Social media is on fire calculating permutations and combinations about how India will take back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK); gradually salami-slicing like the Chinese, Gilgit-Baltistan first, capture it in four phases, plus more speculation of the campaign.

The excitement began after Union Home Minister Amit Shah, addressing an election rally in Kaushambi in Uttar Pradesh on May 12, 2024, said that India will take back Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comes back to power in general elections, as it is an integral part of the country.

It may be recalled that on August 6, 2019, Shah had thundered in Parliament that he would give his life for the integrity of Jammu and Kashmir and a reminder that it included Aksai Chin. But 2020 witnessed China pushing in four motorised divisions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) through Aksai Chin into Eastern Ladakh.

Our pusillanimous response enabled China to draw a new Line of Actual Control (LAC) in this region. This has become a reality though our government is loath to admit losing control of thousands of sq km of territory.

With regard to integrating POK into India, Defence Minister Rajnath has been going around saying it will automatically fall into our lap, something like the apple falling into Isaac Newton’s lap that led him to define the Theory of Relativity.

So, ‘strategist’ Rajnath Singh said in a media interview recently, “India will never give up its claim on Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK) but it won't have to capture it with force because its people, on their own, would want to be part of India after seeing the development in Kashmir.”

This is so very cute, don’t mind the ease with which Pakistan is waging a proxy war in J&K through POK, and all we have done in the last 10 years is the ‘surgical strike’ and the ‘Balakot standoff Bombing’. That too after suffering heavily at the hands of Pakistani terrorists at Uri and Pulwama respectively. These reactive actions were political compulsions that can hardly be categorised as proactive.

It is well known that Pakistan is grappling with an acute economic crisis since 2022, heightened with rising fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine. The grave economic situation is further exacerbated by last year's devastating floods which led to a severe reduction in the GDP growth projection from 5 percent to 0.29 percent.

Now Pakistan has announced a decision to sell all government companies. The country is staring at a full-blown economic crisis amidst protest in POK and reeling under the strict conditions laid out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF has said, "Pakistan’s high political uncertainty and resurgence of social tensions could undermine economic stabilisation policies of cash strapped Pakistan.”

The public in POK has been protesting for a long time against high prices of wheat flour and electricity. The protests actually began in May 2023, in the town of Rawalakot, the headquarters of Poonch District.

They were started by a few sit-in protests against rising prices of wheat flour and electricity. These were soon followed by a boycott of electricity bills, which went unpaid in most areas of POK.

The region witnessed clashes on May 11, 2024, between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory. Media reports of May 12 said one police officer was killed and more than 100 people (mostly policemen) were injured in violent clashes between security forces and agitating protesters.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari called an emergency meeting and instructed stakeholders to bring proposals to resolve the issue. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif spoke to Chaudhry Anwarul Haq who heads the POK administration and directed his party’s office bearers in the region to talk to the leaders of the action committee, hoping that the matter be settled soon.

The protests in POK are being showcased by the spin doctors of our government as the populace of POK clamouring to join India. Protesters in Rawalakot are being falsely shown unfurling the Indian Tricolour.

The reality is that the agitation in POK is about “Independence” – neither remaining under Pakistan nor joining India. Slogans are being raised in POK “‘Pakistan aur Hindustan se lenge Azadi’ (will become independent from Pakistan and India)”.

Speaking at the funeral (in Muzaffarabad) of the protesters killed by Pakistani security forces in POK, Dr. Tauqeer Geelani, leader of the Joint Action Committee, said, “We will expel the impure forces of India and Pakistan from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Our movement is not about electricity and flour, but our war is for freedom and we will expel the army and corrupt bureaucrats from our land.”

Without doubt, POK is an integral part of India. But taking it back is hardly akin to the Liberation of Bangladesh. Do our politicians and bureaucrats understand the following?

  • It requires creating a favourable ground situation. Is our external intelligence in touch with leaders of groups that want to secede from Pakistan – remember the Mukti Bahini? What have we done to help them in this effort? What have we done to mould perceptions of the populace in favour of India, if at all?
  • In the unlikely possibility of China easing the standoff along the entire Line of Actual Control (LAC), what quantum of forces we plan to employ for capturing POK or do we still believe Rajnath that POK will fall in our lap automatically?
  • Taking back POK also implies administrating the region after capturing it – have our politicians any idea how this is planned and what it involves? What is the setup required for this and how can this be created in what time frame?
  • With a brigade worth of PLA in POK and the China-Pakistan nexus, do we plan to make China agree to our integrating POK with India? If yes, what are we offering in exchange beyond surrendering territory lost to China in eastern Ladakh in 2020, giving China $100 billion profit annually through bilateral trade and allowing China to become India’s largest trading partner surpassing the US.
  • With the dirtiest exchange of derogatory words in the pre-election period, the polarisation and expletives used against minorities, is India ready to integrate POK with India, whose Muslim population was 40.5 lakhs in 2017?

In the absence of taking into account the above issues, the ramblings by our politicians of taking POK are only Jumlas or what is termed Jhambhlian in Punjabi – idiotic rhetoric to fool the public.

Lt General Prakash Katoch is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.