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Thursday 9 July 2020

PoK, which India wants back, neither pampered nor azad

Pakistan never gave PoK, the area it annexed in October 1947 which Foreign Minister S Jaishankar resolved to get back, anything beyond a vacuous adjective 'Azad': no India-style pampering with Article 370 or heavily subsidised living; the people of the region yet cannot think of themselves as anything but Pakistani

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said today that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was a part of India and hoped that one day it would be under the physical jurisdiction of India. Jaishankar told reporters, “Our stand on PoK has been and always will be that it is a part of India and we hope that one day it will be under our physical jurisdiction.”

Significantly, the government has been saying that talks with Pakistan will now be on PoK and not on Kashmir. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Minister Jitendra Singh etc have all given such statement earlier.

Jaishankar said, “Article 370 is not a bilateral issue; it is our internal issue.” He said that he felt that the international community understood the position of India on Article 370. The external affairs minister said, beyond the border, what people say on Kashmir did not matter. He emphasised that India’s stand on its internal affairs had been accepted by the world.

Addressing his first press conference after taking over as foreign minister in the second term of the Modi government, Jaishankar counted the achievements of 100 days of his ministry’s functioning. The minister said that, since 1972, India’s position was clear and there was no change in it. “Ultimately, this is our point and our stand has been accepted and will be accepted,” he said.

The minister was asked about Pakistan’s attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue and the issue of human rights in Kashmir. He said to that, countries built their image, implying that the world would trust India more than Pakistan on the issue.

Jaishankar recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks about Afghanistan where the latter had said that it was a matter of “two ITs”, information technology versus international terrorism, and how they were different. One referred to India in relation to IT professionals while the other referred to Pakistan, the prime minister had said.

PoK: A brief history

On 21 October, following a revolt by the local peasantry and the collapse of two successive local governments announced by Pakistan in Maharaja Hari Singh’s territory, thousands of Pashtun tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province poured into Jammu and Kashmir to attack the then ruler of the princely state. Regular Pakistan Army troops, along with their officers, backed the tribal force with modern arms.

The Maharaja, unable to withstand the onslaught, sought the help of the government of India on 24 October. By then, the raiders had captured the towns of Muzaffarabad and Baramulla, the latter being just 32 km northwest of the state capital Srinagar. India, under the circumstances, said it was unable to help him unless he acceded to India. Accordingly, on 26 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, handing over the control of defence, external affairs and communications to the government of India in return for military aid.

Indian troops were immediately despatched to Srinagar. Pakistan began losing the conflict as well as the territory they had annexed. But then, the Jawaharlal Nehru government approached the United Nations, asking it to resolve the dispute. The UN urged for a ceasefire. Along the line where the troops of the two side held their positions, what is now known as the “Line of Control” was virtually drawn.

The UN passed a resolution in favour of a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future. However, no such plebiscite could ever be held as there was a precondition of withdrawal of the Pakistani Army along with the non-state elements and the subsequent partial withdrawal of the Indian Army, neither of which happened.

Years later, while India pampered Jammu and Kashmir with Article 370, Article 35A and a greatly subsidised access to national resources, Pakistan gave a modicum of autonomy to the part of Kashmir it held.

In the eyes of international observers

Brad Adams, the Asia director at the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch, said in 2006 about PoK, “Although ‘azad‘ means ‘free’, the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but, the Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir government with tight controls on basic freedoms.”

Scholar Christopher Snedden has observed that despite tight controls the people of Azad Kashmir have generally accepted whatever Pakistan has done to them, which in any case has varied little from how most Pakistanis have been treated (by Pakistan).

Consequently, having little to fear from a pro-Pakistan population devoid of options, Pakistan imposed its will through the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and did not care to empower the people of Azad Kashmir, allowing genuine self-government for only a short period in the 1970s.

The Interim Constitution of the 1970s only allows the political parties that pay allegiance to Pakistan: “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted… activities prejudicial or detrimental to the State’s accession to Pakistan,” it holds.

The pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front has never been allowed to contest elections in PoK. While the Interim Constitution does not give them a choice, the people of PoK have not considered any option other than joining Pakistan. Except in the legal sense due to the UN resolution, PoK has practically, albeit informally, been a part of Pakistan since late October 1947.

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