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India at Geopolitical Crossroads

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Utsari writes about why India should become proactive regarding it’s Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Policy with context to recent operations of Army near LoC and judgment of Pakistan’s Court.

Washing hands for 30 seconds at regular intervals, trying a new dish every evening, finally reading that book on the rightmost shelf covered with the dust of negligence, or sucking at all of these and cribbing about not stocking up enough chocolate- is the new normal. The patience we have shown in this pandemic is commendable (unless you went on a field trip to the Capitol protesting for the salons to open). Pandemics in the past had left the world more evolved and immune. But this one is exceptionally devastating as some researchers call it the mightiest since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, being the favourite scapegoat, China has proved itself to be one of the winners of this pandemic. 

China has also made sure to take the utmost advantage of the world during the lockdown. If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m talking about its recent advancement in the South China Sea and Hong Kong. Hong Kong police arrested 15 pro-democracy activists who were involved in the unprecedented riots of last year. In the other news, Chinese ships have intruded in waters near the Japanese-controlled islets seven times this year, most recently on 24th April, when four coast guard vessels sailed through the area for about 90 minutes before leaving. China calls the islets Diaoyu and claims them as its own. The intention behind the above-mentioned incidents is loud and clear- to keep the Belt and Road Initiative in motion. To know why you have to stick with me for a few more minutes. Strategically, China is no wrongdoer in taking advantage of the pandemic. You may call it immoral, but nothing is immoral for the Communist Party of China, you see? 

“Since before the Korean War, China has had a strategy to establish a security buffer extending far from its coast and engulfing the entire South China Sea. Its current military buildup in the [region] is bringing China closer to realizing this strategy…Whoever controls these vital sea gates controls one-third of the world’s maritime commerce.” – Gerald Flurry

In fact, it is considered wise of a country to execute an outstanding political business in a global crisis without compromising the crisis at hand, primarily because its execution becomes easier than in normalcy. Having said that, I’ll just drop a thought and wait for you to process it. Can India or should India make advancement in Pakistan occupied Kashmir at present? PoK has been the priority of every government be it INC or BJP. But with respect to the present crisis, the onus lies in the hands of the BJP. Your moral instinct says- it should not do it. But if it does, it’ll be easier like never before. Now before you furiously ask why should it be a priority or why is Kashmir so important or what will the aftermath bring us, here’s a brief from the history.

In 1947, the King of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession with the Union of India which states that if any country rightfully accedes Kashmir- it would be India. As history says, both India and Pakistan have failed to negotiate the Kashmir issue diplomatically. Instead, Pakistan pursued its goal to achieve every inch of J&K by military conflicts which made India its eternal enemy. India claims the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir based on the instrument of accession signed in 1947. Pakistan claims Jammu and Kashmir based on its majority Muslim population, whereas China claims the Shaksam Valley and Aksai Chin.

Since independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the two countries but claimed by each in its entirety. The two countries have also been involved in several skirmishes over the control of Siachen glacier since Independence. There have been a few attempts for a fair plebiscite to take the Kashmiris into account. Keeping in mind that the Kashmiris should be the only stakeholders to decide the future of the valley, the United Nations made an attempt to conduct a fair plebiscite after India approached the UN. 

An attempt of the plebiscite by the UN

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on 21st April 1948 which inter alia provided for the immediate cease-fire of hostilities, the Government of Pakistan to secure the withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of all tribesmen and Pakistani nationals who were not residents but entered the state for the purpose of fighting, and the Government of India to reduce its forces to a minimum level which can pave the circumstances for holding a plebiscite in the state on which country between Pakistan and India should accede Kashmir. However, due to mutual mistrust and differences over the implementation of these conditions, the two sides could not satisfy the prerequisites. In other words, Pakistan never vacated the occupied territory of Kashmir which they called ‘Azad Kashmir’ and India never demilitarized fearing more adventures and surprises from the other side. The subsequent intervention of the United Nations with revised formulae too could not resolve differences between the two sides. The question of plebiscite gradually became impractical and irrelevant. The United Nations stopped raising the issue of a plebiscite after 1962 and instead advised to settle the dispute through bilateral talk.

A few more attempts were made to run a fair plebiscite before it was too late. 

“Plebiscite is dead. Independence is a mirage”

In the years since 1990, the Kashmiri Muslims and the Indian government have conspired to abolish the complexities of Kashmiri civilization. The world it inhabited has vanished: the state government and the political class, the rule of law, almost all the Hindu inhabitants of the valley, alcohol, cinemas, cricket matches, picnics by moonlight in the saffron fields, schools, universities, an independent press, tourists and banks. In this reduction of civilian reality, the sights of Kashmir are redefined: not the lakes and Mogul gardens, or the storied triumphs of Kashmiri agriculture, handicrafts, and cookery, but two entities that confront each other without intermediary: the mosque and the army camp.

