It is good to dream big but always better to be wise in pursuing it. Ever since Article 370 was de-operationalised, ministers and senior security officials have been grandstanding that India’s next strategic move will be to take over Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Indeed, India has a rightful claim to this region as per terms of the Instrument of Accession but occupying it is far more perilous than dispensing with Article 370 and 35A.
POK can still be merged if India invades Pakistan and wins the war decisively. But it may have unforeseen consequences of disastrous proportion. Other option is that India aggressively helps rebel groups in POK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and Sindh to tear Pakistan apart, giving it the opportunity to annex POK. But this will invite international condemnation and punitive sanctions. Another possibility is that economic progress and freedom enjoyed by Kashmiris work eventually as a catalyst for POK to revolt and join with J&K. This is unlikely, for Kashmiris constitute only 11 per cent of POK’s population and cannot force the issue on the majority Pakistani expatriates.
Actually, it is not Pakistan but China that India will have to annex POK from. Of the total area of J&K (2,22,236 sq km) that was acceded by Maharaja Hari Singh, India is now left with only 74,292 sq km while Pakistan and China occupy 1,10,489 sq km and 37,555 sq km respectively. So, if POK is to be liberated, India must fight a winnable war against both Pakistan and China. Beijing will surely not let this happen for reasons other than expanding its boundaries.
Over the years, China’s economic and strategic interests in Pakistan have grown exponentially. It has invested $62 billion in building China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that includes development of Gwadar port and massive construction of roads, railways, airports, telecommunication network and power stations in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.
The CPEC connects to Beijing by Karakoram highway that runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, India’s erstwhile part of greater J&K. This highway is also a part of $1 trillion worth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China that seeks to further expand its economy by exploiting resources in Asia, Africa and Europe. Delhi has been opposing BRI on the ground that Karakoram highway violates its sovereignty over Gilgit-Baltistan. Such is the stake of China in these two projects that it has committed over 65,000 Chinese civilians as workforce and nearly 13,000 PLA troops to ensure their safety.
With so much investment, China has really no choice but to treat Pakistan as its ‘all-weather friend’. It has to equip the Pak Army and help it engage India along the borders and suppress Balochs and other secessionist groups that are opposed to Chinese presence and exploitation of their mineral reserves. There is no way China is going to allow a ruckus democracy of Indian variety to set roots in Pakistan and derail its long-term economic and strategic objectives in the region. A colonised Pakistan will be its safest bet. Moreover, since POK is the life line for both CPEC and BRI, Beijing cannot afford to let Pakistan wither and give POK to India on a platter. firstname.lastname@example.org