A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

The two Pakistan-administered divisions of the disputed Kashmir region, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, have been going through major turmoil due to the possible conversion of the latter into Pakistan’s fifth province. The issue has gained traction because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, which was launched by China.

While grim situations have occurred before in the Kashmir Valley, the current chaos is as serious as what happened after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in 1953, which resulted in about 9,000 injuries and 100 deaths.

Restlessness among misguided youths in Kashmir is not a new phenomenon, as most of them are used to violence and terror. They very often take recourse to lawlessness and anarchy, such as pelting police, security forces and military personnel with stones in their illegal, immoral bid to protect terrorists and anti-national elements.

Azad Kashmir is part of the greater Kashmir region that unfortunately continues to be a highly contentious issue between India and Pakistan. The Pakistan-administered territory is situated to the west of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was earlier a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. That princely state ceased to exist as a result of the 1947 India-Pakistan war over Kashmir.

Azad Kashmir shares a border with Gilgit-Baltistan, together with which it is referred to by the United Nations and other international organizations as “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”, while the Indian government prefers the designation “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”, or PoK. The territory also borders Pakistan’s Punjab province in the south and Khyber Pakhtunkwhala province in the west. To the east, Azad Kashmir is separated from the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan.

Considering the sensitive geopolitical nature of Gilgit-Baltistan with respect to its own security and stability, New Delhi is bitterly contesting Islamabad’s gamble of granting provincial status to this region, thereby making already thorny India-Pakistan relations even more bitter. At the same time, Gilgit-Baltistan is a crucial land link within the CPEC that, once completed, will run from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. Hence the issue of granting provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan is of particular concern for India.

While the de jure integration of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan by making it a province may look like a win-win strategy for both Beijing and Islamabad, it could result in severing Islamabad’s link with Kashmir. It is believed that Pakistan acquiring a part of the Kashmir region in this way may set a precedent for India if New Delhi decides to think in terms of the full integration of the state of J&K into the Indian Union.

Further, Gilgit-Baltistan’s integration into Pakistan is bound to consolidate support within India for J&K’s full integration because Kashmir continues to be the lifeblood of Pakistan’s anti-India project.

After asserting total control over part of Kashmir, Pakistan began fomenting troubles that continue to this day. Until and unless there is pressure on Pakistan from within PoK, including Gilgit-Baltistan, Islamabad is unlikely to mend its ways in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian leaders and diplomats must forge close contacts with prominent leaders of the different districts of PoK, including Gilgit-Baltistan, who are living in exile because of Pakistan’s policies; highlight the cases of blatant violations of human rights in the region; expose Pakistan’s double standards with respect to PoK; and extend all-out moral support to the local leaders and people at large in their fight against Pakistani occupation.

Although the incorporation of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan proper may considerably undermine India’s claim on the region, it cannot altogether remove it, because India will continue to uphold its claim on both parts of PoK as it has been doing since 1947.

Though on the domestic front India’s policy on PoK has been dismissed as insufficiently assertive since the very beginning, that has been changed by India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi. While boldly raising issues concerning PoK, he appears to have redrawn the rules of engagement. As well, Gilgit-Baltistan has been significantly elevated into India’s strategic calculations because of the Chinese foray into the region.

Undoubtedly, the Indian government should consider this complex issue in a holistic manner by learning from past mistakes and take innovative and bold measures. Modi’s initiative of practicing a muscular foreign policy may prove to be a milestone toward opening opportunities for more such actions, leading ultimately to a positive and lasting solution to all of the complex issues revolving around Kashmir.

But, at the same time, the eternal moral values of peace, truth, love and justice have no substitutes for the progress and welfare of humanity. In fact, no issue, however complex or difficult, is beyond any feasible solution, because everybody wants peace, love, equality and justice. As there is no dearth of sane minds in the world, sincere and honest efforts must go on until the final solution emerges, because nothing is beyond human endeavor.

Sudhanshu Tripathi

Sudhanshu Tripathi is a professor of political science at Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University. His book NAM and India was published in 2012 and he co-authored the textbook Political Concepts (In Hindi) in 2001.

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