— British journalist James Buchan

For a fair plebiscite to take place, the participation of the legitimate stakeholders is crucial without which the plebiscite stands void. In 1989, a widely popular and armed insurgency started in Kashmir. After the 1987 state legislative assembly election, the results were opposed. This resulted in the formation of militant wings and marked the beginning of the Mujahideen insurgency, which continues to this day. Due to rising insurgency and Islamic militancy in the Kashmir Valley, Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee the valley. They were targeted by militant groups such as the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. On 4 January 1990, Srinagar based newspaper Aftab released a message, threatening all Hindus to leave Kashmir immediately, sourcing it to the militant organization Hizbul Mujahideen. In the preceding months, around 300 Hindu men and women, Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, had been slaughtered, raped and their houses burned to ashes. A mosque in Kashmir released a statement in loudspeaker asking Hindus to leave Kashmir without their women. On 19 January 1990, Kashmiri Pandits fled from Kashmir due to atrocities such as killing and gang rape. The Muslims who protected their Hindu neighbours were also subjected to atrocities. The Pakistani government calls these insurgents “Kashmiri freedom fighters”, and claims that it provides them only moral and diplomatic support, although India believes they are Pakistan-supported terrorists from Pakistan Administered Kashmir. 

Consequent to years of persecution and threat to life and property, a large number of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs were forced to leave Kashmir and live in places like Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. Despite the deployment of security forces and some efforts of the state government to rehabilitate, a conducive atmosphere for their safe return does not exist. It will be unfair if their existence and right to choose are ignored. The fate and aspiration of the Buddhist Ladakhis tied to a dominant Sunni Muslim community too cannot be overlooked while they live with a completely different life and faith. After 73 years of independence, a lot of Kashmiris, who are legitimate stakeholders of the plebiscite, are living outside the region. Before any such plebiscite, they need to be identified and rehabilitated to their homeland which makes it impossible.

Besides, such a plebiscite should be done for the entire Kashmir, including the Pak-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Pakistan has allowed non-Kashmiris to infiltrate and settle in PoK over the past decades causing a serious demographic change. It is well known that PoK has been the main source for Pakistan sponsored terror groups’ training camps and insurgents export to Indian territory across the border. 

Nehru’s promise- 

“Fate of the State of Jammu & Kashmir is ultimate to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it”

But little did he know that Kashmir would be exploited for her beauty and its people. 

Now that I’ve given you a fair ride through history, let us get to the hypothetical question- should India or can India make a military advancement in PoK without compromising the pandemic at hand?

Diplomatic backing

Had the number of warheads and missiles decided a country’s fate on a battlefield, every country would invest a maximum of its budget on nuclear empowerment. It goes without saying that India’s military strength surpasses Pakistan’s. It’s also ironic that a nation’s nuclear capacity is not the weapon but a good strategy is. The 1975 Simla Agreement makes the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan a bilateral negotiation wherein even the UN can have no say. Yet, Pakistan consistently sought assistance from the UN while every time the UN reminds Pakistan of the Simla Agreement. Its weary tactic of playing the aggrieved after breeding terror groups in Pakistan occupied Kashmir makes it more challenging to gain the trust of the foreign counterparts. Its recent stand on the Right to self-determination of the Kashmiris also calls for the right to self-determination of its people in Balochistan, which Pakistan would never want. Pakistan army’s incursions and airstrikes have resulted in many civilian casualties by shooting peaceful Baloch protesters. Baloch human rights groups report that the kidnapping and torture of peaceful, lawful Baloch activists remain unchecked. Baloch is still subjected to grave exploitation by the Pakistan Government, despite its ostensible transition to a democratic government. 

Having set a blistering diplomatic pace in the past few months, India went out of its way to convince partners and skeptics about its decision to de-operationalize Article 370 and reorganise Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories. From the UN Security Council to the UN General Assembly via the UN Human Rights Council, India successfully pulled out all the steps to build diplomatic capital behind what is arguably the toughest political decision taken.

The vested interest of China

Pakistan and China have diplomatically had each other’s back at international platforms like the United Nations. China and Pakistan also share close military relations, with China supplying a range of modern armaments to the Pakistani defense forces. China supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, while Pakistan supports China on the issues of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. Their military cooperation has deepened, with joint projects producing armaments ranging from fighter jets to guided-missile frigates. Chinese cooperation with Pakistan has reached economic high points, with substantial Chinese investment in Pakistani infrastructural expansion including the Pakistani deep-water port at Gwadar.  

The Belt and Road Initiative is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 ( planned to complete by 2049) involving infrastructure development and investments in nearly 70 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Its purpose is “to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database”. 

