Look beyond LoC

While we routinely claim that the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India on October 26, 1947, and is now an integral part of the Indian Union, both in terms of national and international laws, we take little interest in what is happening in the vast area which has been in illegal occupation of Pakistan. The elections on June 26, held in a part of that area for its Legislative Assembly, for example, went practically unnoticed in our media. The strategic importance of this area is immense and China, with the collaboration of Pakistan, has been making extensive inroads into it.
We call the area in question Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). On the other side of the Line of Control, it is known as “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”, with the fiction of sovereignty woven around it: Its name is not even mentioned in the Constitution of Pakistan, nor does it have any representation in the Pakistan National Assembly or senate.
The area of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” is about 78,114 sq. km., which is roughly one-third of the total area (222,236 sq. km.) of the erstwhile princely state. Of this, about 85 per cent constitutes the two main regions of Gilgit and Baltistan and three smaller territories of Hunza, Nagar and Punial. These regions/territories, grouped together and separated from “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”, have been designated as the Federally Administered Northern Areas (Fana). The area that remains as “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” is only 15 per cent of the total area occupied by Pakistan and it is in this area that elections to the 49-member Legislative Assembly were held in June. The attempt of Pakistan has all along been to present this area to the world as a “quasi-sovereign” entity with a democratic set-up. But stark facts stand in the way of this attempt.
“Azad Jammu and Kashmir” is governed by its interim Constitution of 1974 which has quite a few trappings of sovereignty. Apart from its law-making Legislative Assembly, it has a Supreme Court and an Election Commission. Its head of government and constitutional head are called Prime Minister and President respectively. But all these trappings have little meaning — in reality, the area is run as a fiefdom of the federal government of Pakistan.
According to the provisions of the aforesaid Constitution itself, there is an “Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council” of which the Prime Minister of Pakistan is the chairman and the federal minister for Kashmir affairs its secretary. The Prime Minister of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” is merely its vice-chairman. The council has 11 other members of whom five are members of federal Parliament. This is an all-powerful body with as many as 52 legislative items under its jurisdiction. The council has the sole power to declare emergency and dissolve the Legislative Assembly and its decisions cannot be challenged in the Supreme Court of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”.
Its vast jurisdiction and extensive powers leave hardly anything to the government of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”. Even appointments to all key posts — chief secretary, finance secretary and inspector-general of police among others — are made by the federal government. No wonder the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees has reckoned the area as “not free”.
The northern areas are in a much worse position. Till 2009, they did not even have a semblance of a representative body and were directly administered by the federal government through a joint-secretary of the ministry of defence. A sizeable demographic change was also brought about by settling a large number of Pathans and Punjabi Sunni Muslims in these areas which earlier had an overwhelming majority of Shia and Ismaili population.
All this caused acute resentment amongst the people. A number of public agitations, including violent ones, followed. The Pakistan government relented. To assuage the anger, it issued an ordinance, notified as the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009. Under this order, to preserve the local identity, the northern areas were renamed Gilgit-Baltistan. The order also provides for an elected Legislative Assembly and a governor and chief minister.
What is significant is that the entire area, which legally belongs to India, has been formally incorporated in Pakistan. The feeble protests made by the Government of India and political parties of Jammu and Kashmir and of Azad Jammu and Kashmir were ignored by Pakistan. Earlier in 1963, Pakistan had virtually ceded 5,180 sq. km. area to China, in addition to about 37,555 sq. km. which was already in its possession.
India has paid dearly for not paying serious attention to the developments on the other side of Line of Control. During the last 20 years, both the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” area and Gilgit-Baltistan region have caused grave problems. The former became an active centre for cross-border terrorism, and the latter served as an avenue of intrusion into Kargil, which resulted in the Kargil War of 1999.
What should be a matter of special concern to India right now is that the Pakistan-China axis is sowing seeds for future trouble in the region. Of late, Pakistan has been giving de facto control of a vast chunk of Gilgit-Baltistan area to China for building rail and road links between Eastern China and Pakistani port cum naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara. With the completion of these projects, China would be able to transport its goods for exports to and imports from the Gulf countries in two days instead of the present period of 22 days. The Karakoram Highway is also being extended and strengthened to provide an effective link between Sinkiang province of China and Pakistan.
All this is bound to establish stronger strategic and economic bonds between Pakistan and China. Both may join hands to cause more difficulties for India with regard to the Kashmir issue and also for the United States vis-à-vis its interests in Afghanistan. Already, about 10,000 soldiers of the Peoples’ Liberation Army are working in Gilgit-Baltistan on road, rail, irrigation and other development projects.
It is time India started taking a closer look at the events on the other side of Line of Control and evolved an effective strategy to counter their adverse fall-outs.

The author is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister

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