Geopolitics

Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir: The Future Trajectory
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Political Unrest

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.

Status Quo

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.”

Prognosis

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.

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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.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Priyanka Singh

Associate Fellow at the Insitute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

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21 thoughts on “Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir: The Future Trajectory

  1. Sooner or later all kashmir will take freedom from India. Kashmir with 99% muslim population was sold to India by a hindu ruler in 1947. While Lord Mountbatton rule in 19474 was that which areas have more than 50% muslim population will go to Pakista. By that rule Kashmor was given to Pakistan. But typical Hindu Banyaa grab it from Pakistan. One day all occupied Kashmir by India will join to Pakistan.

  2. India should recapture the Pak Occupied Kashmir Area along with Gilgit Baltistan. China should not intervene the internal matter of India (as per the treaty signed between Raja of Kashmir and Indian Union in 1949 this area is a part of Indian Union) by investing in Projects in this area .

  3. A very nice situation analysis. But, how can India play an increasing role? On 26th September 2015, while China, the US and Afghanistan worked out Afghanistan’s stability and future, India was clamouring for a permanent membership of a UNSC that crossed its “use by” date when Clinton bombed Belgrade to throw Bosnia and Kosovo into the maws of Islam. The Tweedle Bush and Tweedle Blair deflection of anger over 9/11 to Iraq from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia turned the UNSC into a hoarse talking shop in a uni polar world that is as obsolete as INS Vikramaditya and as unfit for purpose as the Tejas, the INSAS, or India’s courts. It is pretty obvious that India is not really being taken seriously in International affairs. To be taken seriously, India needs a century freed from the ballast of the reservations-corruption Constitution and Kleptocracy, a serious, professional and adequately armed and equipped armed forces with appropriate structural locus in strategic affairs, and diplomacy capable of more than “Adarsh” Land Grabs or getting into hot water abroad with an economy that has other achievements besides an inflation that drifts from canter to trot fully reflective of government profligacy and corruption . The “Reservations-Corruption Raj” India, has been condemned by its “Animal Farm” Constitution to a perpetual state of low intensity civil war since 1949 and has fallen to 143 out of 172 countries in internal Peace and Stability and 135 out of 172 countries in Human and Social Development with a military that has been ground down by 69 years of subservience to a Neta-Babu-Cop-Milard-Crony-Preferred Caste/Tribe/Religion Kleptocracy that thinks the correct task for the Armed forces is to show case companies of women soldiers marching up and down Raisina Hill or obsolete, carcinogenic and entirely unnecessary Aircraft Carriers demonstrate a hole in the exchequer as big as Air India at fleet reviews, is simply unfit for purpose. Lacking in integrity like a broken pot.

  4. INDIAS STRATEGIC VISION LED BY BLIND POLITCANS , CLUELESS BABUS OF FOREIGN SERVICE , MOD AND FINANCE , SPRINKLED WITH PMOS AND CABINET SECRTARIAT FILES , LED BY POLICE AND FOREIGN SERVICE PANDUS LACKS COURAGE , VISION AND SEIZURE OF OPPURTUNITY . THE ARMED FORCES ARE HANDICAPPED . A VISIONARY GOVT BY NOW SHOULD HAVE PLACED MASSIVE MILTARY, AIRFORCE , MEDICAL ,INTELLIGENCE ASSETS WITH POLICE AND PARA FORCES IN THE EX SOVIT REPUBLICS OF SOVIET UNION , TRAINED EQUIPPED AND SUPPLIED THE UZBEK , MILITIA AND KEPT A INTEGRATED RAPID REACTION CORPS OF ARMY INTO WAKHAN COORIDOR . EX SPECIAL FORCES OFFICERS AND MEN COMBINED INTO COMPANIES WORKING IN AFGHANISTAN . THE COUNTRY LACKS VISION TO PROTECTS ITS INTERSTS IN THE 2BILLION OF INVESTMENTS AND SEEMS PREPARED TO LET AFGHNISTAN INTO ISI AND PAK ARMY HANDS , THA ASSASINATION OF THE ARMY BRIG IN KABUL AND THE ATTACK ON INDIAN CONSULATE IN HERAT SHOULD HAVE MOBILISED THE GOVT TO DESTROY PAK ARMY AND ISI ASSETS IN KABUL AND AFGHANISTAN .

  5. If the leaders of India and Pakistan resolve to have a friendly-neighborly relation for no other reason than self improvement, the Kashmir issue must be put to rest. What is the next step? Shooting wars have already been tried out repeatedly to change the geography and Pakistan has lost each time. Terrorism from Pakistan has run it’s course. The more confident Modi will hold the Pakistani government responsible for any act of terrorism whether they are state or stateless actors. Their military will be made to pay a price for another Kargil or Mumbai massacre. Pakistan’s Nuclear threats are phony and a non-starter because India is fully capable of retaliating with a larger force and expansive dimensions given it’s triad system. The conventional military response is the only way to register disgust and India has the upper hand. Transforming the current borders into international borders is therefore the best option. The extremists on both sides have vested interests in the status quo but the leaders must rise above and call an end to the last sixty years of madness so that the more important work of building the nation begins.

  6. Since the very basis of the partition of the sub-continent was religion, Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan. After all, the Pakistani actions of attempting to take Kashmir by force were no different from India’s forceful takeover of Hyderabad. However, since Kashmir has been part of India for several decades, handing over Kashmir to Pakistan us unthinkable as no Indian government would agree to such a handover. The best practical solution is that both Pakistan and India should treat the LoC as the international border and accept the division of Kashmir just as the division of Punjab and Bengal was accepted. Also, the idea that Pakistan will provide greater freedoms and opportunities to Kashmiris is ridiculous as Pakistanis themselves live under the fear of fundamentalist groups like the Taliban.

    • The reason is quite obvious. Indian and Pakistan are both poor countries that lack the monetary resources to sustain a long military campaign. It is for this reason that all the wars that have taken place over Kashmir have been over in weeks not months. Thanks to military assistance of countries like China and the US, Pakistan is capable of defending any Indian aggression and there is a balance of military power in the region. Let’s not forget that although in absolute terms, Indian defence forces would easily outnumber the Pakistani defence forces, India has to distribute its forces to defend itself not only from Pakistan but also from China. That geo-political reality ensures a balance of military power in the region. Besides, both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons which fact makes any serious military campaign unlikely.

  7. Although written with a lot of details, this article seems biased towards India with the inclusion of POK into India seen as the best alternative. India’s record wrt Human Right violations in J&K have not been mentioned which is glaring.

    • It is human nature that when you post a large number of soldiers in a war-like zone for months on end, they lose control over their passions. That is when you hear of civilian killings and rapes. The American Army did it in Vietnam. The Indian Army is no different. However, when it comes to personal freedoms, social justice and religious intolerance, Pakistan is probably the worst country in the world. Further, Pakistani society is getting more and more conservative with every passing day, due to the domination of Pakistani society by fundamentalist groups. So given a choice between India and Pakistan, I would definitely prefer Kashmir to be part of India. The real solution to this problem is for both countries to accept the LoC as the international border and for both countries to withdraw atleast half of their troops from Kashmir. With fewer soldiers present in Kashmir, human rights violations would automatically reduce.

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