POJK: Pakistan’s New Achilles Heel
   24-Sep-2019
Pakistan has been seeking international support against India’s aggressive posturing to retake POJK but it has failed to elicit any response. Unprecedented success of public rally addressed jointly by Modi and Trump at Houston has sent shivers down the spine of Pakistani leadership. 
 
The dramatic events of 5 August this year not only took the Indian Parliament followed by the entire nation by surprise but also sent shock waves across the border to our belligerent neighbour. Buoyed by the perceived successful visit of the Pakistani power-troika to the United States, the Deep State was celebrating the culmination of its successful Kashmir Policy with the hope of intervention by none other than the POTUS Donald Trump. Despite India vehemently refusing any third party intervention in resolving the bilateral disputes, Pakistani media, which is mostly controlled by the ISI, was busy convincing the Pakistanis that they have finally found the trump card to ensure “Kashmir Banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will be part of Pakistan), a slogan that has kept the beleaguered nation united despite severe setbacks. Pakistani leadership misread crafty and canny Trump. They thought that in his desperation to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, Trump will be willing to play ball with them and go to any extent to keep Pakistan in good humour. With the prospect of Taliban in power in Afghanistan and Trump mediating in Kashmir in its favour, the power-troika began to visualise fructification of its Anti-India policy and the Army maintaining its supremacy in the internal balance of power.
 
Alas, their assessment was not only faulty but widely off the mark. Pakistan failed in its assessment to factor in the changed political environment in India. The new government in India with massive mandate given by the people was planning to re-write history by undoing many political blunders done in the past. In the past seven decades, Pakistan had become complacent as far as Kashmir was concerned. It always thought that while the part it occupied illegally was non-negotiable in any future settlement of the Kashmir issue, negotiations will only be held for the control of territory it did not occupy. Except for the unanimous resolution passed by the Indian Parliament in 1994, which was off-beat, successive Indian governments also have been keen on a settlement that revolved around J&K. A divided J&K, POK (Azad Kashmir) and J&K had virtually been accepted as a permanent reality. Most of these ideas suggested division of J&K on religious lines like the Dixon Plan, Greater Kashmir, Musharraf’s Four-Point formula etc. The local mainstream parties advocated Greater Autonomy & Self-Rule. All were aimed at maintaining and strengthening the Muslim Majority status which suited the Pakistani narrative. None of these talked of State’s complete integration with the nation but treated Pakistan as a major stake-holder. Pakistan took full advantage and introduced “Religious Militancy” in the state. For the last three decades Pakistan succeeded in converting the state into a battleground resulting in loss of valuable human lives bordering almost forty thousand. Having succeeded in turning Kashmir into a burning cauldron, Pakistan was riding on the high wave and dreaming of avenging the ignominious defeat it suffered in 1971.
 
BJP is ideologically committed to Akhand Bharat. It believes in only one J&K and not a divided J&K. The change of government in India in 2014 heralded the new Kashmir Policy under Prime Minister Modi. It took some time to fructify. BJP was very clear in its mind that there is nothing known as “Kashmir Problem.” It maintained that Kashmir is faced with multifarious problems, most of them being self-created, and some fuelled by Pakistan. It also did not believe in “Kashmir Dispute” as widely perceived. Its stated position was that dispute only pertains to areas under illegal occupation of Pakistan. 
 
 
BJP also did not treat Pakistan as a stakeholder but a trouble creator. Thus, began an all-out diplomatic offensive by India globally to expose and isolate Pakistan as fountain head of jihadi terror. Pakistan also needed to be weakened both economically and diplomatically. America had to be convinced of the fraud Pakistan was playing with that nation in the garb of war against terror by funnelling the massive economic aid it received from America towards promoting terror. At diplomatic level, no chance was lost to expose Pakistan’s involvement in terror acts in South Asia and other parts of the world. Global outreach of PM Modi and the personal equations he built with world leaders including leaders of the Muslim world helped India in hastening Pakistan’s isolation.
 
At the same time, Operation All Out was launched to eliminate the terrorist leaders and break the backbone of not only terror but also the terror support network operating in the state. Terror funding was dried to crush the proxy war unleashed by our hostile neighbour. Aim to make Pakistan irrelevant was almost achieved because Pakistan was not only facing the worst ever economic crisis but was also at the verge of being black listed due to its failure to control terror funding and financing. As far as terror is concerned it had been totally isolated. Modi had ensured that in case of an Indo-Pak stand-off, even the so-called allies of Pakistan do not side with it but instead support India or stay neutral. Modi government was all set now for the first time in last three decades to aggressively change the existing status quo and message to the world its determination to fulfil the parliamentary resolution of February 22, 1994.
 
In a startling and sudden decision on 05 August, 2019, India announced to the world that it would not brook any interference as far as nation’s unity and territorial integrity was concerned. It made it abundantly clear that while measures like abrogation of Article 370, 35A and reorganisation of the state were its internal matter, only issue open for discussion was vacation of illegally held territory of the state by Pakistan, POJK. A paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy. It was an open challenge to Pakistan. Pakistan was checkmated in its tracks. Imran Khan and his army Chief were so rattled that they threatened a nuclear war if India did not roll back. It sought international support and was thoroughly disappointed at even the Muslim nations unwilling to support it. Modi magic was working.
 
