Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) historically belonged to the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after the partition of India in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession, thereby acceding to the Indian Union. Hence, POK is legitimately an inherent part of India. This territory has been under Pakistan’s unlawful control ever since the Pakistan Army orchestrated the tribal invasion of the territory in October 1947.
POK comprises the so-called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (earlier named as Northern Areas) and has remained an amorphous entity for six decades now. The Trans Karakoram Tract, comprising Shaksgam from Baltistan and Raskam from Gilgit, which Pakistan ceded to China in 1963, is also a part of POK. China promised to assist Pakistan in building the Karakoram Highway as a payoff.
The terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 added a new dimension to the existing discourse on the training camps in POK.
The so called Azad Kashmir (AJK) is governed under the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act passed in 1974. Even though AJK has a President, Prime minister, and a council, the governing structure is totally powerless and dependent on the Pakistani establishment for the smallest issue at hand. Very often AJK is described as a “constitutional enigma” with “trappings of a country”. The Karachi Agreement, which governs the rule of Pakistan over Gilgit-Baltistan, was signed between the President of Azad Kashmir, the Muslim Conference and a minister without portfolio from Pakistan, Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani. Even though there was no formal merger between AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan, the fate of the latter was decided by Prime Minister AJK and Pakistan with no local representative participating in the matter.
The Government of Pakistan announced the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order on 29 August 2009, which reversed the nomenclature of the Northern Areas to the original Gilgit-Baltistan. The order has been widely criticized as it failed to address the basic questions of the rights of the people and the critical issue of provincial autonomy. The order introduced elements that brought Gilgit-Baltistan closer to the structure in AJK in spirit and form but with no impact, as the strings of power were placed with the Government of Pakistan. The order was rejected by the political groups in Gilgit-Baltistan, the pro-independence groups, and the pro-Indian groups. There have been allegations that the order was designed to secure increasing Chinese interest in POK. The development works in POK are heavily dependent on Chinese investments.
POK has been in the news during this decade for wrong reasons. In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, when the United States launched a massive hunt for the Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, there were reports that he was in Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK. On 8 October 2005, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale hit the region; AJK is yet to emerge from the colossal damage. The region also harbours militant training camps. The terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 added a new dimension to the existing discourse on the training camps in POK.
The Government of Pakistan would find an outsourced option to contrive cross-border terrorism in India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.
The terrorists travelled from Bait-ul-Mujahideen, the operational headquarters of Lashkar-e-Toyyaba (LeT) in Muzaffarabad, via Karachi to Mumbai. The chief of LeT, Zaki ur-Rehman, the nodal person in the Mumbai conspiracy, was arrested by Pakistani authorities from Muzaffarabad.
Why POK’s Future?
As a case for future scenario building, POK is immensely significant. POK’s strategic geographic location has consistently been “leveraged” by Pakistan to fulfil its “strategic and economic objectives”. POK shares its borders with several countries – the Punjab and NWFP provinces in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west, Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China to the north and India’s Jammu and Kashmir to the east. It is situated in the vicinity of the two fastest growing economies of the world, but remains extremely backward.
The key actors in POK are India, Pakistan and China, which during the last few years has developed considerable stakes in the region. This paper, attempting to draw future projections for POK, is divided into four sections: (I) identifying and describing the key drivers; (II) envisaging future trends in the key drivers; (III) determining alternative scenarios; and (IV) Prognosis.
Key Drivers in POK
The Taliban Threat
Over the past few years, the Taliban have seized power in some parts of Pakistan. Few reports hinted at the possibility of Shariat law being imposed in POK; it has already been implemented in Swat in the heartland of Pakistan. The Taliban would attempt to gain strategic depth in this strategically located region. The presence of Afghans in POK would further facilitate the Taliban interests, enabling the militants to amalgamate with the local Afghans and carry on dubious activities under a suitable camouflage. The Government of Pakistan would find an outsourced option to contrive cross-border terrorism in India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, the Pakistani authorities arrested and deported from Bagh and Muzaffarabad at least 200 Afghans who were living there illegally. Developments such as the suicide bomb attack in Muzaffarabad on 26 June 2009 have strengthened claims of Taliban presence in POK; the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) was eventually implicated in the incident.
Due to the US-led War on Terror, the Afghan youth were pushed into these camps by the ISI, which was facing dearth of mercenaries after American pressure compelled men from Sudan, Kuwait and Lebanon to leave Pakistan
Two soldiers of the AJK regiment were reportedly killed and three others injured in the attack.
