The J&K problem
by N S Malik on 22 May 2013 17 Comments

Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. The only problem that can be called the J&K Problem is the non-comprehension by India of this truth of its being the integral part of India and not distinct or separate from the other states. The problem that remains to be settled then is to free the areas of J&K illegally occupied by Pakistan and China. Once this is understood, all else falls in place.


Strategic Importance of J&K 


J&K has been the traditional trade route of Central and South Asia to the East and Tibet, generally called the ‘Silk Route’. It is bounded by more countries than any other state of India; in the north east with Tibet, and further north with Xinjiang province of China, in the north west with the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, in the west with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and further south with Punjab of Pakistan.


This geographic layout is strategically so important that no power of the world wants to remain away from the area, as it gives access to the sensitive areas of the neighbouring countries. The high mountains provide strategic depth and domination over the surrounding area. For hundreds of years, Russian, Persian, Chinese, Tibetan and British Indian empires have sought the mountain passes to dominate each other. The region rests along “the ancient axis of Asia” where South, Central and East Asia converge and, since time immemorial, has been the gateway for both India and China to Central Asia.


The state of Jammu and Kashmir is divided in two parts, one with India and the other under occupation of Pakistan and China. The part with India comprises Jammu, Kashmir valley and Ladakh. While Kashmir valley is famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape, Jammu's numerous shrines attract tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and Buddhist culture. The illegally occupied part of J&K comprises Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (so called Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit- Baltistan (earlier called the Northern Areas); China possesses Aksai Chin and Shaksgam valley illegally ceded by Pakistan in 1963.


The “high roof of the world”, the Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh region of the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir is geo-strategically very important. It lays between the high Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges to its north and the Western Himalayas to its immediate south, with the Kashmir Vale and Jammu region further south. The strategic importance of J&K can be understood from the fact that China is spending huge sums to build infrastructure through highways connecting Tibet to Xinjiang through the Chinese occupied Aksai Chin plateau, and Xinjiang to Pakistan via the Karakorum highway through the Kunzreb pass. This highway then connects Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, giving warm water port and access to the Indian Ocean to China. 


It will enable China trade to avoid the bottleneck of the Malacca Straits and cut down distance to the interior provinces of China. Gilgit Baltistan is now under de facto Chinese control, and over 10,000 PLA troops are believed to have been deployed to develop infrastructure in the area. It is also believed that Pakistan will lease the GB area to China for 50 years under the pretext of developing the area. 


J&K’s strategic importance becomes clear when we face two enemies on our borders at a point where we are weakest and have maximum to lose, having already lost nearly 50% of the erstwhile princely state through aggression by Pakistan in 1947 and China in the 1950s and 1962. There are also valuable mineral deposits in the area, particularly in GB and Ladakh area. It is surmised that GB area is rich in uranium deposits, besides great potential of hydro-electric works.


It is unfortunate that the Government of India took the attitude of “where not a blade of grass grows”, undermining its strategic importance and link to national security. We have thus been manoeuvred to face two enemies in our most vulnerable area with poorest infrastructure and extremely poor logistical backing. That is why we had a situation in Daulat Beg Oldie where Chinese entered 19 kms into our territory and claimed it as theirs. 


We are facing disaster as the only logistical support is an airstrip at DBO with no worthwhile land route from Leh onwards. And even upto Leh we are dependent on the fair weather route via Zojila pass. The alternate route from Manali to Upsi in Ladakh is still waiting the Rohtang pass tunnel to be built.


Historic mishandling


The UN resolution of 1948, cited by most adversaries of India, deals only with Pakistani aggression and not the accession to India. Accession is legal in every way and cannot be disputed. Similarly the so called “Two Nation Theory”, under whose umbrella Pakistan was formed, applied only to British ruled India and not the princely states, and hence a state being Muslim-majority did not disqualify it from joining Indian Union. In this context, referendum in J&K is illegal as it was not agreed by Muslim League which wanted princes to accede to India or Pakistan on the basis of contiguity. Thus the only dispute that remains is vacation of Pakistani aggression and the areas illegally ceded to China by Pakistan. The Government of India has to base its relations with Pakistan and China on that theme.


Article 370: This is a self imposed gridlock that gives no advantage to India internationally, or to the state internally. Internationally it shows J&K as different and any country can raise the status of J&K in international fora, as often done by Islamic countries. Internally, it puts the State at a disadvantage in development and other fields, as private financiers are not keen to invest there due to restrictions of ownership. Psychologically the people find themselves at a disadvantage when working in other parts of India. Article 370 is the most glaring example of appeasement of the national minority (Muslims) and subjugation of the state minority (Hindus). No nation can have two laws and rules for national citizenship. On the other side of the line of control, in Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan has been encouraging its Punjabi Wahabi elements to settle and control the area, totally altering the demographic profile.


Over dominance of Kashmir: A myth that needs debunking is, “Kashmir is J&K”, because it is only a small 7% part of the Princely state and about 15% of the J&K portion with India. Even the saying “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari” is incorrect as Kashmir is not the northernmost part of India; Ladakh is. And as per the official map, Gilgit and Aksai Chin are the northernmost parts. Even Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is not Kashmir. In the same way, the Kashmiri Muslim is not in majority in J&K when we consider non-Kashmiri Muslims in Ladakh and Jammu region.

In fact, the Indian Army’s advance into present POK in 1948 was said to have been halted at the request of Sheikh Abdullah to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on grounds that the people of these areas were not Kashmiris. Despite this, J&K politics is centred round Kashmir and Kashmiris. Virtually all Chief Ministers have been Kashmiris and the bulk of state and national funds are being spent on Kashmir valley, causing legitimate grievance in Jammu and Ladakh. The latter is demanding Union territory status and Jammu a separate state.


The misfortune is that in all this fight we forget POK and GB. Today they are raising their voice to ask India to liberate them and fight for their human rights that have been denied by Pakistan. The only symbolic gesture India makes is to keep a few vacant seats in their name in the state assembly. This is sheer tokenism. Their demand is that as elections cannot be held in POK & GB, some of them should be nominated and allowed to put across the problems of these areas, as also raise these in international fora. They demand that their children should be given reservation in schools and institutions of higher learning in J&K as they are citizens of J&K living under the heels of the Pakistan army.


Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) and Shaksgam valley (5,000 sq km) are not even considered by us in any discussions within or with the Chinese. Our thrust is on demarcating the border in this area.


Political indifference: Somehow the impression is gaining ground that the State and Centre are not keen to fix matters. Many experts feel it suits the State government, whichever party is in power, to continue tacit and covert support to the separatists, jehadi and Pak-supported elements, and milk the centre for resources. Scapegoats are easily found to blame for non-governance and inaction. Security forces and AFSPA are easily exploited. No firm action is taken against separatists who espouse their cause freely and indulge in nefarious activities within and abroad. Terrorism and violence is treated as the right of the people to indulge in. As Pakistan is considered a party to the dispute, its political interference, terrorist acts and inciting people to violence is taken as legitimate right. We fail to perceive this as the first battle by Pakistan to the ultimate jehadi war in India. We have failed to assert our right to ‘hot pursuit’, to strike at training camps across the border and to block all propaganda and contacts that spread discontent. Here we are not only a ‘soft state’ but a ‘failed state’ that refuses to protect its legitimate national rights. 


Historic blunders 


J&K has been a series of monumental blunders. First we let Lord Mountbatten unilaterally write to Maharaja Hari Singh for a referendum when no such condition was stipulated in the ‘Accession Treaty’. We stopped the advance of the Indian army to liberate POK and GB areas in 1948 and took the matter to the UN. The western powers were just looking for an opportunity to have a say in the most strategic area dominating the underbelly of China and USSR.


Special status under Article 370 made J&K psychologically and physically different and hindered its effective integration into the Indian Union.


Recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in 1950 and withdrawal of our military posts from Lhasa and Yatung brought China to our northern borders and opened another front to guard. After that, we indulged in daydreaming of Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai and neglected our defence; hence the debacle of 1962. Most shameful was the acceptance of the ceasefire, unilaterally declared by the Chinese, and not preparing to fight back. All nations have suffered tactical reverses, but they did not necessarily become strategic defeats. During WWII, the British army was down and out at Dunkirk and had to evacuate the European mainland, but it came back after four years to defeat the Germans. Similarly Singapore was lost in 1942, but the British Indian Army went back and defeated the Japanese. Why have we accepted the 1962 debacle as final? If on the Republic Day in 1963, instead of weeping over our tactical defeat and singing “Aye Mere Watan ke logo, jara aankh mein bhar lo pani’ we should have roused the nation with Netaji Subhash Bose’s INA song, “Kadam kadam barhai ja, Khushi ke geet gaye ja, Yeh  jindgi hai kaum ki, tu kaum par mitae ja”; we would have been a different nation today.


In 1965 Pakistan was emboldened after acquiring latest arms and ammunition from the US under the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO) and had seen the Indian army devastated by the Chinese in 1962. So it launched ‘Operation Gibraltar’ to capture J&K and captured some areas of Chhamb Jaurian in Jammu region. The Indian Army fought back ‘with whatever they had’ and blunted the Pakistan offensive in Punjab and Jammu region. Our major achievement was in Kashmir sector where we captured Haji Pir Pass that links Uri and Poonch, which India gave back to Pakistan at Tashkent. The army calls it “a War won on the battlefield but lost on the negotiating table”.


1971 is a glorious chapter in the annals of Indian military history. We created history by liberating a nation and decisively defeating the Pakistan army on the battlefield, capturing 93,000 PWs. Alas, we squandered the victory at Shimla where Indira Gandhi fell to the false promises of smooth talking ZA Bhutto, and the old story repeated itself. We won the war on the battlefield, but lost it on the negotiating table.


In 1974 our scientists did India proud by demonstrating nuclear prowess at Pokhran. But under American threats we disassembled the infrastructure for the same, after having alerted Pakistan which went all out to acquire the bomb and succeeded in 1985, while we remained without one for a much longer period. Fortunately in 1998, under the leadership of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we reasserted ourselves with Pokhran II. 




The solution to the J&K problem does not lie in Srinagar or in Pakistan and China. It squarely and appropriately lies in New Delhi. Swami Vivekananda said “Shakti” is the power that builds the nation and without it the nation is enslaved: ‘Why is it that our country is the weakest - because ‘Shakti’ is held in dishonor here’. 


Shakti means national power to influence events in the interest of the nation. This flows from of economic strength, social harmony, people educated and dedicated to the national cause, and military strength. But most important is national leadership to harness this power and bring it to bear in the national interest.


The strategic solution lies in breaking the unholy nexus between China and Pakistan by vigorously claiming POK and GB, supporting the population to fight the occupation forces, and breaking China’s link to the Arabian Sea through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The democratic voice of Pakhtoons for Pakhtoonistan encompassing areas south and east of the defunct Durand Line must be supported. The genocide of the Baloch people must be taken up in the international arena and supported.




Jammu & Kashmir has been the hunting ground of China and Pakistan and we have treated it as a dispute and an internal law and order problem. I do not advocate war as the only solution. But with the changing dimensions of warfare ranging from nuclear, cyber, space and proxy war, we need to devise new ways to be one step ahead. 


Pakistan has been at war with India since October 1947, and China since 1950 when it occupied Tibet; yet we failed to recognize the enemy and his modus operandi on both fronts. In between active war operations, they carry on proxy war with ‘thousand cuts’, supporting insurgency in J&K and the north east, claiming Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin.


No wonder India is widely perceived as unable to handle external or internal challenges ranging from terrorism sponsored by Pakistan, being snubbed by Maldives, and China blocking India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and undermining our influence in Asia.


The answer lies in building friendship bridges across the Asia Pacific region with Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Australia, USA and other smaller countries by extending economic and military help to them. India must not accept China intrusion into J&K or any other area passively, but must counter with well planned and calibrated moves in areas tactically and strategically sensitive to China at the time of our choosing. The latest intrusion in Depsang valley was a very clever move by China to bargain for a settlement in Aksai Chin but keep Arunachal Pradesh open. The solution does not lie in negotiating a border settlement in the west alone, as that will seal the fate of Aksai Chin forever, leaving India no bargaining power in the north east.


Lt Gen Niranjan Singh Malik is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff

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