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Round Table on Developments in POK: Choices for India

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  • February 22, 2016
    Round Table

    A roundtable discussion on “Developments in Pakistan occupied Kashmir: Choices for India” was held at IDSA on February 22, 2016. Eminent experts from cross section including former diplomats, academics and journalists were invited to share their views on the subject. Following experts participated in the discussion: Ambassador Satish Chandra, Ambassador Satinder K Lambah, Ambassador Virendra Gupta, Ambassador T. C. A Raghavan, Ambassador P. Stobdan, Shri Rana Banerji, Professor K. Warikoo, Professor Navnita Chadha Behera, Professor Mathew Joseph C.,

    Dr Ashok K. Behuria and Shri Sushant Sareen. The meeting was attended by Shri Gopal Baglay (JS PAI), Ministry of External Affairs, two other officials from the PAI (Pakistan Afghanistan Iran) division and two officers serving at the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). The session was moderated by Shri Jayant Prasad, Director General, IDSA. Deputy Director General Brigadier Rumel Dahiya (retd.) and scholars within IDSA with expertise and interest in PoK also participated in the roundtable.

    Points for Discussion

    The roundtable was held in the backdrop of growing demand for Gilgit Baltistan’s (GB) constitutional upgradation as a separate province of Pakistan. The demand for absorption of GB into Pakistan as the fifth province has been doing the rounds since September 2012, when the GB Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to this effect. Following are some of the pertinent questions, which the participants in the roundtable discussion sought answers to.

    • What are the local demands in PoK (both ‘AJK’ and GB)? How is the federal government responding to these demands?
    • What could be the fall-out of the continuing political disaffection in the PoK?
    • What are the domestic or external compulsions behind Pakistan’s move to consider change in the political status of GB?
    • What are the legal and political implications of GB’s constitutional absorption into Pakistan for India?
    • What should be India’s position if the proposal to make GB a province fructifies in near future?

