It is important to keep reminding the Indian public, intellectuals, and the diaspora of the waypoints in the 32-year-old proxy war unleashed by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). This is important to understand because the larger picture and the reality escape most people. Indian claims and other information about the Kashmir narrative remain obscure, such that the majority of our fellow countrymen would perhaps never be able to answer or explain even the most basic questions on it. The query that inevitably is addressed to me due to my J&K connection is: ‘Why does India not insist on taking back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) along with all other territories like Gilgit Baltistan and Aksai Chin, which rightfully belong to us?’
Somehow there is an ill-informed notion about war as a means of resolving disputes. Most people treat war as something common and perceive Indian military superiority as guaranteed to deliver. It’s after a long time that the world is witnessing a conventional war. The conflict in Ukraine is turning on the head many notions of military capability and the ability to achieve aims by force.
The Government of India did well to publish fresh maps on 1 October 2019, shortly after amending Article 370 and removing J&K’s special status. In the cartographic domain, a light blue Ladakh was shown extended to its true boundaries. The same was projected with a gold-coloured J&K, which included PoK. This got people looking at JK&L in a different light. However, what should have followed was a campaign of simple explanations putting forth the Indian narrative on J&K. In the absence of that, all kinds of ill-informed narratives have been put out, confusing a lot of people abroad as well as within India. Many non-resident Indians (NRIs), who do not get their daily dose of discussions on the ongoing geopolitical issues of the subcontinent, pine for information and often get misled by unscrupulous elements who may not always have the larger good of our nation at heart.
The Indian claim on the whole of J&K being part of our country flows from two events. The first of these occurred on 26 October 1947 when Maharaja Hari Singh cast aside all notions of a Stand Still Agreement—which he was earlier seeking with India and Pakistan—and signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding the entire territories to the Union of India. Pakistan, of course, keeps contesting the viability and legality of this with the opinion that the Instrument was signed under duress of the Indian authorities.
The second event that gives India national sanctity to the ownership of all the territories of JK&L, as held under Maharaja Hari Singh, was the Joint Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, with all political parties coming together to back the Resolution, on 22 February 1994. Many times, I do feel that we delayed the amendment of the Constitution to revoke the special status of J&K under Article 370; it could have been done in 1972 just after the Simla Agreement. Perhaps then, we did not wish to go beyond a threshold with the international community and it is often said that the Soviet Union was willing to go only as far as it went in backing India. The 1994 Joint Parliamentary Resolution was a very powerful message of consensus on India’s territorial integrity at a time when the US-led efforts were going on to put India on the mat over human rights issues.
In 1994, the US was emerging from the Cold War and seeking fresh linkages with nations of the then Asia Pacific (now Indo Pacific). President Clinton was considered by most people in India as a friend of the nation. However, right under his nose, his Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robin Raphel, tried to scuttle anything good on the cards. Thus, Kashmir became her sticking point and through this, she placed sufficient diplomatic pressure on the government of Narasimha Rao. A few years after she retired, in 2007, Raphel landed a whopping $1.2 million contract from the Pakistan government under President Musharraf, ostensibly to “improve Pakistan’s image” in the US. Thus, the reason for not doing anything on J&K’s special status, even with the consensus secured by PM Rao, was the high sensitivity in terms of the pressure built by Raphel. Kashmir had a high number of terrorists and the J&K counter-terrorism grid had not yet been fully created. The backlash to any hasty decision by the government would inevitably have been contested by proxy means from Pakistan.
The second issue about which most people in India are found wanting in knowledge is the status of J&K in the United Nations and our stand on the UN resolutions. UN Resolution Number 47 recommended a three-step process for resolving the dispute. First, Pakistan was asked to withdraw all its nationals who had entered Kashmir as fighters. In the second step, which was in reality subject to the achievement of the first step, India was asked to progressively reduce its forces to the minimum level required for maintaining law and order. Subsequently, India was to appoint a plebiscite administrator nominated by the United Nations, who would conduct free and impartial voting. Hence, everything was contingent upon the first step, which never took place. Instead, over the years, Pakistan decided to change the status quo in J&K through the employment of violent means. The 1965 Indo-Pakistan conflict was preceded and succeeded by many attempts to bring the situation in Islamabad’s favour. India, at the Simla Summit in July 1972, got Pakistan to agree to the policy of bilateralism in resolving all outstanding issues between the two countries. There was no attempt to rescind the UN Resolution, perhaps once again for not wishing to push the international community too hard. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, had later confirmed that the UN resolutions on J&K were more advisory in nature and not binding.
Yet, Pakistan pushes J&K into the UN General Assembly each year against the spirit of the Simla Agreement to which it remains a signatory. In all my travels to speak on J&K and explain the Indian narrative to the diaspora, foreign think tanks, and governments, I have inevitably noticed the complete absence of knowledge on the Simla Agreement. Pakistan merrily uses the UN Resolutions and calls for their implementation but never agrees to the first provision—the withdrawal of all its troops before the next steps. We will look at more basics on J&K in the coming weeks.