Decoding India’s recent rhetoric on PoK
After the end of the United Nations Security Council’s closed door meeting on Kashmir — its first in over half century — India’s permanent representative underscored India’s constitutional initiative on Kashmir was an ‘internal matter’ while maintaining that India would speak to Pakistan once that country ceases support for terrorism.
The externally-directed official Indian stand has worked to stave-off legitimate concerns, stoked liberally by Pakistan, on yet another India-Pakistan crisis. It has managed to get United States President Donald Trump walk back his offer of mediation.
However, internally, the official stand appears to have created dissonance among constituents of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The initial euphoria was such that many believed India had ipso facto in one fell swoop veritably solved the Kashmir problem.
That little had changed — other than the administrative map of J&K and its relationship with Delhi — even though the indomitable duo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, resorted to the by-now-patented ‘shock and awe’ tactics turned out to be less than the bluster warranted.
Consider the timing of the recent references to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), suggestive of a diversionary tactic.
The first salvo was from Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the day following the impromptu interaction by Akbaruddin in New York. Singh, following his controversial intervention in the latest crisis that India’s No First Use commitment continuing was contingent on future circumstances, had it at a party event that any discussions with Pakistan would only be on PoK.
The same day, the minister for the north east in the prime minister’s office (PMO) and parliamentarian from J&K, Jitendra Singh, exhorted a party audience, saying, ‘let us move forward with a positive thinking of freeing PoK from the illegal occupation.’
The next round of PoK references appear timed with the second India-Pakistan bout, at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Immediately prior, in a briefing on the first 100 days achievements of the Modi government’s second tenure, Jitendra Singh showcased the government’s constitutional action in Kashmir as its ‘biggest and greatest achievement’ that required, in his words, ‘tremendous amount of will power, conviction and determination’.
This time around he claimed that retrieving parts of PoK was the ‘next agenda’, mandated by the non-binding Narasimha Rao era, unanimously-adopted, parliamentary resolution on Kashmir. The February 1994 resolution demanded that, ‘Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.’
The ruling party, perceiving a certain reservation in its cadre, is pepping them up in a way it knows — projection of a problem onto Pakistan. The removal of Article 35A, collateral damage of the de-operationalisation of Article 370, has affected Jitendra Singh’s voter base. The Dogras look for like protections on offer in Article 371 as a substitute. The sweetener of a future Jammuite domination of the new J&K union territory has not quite worked in face of the underside of integration.
Besides, India’s upping-the-ante along the Line of Control (LoC) has led to a partial hit-wicket in terms of displacement, requiring Jitendra Singh to up the rhetoric on PoK.
The government has kept up an accusatory line on Pakistan, alleging Pakistan’s retaliation is unfolding. Apparently, jihadist infiltrators are in launch pads, with some 50-plus having made it past India’s three anti-infiltration lines at maximum alert.
The rhetoric is likely twin-pronged: One to deter Pakistan, and, two, to lay the ground for a military riposte against Pakistan in PoK if Kashmiris were to attempt unshackle the lockdown in an explosion of disaffection.
This accounts for the army chief stepping into the headlines on the PoK. On the day of the India-Pakistan exchange of words over Kashmir at Geneva, he said that the Indian Army was always ready for action in PoK. He took care to caveat his answer that the decision was a governmental prerogative.
In so far as the choreographed information war two-step between the PMO and the army chief over PoK deters it is unexceptionable. However, hopefully when the government considers such a step, it would consult him prior. He best knows that with our hold over Kashmir after 30 years being as it is, what venturing into PoK entails.
War planners sensibly restrict their threats to ‘parts of PoK’, knowing the China factor intrinsic in Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin — though referred to by Shah in his grandstanding in Parliament. Also, a cursory glance at the map would show up how Pakistan’s national capital territory abuts PoK. Even so, they need reminding — if Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s drum-beat of early warnings are heeded — that will not be the only area affected.
Therefore, the J&K governor’s alternative manner of taking over PoK makes sense: by developing J&K in such a manner that PoK, enticed, opts in. Unfortunately, this is not what former army chief and minister VK Singh meant when he said that India has a ‘ran-niti’ (special strategy) for PoK. If it were then why be secretive?