Indian Express, June 14, 2006
New Delhi has finally chosen to prick the rather thin bubble of justification that Pakistan has constructed for itself in the parts of Jammu and Kashmir that it controls. It was about time. In a carefully considered move that was first unveiled last November, the government criticised Pakistan’s unwillingness to ever hold elections in Gilgit and Baltistan, that are often referred to as the Northern Areas. Last week the government criticised Pakistan’s harassment of leaders from Gilgit and Baltistan who had recently visited India. This week, the government has slammed Islamabad’s disqualification of candidates, who refused to take an oath of support to Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, in the elections to the PoK assembly next month.
Ironically, the new Indian assertiveness on Gilgit and Baltistan and PoK flows from the current positive approach in New Delhi to discuss a permanent settlement to the dispute with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. Having decided to engage Pakistan in a substantive dialogue on Kashmir, India can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the developments in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Since the Shimla Agreement of 1972, India had gone by the assumption that the Kashmir dispute was by and large settled. As a consequence it had ignored the decision in Islamabad to separate Gilgit and Baltistan from the PoK and keep it in a constitutional limbo. It also refused to react to the developments within PoK and expected Pakistan to do the same on J&K. While New Delhi resented Pakistan’s intervention in J&K, it dithered about paying back in the same coin.
That there were so many inner contradictions in Pakistan’s position on Kashmir was never difficult to comprehend. The new Indian focus on PoK and Gilgit and Baltistan creates a more balanced negotiating framework with Pakistan. This should also help India raise the national awareness on the many ignored dimensions of Kashmir and educate the international community on the complexity of the dispute. Above all, it sends out a long-delayed message to the people of Gilgit, Baltistan and the PoK that India will not be a mute spectator to the injustices being perpetrated on them by Islamabad. In rightly pointing to the many ills of Pakistan’s rule in PoK, India should not, however, become complacent about its own constitutional and political obligations to the people of Kashmir and a commitment to find an early resolution to the dispute with Pakistan. India, in the end, must judge itself by higher political standards than those that prevail in Pakistan.
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