India needs serious rethink of its POK policy

The Pakistan army has never won any war but they are also aware that the political hierarchy in India is apprehensive of waging war on Pakistan with the Chinese presence in POK-Pakistan, writes Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd)  for South Asia Monitor

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Pakistan has traditionally sought foreign help for air defense measures. In the mid-1990s, some 150 North Korean personnel were in Pakistan constructing silos for airfield defense.  Current intelligence reports indicate China is helping Pakistan deploy surface to air missile (SAM) systems along the Line of Control (LoC) in 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)'.

Control room for the missile system at Bdel Bagh will also house 10 People's Liberation Army (PLA) personnel, including three officers.

Following joint Pakistan Army-PLA reconnaissance, construction work is on at Pauli Pir near Lasadanna Dhok plus Chinar and Chakothi village in Hattian Bala district.  Chinese engineers are constructing a road from Jaglot to Gauri Kot which will likely be extended till Gultari.

Views on the above in India are varied. Some aired on electronic media include: Pakistan army will not give PLA control of its air defense; opposition to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is building in Pakistan since financial benefits will flow to China; PLA may deploy more troops in Pakistan with terrorists attacking CPEC; a stage may come when Pakistan army will be in dilemma to fight terrorists or the PLA; Pakistan is worried after India’s air attack on Balakot; India is presently focusing on stabilizing Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and waiting for public unrest to build up in Gilgit-Baltistan, and; India will continue exposing Pakistan to the United Nations.  

Pakistan: China's vassal state

Some of the above ideas indicate the inability to understand that Pakistan is China’s vassal state and India the common enemy of both. PLA already has a brigade strength deployed proximate to Skardu and PLA troops have been guarding the CPEC in POK past years. China is stationing marines at Gwadar and a joint China-Pakistan military base is to come up in the Jiwani peninsula. With PLA officers and personnel located in the control room of the upcoming SAM system at Bdel Bagh, does it really matter whether the control is with the PLA or with the Pakistani army?

Besides, if the SAMs are Chinese or China-aided, can we really rule out PLA control of the system? Witness how Pakistan has violated its constitution by declaring islands of Bundal and Buddo off the Karachi coast in Sindh by re-appropriating them as a federal territory and handing them over to China.

Akin to China’s demographic invasion of Tibet, Pakistan moved the population from the plains into Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and shifted terrorist camps into the region. The Shia population which at the time of partition of India was 80 percent has been brought down to 39 percent, with a balance of 27 percent Sunni, 18 percent Ismaili and 16 percent Nurbakhshi.

Pakistan’s proxy war

The Shia population will go down further because Shias are specifically targeted in Pakistan and Afghanistan. India never capitalized on this human tragedy, not even when just before the Kargil Conflict the signal from the Northern Light Infantry of Pakistan (not integrated into the military by then) was that India had good relations with Iran and they would not like to fight India. 

Despite being subjected to Pakistan’s proxy war for decades, India has never tried to transport the sub-conventional war west of the LoC. Had India systematically assisted the unrest in GB, the resultant insurgency would have made it difficult for Beijing to develop the CPEC in this region. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) are attacking the Pakistan army but the Pakistan army assisted by China perhaps can withstand this attrition unless there is a revolt within the army. Significantly, in 2012, Pakistani regional and foreign media had reported Pakistan leasing GB to China for 50 years. 

Backed by China, Pakistan bothers little about India exposing it to the United Nations. With just three members required to support Pakistan, the latter's blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) remains highly unlikely. The irony of the global system can be gauged from the fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) membership of China has been renewed despite the genocide against Uighurs and Tibetans, and Pakistan re-elected to the UNHCR despite ongoing genocide in Balochistan, Waziristan, and GB.  If India is waiting for unrest to build up in GB, that wait may be forever.    

There is no doubt that Islamabad is scared of the Indian Air Force. Pakistan’s strategy has been to rely on air defense missiles to target Indian aircraft in the first two-three days of the war. The Pakistan army has never won any war but they are also aware that the political hierarchy in India is apprehensive of waging war on Pakistan with the Chinese presence in POK-Pakistan.

Chinese penetration of India is evident from Indian hesitation to directly name China for the aggression in Eastern Ladakh, China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and China aiding Pakistani genocide against Baloch population.  

In fact, after the liberation of Bangladesh, India’s policy against Pakistan has been demonstratively reactive. The ‘surgical strike’ and Balakot airstrike were a reaction to losses suffered at Uri and Pulwama respectively. Political statements in India that POK can be integrated in 7-10 days and the Indian Army hierarchy saying they just need orders don't impress Pakistan much, as these are aimed at impressing the 'vote bank' at home.    

Both China and Pakistan will keep stoking insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The contention that India wants to first stabilize J&K before taking any action in POK amounts to the ostrich burying its head in the sand. India needs a serious rethink of its policies with respect to J&K and POK.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal)