Defence minister Rajnath Singh, in an interview to PTI on Sunday, claimed that India would not need to capture Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by force as residents there would willingly want the territory to be merged with India on account of development works in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Union minister and veteran Bharatiya Janata Party said: “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. Such demands are now coming.”

The Union minister also said: “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was, is, and will remain ours [India’s].”

Singh added that there would soon come a time when the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is no longer required in the Union territory. However, he clarified that this matter was the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act empowers security personnel to conduct operations and arrest individuals without a prior warrant and also provides immunity to members of the armed forces for shooting people dead.

On Sunday, Singh also said that Assembly elections in Kashmir would be held soon, but did not specify when.

In August 2019, the BJP-led Union government had abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.

In December, the Supreme Court in its verdict on petitions challenging the Centre’s decision had directed the government to restore Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood “at the earliest and as soon as possible”. The court had also set September 2024 as the deadline for the Election Commission to conduct elections for the Legislative Assembly that is to be restored in Jammu and Kashmir.