Former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah recently raised a furore by stating: “I tell them in plain terms– not only the people of India, but also to the world – that the part (of Jammu and Kashmir) which is with Pakistan (PoK), belongs to Pakistan and this side to India. This won’t change.”
This statement on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in general, and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in particular, was made even as Dineshwar Sharma, the newly appointed interlocutor on J&K mandated to engage with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, made his maiden visit to the Valley. Within days, Farooq Abdullah supplemented his statement by noting: “How long shall we keep saying that (PoK) is our part? It (PoK) is not their father’s share.”
He further cautioned that “they (Pakistan) are not weak and are not wearing bangles. They too have atom bomb”, which, in his view, must prevent India from thinking of retaking PoK. Abdullah’s views elicited sharp criticism from certain quarters and endorsement from others. Some even resorted to legal action against Abdullah as the issue stirred heated debate in television channels.
While a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) was filed in Delhi High Court against Abdullah, a court in Bihar ordered the registering of an FIR (First Information Report) against him.5 National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah questioned the intent of past Congress-led governments on “taking back” PoK and challenged the present government to do so and prove his father wrong.6 Omar Abdullah also evoked former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s resolve to preserve the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC) during the Kargil conflict in 1999.7
This is not the first time that such an unrestrained reference undermining India’s position on PoK has been made by senior political leaders. Nor have the reactions and responses to such assertions taken into account the fundamental link between PoK and J&K. Repeatedly, these back and forth statements have translated into high-decibel and divisive for and against debates without being sensitive to the potential fallout. Further, instead of harmonising the domestic discourse on PoK, these polarising debates lead to disjointed analyses and understanding on issue so critical to India.
Its low-key standing claim on PoK notwithstanding, the territory does embody India’s broader position on J&K; namely, the entire territory of the erstwhile princely state is an integral part of India. A part of the state’s territory, PoK, comprising the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (G-B), has remained under Pakistan’s control since the tribal raid and India-Pakistan war of 1947-48. Although the territory is largely forgotten by the people of India, and some have even forgone the claim, its salience to India’s overall claim on J&K is undeniable.
This is because there is an umbilical link between India’s control over J&K and its standing claim on PoK. Via the Instrument of Accession, the entire territory of what then comprised the princely state of J&K, including what is since being referred to as PoK, acceded to India. The accession was signed in India’s favour by the then ruler of the princely state, Maharaja Hari Singh, on October 26, 1947. It is this Instrument of Accession that warrants India’s territorial control over the entire J&K. India’s extant claim on PoK and its control on J&K are, therefore, inextricably linked.
Besides, the Constitution of J&K contains a provision of 24 seats for the representatives of PoK “until the area of the State under the occupation of Pakistan ceases to be so.”8 Therefore, unless India’s official stand on PoK is duly revised at some point, hopefully blueprinting a definitive settlement on J&K, it is premature and self-defeating to subtract PoK from its overall claim.
With CPEC placed under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), asserting claims to PoK has become a strategic necessity rather than an afterthought. It was perhaps owing to such compulsions that India’s inert and understated position on PoK was rescinded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to the territory during his Independence Day address in August 2016.
There will always be those who argue that there is nothing substantial that India would lose by dis-claiming PoK. In the present geopolitical scene, however, India is likely to lose more than it gains by ignoring its claim on PoK. There is an urgent need to build a broad consensus on PoK in order to fix the credibility deficit caused by sustained neglect across generations.
Unless India sheds its nonchalant approach towards its claim on PoK, it cannot expect the rest of the world to take its position on J&K seriously. For the time being, India has few options other than continue to be relentless in pursuing its claim on PoK.