii) UNSC Resolution number 47 of 1948 on Kashmir, (iii) the Simla Agreement of1972 and (iv) the 1994 Parliament of India Resolution on Kashmir

The signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh in October 1947 resulted in the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir becoming an integral part of India. The UNSC resolution on Kashmir adopted in 1948 envisaged three sequential and conditional steps i.e. withdrawal of all Pakistani regular and irregular troops from the region to the satisfaction of the UN; thereafter, a reduction in the number of Indian troops to the minimum necessary for the maintenance of law and order; and then, a plebiscite under UN supervision. The resolution became irrelevant after Pakistan refused to take the first step – which was mandatory for its implementation.

Under the Simla agreement, signed in July 1972, India and Pakistan agreed to resolve all outstanding issues bilaterally. Finally, the 1994 Indian parliamentary resolution reiterated the legal position that the entire territory of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and asked Pakistan to vacate the area under its illegal occupation

It is, therefore, difficult to comprehend why India has taken so long to assert its legitimate claim over PoK in a forceful manner. In fact, India’s inaction on this is responsible, to a large extent, for the present situation in the Kashmir Valley. It has also provided Pakistan an opportunity to consolidate its hold over PoK – divided administratively into so-called ‘Azad Jammu Kashmir’ and the Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).

Pakistan has not only changed the demographic pattern of the region by bringing in outsiders to settle there but has also imposed a constitution which totally ignored the legitimate aspirations of the local population. Although Pakistan has named a part of it ‘Azad’ Kashmir, it is in fact ‘Ghulam’ Kashmir as Article 7(2) of the ‘AJK’ constitution envisages its total subjugation to Pakistan with anyone not agreeing to this becoming ineligible to contest elections:

“No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”

After succeeding in asserting its total control over PoK, Pakistan turned its eye towards the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, and commenced instigating, aiding, and abetting all the trouble there particularly in the Valley – which it continues to pursue, unabated, till date. Until and unless there is pressure on Pakistan in PoK, including G-B, it is unlikely to mend its ways in Jammu and Kashmir.

Therefore, Prime Minister Modi’s decision to be more proactive in PoK has come as a breath of fresh air. India now needs to go all out on this. Indian leaders and diplomats should establish contact with leaders from the different regions of PoK, including G-B, who are living in exile because of Pakistan’s policies, highlight the rights violations in the region, expose Pakistan’s duplicity vis-a vis PoK, and extend moral support to the local population in their fight against Pakistani occupation.

Why we must talk to Pakistan about Kashmir

As per the Simla Agreement, the two countries have resolved to settle all outstanding issues bilaterally. With Pakistan illegally occupying a large part of Indian territory, this is certainly an issue over which the two countries need to talk. India’s long inertia vis-a-vis PoK has led to the creation of a negative mindset among a large section of Indians who feel that any dialogue on Kashmir with Pakistan means talking only about the Valley of Kashmir, which with India. Modi’s stand on PoK including G-B will go a long way in changing that mindset. Now in any bilateral discussion with Pakistan, India should insist on keeping Kashmir at the top of the agenda – along with terrorism – and press Pakistan to vacate the areas under its illegal occupation.

India has so far been reluctant to talk about Kashmir at international forums, thereby creating an incorrect perception that it may be in the wrong. There is need for a change here too. India should not only explain its stand on Kashmir and expose Pakistan’s duplicity in bilateral discussions with friendly countries, but should also not hesitate in raising it at international forums.

Thus, in a nutshell, the external dimension of the Kashmir issue for India should involve:

  • being more proactive and assertive about its rightful claim on PoK including Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • including Kashmir in the agenda for bilateral discussion with Pakistan in which India should press for Pakistan to vacate the area under its illegal occupation; and
  • launching a diplomatic blitz to explain India’s stand on Kashmir to all friendly countries

In addition to modifying the external dimension of the Kashmir issue, there is a need for India to revisit the internal dimension as well and to go in for the necessary course correction.

Managing the internal dimension

The situation in the Valley at present is quite grim. Hence, the top priority has to be to defuse it, and all efforts at present should be directed towards that. Although the situation will come under control in due course, it will leave many scars which will take time and require extra efforts to heal.

The most crucial issue is how the government of India should deal with separatist elements. Separatists in Kashmir include both pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements – who have different agendas. Clubbing them together under the label ‘separatists’ and dealing with them as a single entity does not seem to be a wise step. The pro-Pakistan and pro-independence elements should be clearly identified and dealt with differently. The Supreme Court of India has also, in a different context, objected to loosely labelling any one ‘separatist’ and ‘terrorist’, and we should abide by that.

As far as pro-Pakistan elements are concerned, efforts should be made to marginalise them by giving wide publicity to the treatment meted out to ethnic minorities in Pakistan. Explaining to Kashmiris how the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani regime treated Bengali Muslims and how it continues to treat Balochis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Muhajirs and even the people of PoK – especially Gilgit-Baltistan – will certainly weaken the hold of pro-Pak elements. There should be no room for any talks with these elements, nor should any facility be extended to them – other than those required by the rule of law. With regard to pro-independence elements, however, the government should be open to engaging with them if need be. Further, the fact that Islamabad is against independence and is striving only for the merger of the region with Pakistan should repeatedly be reiterated to them – thus highlighting  the fact that the Pakistani establishment has a totally different agenda.

Secondly, the growth of radical Islam in Kashmir is an area of grave concern. The strategy of radical Islamists/jihadi militants, who have a global agenda, has been that to come forward with financial and military assistance wherever Muslims are fighting for their rights or against their genuine or perceived grievances. Thereafter, they gradually take over control of the movement. Kashmiri Muslims need to be cautioned about this, as it threatens their basic culture of Sufism and tolerance. The growth of radical Islam as propagated by Wahabis/Salafis in the Valley would not only change their way of life but could also drag Kashmiri Muslims into wider international conflicts.

Thirdly, the long and continued deployment of the army in the Valley could be counterproductive as it leads to gradual decrease in its effectiveness. Hence the army should be deployed in short spurts in selected areas on a need-to-use basis and withdrawn as soon as the situation stabilises. Similarly, instead of the continued imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, its lifting and imposition should be on need basis and confined to areas actually affected by militant violence.

Fourthly, in the larger national interest, the issue relating to abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, should be set aside, whatever the arguments of its merits and demerits in the long run may be.

In addition, the government of India, in conjunction with the state government, should consider short-, mid- and long-term measures which would help in assuaging the hurt feelings of ordinary Kashmiris, bridging the trust deficit and bringing them closer to the national mainstream. These could include promoting infrastructural, industrial and other economic developments in the region and creating more job opportunities. Promoting sports and cultural activities is one way of keeping youth in the Valley engaged and away from disruptive activities. Similarly, their induction in the security forces, including the central armed police forces could be another positive step.

Undoubtedly, the utmost priority today is to bring the present grim ground situation in the Valley under control. But simultaneously, the  Government of India should revisit this complex issue in a holistic manner, learn from past mistakes and take innovative and bold measures to solve this vexed problem. Prime Minister Modi’s initiative on PoK is an important first step in that direction and has created an opening for more such actions to move towards a positive and lasting solution

Sanjeev Tripathi retired as head of the Research & Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency at the end of 2012. He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.