India’s intent on PoK: The ISI runs scared

There is no doubt that the matter is complex, made even worse by the presence of Chinese strategic interests.

Published: 28th November 2022 11:34 PM  |   Last Updated: 28th November 2022 11:34 PM   |  A+A-

Soumyadip Sinha

In recent days statements seem to be emanating from important functionaries of India’s defence and security sector about its intent of wresting Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Pakistan under the authority of the February 22, 1994 Parliamentary Resolution passed jointly by both houses of India’s Parliament. Jingoism has emerged in the public domain with inadequate information on what this is all about. The common general refrain is about the question: When will the Indian Armed Forces physically clamber onto the mountains around Muzaffarabad, Gilgit, Skardu or Dhansam to close the chapter on Pakistan’s (and China’s) occupation of J&K?

The cat was set among the pigeons by the Northern Army Commander’s recent statement alluding to taking back PoK. He stated, “As far as the Indian Army is concerned, it will carry out any order given by the Government of India. We are always ready for it.” Let us get the context and the explanation right lest impractical expectations are given weight.

PoK is a generic term used for all the territories of the former Maharaja of J&K, which are currently under the occupation of Pakistan. These include Jammu, Kashmir and the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region and familiar areas such as Kotli and Rawalakot (Jammu region), Muzaffarabad in the Jhelum Valley and Gilgit fall under these.

It would be appropriate to recall the blue and yellow (gold) map of J&K released on October 31, 2019, shortly after the announcement of the amendment of Article 370 which took away J&K’s special status and split the erstwhile state into the two separate union territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir.

Ladakh in blue includes Aksai Chin, partially under Chinese occupation, and GB, under the occupation of Pakistan. J&K, in yellow or gold, is the area of the current UT of J&K under the occupation of Pakistan. This cartographic symbolism was never attempted before. On February 22, 1994, while India was under intense pressure from the international community triggered by Pakistan’s false propaganda against human rights violations by the Indian Army, a little-known action by the Indian Parliament took place. All political parties came together, and in a display of national consensus, both Houses passed a Joint Resolution emphasising that J&K was an integral part of India and that Pakistan must vacate those parts of the State under its occupation. Many claim that this was the most appropriate moment to have amended Article 370 and adequately convey the message of full and final integration of J&K. Yet, what needed to happen finally did on August 5, 2019. As a result, Pakistan’s long-standing aggression on J&K, the long years of the sponsored proxy war and the casualties suffered by the Indian people and our troops, all combined to trigger the sentiment among the Indian public to immediately undertake military operations to take back and integrate all those territories of J&K not under India’s control.

The reality is that while the bold legislation of August 5, 2019 and the symbolic cartographic action that followed have no major physical impact except some change in administrative structures, the return of territories under occupation of India’s adversaries, by force or otherwise, has a far greater dimension to it, probably inadequately realised. There can be arguments against this line of thinking, but the saner elements will probably sit back and contemplate the implications of India’s potential options, which of course can look at the entire conflict spectrum rather than just the employment of unbridled violence to achieve the aim.

There is no doubt that the matter is complex, made even worse by the presence of Chinese strategic interests involving the Belt and Road Initiative through both GB and PoK. Yet the public view seems to veer towards the general weakness of Pakistan today as a nation which is internally imploding with a failing economy and perceives this as the appropriate moment to use military means to wrest PoK. What the Northern Army Commander implied in his statement was the fact that the Indian Army would be ready to adopt even this option if called upon to do so. It is the unsaid part of the statement which is more significant; that India, as a responsible State and a respected part of the international community, knows how to calibrate its interests, analyse the impact of its actions and act in the larger interest of the world rather than just its own. Yet, it could protect its close interests with timely decisions and actions if needed. The series of statements on India’s intent on PoK that we are hearing from the political community and now from military professionals is a part of something considered India’s major weakness and is now being addressed in a calibrated way: the missing communication strategy.

Everyone is asking whether it is practical to achieve what is being demanded from the Indian Army and the Air Force. Firstly, Pakistan perceives Indian threats to PoK as existential, and a conflict to militarily wrest PoK cannot be restricted to the mountainous tracts of J&K; it is bound to spread and conflagrate into a general war with a nuclear overhang.

Secondly, it could well expand into a two-front war, contingent upon China’s then-prevailing perceptions. The international community is wary of this region’s potential to trigger larger confrontations that could also spread into the maritime zone and the feasibility of transnational, ideologically driven Islamic mercenaries who could possibly initiate unpredictable turbulence.

Thirdly, India’s current challenges are related more to the economic, energy, science, and technology domains to help alleviate poverty and lift at least half a billion people out of poverty, just like China did with its 750 million people who were once below the poverty line. Any actions at the border must bear guarantees of complete success; else, it can all wait. India has consciously decided to place Pakistan on notice that the return of the PoK is on India’s agenda and has moved up several notches in our priorities. I can assure the Indian public that the Indian Army may often be accused of being obsessed with counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism-related issues linked to a proxy war. However, conventional operations are what its real professional responsibility is. It is constantly preparing for that come hell or high water and will deliver when called to do so. Pakistan’s current response does not really matter.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University



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