Militant Training Camps
POK has for long provided safe haven to home-grown terrorists of Pakistan – both those operating in Kashmir Valley and those having close links with al‑Qaeda and Taliban. The LeT operates freely in the area as Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). People in POK have faced neglect from the Pakistan government for decades and they look up to these groups for help. JuD played a significant role in the relief and rehabilitation work after the October 2005 earthquake when the state machinery expressed inability in carrying out the same. The increasing number of these training camps could be attributed to foreign mercenaries present in Pakistan.
Due to the US-led War on Terror, the Afghan youth were pushed into these camps by the ISI, which was facing dearth of mercenaries after American pressure compelled men from Sudan, Kuwait and Lebanon to leave Pakistan. A report by India’s Home Ministry in 2004, prepared on the basis of interrogation of militants and interception of wireless messages, came to this conclusion. In March 2008, a status report on India’s internal security by the Home Ministry reiterated that the operation of militant camps in POK was unabated.
The demography in Gilgit Baltistan in POK has changed so much that the Shia, the original inhabitants of the land, have become a minority. Sunnis from Pakistan were given lucrative job offers and other incentives to settle in POK. President Zia intended to shift the demographic balance of POK in favour of Pakistan, primarily a Sunni state, and the orders to this effect were carried out by Pervez Musharraf in the late 1980s.
The Chinese interest in POK dates back to the construction of Karakoram Highway…
Similarly, the Northern Light Infantry, which mainly comprised men from POK (it was deployed in the Kargil War) is increasingly manned by non-locals as the local people are no longer trusted. The ICG report on the State of Sectarianism states, “Since 2001, Shia resentment over the inclusion of Sunni religious rituals and a perceived anti-Shia bias in textbooks for public schools has resulted in school boycotts and occasional clashes and curfews.”
China’s Growing Influence
The Chinese interest in POK dates back to the construction of Karakoram Highway, the highest road in the world, built at a height of 4665 metres (15,397 feet). The highway has yielded tremendous trading opportunities for both countries. It has also been used extensively to transfer arms and ammunition from China to Pakistan, and fissile nuclear and missile material from China. The highway was opened to the public only in 1986 even though it was completed in 1978 and was inaugurated in 1982.
Pakistan and China have also signed several agreements for building dams in POK, the latest being the MoU for building a dam in Bunji in Astore district.
In November 2003, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf signed a Border Trade Agreement with the Chinese government to “strengthen transport cooperation and promote interflow of personnel and commodities through the Karakoram Highway”. The two countries signed an MoU on 30 June 2006 to widen the highway from 10 metres to 30 metres; the upgradation process was formally inaugurated in February 2008.
China has made substantial investments in POK especially after the earthquake of 2005. Early in 2009, it proffered $300 million for development projects in Muzaffarabad, Rawalkot and Bagh. The agreement to this effect was signed in Islamabad between the Earthquake Reconstruction Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) of Pakistan and the Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui.
Pakistan and China have also signed several agreements for building dams in POK, the latest being the MoU for building a dam in Bunji in Astore district. India, which views such agreements between China and Pakistan as adverse to India–China relations, has sharply criticized this move.
POK is rich in water resources. The Indus and its tributaries render bright opportunities for hydropower generation.
Recently, however, in the overall context of water scarcity in Pakistan, President AJK, Raja Zulqarnain Khan, stressed the need for water conservation. Speaking in Muzaffarabad, Khan “urged people to store rainwater and protect existing sources of water in AJK”. He acknowledged that “roughly half the population of AJK still did not have access to potable water, adding that water sources have all but dried up in some areas”.
A highly controversial hydropower project in POK, because of its ecological implications, is the Diamer Bhasha Dam. It will inundate large tracts of land in the vicinity, rendering thousands of people homeless. According to a report, at least “31 villages will be flooded, 3,115 houses destroyed and 1,500 acres of agricultural land inundated by the reservoir”.
The area has very little in terms of fertile agricultural land, which if absorbed by the construction of the dam could result in serious food deficit in the region. POK has been facing food shortage in the past; only when the federal government issues directives the other provinces supply the required food material. Also, the dam is located in a seismically sensitive zone.
Political unrest in POK is based on a range of issues, primarily being the denial of basic rights, constitutional and political. People from PoK have migrated to countries like US, Canada and gulf looking for greener pastures as education and job opportunities are not available and political freedom is non existent. There is also a sectarian divide as a result of Sunni ingress in the region. The region has also been linguistically and culturally marginalized. POK does not have a provincial status even though Pakistan has controlled it for nearly six decades. After a great deal of protests, recently the Government of Pakistan announced the Self-Governance Package for Gilgit-Baltistan, which provided the trappings of an AJK-like structure. Ironically, even after the new order, POK does not count as a province of Pakistan. Many in Pakistan view this development as a compromise by Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.
