India has always approached the issue of Kashmir with a defensive mindset. It has always allowed the Pakistani agenda of talking about the part of Kashmir that is under the rightful control of India and never talked about the illegal occupation of Kashmir by Pakistan and this not only includes the narrow portion of the Kashmir Valley but also the entire northern areas known as Gilgit Baltistan. This is a very strategic piece of land that connects to the energy rich Central Asian countries via the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.
To give a brief history of the area, the instrument of accession signed by the erstwhile king of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh included the Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan. Hari Singh opted to stay out of both India and Pakistan and stay independent after the British decided to leave India. Soon after independence, Pakistan sent tribals to invade the state under connivance of a British army officer and occupied much of the northern areas. Hari Singh appealed to India for help. India agreed to help if Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession to India which he did. India sent in its forces and stopped any further loss of land and the matter went to the UN.
Since then, the land that was previously occupied by Pakistan before the arrival of Indian forces has been under illegal occupation by Pakistan.
Gilgit Baltistan had a majority Shia population. Unlike India which passed article 370 to preserve the Kashmiri identity, Pakistan has over the years carried out demographic changes by pushing in people from other regions mainly Punjab to dilute the ethnic majority of the region. Pakistan usually invokes the UN resolution calling for plebiscite but violated all rules as the plebiscite calls for the original inhabitants of the state to vote. Pakistan has changed the demographics in its favor.
Pakistan ceded part of this illegally occupied territory to China. The area known as Shaksgam Valley borders the East Turkestan region of China. This was part in effort to make China a party to the Kashmir conflict.
In 2009, Pakistan formally annexed the region of Gilgit Baltistan although the case is pending the very UN resolution it has invoked on many occasions. More importantly and dangerously, it has allowed the Chinese to come in and there is intelligence about Chinese troop presence and the construction of tunnels possibly to store missiles aimed at India. Unfortunately India has remained a silent spectator while it’s own land is being handed over to our arch enemies China.
India has a moral and legal obligation to claim Gilgit Baltistan along with the rest of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. In 1994, the Parliament of India passed a resolution seeking the handover of those regions occupied by Pakistan and proclaiming our territorial integrity and sovereignty over those regions.
Excerpt from the resolution :
Notes with deep concern the highly provocative statements emanating from Pakistan urges Pakistan to refrain from making statements which vitiate the atmosphere and incite public opinion Expresses regret and concern at the pitiable conditions and violations of human rights and denial of democratic freedoms of the people in those areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan;
On behalf of the People of India,
Firmly declares that:
a) The state of Jammu & Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means;
b) India has the will and capacity to firmly counter all designs against its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity;
and demands that –
c) Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression;
and resolves that –
d) All attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of India will be met resolutely.
This resolution passed by the parliament has not been adhered to neither in letter nor in spirit breaking the trust of the people of India that is placed in those elected to govern the country. There have been back channel negotiations trying to solve the Kashmir issue without taking into confidence neither the Parliament nor the people of India which is not acceptable.
India has in its Parliament, seven seats set aside for the region of PoK and twenty four seats in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.
What many in India dont know is that there is a movement running in Gilgit Baltistan known as the Balwaristan movement. The human rights situation in that region is abysmal with systematic ethnic cleansing.
Many of its leaders are in exile and call for integration with India
“I am surprised that India has no concern about what is happening in Gilgit and Baltistan. Pakistan has been openly supporting and encouraging militants in Indian Kashmir and New Delhi doesn’t even want to keep contact with areas that are officially still a part of its own territory,” said Abdul Hamid Khan, chairman of Balawaristan National Front, a political party whose objective is to gain independence from Pakistan. Balawaristan is the historic name for Northern Areas.
Khan, like most other political leaders from the region, lives in exile in Europe. He said the Indian position was even more surprising considering the fact that most political formations in the area were now open to a merger with India.
“Even an independent Balawaristan is in larger interest of India as it would not support terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Shaukat Kashmiri, leader of the United Kashmir National People’s Party, one of the largest political formations in the region, also spoke about a reunification with India. His party had started out as Jammu and Kashmir National People’s Party in 1985, but changed its name in 1993 to stress the pan-Kashmiri nature of the organisation.
One of the first steps to assert Indian sovereignty on Gilgit Baltistan is to appoint seven prominent people from the region to represent Gilgit Baltistan in Indian Parliament as well as twenty four people to represent in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. These representatives should be honorary with no voting rights as they are not elected, but it will be a major statement from India in its quest to uphold its territorial integrity.
Another step is to stop considering and calling the region as “disputed” like Pakistan calls and make sure we convey this to every capital in the world and undertake every effort to make them toe the line. We also need them to show maps based on Indian representation and show the full state of Jammu and Kashmir as part of India. Considering India’s rise economically and militarily and with greater convergence of western and Indian interests, we can get this done.
We need to get the Chinese out from the region. We should use the Tibet card to make sure the Chinese know we mean business. We should also formally call on China to relinquish its illegal control over the Shaksgam valley and take control of that region.
India has over the years not kept any touch with the people of the region though they are legally our citizens. It’s time we do and issue stapled separate papers to those seeking to come to India for discussion on the region.
The people of India should make sure that no back room deal is made on Kashmir. Any kind of a deal should require a Parliament ratification with two thirds majority.
Pakistan has been in internal trouble for quite some time. It has independence movement running in Balochistan, Sindh and has the restive Pashtun province. The recent incident in Siachen has further put pressure on it to maintain its presence in Siachen. This is why there have been all kinds of noises towards peace. India cannot fall into the trap and compromise on any issues that are of strategic importance. In fact India should show more aggressiveness in recovering its land. India never has made an effort to increase the costs for Pakistan to maintain its current posture. Well we should now.
If India has to be recognized as a Global Power, it will have to start at home and claim its occupied lands.
Gilgit Baltistan has to come back to Indian control as part of any solution. It cuts Pakistan from China and also gives India access to the vital Central Asian energy sources.
The solution to Kashmir has to take into consideration India’s strategic interests, energy security and access to Central Asia.