No need to capture PoK by force; its people will themselves want to join India, Rajnath Singh feels

Mr. Singh also said that India has been developing infrastructure along the frontier with China at a rapid speed, asserting that the country’s borders will remain safe

Updated - May 05, 2024 02:03 pm IST

Published - May 05, 2024 10:52 am IST - New Delhi

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during an interview with PTI, in New Delhi.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during an interview with PTI, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

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, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has said.

In an exclusive interview to PTI, Mr. Singh asserted that the ground situation has improved significantly in Jammu and Kashmir and that a time will come when AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) will no longer be required in the Union Territory.

Also Read | Pakistan-occupied Kashmir will become part of India on its own: Union Minister V. K. Singh

The Defence Minister, however, said the matter is under the domain of the Union Home Ministry and it will take appropriate decisions. He said elections will also be held there definitely, but wouldn't give a timeline.

"I think India will not have to do anything. The way the ground situation has changed in Jammu and Kashmir, the way the region is witnessing economic progress and the way peace has returned there, I think demands will emerge from people of PoK that they should merge with India," he said.

"We will not have to use force to take PoK as people would say that we must be merged with India. Such demands are now coming," he said. The Defence Minister asserted that "PoK was, is, and will remain ours".

Citing improvement in the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Singh said assembly elections will be held there soon, but did not give a timeline.

"The way the situation is improving in Jammu and Kashmir, I think a time will come when AFSPA will no longer be required there. It is my view and it is for the Home Ministry to decide on it," he said.

The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant. It also gives immunity to the forces if they shoot someone dead.

The Defence Minister, referring to Pakistan's proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, said Islamabad must stop cross border terrorism. "They are trying to destabilise India and we will not allow it to happen," he said.

The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India's warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.

Also Read | India hits out at Pakistan for raking up Kashmir issue at UNHRC

The relations further deteriorated after India on August 5, 2019 announced the withdrawal of special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories.

India has been maintaining that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan while insisting that the onus is on Islamabad to create an environment free of terror and hostility for such an engagement.

‘Talks with China going on well’

As the military standoff between India and China drags on along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the talks between the two sides are going on well and indicated hope for a resolution of the lingering row.

Mr. Singh also said that India has been developing infrastructure along the frontier with China at a rapid speed, asserting that the country’s borders will remain safe.

“The talks are going on well,” he said declining to elaborate further considering the sensitive nature of the dialogue process.

Asked whether he was hopeful of a positive outcome and an end to the nearly four-year face-off between the two militaries, Singh shot back: “If there was no hope, then why to have talks.” “They [the Chinese side] also have hope and that is why holding the talks,” he said.

The Indian and Chinese militaries have been locked in a standoff since May 2020 and a full resolution of the border row has not yet been achieved though the two sides have disengaged from a number of friction points.

The Defence Minister also took a potshot at the Congress for continuously targeting the government on the eastern Ladakh standoff.

“They [Congress] are questioning the bravery of Indian soldiers ... who are you demoralising? What is your intention? I can also go back to 1962 as well,” he said.

The ties between the two countries nosedived significantly following the fierce clash in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 that marked the most serious military conflict between the two sides in decades.

India has been maintaining that its ties with China cannot be normal unless there is peace in the border areas.

The two sides held the last round of high-level military talks in February with an aim to resolve the row.

Though there was no indication of a breakthrough at the 21st round of talks, both sides agreed to maintain “peace and tranquillity” on the ground and continue the communication on the way ahead.

The next round of military talks is expected to be held soon.

In January, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said the situation along the LAC in eastern Ladakh is “stable” but “sensitive” and asserted that the Indian troops are maintaining a “very high state” of operational preparedness to effectively deal with any eventualities.

Gen Pande also said that both India and China continue to hold talks at military and diplomatic levels with an aim to return to the “status quo ante” that existed in the middle of 2020.

The eastern Ladakh border standoff erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area.

As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in several friction points, including on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake and in the Gogra area.

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