POK does not have a provincial status even though Pakistan has controlled it for nearly six decades. After a great deal of protests, recently the Government of Pakistan announced the Self-Governance Package for Gilgit-Baltistan…
Reports such as the Human Rights Violation in Azad Kashmir and Baroness Emma Nicholson’s Kashmir Report for the EU depict a distressing picture of the state of human rights in POK. The Human Rights Watch Report opens with a statement from a resident of Muzaffarabad: “Pakistan says they are our friends and India is our enemy. I agree India is our enemy, but with friends like these, who needs enemies?”
Pakistan’s approach to POK has baffled many as this area is of immense strategic significance. Some have alleged that Pakistan has refrained from granting it legislative autonomy because of this strategic significance, fearing consequences. The establishment has brutally crushed political unrest in POK in the past. None the less, this movement could acquire a violent shape due to continuing impoverishment and lack of hope for betterment. Resort to violence is ingrained in the Pakistani state and society since long: recall the tribal invasions of 1947 and the Mujahideen involved in the Kargil conflict of 1999; according to Pakistan they were freedom fighters well versed in guerrilla warfare.
Envisaging Future Trends in the Crucial Drivers
Most of the drivers in isolation or in combination could be critical in the course of the next two decades in POK.
Larger Threat of Taliban Militants
The War on Terror shoved the Afghan Taliban into Pakistan. The Taliban since then has gained ground in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the outfit is fighting a bitter battle with the US-led NATO forces, and would benefit greatly by gaining a stronghold in POK. The Pakistani state would rather close its eyes on any such development. In POK, the Pakistani authorities would not even bother to launch a superficial battle. This is because POK is away from the media glare. The region is already deluged with clandestine activities of this nature.
China is giving incentives to the rebels in the form of job opportunities and by making substantial investments in the development of the region while using heavy hand to crush any sign of rebellion.
The United States is fighting Al‑Qaeda and Taliban on Pakistani soil in several ways – providing military aid, drone attacks, and the like. If these groups spread bases in POK, the US would be compelled to expand its target areas and this could lead to a substantial US military presence in POK. China is intently strengthening its ground in POK, especially in Gilgit-Baltistan with pools of capital. This immense economic presence in the region could probably be followed by some sort of Chinese military presence in the region. In this scenario, POK could become a battleground of the Great Empires similar to Afghanistan.
In the event that the Taliban gets a stronghold in POK, it would open the gates for proliferation of extremist activities in the regions bordering POK besides Central Asia and India – the Chinese province of Xinjiang, including Aksai Chin (claimed by India) which is already facing ethnic strife. In Xinjiang, at least 200 people were killed and 1600 injured in ethnic riots in July 2009. Afghanistan has repeatedly urged China to open the borders at Wakhan Corridor, which separates Afghanistan from Xinjiang, so that it could find alternate supply routes in fighting the Taliban effectively. The Sino-Afghan border corridor is 76 km long. It has been closed for more than a hundred years. The United States supports Afghanistan’s plea to open the corridor, but China has declined due its vulnerabilities in Xinjiang province and “fiercely resists any move to open up its Islamic provinces”.
Uighur Muslims are of Turkic origin and developed ties with Pakistan with the opening of Karakoram Highway, which made people-to-people contact viable between the two countries. A large number of Uighurs have enrolled themselves in the Pakistani Madrassas and are training in jihadi ideology. Even though Pakistan does not support the Uighur secessionist movement in principle, there are close chances that rampant radicalism may penetrate Xinjiang in the years to come. The possibility has compelled the Chinese to keep a strict check on the developments in Xinjiang and the adjoining areas. China is giving incentives to the rebels in the form of job opportunities and by making substantial investments in the development of the region while using heavy hand to crush any sign of rebellion.
Varying Number of Militant Camps
There could be three scenarios regarding militant camps – either they grow in numbers or decline or are wiped out. For instance, after the 2005 earthquake there were reports that the militant camps had vanished from the region. Later on, it came to be known that these camps were closed temporarily since militants were co-opted in relief work. The drivers for each scenario intersect – if the situation in Pakistan is unaltered in the next decade or so, the number of militant camps in the region will rise, with the Army and the ISI encouraging their proliferation.
Recent intelligence reports in India have disclosed that eight new militant training camps have come up in POK.
However, if the situation improves with international intervention, these camps could cease to operate. In addition, China’s growing interest in POK could induce China to urge Pakistan to rid the area of militant camps to ensure the security of Chinese nationals involved in several construction works. There were reports about Chinese concerns about the security of its nationals in Pakistan and in POK in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid ambush in 2007. China’s resistance to Taliban presence in POK is confined to securing its own interests and not the overall security of region.
Recent intelligence reports in India have disclosed that eight new militant training camps have come up in POK. The local administration has been directed by the Government of Pakistan to “accommodate the Pakistani and other jihadis by all means possible”, a Kashmiri leader based in UK is reported to have said. At least 300 militants are reported to be attempting to infiltrate into Indian territory from POK to conduct Mumbai-like attacks in different parts of the country. Pakistan Army has reportedly given these militants, who are reportedly Taliban, two options: either to infiltrate into India or stay in Pakistani jails.
Entrenched Chinese Control
Pakistan supports Chinese involvement in POK for upgradation of infrastructure and development in the region. It seeks to capitalize on Chinese presence in POK to counterbalance India in a warlike situation with India. The Chinese role in the Kargil crisis is a matter of debate even though in the later stages of the conflict China urged Pakistan to withdraw forces to the pre-conflict situation. More than a decade thereafter, the geo-strategic priorities have altered and are likely to change much more before 2030.
The violence in Kashmir Valley would then abate, since Pakistan is likely to be caught up in a civil warlike situation in POK, with inadequate resources and time to manage cross-border militancy.
China has no qualms about its expansionist goals, as has been the case in claiming territories under India’s sovereign control. Its inroads in POK are part of a larger game plan to expand its influence spanning almost entire South Asia encircling India – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.
Misuse of Natural Resources Resulting in Another Calamity
Despite protests from all quarters and most of all from the residents of the adjoining areas, the Government of Pakistan has relentlessly carried on construction work in POK. In the years to come, the region could witness another natural calamity of the kind of earthquake witnessed in 2005. A huge water reservoir in the event of an earthquake would inundate almost all the adjoining areas.
Violent Political Unrest
The possibility remains that the oppressed population in POK takes up arms against Pakistan. The Pakistan establishment would then have to open another front in POK, which otherwise is a peaceful area despite the presence of innumerable terrorist camps and other clandestine activities.
The violence in Kashmir Valley would then abate, since Pakistan is likely to be caught up in a civil warlike situation in POK, with inadequate resources and time to manage cross-border militancy.
POK 2030: Three Alternative Scenarios
In the light of the various drivers studied, it is inevitable to assume that the situation in the region will not improve as long as it is controlled by Pakistan. The first scenario revolves around the restoration of POK to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir; the second, it remains with the usurper Pakistan. In case of status quo, the region will be subject to geo-political quest between the adjoining states seeking their own strategic priorities and objectives.
POK Under India’s Control
Since the region legitimately belongs to India, taking this case first is justified. The case of POK’s reunion with India is argued on the basis of close cultural ties that people in this region share with the people in India. The Shias and Ismailis of Gilgit-Baltistan have close bonds with the Ladhakhis on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan’s lack of faith in the local population strengthens India’s case for reclaiming the occupied territory.
POK would prove India’s gateway to Central Asian markets, which could provide new vistas for the growing Indian economy.
If POK is restored, it would be amalgamated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir and subjected to a similar status, which defines autonomy and equal treatment that the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been accorded over the years. In this scenario, it would no longer be possible for Pakistan to misuse the territory for clandestine activities and raising militant training camps there.
The entity would largely be free of violence. Assistance from the Union budget for the state of Jammu and Kashmir is usually the highest amongst the states in India on a per capita basis and this gives a fair chance to POK to gradually overcome decades of underdevelopment and miserable conditions of living. POK would be well integrated in the process of the economic development in India, which is expected to maintain at least 7 per cent growth rate even against the global recession.
India would in that case share the border with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan on one side and the Wakhan Corridor with Afghanistan. POK would prove India’s gateway to Central Asian markets, which could provide new vistas for the growing Indian economy.
The Chinese aspire to access Gwadar port in Balochistan province as a bulwark against India. Gwadar port would also provide China opportunities to harness benefits of the sea-lanes there. China plans to build a railway line from Kashgar to Gwadar as a part of this strategy. These designs to besiege India would be automatically shelved once POK comes under India’s control.
