India on Gilgit-Baltistan: Posturing without Policy?
There is nothing about India’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir that would encourage anyone living in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan to hope that New Delhi may offer them better terms than Pakistan does.
3 years and 9 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to the ‘freedom struggle’ in Baluchistan from the rampart of the Red Fort, India has decided to include regions of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir - including Gilgit-Baltistan - in the daily weather forecasts by the government-owned media. Geographically, Baluchistan is far away from PoK and we do not know much about the progress of the ‘freedom struggle’ there since Prime Minister Modi’s mention of it. In the same speech on 15th August 2016, the Prime Minister also mentioned both PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. However, it was considered as India’s routine proclamation of claims over these territories since 1947-48. On the other hand, the reference to the Baluchi freedom struggle was termed as ‘unprecedented’ by many.
The decision to forecast the weather of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan is turning out to be a déjà vu moment for almost everybody who took joy in the idea of a freedom struggle in Baluchistan. Since we don’t know how much has happened (that we know of) on the Baluchi front, it raises two concerns. One: was it a hoax played on Pakistan by the Prime Minister, and was it a premature announcement without much ground preparation and a road map? Two: what is an assurance, if not a guarantee, that this time it’s neither a hoax nor a move without follow-up action? The answers to these questions are necessary to decide how much of time and intelligence were invested in the government’s weather forecasting move over PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. The timing of the move certainly makes one wonder whether it is being done to shift the national focus from the plight of millions of migrant workers.
At the start of the Coronavirus crisis, one of Maharashtra’s stalwart right-wing intellectuals, Avinash Dharmadhikari created a storm on social media by demanding that India must take advantage of the world’s engagement with the COVID-19 crisis to ‘capture’ Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Nonetheless, let’s separate the Indian government’s move from the current context. With or without the Coronavirus crisis, India would have objected to the Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to hold an election in Gilgit-Baltistan for the provincial assembly.
There might be two opinions as to the necessity of India’s involvement in Baluchistan. However, there is no second opinion on the fact that India must speak out loud and clear on PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. This is the unchanged position of all the governments in India who have held power since independence, which is also validated by many UN Security Council resolutions. The Parliament has also unanimously passed a resolution in 1994 re-affirming Indian sovereignty over PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
While there is no inconsistency in India’s position, there is no consistency in pursuing the case due to the lack of a long-term approach. PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan have been reduced to tactical issues that Indian diplomats can use to retaliate against Pakistan’s attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue. Beyond that, we neither know anything of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan nor care for the people living in these territories. We do not even acknowledge that events in Jammu and Kashmir are closely watched by everybody in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Aware of this fact, Pakistan is getting a little too comfortable in manipulating the minds of people living in these territories. Islamabad’s comfort is evident from the consistent deterioration of the autonomous status of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan under the Pakistani constitutional arrangement. Pakistan is just four steps behind India in erasing the special rights and autonomy of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Yet, there is no eruption of resentments against Pakistan as the condition of the people of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan has become hopeless. Why would they look at India for any help when they can see the sharp change in Indian policy on Jammu and Kashmir? There is nothing about India’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir that would encourage anyone living in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan to hope that New Delhi may offer them better terms than Pakistan does. This question brings us back to the original concern as to whether Indian posturing on PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan is without any policy road map.
Today, PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan are in the firm grip of Pakistan more than ever before, for three reasons. One, Pakistan’s nuclear status is one that the international community is not willing to address or eradicate. The Indian government also does not speak about the potential disasters that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can unleash on the Indian sub-continent. In a way, India is indirectly accepting Pakistan’s de-facto status as a nuclear state. India must raise the issues of Pakistan’s dangerous nuclear doctrine and the imminent danger of nuclear weapons falling into rogue hands, as well as the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
Two, with China’s heavy investment in Gilgit-Baltistan for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Beijing has raised its stakes in what it termed as a ‘disputed territory between India and Pakistan.’ In the last six years, India’s only response to China’s heavy investments in Gilgit-Baltistan was the rejection of the offer to join the Belt and Road Initiative. The Indian response has done nothing to halt the Chinese work in Gilgit-Baltistan. Many people ridiculed the Chinese construction of CPEC as an economically unviable project and thus termed it as a strategic road rather than the economic belt. If so, then there are more reasons that the Indian government should have taken up the matter very seriously and consistently with China, Pakistan, and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Now, Ajit Doval and his team must figure out how to convince China that its investment in Gilgit-Baltistan is safe only if Beijing takes India into its confidence on matters related to PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Three, with the painting of the entire Kashmiri leadership with one brush, India is without friends in the valley. The Kashmiri leaders would have been India’s best bets to appeal to the sentiments of people in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan to revolt against Pakistan. However, the Modi government has taken extra efforts to discredit and alienate Kashmiri leadership in its entirety. With the Kashmir valley having no voice, the Indian government’s attempts to raise their voice for PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan does not make sense to anyone. Team Modi must understand that the Kashmir puzzle has many pieces. Its style of reshaping each piece independently is going to make all the pieces unfit for each other.