The generals in Islamabad have evidently realised that military strength is worthless in the absence of economic advancement, and they are putting this discovery into practice in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Although much is being made of Chinese investment in territory that was allowed by Jawaharlal Nehru to remain in Pakistani hands in 1948, the reality is that countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia are equally big investors in PoK, but this has yet to gain traction in either MEA complaints or press coverage. So what is the way out of the problem posed by PoK? Uniting the territory with the rest of India seems unlikely, for a conventional war with Pakistan is not on the agenda of any government in Delhi. The option of fighting insurgency with insurgency would be shot down by the country’s risk-averse bureaucracy, thereby leaving a third option, which is to ensure that the part of Jammu & Kashmir not under foreign occupation develop at a pace and depth which would leave PoK at the starting gate, even were some of the investments being promised materialise.
The problem with the bureaucracy in India — and it is officials rather than politicians who have effective control over most of the levers of policy — is that they have superb negotiating skills where their own interests are concerned, but fail in ensuring outcomes generous to this country in international negotiations. Very often, the final negotiating position of India (usually the status quo) is given early on in the process, with the result that this gets taken as an initial negotiating stance, and the other side then demands further concessions.
In the case of PoK, despite fighting words by political leaders and generals, it was clear from 1972 that the status quo was acceptable to South and North Blocks. The 1971 victory over Pakistan was an opportunity to force through a bargain with Pakistan, with perhaps territory needed for preventing easy infiltration or invasion into land controlled by India being demanded in exchange for repatriating the 93,000 PoWs captured by our generals. We do not know what the ingredients of the charm of Z.A. Bhutto were, that made Indira Gandhi not even formalise the minimalist condition of Pakistan recognising the Line of Control as the international border. Perhaps it was the cologne that Bhutto so liberally splashed on himself, or fancy outfits with weird collars, along with the 1948 shying away from the unification of Kashmir another opportunity was lost in 1972 when Indira Gandhi accepted the mere word of a practised dissembler in the matter of recognition of the LoC as the boundary between India and Pakistan.
In the case of the other neighbour, with which India still has a boundary dispute, China, once again the final negotiating position (of status quo across the Line of Actual Control) was clear early on in the boundary talks. This was taken by Beijing as a starting gambit, and the extra concessions demanded of India (such as the cession of Tawang) have ensured that the boundary talks remain frozen in the same technicalities and differences as when they began over a decade ago. What is needed is a menu of concessions demanded by India so that each Chinese demand gets countered by an Indian response. However, to expect such boldness from our officials would be to ask for the impossible. In 2003, India was offered the chance to station 18,000 troops in the most stable part of Iraq, Kurdistan. This would have (a) accelerated the military relationship with the US, a necessity if the Army, Navy and Air Force are to get equipped on a scale sufficient to give India the ability to defend itself against all comers (b) given leverage in the oil-rich Kurdish portions of Iraq and (c) a significant boost in its geopolitical signature. The request was refused, just as last year, informal suggestions that India commit some of its military resources to the war against ISIS were turned down. Egypt and Jordan, not to mention Australia, are along the countries participating in the war against ISIS. Their security scenario has not been degraded as a consequence, and neither will India’s be. The fact is that within the coming three years, it is very likely that India will need to place boots on the ground in order to ensure the elimination of ISIS.
What needs to be conveyed to China, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is that they need to invest not only in that part of Jammu & Kashmir still under foreign occupation but in that part of the state which still remains in the control of Delhi. Surely India is a much more attractive destination for investment than Pakistan, and certainly that part of Kashmir still under Delhi’s control offers several opportunities for investment. For this to happen, not only must be there be changes in the stance and messaging of the Government of India, but the Reserve Bank of India needs to give up its opposition to such innovations as Islamic banking, permission given to which will result in a huge inflow of money from outside the country. Certainly there will be money sources that are dubious or who subscribe to the Islamabad agenda. Such groups will send money to their favourites anyway. Were Islamic banking to be legalised, such transfers would become transparent and the few who are dodgy more easily identified. These days, hawala networks and even normal banking channels are funnelling a torrent of cash to Kashmir, mostly to give oxygen to the separatists, who know that the espousing of a Kashmir divorced from India is a lucrative business, with even official agencies making donations to individuals and groups following the Pakistan line on Kashmir. New policies are needed as that will ensure double digit growth, rather than self-congratulations for still growing at 7% despite crippling regulations and taxes. Niti Aayog needs to morph into a think-tank for the Prime Minister’s Office, not by filling it with retired and present officials but those who can offer an alternative view to the bureaucracy. Prime Minister Modi is different from the rest of the political pack. He needs to frame and implement policies which are bold and unique. Only innovative policies implemented in the thorough style of the PM can ensure that the potential offered by this country’s young get harnessed and transformed into high growth.