'Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir is part of India,' says MEA: A look at region's origin, history and geopolitical importance
Amid rising rhetoric on Kashmir from both sides of the Line of Control, India on Tuesday said that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a part of the country and New Delhi expects to have 'physical jurisdiction' over the area 'one day'.
India's stand on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir comes after Islamabad's attempt to internationalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre's abrogation of Article 370 in the now-Union Territory
Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, referred to as 'Azad Kashmir' in Pakistan, was carved out of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir after the conclusion of the first India-Pakistan war over the region
Spanning an area of 13,297 square kilometres, the mountainous region is on the border of India's Jammu and Kashmir
Amid rising rhetoric on Kashmir from both sides of the Line of Control, India on Tuesday said that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a part of the country and New Delhi expects to have "physical jurisdiction" over the area "one day".
Addressing the media on the 100-day achievements of the Ministry of External Affairs in the NDA government's second term, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said: "Our position has, is and will always be very clear on PoK, that it is part of India and we expect one day we will have physical jurisdiction over it."
The Centre has maintained that henceforth talks with Pakistan would be only about PoK and not on Kashmir.
India's stand on PoK comes after Islamabad's attempt to internationalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre's abrogation of Article 370 in the now-Union Territory. The section, now revoked, provided the restive region — which has been a bone of contention between the two neighbours since 1947 — a certain degree of autonomy.
How was PoK formed?
PoK, referred to as 'Azad Kashmir' in Pakistan, was carved out of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir presided over by Maharaja Hari Sigh after the conclusion of the first war India and Pakistan fought over the region. The conflict broke out as India negotiated the Instrument of Accession with the king, who agreed to integrate the Muslim-majority region with India after the Partition.
The princely state under Singh consisted of five regions, namely, Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit Wazarat, and Gilgit Agency.
"On 1 January, a ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani forces left India in control of most of the Kashmir Valley, as well as Jammu and Ladakh, while Pakistan gained control of part of Kashmir including what Pakistan calls 'Azad' Kashmir and some Northern Areas," a report by India Together said.
"Pakistan claims it is merely supporting an indigenous rebellion in 'Azad' Kashmir and Northern Areas against repression, while India terms that territory as POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir)," the report adds
A formal ceasefire line, now known as the Line of Control (LoC), separating the Indian and Pakistan-controlled parts of the region came into existence.
Area and population of PoK
Spanning an area of 13,297 square kilometres, the mountainous region is on the border of India's Jammu and Kashmir. The major rivers in the area are the Jehlum, Neelum, and Poonch.
Based on the 2017 Census, the population of PoK is 44.5 lakhs. Reportedly, the literacy rate in the region is 74 percent. The population of PoK is "almost 100 percent" Muslim.
"The people of this region culturally differ from the Kashmiris living in the Kashmir Valley of India's Jammu and Kashmir, and are closer to the culture of Jammu. Mirpur, Kotli, and Bhimber are all old towns of the Jammu region," Human Rights Watch reported.
Largely, the population in the area is rural and people depend on forestry, livestock and agriculture for their livelihoods, reports said.
Governance in PoK
Reportedly, PoK is a "self-governing" region in Pakistan's control and under Islamabad's constitution. "The region has its own elected president, prime minister, Legislative Assembly, and high court," according to the official website of the PoK govt, as captured in the Wayback Machine.
However, Brad Adams a former Asia director of Human Rights Watch, while referring to PoK as 'Azad Kashmir', noted in 2006 ,"Although 'azad' means 'free,' the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but, the Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir government with tight controls on basic freedoms."
In November 2018, the British Parliament held that the area neighbouring PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan "belonged to India as an integral part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir after it legally acceded to the Union in 1947."
Soon after Independence, the British loaned two of their officers to the king to help with defence functions until a solution was found to whether the region would join India or Pakistan. "But as Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on 31 October in 1947, Major Brown revolted and captured King's governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh. Major Brown then informed his former British boss stationed at Peshawar about his decision to accede to Pakistan," India Today reported.
Reportedly, this was in order to avoid "antagonising" oil-rich countries in the Arab world.
Political significance of PoK
In current times, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has largely affected the dynamics in the region. "Pakistan has already gifted a portion (about 5,000-8,000 square kilometres) of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1963, a year after the India-China war" to China, who is Islamabad's all-weather ally.
"Because of its location, PoK is of immense strategic importance. It shares borders with several countries — the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province provinces (now called Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west, Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China to the north and India’s Jammu and Kashmir to the east," India Today reported.
With inputs from agencies
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