Courtesy: AFP

Muhammad Sharreh Qazi 

‘Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril’ Sun Tzu ‘Art of War’

The status of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir as amended by India came as a hard blow to how India and Pakistan balanced the way they looked at one another. Suffice to say, it has set back their bilateral relationship almost back to 1947-48 when this issue was first brought to surface. India spearheads all criticisms with its claim of Kashmir now being an ‘internal matter’ while Pakistan, more aggressively, pushes for revocation of  such an endeavor. In this conundrum, South Asia is again presumed to be on a brink of another war, or at least a high-density prolonged skirmish along their more undistinguishable territorial margins. That being said, is this the only target India has in mind or is there something more? Is Pakistan’s desire to look at Occupied Jammu and Kashmir only limited to that part of the controversy or is there something else brewing beyond conventional rhetoric?

India has always had administered control of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir but New Delhi’s concerns were set to a new priority when the  China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was envisaged and put into operation. New Delhi kept asserting that CPEC causes serious fractures in status of disputed regions between India and Pakistan and remains a controversial project even by such a margin. Beyond CPEC, however, India has gained limited support from the  international community, and international stakeholders have declined to interject on such matters. Non-interference cannot only be attributed to China and USA already locked in a tariff war and European Union experiencing its own internal fissures but also to the fact that superpowers usually tend to only ‘observe’ such projects, prepare contingencies and await the ‘opportune moment’ to interpose. For India, however, such a delay is not only unacceptable but also tedious as it restricts India from personally interfering albeit New Delhi assumes that Pakistan can be easily intimidated without experiencing any repercussion from Beijing.

Out comes the old narrative that Kashmir has to be taken as a whole and not in part of what was once the Dogra Empire. India, by eliminating Occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s status as a constitutionally earmarked ‘special territory’ and bringing it into the Federal fold is just a precursor of what India plans. Kashmir as a princely state is inherently divided into four key regions; State of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh region adjoining Aksai Chin of Hotan Prefecture, Gilgit Agency and the Baltistan District. The claim that Dogra Dynasty under Maharaja Hari Singh acceded his ‘empire’ into Union of India and not ‘portions’ or ‘sections’ but in whole is what India will aim for when the time is ripe. By ‘determining’ that India has federalized Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is not an isolated stratagem but the starting point of extending its claim over the entire region. India’s presence at Siachin, its interests alongside the Line of Control maintained at Azad Kashmir and a sudden urge to criticize CPEC for its ‘controversial entry point’ is something that has to be connected before analyzed.

If popular assertion that India aims to do with Kashmir what Israel did with Palestine is correct, then not deliberating to act on defining a status for Gilgit-Baltistan would surely affect whatever Pakistan plans to achieve as a retaliatory response. India’s specific insistence on highlighting its current trajectory towards Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, all the while ignoring to remark about Ladakh and Aksai Chin with a similar fervor is caution enough where India plans to take its designs. By extending territorial controversies further northwest of Pakistan, India aims to exact two distinct responses; nuclear signals justifying its designs to enhance its strategic footprint and in the same breath, restraint mechanism of deterrence to maintain physical control. For Pakistan, risks are accelerating amid its financial crisis, its position at Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and choosing a decisive yet cautious approach to dealing with India’s current attitude towards disputed territories. With Gilgit-Baltistan still hanging between being constitutionally recognized and being administratively controlled, any dissent in such a region could be cataclysmic to say the least.

China and the USA have both clearly signaled that their intention to participate in this affair is subject to certain grave and unavoidable circumstances only and any eventuality to the contrary is up to Pakistan and India themselves to manage. With our usual third-party intervention out of the equation for now, Pakistan has to tread cautiously without providing India any justification to either plunge South Asia into a war or an arms race. The decision to federalize Kashmir could have been done long ago, it could have been done at any other point in our bilateral history but doing so at this particular junction means, rather implores that there is a larger game afoot.

For Pakistan, deciding what becomes of Gilgit-Baltistan is an imperative dimension to avoiding aggressive engagement with India all the while, settling its northernmost territorial complexities and in the same, purporting its share of what will be a future flashpoint. India is mindful of its surroundings and is also very vigilant of how key superpowers react to its current arrangements. Even more so, India is also gearing up to a conjoined approach from China and Pakistan over disputed territories but what India is specifically focused on is the fact that without Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan would keep avoiding to decide fate of Gilgit-Baltistan. China exerts ample pressure over its border disputes with India but remains elusive of using such compression to achieve a solution. Pakistan, however, remains fearful of using this momentum to its advantage for reasons unknown.

For Sun Tzu, Pakistan is mindful of its adversary up to a certain point but remains hindered of its own territorial challenges. Its recent experience with asymmetric, intrusive confrontations has  taught it little of how its neighbors achieve their goals inside Islamabad’s international boundaries. For Pakistan, being a frontline state for more than a decade should have spirited its political and policy infrastructure into understanding, deciphering and calculating its adversaries and their objectives all the while counteracting any strategy with an effective counter-strategy. For Sun Tzu, ground under Islamabad’s feet is shifting and center of gravity of future conflicts is slowly moving northward. In this, if Pakistan keeps awaiting China’s assistance or America’s customary third-party intervention to reverse or at least pacify India’s blitzkrieg towards northern regions, then Sun Tzu’s aforementioned remarks would be drastically rationalized. Pakistan is now at a junction to either secure its territories or acquiesce to a two-state solution subliminally offered by India nowadays. Any other solution, involving aggressive settlement of issues is not something Sun Tzu would recommend after Kargil. For Gilgit-Baltistan, it is a slippery slope riddled with a very volatile future if remained undecided.

Muhammad Sharreh Qazi is a Lecturer at the School of Integrated Social Sciences, University of Lahore.