S Jaishankar's remarks on PoK an attempt to shift Kashmir debate, but little chance of India raiding Pakistan

  • A careful parsing of comments by S Jaishankar indicates a stress on realism borne out of mitigating the challenges of exercising a hard option on Kashmir but the minister stayed short of sounding the bugle on PoK.

  • At this stage, both countries are indulging in open posturing, but while moves by Pakistan have been reactive, the exercising of hard option gives India the first-mover advantage and allows New Delhi the chance to set the narrative on Kashmir.

  • Pakistan has suffered reverses in its attempts to forge nationhood based on religious solidarity but its delusions have not ended.

It is not a coincidence that two members of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in quick succession have now renewed India’s jurisdiction over Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). On 18 August, Union defence minister Rajnath Singh had declared that talks with Pakistan may be restored if it stops sponsoring cross-border terror, but those talks will be limited only to PoK since all issues pertaining to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are India’s internal issue.

On Tuesday, while addressing his first news conference since assuming the office of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reiterated India’s claim over PoK. His categorical statement — “Our position on PoK (is) very clear. PoK is a part of India and we expect one day we will have physical jurisdiction over it” — leaves very little space for ambiguity.

Jaishankar, who made these comments to mark the achievements of the Ministry of External Affairs during the 100 days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in power, is a realist. His, and Singh’s statements point to a visible hardening of India’s position on bilateral ties with a rogue neighbour, and a conscious effort from India to shift the fulcrum of Kashmir dispute from Jammu and Kashmir to the territory illegally occupied (and a section bartered off to China) by Pakistan.

Some commentators have argued that India’s stance post the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into a UT as well as shifting the nub of the debate to PoK is a “revisionist” position.

This could be a misinterpretation. A careful parsing of Jaishankar’s comments indicates a stress on realism borne out of mitigating the challenges of exercising a hard option on Kashmir but the minister stayed short of sounding the bugle on PoK. Jaishankar clarified a long-held Indian position — that PoK is “a part of India” — but used a docile verb “expect one day” to claim “physical jurisdiction” over the disputed area. No deadlines, no imminent threat. The docility is intentional, aimed at expressing intent but very little action.

This is so because while India wants to shift the debate to PoK, it simultaneously seeks to deny Pakistan the space to use the statement as a launcher for reiterating the threat of nuclear Armageddon in South Asia. That doesn’t help India’s cause.

It is to be noted that Pakistan has wasted little time in reacting to Jaishankar’s remarks, and it has done the obvious. Islamabad has asked the international community (read: the US) to take “serious cognisance” of India’s “aggressive posturing” about taking “physical jurisdiction” of PoK, saying such “irresponsible and belligerent” statements from New Delhi have the potential to further escalate tensions and seriously jeopardise peace and security in the region, reports The Hindu.

At this stage, both countries are indulging in open posturing, but while Pakistan’s moves have been reactive, the exercising of hard option gives India the ‘first-mover advantage’ and allows New Delhi the chance to set the narrative on Kashmir. This is crucial because both nations are likely to renew their slanging match on the latest UN platform — the upcoming General Assembly where heavy duty rhetoric will be exchanged.

It is in this context that we must place Jaishankar’s remarks on PoK — and not any revisionist posture aiming at altering the Line of Control. This becomes clearer when we take a look at his subsequent statements during the presser. The stress is not on abrogation of Article 370 but the abnormality thrust on India by a terror-sponsoring rogue nation that leaves India will very little space for manouvre.

“We have a unique challenge from one neighbour and that would remain a challenge so until that neighbour becomes a normal neighbour and acts against cross-border terrorism,” said the external affairs minister.

He added that “with regard to Pakistan, the issue is not (Article) 370, the issue is Pakistan’s terrorism. There is no change really… What should come on the table first is the terrorism issue, because that is the root cause of the state of the relationship.”

While this sets India’s agenda on the UN platform in the immediate term, the issue lies deeper. Pakistan’s agenda on Kashmir is masked in homilies of “human rights for Kashmiris” while in effect it is territorial aggression based on the ‘two-nation’ theory that a Muslim-majority state must be part of a nation that was built on an Islamist platform. Pakistan has suffered reverses in its attempts to forge nationhood based on religious solidarity but its delusions haven’t ended because keeping the ‘two-nation’ theory alive is of existential importance to Pakistan army that decides its foreign policy and national security.

As National University of Singapore director C Raja Mohan writes in The Indian Express, “In the creation of Bangladesh at the end of 1971, the strength of linguistic identity prevailed over the presumed weight of religious affinity. The current political unrest among the Baloch, Pashtun and the Mohajir communities transcends the shared Islamic identity in Pakistan. So does Pakistan’s oppression of the Muslim minorities like the Shia and the Ahmadi.”

Faced with this sustained and relentless territorial aggression from Pakistan — which found expression through its use of terror as foreign policy instrument — India has for decades tried the ‘soft option’. But due to a confluence of reasons — both domestic and international — India has come round to a conclusion that it is worth implementing a ‘hard option’ after decades of a failed Pakistan policy.

In his column for The Indian Express, Sanjaya Baru, distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, makes the important point that “Every state has to be as mindful of its territory as of its inhabitants… A state that cannot define its borders and protect them has no reason to survive… While the BJP may have had its own political reasons to take the steps it took this week, the Indian state too has its reasons. Having exhausted soft options, a hard solution has been opted for.”

Two more observations made by Jaishankar are worth noting. One, he stressed on the temporary nature of the constitutional provision that has given Pakistan the chance to exploit. Article 370, said Jaishankar, “had actually become dysfunctional. It was being arbitraged by some narrow set of people for their own gains. By doing so they were impeding development and feeding a sense of separatism. The separatism was being utilised by Pakistan to carry out cross-border terrorism”.

The second observation points to the realism mentioned in Baru’s piece where he argues that no state will tolerate a threat to its territorial sovereignty and beyond a point, the international community will just have to accept it. “…Beyond a point, don’t worry too much about what people will say on Kashmir. There is a complete predictability about my position ... At the end of the day, it is my issue. On my issue, my position has prevailed and will prevail.”

As already noted, Jaishankar’s remarks point towards a hardening of India’s stance on bilateral relationship with Pakistan but at the same time it is the clearest indication yet that developments around the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir are an exercising of India’s sovereign rights and the world has to come to terms with this fundamental shift, which by the way does not alter the de facto delineation of international boundary. The hardening is an attempt to shift the debate and put the focus back on Pakistan that cannot be allowed to play a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The ‘New India’ has lowered its bar of tolerance.

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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2019 14:45:39 IST