When India and Pakistan were on the verge of enjoying their new-found freedom from British rule, the city of Srinagar was besieged by Pakistani guerilla soldiers. To repel the Pakistani attack, Raja Hari Singh sought the help of the Indian army. The brave warriors of India drove back the Pakistani forces. At the same time the war stopped and the United Nations stepped in. This was the birth of the perennial problem of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Since then, the issue of PoK has become a much-debated topic.
Can the integration of PoK with the rest of India be a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue? When we see the issue in its perspective on economic, social, political or technical lines, it becomes more and more clear that the Kashmir issue will not be resolved even if we secure PoK.
Merely acquiring 13,000 square kilometres of land will certainly not help the cause of Kashmir. As the great strategist Chanakya has said, a family can be sacrificed for the good of a village; a village can be sacrificed for the good of a country. India today with a population of 1.25 billion has an area of 3.287 million sq km. Acquiring a patch of land the size of a small district, and embracing all the violent after-effects, is likely not to bring a sensible solution.
India devotes about 35 per cent of its annual budget to its defence and security. One of the main reasons for this is the ongoing conflict along the Line of Control in Kashmir. If we believe that conquering this nest of militancy and violence will solve our inherited problem, then we are living in a fool’s paradise. If India does indeed “get back” PoK, we will end up spending 50 per cent of our budget on defence alone. Do we need this? And moreover, there are no safeguards to ensure that such a move will translate into long-lasting peace.
There will, of course, be arguments that integrating PoK with Kashmir will lead to the development of the beautiful valley which has not seen much progress. In the last several decades, Pakistan has not shown an iota of interest in either peace talks with India or engaging with separatist movements in PoK. Earlier, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee undertook the Samjhauta Bus journey to Lahore. We all know the outcome — the Kargil war. The Simla Pact, Agra Agreement, Lahore Declaration and other agreements remained just words. Will Pakistan allow for a quiet passage of PoK to India?
A permanent solution to the Kashmir and PoK problem, which no one desires, can be war. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear nations. One can imagine the fallout and collateral damage a full-scale war will bring. We cannot afford to have generations of handicapped children, just so that we can possess barren land. When we look at the probable course of action and possible outcomes, it becomes apparent that the development of Kashmir cannot be assured if PoK becomes one with India.
We all desire the development of Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir has been granted autonomous status vide Article 370 of the Constitution, which entails various special provisions. Our focus should be on Kashmir itself and the well-being of its people. Gaining possession of the disputed land will not ensure its inclusion in the development process. Given the terror infrastructure ingrained in PoK and the fact that a section of its population is radicalised, it is unlikely that India’s “helping hand” will be welcome.
The rational thinker, Basavanna, said that a spark in the neighbour’s house will burn down your own as well. Kashmir has its own set of problems. If a move is made to occupy the disputed land, the flames of terror in the neighbourhood will not only engulf PoK, but will also claim Kashmir. In our greed for PoK, we may lose Kashmir as well. This will further strengthen the arguments of the separatists. If the entire Kashmir region demands separation from India, we will end up giving away more than we expected.
Keeping aside our emotions, if we think on political, logical and ethical grounds, it becomes apparent that gaining PoK will not serve any purpose. Those who disagree may say that PoK is an integral part of India and not regaining it would mean an embarrassment. I would have gladly accepted the argument had it been within a decade or two after Raja Hari Singh’s initial appeal for help. There has been more than seven decades of stalemate over PoK. There seems to be no silver lining in sight.