Union ministers upping the ante and talking openly of the next step in Kashmir being the recovery of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is further meant to rile Pakistan, and shift the narrative away from the recent changes which led to the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A. With Pakistan already wringing its hands in frustration, unable to do anything to register its protest against India in any meaningful way either in Kashmir or globally, a series of statements from senior members of the Modi Government are bound to aggravate its sense of desperation. India is rubbing the Pakistani nose in the dirt, enjoying the moment when fire-spewing members of the Imran Khan Government find themselves lost for words when India stakes claim on what Pakistan considers is part of its own fully lawful Kashmir.
From the Indian Vice-President, Venkaiah Naidu, to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and a number of other members of the Union Government have since August 5, when the sensational deletions of the two Articles were sanctioned by the Parliament, talked of taking back the PoK soon. Indeed, in his first formal interaction with the national media on Tuesday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar too talked of India acquiring ‘physical jurisdiction’ over PoK ‘one day’. Jaishankar’s words have added significance since he had all along been a career diplomat before being inducted into the Modi Government as Foreign Minister in May this year. Quite clearly, the central ministers are acting to a plan, a strategy to take the battle of conflicting narratives, one emanating from New Delhi and another from Islamabad, into the heart of the Imran Khan Government. Already looking lonely and friendless on Kashmir after India sprang a surprise on the world by abolishing the special status of Kashmir in one fell swoop, which, however, was temporary all along, the Indian claim on the PoK spotlights Islamabad’s complete isolation in the wider global community.
Of course, no body suspects that India anytime soon will follow up on the deletion of Article 370 by forcibly occupying that part of Kashmir which was annexed by Pakistan in 1947-48 following an attack by armed tribal groups aided and abetted by the Pakistan military. One-third of Kashmir was ‘allowed’ to be retained by the aggressors, though the Indian Army was ready to drive them away. But thanks to Sheikh Abdullah, Prime Minister Nehru did not permit the army to go any further. Subsequently, it was learnt that the reason why Abdullah was reluctant to free all of Kashmir was that he lacked support in that part of Kashmir and reckoned that in an election he would be at a disadvantage were all of it was to return to India. Why Nehru went along with such a devious ploy is unclear, but it is public knowledge that the first prime minster grossly mishandled the Kashmir issue.
To return to the present, on Wednesday, J and K Governor Satya Pal Malik expressed himself against any armed action to take back PoK, arguing that rapid development of Kashmir would automatically ensure the return of the occupied part. Speaking at a function in Srinagar to launch several power projects, Malik said that faster economic progress of Kashmir would lead the people in the occupied Kashmir to want to unite with J and K. This was the best way to win them back, Malik said. Neither Malik’s political stature nor his equation with the ruling dispensation is such that would allow him to strike a discordant note. Besides, since August 5 all actions and words on Kashmir are carefully calibrated by the key policy-makers in New Delhi.
In all probability, the blow-hot, blow-cold strategy is part of the overall plan to confuse and confound Pakistan. Meanwhile, there are conflicting claims on the extent of the lockdown, with officials maintaining that communications in large parts of the Valley have been restored and freedom of movement granted while the unofficial sources vehemently counter those claims. Anyway, the talk of reclaiming the PoK serves to take the public focus away from the actual ground reality in Kashmir. But the key question still remains unanswered: For how long?