Reunification of Kashmir: India’s path to righting the wrongs of history

"It marks the 77th consecutive year of oppression, lacking basic human rights, and fundamental freedom in PoJK and Gilgit Baltistan."

As 4.5 million people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), often considered third-class citizens in mainland Pakistan, fight for their independence, the mainstream media’s silence is alarming.

Recently, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar responded to the ongoing unrest in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, underscoring the contrasting experiences between the residents there and those in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Today, there are certain ferments happening in PoK. The analysis of it is very complex but definitely I have no doubt in my own mind that someone living in PoK is comparing their situation with someone living in Jammu and Kashmir and seeing how people there are progressing nowadays. They know the sense of being under occupation or being discriminated or treated badly,” Dr Jaishankar said.

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Dr Jaishankar further hinted that the integration of PoK into India is part two of the series after the removal of Art 370: “Till Art 370 was there, nobody talked about PoK. We are talking about it only after its historical removal…There is a parliament resolution, all parties of this country are committed. POK is part of India, It is our national commitment.”

The question that arises with these recent incidents and comments: is it time for India to legally reclaim Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and reunite the region under Indian governance, in the interest of peace, stability, and justice for all Kashmiris?

In 1947, when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was given the option to accede to either India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir at the time, chose to accede to India, leading to the first Indo-Pakistani war. However, Pakistan subsequently invaded Kashmir, leading to the division of the region along the Line of Control (LoC), with Pakistan occupying a significant portion of Kashmir, known as PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Since then, Pakistan has maintained its grip on PoK through military force and political manipulation, denying the people of the region their basic human rights and freedoms.

For more than seven decades, the people of PoK have endured violence, instability, high youth unemployment, and human rights abuses. Of particular concern is credible reports of violence against women and enforced disappearances of journalists with many people still without any access to justice. Meanwhile, India has upheld democratic principles and constitutional rights in its portion of Kashmir, despite ongoing challenges and conflicts.

In Geneva, political activists from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan staged a protest outside the United Nations, urging Pakistan to withdraw its forces from the occupied territories as per the UN Security Council Resolution. He too highlighted reports from some international human rights organisations that have documented widespread abuses in PoK, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and suppression of political dissent.

Prof. Sajjad Raja, a political activist from PoK and Chairperson of the National Equality Party JKGBL, stated: “We are here today to raise our voice against the violation of basic human rights in PoJK and Gilgit Baltistan. We are living like animals in GB and PoJK. We want Pakistan out of PoJK and Gilgit Baltistan as advised by the United Nations.”

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He added: “It marks the 77th consecutive year of oppression, lacking basic human rights, and fundamental freedom in PoJK and Gilgit Baltistan.”

No doubt people of Kashmir are grappling with the complex legacy of partition, however, the one issue that stands out as a glaring injustice of this history is the continued occupation of Kashmir by Pakistan.

All this was done at the hands of Pakistan without any international accountability or outcry from independent media thus fostering an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

In terms of sheer economics, Pakistan’s GDP was $1.266 trillion, while India’s GDP  was $10.868 trillion at the end of 2023 in puchasing power partity terms. The GDP of Jammu and Kashmir is expected to exceed Rs 2.30 lakh crore in 2024. A major contribution in J&K is Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), expanding exports, and resurgence of tourism.

Further, India has made significant investments in the development of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), improving infrastructure, healthcare, education, employment, and economic opportunities for its residents. The Indian government has implemented policies to empower local communities and promote inclusive growth, despite facing obstacles such as cross-border terrorism and separatist violence instigated by Pakistan.

In contrast, Pakistan has failed to fulfill its obligations to the people of PoK, neglecting their welfare and perpetuating a cycle of poverty and instability. The region remains underdeveloped, with inadequate infrastructure and limited access to basic services. Pakistan’s policies in PoK have exacerbated tensions and fueled resentment among the local population, who have been denied their right to self-determination and autonomy.

“While Jammu and Kashmir changed, PoK sank deeper into the quicksand. Pakistan always broadcasted that Kashmir was an Indian Army-run state whereas the reality is that PoK remains amongst the most suppressed and oppressed regions of the world,” observed Maj. Gen. Harsha Kakar, a strategic analyst and columnist, in his piece on unrest in PoK.

Given these stark disparities, the historical and humanitarian case for India to legally reclaim PoK and reunite it with Kashmir is clear. By asserting its sovereignty over the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir, India can uphold the principles of justice, democracy, and human rights for all Kashmiris.

Doing this would also send a powerful message to Pakistan and the international community that India is committed to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

International leaders must recognize the urgency of supporting India’s efforts to legally reunite Kashmir and reject the misinformation propagated by Leftist and Islamist elements in the West on behest of Pakistan.

The Indian government’s commitment to democracy, secularism, and human rights in Kashmir is evident in its policies and actions, despite the challenges posed by external interference and internal Jihadist extremism.

By standing in solidarity with India and endorsing the reunification of Kashmir under Indian governance, international leaders can uphold the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic governance. It is imperative that they resist the influence of biased narratives and misinformation campaigns run by vested politicians who seek to undermine India’s legitimate claims to Kashmir and instead advocate for a peaceful and equitable resolution to the longstanding conflict in the region.

I agree that any efforts to reunite Kashmir must be pursued through peaceful and diplomatic means, in accordance with international law and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. India should engage with the people of PoK in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, respecting their aspirations and addressing their grievances. By offering a vision of hope and opportunity, India can win the hearts and minds of the people of PoK and pave the way for a brighter future for all Kashmiris.

The reunification of Kashmir under India is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic imperative for peace and stability in the region. India has the opportunity to right the wrongs of history and fulfil its duty to the people of Kashmir by reclaiming PoK and extending the benefits of democracy, development, and human rights to all Kashmiris.

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