In a historic move yesterday, the Lok Sabha passed the bill to bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two different Union Territories. This was after the parliament ratified the resolution to revoke article 370 of the constitution. While the citizens are rejoicing at this momentous achievement, there is more to be done in the state and the centre acknowledges it. Next step- freeing Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) from the usurpers.
During the parliamentary discussions on Jammu and Kashmir, Home Minister Amit Shah very confidently asserted his stance on the situation. He stated, “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt about it. When I say Jammu and Kashmir, I include Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin, both are included in the territorial boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir.” Further making his intentions crystal clear, he stated, “We will give our lives for it.”
One often advises to strike when the iron is hot, and as situation indicates, the timing is perfect. Not only does J&K have the best possible security arrangements as of now, but is also a priority as far as national interests go.
Moreover, Pakistan is at its weakest possible, economically. The country is facing severe economic crisis with short supplies of foreign currency reserves and stagnating growth. The IMF forecasts Pakistan’s economic growth will slowdown to 2.9 per cent this fiscal year from 5.2 per cent in 2018. In February, the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s central bank had the only USD 8 billion bn left in foreign reserves. To ensure survival, Pakistan is sustaining its economy through loans from friendly countries including Quatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and China. Over a period of 1 year, 16 billion dollars has been borrowed by Pakistan.
In addition to these financial difficulties, the country has been grey listed by the FATF, the financial watchdog for involvements in terror financing. Due to the grey listing, Pakistan is already at a risk of incurring a loss of $10 billion dollars annually and is rapidly approaching towards blacklisting, to be determined in October. If black listed, none of the FATF member countries can extend monetary help towards Pakistan and moreover, all the monetary transactions involving the country will be thoroughly monitored.
As is clear, due to the terror financing, Pakistan is facing international isolation and is unable to sustain itself economically. Additionally utilizing the limited resources to protect the annexed area is going to be the last thing on Pakistan’s agenda. Thus, India needs to act now.
For taking back the annexed territory of PoK, India already has a tried and tested playbook- that of the Indo-Pakistan 1971 war. India had assisted East Pakistan in its liberation war from West Pakistan, making a new territory of Bangladesh. One of the shortest wars in the history, lasting for just 13 days, the hostility had ended with the Eastern Command of the Pakistan military signing the Instrument of Surrender. India had showcased an excellent harmonious relation of perfect statesmanship and vigilant armed forces, and the same needs to be replicated one again.
The first step would be to reach out to the pro-India and pro-separatist elements in PoK. For a country which argues ‘self determination’ and ‘will of the majority’ by claiming the moral high ground by stating it does not ‘exercise formal sovereignty’ over PoK, and the territory is ‘self-governed’; Pakistan doesn’t shy from committing any atrocities on the civilians there. According to Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.” There are routine reports on issues ranging from forced disappearances, torture, political repression and electoral fraud and suppression of freedom of speech.
Thus, there are several pent up issues in the civilians in the area, who want to be free from Pakistan’s tyranny. Under the garb of “azadi”, the people are routinely tortured and want to break free. However, only a few dare to protest as the Pakistani military immediately silences the dissenters. The situation is eerily familiar to the situation in 1971 East Pakistan wherein Operation Searchlight was conducted by the Pakistani army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement.
More than this, what is lacking are the resources, much like how the Bangladeshi force, the Mukti Bahini, was in East Pakistan in 1971- wanted liberation but didn’t have the resources.
India needs to now recognize its role in this, and that is to reach out and fund the separatist elements in PoK. For decades, the civilians have suffered at the hands of Pakistani military, with no aid from anywhere. They are tormented, abused and voiceless, which now need to be changed. For the change to happen, they must be financially empowered as otherwise, they will not be able to attain their freedom. India thus needs to launch a sustained propaganda campaign, backed with support to the separatist elements in the territory.
However, given the situation, just allocation of resources would not be evident. The people need to know that India has their back in their fight for freedom. For this, the individuals in PoK need to be armed and trained, so as to enable them to deal with the situation.
Taking a page from the 1971 liberation war, this can be successfully carried out by the Indian intelligence agencies. During the 1971 war, the Mukti Bahini received training and weapons from India, which was instrumental in eventually securing the liberation of Bangladesh. India had supported the Mukti Bahini every step on the way and the two had eventually joined forces.
At the Balochistan front as well, India should extend its support for the freedom struggle. Balochistan is the biggest district in Pakistan, whose people have long wanted independence. According to Brad Adams, the region is fraught with torture, enforced disappearances of those opposing the military, ill treatment of those suspected of criminal activity and extrajudicial killings. Human Rights Commission in Pakistan had identified the identified ISI and Frontier Corps for being responsible for the illegal disappearances in Balochistan. Moreover, there has been a surge in religious prosecution in the region, with terror organizations targeting the Hindus, Shias and Zikris and the Pakistan military turning a blind eye towards them. As of now, the Pakistan military is predominantly extending its resources to suppress the Baloch dissent, as matters in PoK are relatively quiet.
Indian intelligence agencies need to extend support and resources to Balochistan simultaneously with PoK so as to drain Pakistan of all its resources and reduce the impact in either region.
Meanwhile, the Indian missions around the world need to highlight the atrocities against civilians in PoK. Currently, the suppression of voices is so swift that international attention rarely brought on the atrocities, with the exception of the detailed report by Human Rights Watch in 2006 which emphasized on the sheer denial of rights, arbitrary arrests and torture. As Brad Adams put it, “Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but free.”
However, this was back in 2006 and since then, PoK has conveniently escaped from the world’s eyes. It’s time that this is changed.
Balochistan still regularly draws attention of the world leaders and organizations, the recent example being of when 16 members of European Parliament had written to US President Donald Trump to expressing concern for the deteriorating situation in Balochistan and requested him to raise the issue with Imran Khan.
Alongside the increase in resource allocation and support to the PoK separatist elements, International attention should be drawn on the region. It is a given fact that Pakistan military is going to increase its suppression by using force and violating the rights of the individuals, which will become a humanitarian issue and be highlighted to the world.
This is exactly what has been done back in 1971, when Indira Gandhi had gone all over the world, seeking attendance and highlighting the genocide committed by the Pakistan army against their own countrymen, to silence the voices in East Pakistan.
Thus, the two consecutive moves is going to inevitably lead to a drastic step by Pakistan, which is still a nation controlled by the military. The military expenditure amounts to 25% of the country’s GDP, which is huge and requires justification. Having a country with unrest at both the borders won’t go down well in justifying this expenditure. Therefore, Pakistan will want to quell the separatist movement, and fast. This will lead to quick decisions, without the country dwelling over the repercussions, just as they had in the 1971 war.
In 1971, though the hostilities had been going on since a long time, the war had essentially been triggered on Pakistan’s “pre-emptive” action. The country had launched Operation Chengiz Khan which targeted 11 of India’s airfields, to officially initiate the hostilities. This had been a strategic miscalculation on Pakistan’s part, which ultimately led to a staggering defeat.
As precedence shows, Pakistan has low tolerance for hostilities and has often been on the aggressive end. Even after the Balakot air strikes, which were undertaken by India to target the JeM terror camps, Pakistan, in a show of dominance had targeted the Indian air base in J&K, when that had no valid cause for doing so. Observing India supporting the separatist elements in PoK and in Balochistan, will not go down well with their aggressive stance. Therefore, they are more than likely to take the forceful path.
This will play out extremely well in India’s favour and will give the country the strategic opportunity to end Pakistan’s unlawful control over PoK. As Amit Shah indicated, India is ready and willing to fight for the country, and PoK is very much a part of it. Pakistan on the other hand, cannot sustain this without completely bleeding its economy dry. Soon enough, for lack of resources and international support, Pakistan will have to withdraw and surrender, thus, liberating a part of the country from its horrific clutches.