POK’s future association with the state of Pakistan, on the other hand, would be no good especially for the local population with the abysmal sense of deprivation continuing in the years to come. Pakistan’s security situation is grave even under a civilian government and is worsening. Pakistan’s control of POK would continue the era of deprivation and duality on a false pretext of UN Security Council resolutions. In fact, Pakistan has never adhered to Resolution 47 of 21 April 1948, which called for “the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein”.
Senator John McCain has lately suggested that Pakistan should move the “significant numbers” of troops from POK to the areas threatened by Taliban militants inside Pakistan. McCain lost the presidential polls to Barack Obama but this statement substantially hints at a plausible course of US foreign policy towards Pakistan in future: to urge Pakistan to withdraw its forces from POK in large numbers and concentrate them on the restive belts of Swat and Waziristan and the western border.
POK at the Crossroads of Conflicting Interests of India, China and Pakistan
This scenario flows directly from status quo in POK. Viewed from the regional spectrum, POK is likely to become the geo-strategic chessboard between India, China and Pakistan. Recent exchange of diplomatic statements amongst the three states strongly indicates such a possibility, where each is vying to promote its own political, economic and strategic pursuits.
The elections in Gilgit-Baltistan are just another cosmetic exercise intended to camouflage the fact of Pakistan’s illegal occupation of areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
A report published in Xinhua described China’s plan to undertake infrastructure projects with Pakistan in POK. India has reacted sharply, with the Ministry of External Affairs making it clear that the future of Sino-Indian relations could be held hostage to China’s intervention in POK. The ministry stated:
We have seen the Xinhua report quoting the President of China as stating that China will continue to engage in projects with Pakistan inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Pakistan has been in illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir since 1947. The Chinese side is fully aware of India’s position and our concerns about Chinese activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. We hope that the Chinese side will take a long term view of the India-China relations, and cease such activities in areas illegally occupied by Pakistan.
The Chinese government in response said that “it was a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve and that China had no reason to change its policies on Kashmir.” Similarly, India registered a protest in the wake of the Gilgit-Baltistan Self-Governance Package 2009, stating that Pakistan has no right to legislate on Gilgit-Baltistan as it is a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Rejecting the demarche of protest that India handed over to the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi, Pakistan stated that India has no locus standi on POK. Regarding the elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has categorically rejected their validity stating, “The elections in Gilgit-Baltistan are just another cosmetic exercise intended to camouflage the fact of Pakistan’s illegal occupation of areas of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The next twenty years in all probability will see India playing a much larger role vis-à-vis POK. This is evident not only from several statements of the Ministry of External Affairs of late but also the developments with respect to China. China is playing a larger role in India’s neighbourhood and the next few years would compel India in all likelihood to revitalize its claims over its lost territory.
India and Pakistan last fought in the Kargil War in 1999, which was Pakistan’s futile attempt to establish control on Kashmir. The terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 was a high point, with an impending warlike situation. However, India exercised restraint and concentrated on strengthening its internal anti-terror structure. An incident like this if repeated could lead to retaliation from the Indian side. The repeated failure of diplomatic exercises with respect to Pakistan has aroused anti-Pakistan sentiments amongst Indians. If public opinion begins to support some sort of military offensive against Pakistan, there would be few options left before the government.
Pakistan is fighting a bitter battle against its own home-grown terror network. The present situation is serious and is likely to worsen in times to come.
Militancy in Kashmir Valley is on the downtrend (with a few exceptions) and as a result the Indian government is expected to engage in a meaningful and consistent diplomatic manoeuvre to reclaim POK. Pakistan is losing trust with the international community, including its major ally the US. This would give India leverage to put its case more forcefully.
The premise of Taliban presence in POK provides an indication to initiate a policy debate on how to tackle the situation in case the Taliban reaches the threshold limits of India. Even though the percolation of Taliban in India is not going to be easy in view of the openness and plurality of Indian society, these militants could successfully stage terror and violence inside the country.
Pakistan is fighting a bitter battle against its own home-grown terror network. The present situation is serious and is likely to worsen in times to come. If so, the secessionists in China would find a suitable ground to gratify their extremist intents and methods. This possibility could adversely impact the otherwise smooth and friendly relations between Pakistan and China.
The geo-strategy of South Asia would undergo a sea-change if there is a shift in the existing equation of China-Pakistan relations. With the increasing realization in the US about the terror network in Pakistan and a slightly stern approach in its dealings with Pakistan, it is probable that Pakistan may be isolated from both its closest allies, with them turning hostile to Pakistan’s policy of nurturing militancy inside its territory, even though it would be for varying interests.