Pakistan tried all the tricks from nuclear black mail to conventional war to a jihad but India not only refused to relent but left no stone unturned to maintain a superior brinkmanship. Every effort by Pakistan to humiliate India at international fora including the United Nations bounced back and Pakistan was not only humiliated and defeated but left fuming due to its inability to muster even mandatory minimum support to move a resolution. The deep state took firm control in Pakistan and threatened jihadi terror offensive by activating launch pads and resorting to continuous and unprovoked ceasefire violations across the LOC. In nutshell, Pakistan went into a state of peeved hysteria. Social media and fake news industry flourished under state sponsorship to paint India as the villain and accused the Indian Army of “genocide” and grave human right violations. One of the ministers of Pakistan went to the extent of asking for mutiny in the Indian Army. Indian leadership one after the other drummed the vacation of POJK as the major issue between the two countries. The latest being the pronouncement of Indian Foreign Minister who said, “POK is part of India and we expect one day that we will have a physical jurisdiction over it.”
 
Imran Khan got another shock when President Trump called off peace negotiations with the Taliban. All of a sudden Imran felt that its trump card has turned dummy. Any chance of playing Kashmir vs Afghanistan card with the US, appeared to be lost. To face a stronger and determined India is becoming increasingly difficult for an isolated Pakistan. It began to realise the prospect of losing POJK to India. There is a groundswell of anger against Pakistan in both what it calls as “Azad Kashmir” (AK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) which we in India collectively refer to as Pakistan Occupied Jammu Kashmir (POJK). The final nail in the coffin was stuck by GB-activist Senge H Sering who while addressing the 42nd session of UNHRC said, “GB is a part of India. Members of the United Nations need to realise that Pakistan has become a big stumble block for last 70 years.” He was seconded by Chairman of Gilgit Baltistan Thinkers Forum Col (Retd) Wajahat Hasan.
 

 
 
Pro-active stance of Indian leadership has also surprised Pakistan which was so far used to tentative, reactive and defensive responses from India fully convinced that India lacked will power and intent to take on Pakistan. Demand for vacation of POJK has added a new dimension to the Indo-Pak strategic matrix. The firm-footed aggressive response to every Pakistani move by India, has convinced the deep state in Pakistan that it is not a mere rhetoric but an achievable likely possibility. All of a sudden the strategically important area of POJK which provided much-needed depth to Pakistan’s Punjab and was considered as a strength because it also allowed the Deep State to exploit it as the hub of cross border terrorism to bleed India through thousand cuts has become its Achilles Heel. If Pakistan is forced to vacate POJK, it would also cease to enjoy the advantage of its geo-strategic location because it no more will be the sole provider of land route access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan is having sleepless nights at the prospect of losing POJK. Imran Khan acknowledged the same while addressing a gathering at Muzaffarabad on 14th August, Pak’s Independence Day.
 
To achieve its aim India will have to use all the options namely legal, diplomatic, political and military. Lt Gen KJ Singh, ex - Army Commander, strategic analyst and regular blogger has aptly said, “Liberation of POK, or at least strategic stretches vital for our security, is likely to be long, tedious and tough struggle entailing building up of required niche capabilities and asymmetries besides tacit nod or at least acquiescing stance of relevant powers. In the interim, it is good bargaining leverage to retain initiative on strategic matrix.”
 
In any case, liberation using military will be the last option. Time and tide presently is in favour of India. India needs to convince USA to force Pakistan to give up POK for ensuring lasting peace in the sub-continent. It would need deft diplomatic manoeuvres and clever political out-reach to convince USA that only way it can free itself from “dependence on Pakistan” is when it has alternative land route access to its garrison in Afghanistan via united Jammu & Kashmir as part of India. With situation in the Middle East on the boil with tense Iran-US relations, Chabahar option is out of the equation. Another option being debated is the likelihood of India helping USA in Afghanistan and USA reciprocating with helping India in taking back POJK.
 
Frankly speaking, US response is not just the most important but one that matters the most. Others will fall in place sooner or later, history is witness. Russia has already announced its support. The British Parliament had passed a resolution in March 2017 that Gilgit-Baltistan was part of J&K and in illegal occupation of Pakistan. France has always supported India in the matter of Kashmir. Only opposition expected is from China, which is natural. China is facing serious crisis since its ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor is not making much headway ever since Imran Khan became the Prime Minister. India has also made it amply clear that it is not opposed to Belt Road Initiative as a concept but opposes it on the question of sovereignty since POJK is part of Indian Territory. It would need diplomatic finesse to convince China of the futility of backing a losing horse when both Russia and USA and other powers are supporting the Indian claim.
 
Legal option involves moving International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle title of J&K. J&K is not included as its territory in the Constitution of Pakistan while the Indian Constitution describes the entire princely state of J&K as acceded by the Maharaja on 26 October 1947 as integral part of the Republic of India.
 
Political option involves exploiting the growing groundswell of anger against Pakistan and China in POJK and pro-India sentiments bordering to merger with India.
 
Pakistan has been seeking international support against India’s aggressive posturing to retake POJK. It has failed to illicit any response so far and is waiting for 27th September, when it expects its Prime Minister to raise the issue at UNGA. India is unnerved as is evident from the statement of Indian Permanent Representative at the UN, “India will soar high if Pakistan stoops low by raising Kashmir issue at UN.” Pakistan is crying hoarse over the lacklustre welcome accorded to Imran Khan in comparison to the grand reception of Modi on arrival in USA. The unprecedented success of the first ever public rally addressed jointly by Modi and Trump at Houston, Texas has sent shivers down the spine of Pakistani leadership and the drubbing it received at the 42nd meeting of UNHRC has brought the nation’s morale to its boots. India’s resolve to retake POJK has become a nightmare for the Deep State. It would be naïve and pre-mature to set down any time-frame for the same.
 
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)