    Significant Takeaways & Recommendations

    • There was near unanimity amongst the participants that India’s position is defined and bound by the Parliament Resolution of 1994 which delineated India’s claim on the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir including PoK, and also urged Pakistan to vacate areas belonging to former princely state which have been under its control since 1947. Therefore, it wass suggested that the policy makers in India should stick to the mandate under the 1994 resolution while discussing PoK.
    • Most of the participants appreciated IDSA’s work on PoK and held that the institute was playing a key role in spreading awareness on the subject among the members of the strategic community within India. It was suggested, therefore, that concerted efforts should be made to extend IDSA’s reach and write about issues and developments in PoK, in the mainstream media. The participants agreed that there was an urgent need to keep sensitizing people within India on the developments in PoKGiven the fact that overall public awareness about PoK is rather poor, the particiants held that the onus is on the government to initiate measures to highlight the plight of the people of PoK and also Chitral, which was also a part of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir. . Relevant literature focussing on developments in PoK must be compiled and circulated with special emphasis on vernacular literature in the form of memoirs and comments in the media.
    • One of the recommendations from a 2010 IDSA PoK Project Report that India should offer citizenship to people from PoK- both residents and members from PoK diaspora, settled mostly in the United Kingdom and the United States, was taken up for discussion in the round table. It was suggested that this proposition was impracticable and and, hence, should be  dropped as a policy option. However, India could consider providing scholarships in education sector to students from PoK.
    • There was a consensus that India should bring out a white paper on PoK (in sync with the concept note prepared by IDSA) where the sufferings inflicted on the people of PoK should be highlighted/articulated in greater detail. There is a need to draw international attention towards human rights violations in PoK.
    • It was suggested that India needed to vociferously oppose the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There is a need to rake up India’s concerns/opposition on the project not only within India but at all relevant forums.
    • India must offer stiff resistance to Pakistan’s attempt to turn Gilgit-Baltistan into its fifth province. Such a move by Pakistan militates against the 1994 resolution that whole of PoK belonged to India.
    • There was a view that Pakistan should be encouraged to make mistakes in PoK. India must try to harness and use the prevalent discontent and disaffection amongst Shias and the followers of Aga Khanis, including other communities in PoK towards the establishment. The Aga Khan family is very influential in PoK and much of the development work in the region is funded by the family foundation. The Aga Khan foundation had been quite active till 2007 and investing heavily in the education sector in the G-B region. However, after targeted attacks on them by groups belonging to Sunni sect, they have largely gone into hiding suspension mode. Now they  have shifted their focus from education to tourism.
    • India should engage with the ‘Nationalist’ groups in PoK in an innovative way. At the same time, it is necessary to constantly review the state of politics amongst several ethno-nationalist groups operating in G-B for quite some time. For example, there are differences in approach between the Balwaristan and Baltistan nationalist fronts, and the local leaders have misgivings about, and distrustful of, one another. This has to be factored into any effort to work with them.
    • It was noted that that a fair amount of communication should be sustained between the people on both sides of LoC. The number of travellers coming into Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from the other side has decreased during the last few years and this is not a positive sign. Although there are security-related issues, the positive outcomes of an enhanced level of contact and communication cannot be neglected, especially because it involves exposure of the people from the other side to the ground reality on the Indian side and contributes to their disillusionment with the system of governance granted to them by Pakistan. Of course, during height of turmoil in Kashmir, the government has to be cautious about such exchanges.  
    • India should be more assertive on PoK by continually claiming the entire Jammu and Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan and the so called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). This is important because it would enhance our negotiating capability in case the issue of give and take on Kashmir arises in future. India should not develop a sense of apathy and resignation towards PoK. At the very least, such posture needs to be avoided as=t all costs. Politically, India’s position with regard to Pok has been rather defensive since the 1950s and the discourse on Kashmir, particularly at international level, is one-sided and valley-centric. Through constant reiteration of Indian sovereignty over PoK, India should hope to change the existing lopsided narrative of J&K, which has virtually granted Pakistan’s hold over PoK as a given, while India’s legitimate territorial claim over the truncated J&K State on the Indian side of LoC is being thrown open for debate and resolution.
    • There is a need to encourage more organizations and scholars talking and writing about PoK within India. The example of Kashmir Study Group headed by Ghulam Nabi Fai was taken up during the discussion In this regard. This organization used to be very well funded, well connected, well-plugged into international organisational circuits and had, to a great extent, successfully churned out and disseminated a pro-Pakistan narrative on Kashmir. The counter-narrative, which is historically correct and pro-India, however, is missing. For instance, the view of US State Department as well as that of the strategic community in the European capitals on the Kashmir issue is quite narrow and unsympathetic towards the Indian viewpoint. There are not much resources (literature) on PoK available either in MEA or at the IDSA and there is a need to bring out informative and analytical volumes on PoK.
    • It is absolutely essential to generate interest within the people of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir over the issue of PoK. There should be more scholars, belonging to that region, working on the issue, through whom information and awareness about PoK could be disseminated. The body of information generated by Kashmiris themselves is likely to be considered more authentic and credible. There should be more conferences specifically dealing with PoK should be held in India to generate awareness about the region long neglected in our official as well as unofficial discourses on Jammu and Kashmir. It may not necessarily be organized by IDSA alone but could be held collaboratively with other institutions or organizations.
    • The issue of water is completely missing from the Kashmir discourse, which otherwise is the key, given the resentment in Mirpur over the Mangla dam royalty and the growing demand for people in the state of Jammu and Kashmir for more rights to harness and use water which flows through their territory. There is a strong view emerging from J&K that Indus Water Treaty has sacrificed the genuine interests of the people and bartered away their right to use the water flowing through their territory for the sake of improving relations with Pakistan. Such views need to come to the fore to buttress the Indian case over IWT, at a time when Pakistan is raising false alarms and baseless allegations over ‘stealing’ of water by India. An assertive and indigenous Kashmiri voice over the issue will certainly have a deterring impact on Pakistan’s belligerent approach to the water issue.
    • On the issue of Pakistan taking a decision to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province, it was noted that for India, it could serve as a double-edged sword. While it can be publicly contested by India, the proposition could widen the gulf between Pakistan and the Hurriyat and wider separatist constituency in the Kashmir valley. Moreover,  not meeting the demands of the people of the region for G-B’s status equivalent to the provinces of Pakistan, would lead to greater alienation of the people with Islamabad. The study of the whole issue of absorbing the region as a province reveals that Pakistan is highly tentative over the issue and even set up a committee to look at various alternatives to satisfy the people of the region without undermining Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir. However, if it decides to bring about necessary constitutional revision and declare G-B as a province, under reported pressure from China to alter the ‘disputed’ status of PoK to facilitate implementation the CPEC project, it would signal a significant departure from the well-known Pakistani position on the Kashmir issue.
    • Some of the participants believed that India should sternly oppose any change of status of Gilgit Baltistan by Pakistan.  It was suggested that the voices of the nationalists and the left-wing activists in G-B were being drowned in the over-advertised clamour for fifth province, needs to be gleaned and given adequate space in media. Besides this, the overarching concerns of the local Shias about growing state-sponsored intrusion of the Sunnis into the area need to be monitored regularly and this can be utilized to serve India’s interests in the region. 
    • It was argued that with regard to Kashmir, Pakistan has its military and intellectual fronts always ready for use, while India has neither of these. There is episodic interest in India in the Kashmir issue, especially limited to the time of turmoil in the valley. However, the diplomatic and intellectual capital being invested by Pakistan has made the discourse on Kashmir skewed  against India and, hence, there is a greater need to change this situation. Instead of referring to the region as “Pakistan occupied Kashmir”, which lends a negative dimension to the issue and indirect legitimacy to Pakistani hold over the terrain, India could think in terms of altering the nomenclature and reclaim the region by calling it “West Kashmir” or something similar having a geographical connotation.
    • While it is important that we evolve a clear set of objectives on PoK, before we set out delineating a roadmap, freewheeling discussions would be always helpful- to weigh available options for Idnia on PoK, and proceed with the most suitable objective in mind. We cannot have a static PoK policy and it has to be dynamic to respond to changing local and geo-political situation in the region.  It may not also be a bad idea to hold on to our claims and shape the international narrative in such a manner that it accommodates the legitimate position of India over the issue. At the same time, in the face of stiff, inflexible and maximalist position adopted by Pakistan, India should focus on strengthening its economic and military power and make it easier for the next generation to deal with the issue in future. India needs to be both cautious and proactive on PoK. It has to be understood, nevertheless, that putting pressure on the military of Pakistan by exploiting its faultlines and engaging the civilian government for normalization of relations are not mutually exclusive propositions.

    (Report prepared by Priyanka Singh and Manzoor Turabi)