Slow poisoning

Just when you were thinking that the US runs the world, well…China’s geostrategic mission raises concern not only to the US but also to the member countries as it makes them liable to China both financially and diplomatically. The termDebt-trap diplomacy came into existence while criticising China’s disguised motive of this project. One of the most cited examples is Sri Lanka’s  Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port and Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport which was built by the Government of Sri Lanka with 85% of it funded by China’s Exim Bank at an annual interest rate of 6.3%. Upon the failure of the Sri Lankan Government to pay back the concerned loan, Chinese state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited leased the port and the airport for 99 years in 2017. This caused concern in the United States, Japan, and India that the port might be used as a Chinese naval base to contain China’s geopolitical rivals. 

This gives us a clear picture of what Chinese hegemony might look like. All China cares about for now is the geopolitical relations bounded by the BRI. Hence, one must dismiss the misconception that China will support Pakistan throughout the fight for Kashmir. China will not be bound to Pakistan in the international forums being aware of the bilateral characteristics of Kashmir conflict. Pakistan’s recent concern on how Chinese exports have entered the domestic Pakistani market through the Karakoram Highway is real. It has also been speculated that the CPEC will replace Pakistani exports by Chinese ones in external markets as the Chinese products stand cheaper due to the relatively higher cost of production in Pakistan.

A threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity?

India’s non-participation in the trillion-dollar project remains firm. The US rightly warns the developing nations saying “The project encourages opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty”. Besides the hideous nature of the project that encourages debt-trap diplomacy, India finds China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) illegal as it passes through parts of J&K and Ladakh which are illegally occupied by Pakistan. Moreover, India’s decision seemed obvious after China blocked a UNSC resolution to designate Masood Azhar- the mastermind behind February 14 Pulwama attacks. Taking hold of PoK will be a direct threat to the meticulously planned CPEC which passes from parts of PoK. It would cost China its trade sovereignty as it has built roads through a disputed territory which is legally ours. 

Call it a misplaced priority 

As much as it is vital for India to make an advancement in PoK in the current crisis because now it is easier than ever, it is equally appalling that we send our Bravehearts to fight the enemy at the border during such a harrowing global health crisis. 

The time of this specific action would be succeeded by the recent criticism India received from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom which downgraded India to the ranking of, “Countries of Particular Concern” (alongside China, North Korea) expressing specific concerns about the Citizenship Amendment Act, the proposed National Register for Citizens, anti-conversion laws and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The spokesperson of MEA replied, “Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavor. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly”. 

In fact, the Indian military has largely been confined to setting up quarantine centers to take care of evacuees from abroad. While multiple quarantine centers have come up, some more have been kept on standby as a precautionary measure. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been roped in along with the national carrier Air India to bring back Indians stuck abroad. However, the need of the hour is to proactively deploy the military and use its expertise and assets to win this war against coronavirus.

To give her what’s due

Kashmir has witnessed oppression, atrocities, unrest- you name it. As the special status of Kashmir is revoked, a ray of hope bounces across the valley with a refreshing vision of development and normalcy. A place where “cinemas, cricket matches, picnics by moonlight in the saffron fields, schools, universities, an independent press, tourists and banks.” is celebrated all over again.

Corruption had been the biggest enemy of the region for a long time. The central government had set up an anti-corruption bureau for Kashmir which will make sure the benefits of the allotted funds reach the last person in the line. The direct accountability of the centre on Kashmir makes the process more feasible and prevents misuse of funds like when Kashmir was under its previous government. Having said that, the 2020-21 budget of J&K increased by 27% with a target of 11% GSDP and a sole motive of making the state a model of development. 

The Jammu and Kashmir Investment Summit 2020 held this January witnessed enthusiastic investors. 41 companies have shown interest in investing over Rs 15,000 crore in the region in the form of 61 Expression of Interest (EOIs). Some of the sectors that these companies intend to invest in include, information technology, infrastructure, renewable energy, manufacturing, hospitality, defense, skills education, and tourism. Entities like Jackson Group, Indo American Synergy, Mulberry Resorts, Reliance ammunition Ltd., Dalmia Cement Ltd., Indian School of Business and Paperboat Design Studios Ltd, etc have shown interest for the same. They also demand a tax holiday for at least a 10-15 years period for their investment in the military hit region. 

India’s desire to acquire PoK by bilateral talks with Pakistan can only happen when the trust deficit between the two countries subsides. But, with the recent surgical strikes by India in retaliation to the terror attacks by Pak funded organisations have dwindled the idea of India being too weak to strike back. But, this pandemic is not the right time for military advancement in PoK, no matter how weak the opponent is. 

The notable development of the valley will definitely win over the unrest injected from Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India will always stay true to its responsibility of giving Kashmir back to the ones who truly deserve it, ie. the Kashmiris. No matter what, it must be clear to everyone that legally and rightfully, Kashmir and Kashmiris were an integral part of India and always will be. 

Let Jammu and Kashmir lead the way in the building of a new future for India. Let it set an example to the rest of India and the world by showing how the entire region can be transformed into a zone of peace, stability, and prosperity.”

-Pranab Mukherjee, Former President of India.

– Utsari Gupta Bhaya, Writer- Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.

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