Research Intern, Jindal Centre for the Global South,
O.P. Jindal Global University, India.
In 2020, a study by the joint Indo-Pak management institute revealed contrasting lifestyles between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (POK) (Dipanjan Roy, 2020). The study conducted by Professor Dheeraj Sharma from the Indian Institute of Management and Professor Farah Arif from Lahore Institute of Management Sciences disclosed that the people in POK were not satisfied and happy with their lives and homeland. Most of them intended to leave their homeland for a better future and were not satisfied with their government and their expectations in terms of education, health care, and infrastructure facilities. Various other studies and instances depict the pathetic lifestyle of the people living in Pakistan’s illegally occupied Jammu-Kashmir. On the contrary, various studies like the one mentioned here, have revealed a satisfactory lifestyle for people living in the Jammu-Kashmir. Studies like these have raised questions about the disputed territory and the solutions and way ahead for India.
Background of the conflict
During partition, the princely state of Jammu-Kashmir was given the option to either join India and Pakistan or remain independent. At that time, the whole country was swirled with communal violence, and given the reputation of Maharaja Hari Singh, then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of mistreating his Muslim subjects, it was speculated by Karachi that J&K would join India. This speculation was further escalated with Maharaja delaying the decision to join any country. The opposition of Sheikh Abdullah, the popular Muslim leader, to join Pakistan further aggravated Karachi’s fears. This led Karachi to plan an operation to make the state join Pakistan. The operation involved Pakistan sending military troops in disguise of Pastun tribals to help incite a revolt in Kashmir against Maharaja. Colonel Akbar Khan in his book, ‘Raiders in Kashmir’ (1947-48) confirms the role of Pakistan’s administration in invoking the revolt. This reflected how Pakistan was willing to capture Kashmir through force rather than the will of the people.
This led the Maharaja, with the advice of Sheikh Abdullah, sought the Indian military’s help to tackle the situation. India agreed to help, provided, the Maharaja accede to India. Maharaja agreed and New Delhi’s use of sophisticated weapons and aircrafts led to the retreat of Pakistan’s invaders to a large extent. But on 31 October, Gilgit Scouts surrendered Governor’s house and four days later hoisted Pakistan’s flag in the region. On April 1948, then PM Nehru took the matter to the UN which established the status quo and passed ‘Resolution 47’, the conditions of which were never met by Pakistan. Since then, India could never fully recover the region (Resolution 47, UN). Today, Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir is illegally-occupied by Pakistan and is divided into Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan has also ceded parts of it to China in 1963 in exchange for Beijing’s support at international forums and economic assistance.
Geopolitical and Geographical Significance of POK
Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK)is significantly important to India. The region is rich in oil and gas resources and there is an abundant availability of water and opportunity for hydraulic power (Sumit Hackloo, November 2018). It is also rich in minerals such as Gold, Coal, platinum, cobalt, chalk, graphite, and bauxite and gemstones like Topaz and Aquamarine (Amjad Ayub Mirza, January 2021). Geopolitically, the region shares a border with several countries which are of strategic interest to India. These include Pakistan in the West, the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west, and Xinjiang province of China in the north.
Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwala and POK are home to several terrorist organizations and training camps that operate against infiltration in India (PTI, 2021). With the control of the POK, India can rapidly enhance its security and gain a strategic edge over Pakistan. Further, POK control can help develop various infrastructural projects and can allow India to explore oil and gas reserves in the region. China is using the area to gain its ambitions of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which connects Kashgar to Gwadar, solving its Malacca Dilemma. Since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, the concerns for India have risen substantially because of fear of a two-front war between both the countries. If POK comes under India in this strategic geopolitical venture, it will be a huge strategic victory for India and a diplomatic crisis for China. Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor is a huge gateway for India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asian republics which are rich in resources, provide India with an important market for its products, and is a source of India’s energy needs and an important partner for India’s extended neighbourhood. Further, India can overcome the nexus between the Anti-India Taliban-Pak and China-Pak nexus. Thus, POK has strategic importance to India.
Challenges faced by India
Ever since 1947, India has been resolute to reclaim the part of its territory occupied ‘illegally’ by Pakistan but it faces various political, social, geographical and geo-political challenges. The mountainous terrain of the region makes it difficult for the Indian army to access the area. Also, India has the policy of ‘No-first-Attack’ which deters the forces to attack the side. However, the recent government’s response of iron-fist response and retaliating massively against attacks by Pakistan such as Balakot air strikes and surgical strikes could open up doors and pathways for India to claim the territory(Bhandari, 2022).
Additionally, the population of the region does not have a favourable relationship with Kashmir’s side of the population. Islamabad has tactically changed the demographics of the region to erode Kashmiri identity (Rajat Pandit, November 2018). Many of them have anti-India and pro-Pakistan sentiments which further increases challenges for New Delhi. Furthermore, India could also face Chinese aggression because of Beijing’s involvement in its BRI and CPEC projects (Amar Bhushan, 2019). Since all these countries are nuclear further deters New Delhi’s claim.
The Way Forward
One of the ways for India to claim POK is to establish a ‘POK administration in exile’ with the support of POK refugees. It could also support the voices of repressed people, who feel alienated and not fully integrated with Pakistan, at international forums (POK residents say, Feb 2018). This can help India to strengthen their claim in the region. India could also fill the 24-vacant seats reserved in the legislative assembly of Jammu Kashmir which would involve democratically elected leaders of the region in India. Further, India could also engage at international forums with countries like the US, and Russia to voice its concerns. Eventually, India should wait for economic progress and freedom enjoyed by the Jammu-Kashmir people to act as a catalyst for people in POK to revolt against Pakistan’s occupation. India, along with the major stakeholders, should voice its concerns at the international level to regain its territory. At the same time, it must be noted that India should wait for the right time and wisely take the decision to pursue its ambition .
Bhushan, Amar. (2019). POK annexation: Challenge is not from Pakistan but China. Indian Express.
Amar Bhushan (2019). POK annexation: Challenge is not from Pakistan but China. IndianExpress. https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/2019/oct/20/pok-annexation-challenge-is-not-from-pakistan-but-china-2049144.html
Amjad Ayub Mirza (2021). Exploitation Of Indian Natural Resources By Pakistan In Occupied Kashmir. Business World. https://www.businessworld.in/article/Exploitation-of-Indian-natural-resources-by-Pakistan-in-occupied-Kashmir/30-01-2021-371692/
Dipanjan Roy Chaudhary (2020). Joint Indo-Pak management institute study reveals contrasting pic of lifestyle in Kashmir & PoK. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/joint-indo-pak-management-institute-study-reveals-contrasting-pic-of-lifestyle-in-kashmir-pok/articleshow/77140158.cms
Many terrorists training camps active in PoK, government tells Rajya Sabha (2021). India Times. Many terrorists training camps active in PoK, government tells Rajya Sabha – The Economic Times (indiatimes.com)
PoK residents say Pakistan government exploiting their natural wealth (2018). Business Standard. https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/pok-residents-say-pakistan-government-exploiting-their-natural-wealth-118020100465_1.html
Rajat Pandit. Pakistan has changed demographics of PoK, eroded Kashmiri identity (2018). TOI. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pakistan-has-altered-demography-of-pok-army-chief/articleshow/66854021.cms
Resolution 47 (1948) / [adopted by the Security Council at its 286th meeting], of 21 April 1948. United Nations Digital Library. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/111955/?ln=en
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.