India’s protest, lodged with Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah on Sunday, against the Gilgit-Baltistan Order that seeks to make Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that country’s fifth province, should be seen as nothing beyond a routine activity of the Ministry of External Affairs. Pakistan’s rejection of the protest is as much of a treadmill. The citizens of the two countries have grown up hearing the arguments and counter-arguments from the disputing sides, even as no solution to the Kashmir issue has appeared in the horizon except during the failed Agra summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gen Parvez Musharraf. Not advocating a withdrawal of India’s claim to the territory that a bunch of Pakistani tribal mercenaries had occupied with the help of their regular army within months of the independence of both the countries, New Delhi must be asked what it has done with the territory that is very much under its control. Since 1989, Pandits have been rendered refugees in their own country after being brutalised in the Valley. While the 1948 UN resolution on Kashmir, which Pakistan harps on without caring for its details, had categorically asked for maintaining the demographics of the militarily separated province, India alone honoured it even before the resolution was adopted when Raja Hari Singh sought the new Indian government’s help as the invaders attacked. With no parallel of an Article 370 existing in Pakistan, that country had no qualms about pushing Punjabis and other Pakistanis to the part it held. With the same belligerence and impunity, it has now declared PoK as a new State.
The development is reminiscent of the time when India had turned Arunachal Pradesh into a full-fledged State, to which China had protested, making no difference to the intention of New Delhi or the administration of the area transformed from the status of a Union Territory. While India never annexed the north-eastern region, in the eyes of an imperialist China, Arunachal Pradesh’s status is equivalent to the whole Kashmir’s in the eyes of India to the extent that the functioning governments of both the regions are viewed as occupying forces in the rival’s reckoning. If China wouldn’t capture Arunachal Pradesh, for the people of the Indian State are not Chinese by any stretch — unlike the treatment it meted out to Tibetans — what will India do with people brought up on the ethos of Pakistan when it cannot handle Muslims of the part of Kashmir who (should) have been subjected to Indian values for the past 71 years? Of course, Pakistan hardly treats Kashmiris as equals, but it does not imply the Kashmiris of PoK are dying to unite with their separated brethren who live in the Indian Valley.
This is not to say that the order is just. The inhabitants of PoK are upset about the seizure of the Gilgit Baltistan Council’s powers and transferring those to the Prime Minister of Pakistan with unquestionable authorities. On the other hand, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi says he is left with no authority over the region after the devolution of all the powers to local representatives. A complete strike was observed across Gilgit-Baltistan on 27 May on the call of the joint opposition to protest the order. Even Pakistan’s media acknowledges that the order is an eyewash in the name of addressing the grievances of the people of the region, deprived of their constitutional rights. It will, the Pakistani opposition and civil liberty activists say, finish the semblance of autonomy PoK enjoys, thanks to an ordinance of 2009. But for all practical purposes, these are internal dynamics of Pakistani politics. If Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj finds the order “laughable”, her own government’s inability to secure the rehabilitation of Pandits at their native place is no less of a cruel joke. And her party BJP’s cosy coalition with separatist PDP in Jammu & Kashmir, FIR against our soldiers safeguarding Indian interests in the Valley, mishandling of the Kathua incident, etc are embarrassing for the purportedly nationalist party ruling at the Centre.