PoK: The Ground Realities
Vol 10 Issue 4 Sep - Oct 2016
While even the smallest of sparks in J&K carry the prospect of lighting great fires, serious HR violations in POK receive little attention
Monday, October 3, 2016
Since independence Kashmir has remained an unresolved issue for Pakistan and it has been continuously fomenting trouble therein especially in the valley, raising and fully supporting militant groups to create an insurgency in the valley and highlighting the issue of Kashmir in international fora at every given opportunity. Pakistan has accused Indian security forces of gross human rights violations and is ever ready to depict India as a villain at the international stage. On the other hand, India has not been very consistent and vociferous in bringing to the world’s notice the grim ground realities obtaining in PoK (which consists of two regions -Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK);commonly referred to as Azad Kashmir- and Gilgit–Baltistan, formerly called the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA).
As Pakistan considers entire Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory the relationship of PoK with Pakistan has not been formalized as in the case of other provinces. Article 257 of the Pakistan Constitution reads “Provision relating to the State of Jammu and Kashmir: When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State”. This indicates that the people of the areas of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan Control are not considered the same as those in other parts of Pakistan and do not have the basic liberties and fundamental rights given by the constitution to other Pakistan citizens. Simply put, the people of PoK simply do not have constitutional status.
Though Azad Kashmir is supposed to be an autonomous region, in reality, this is not the case as real power is vested in the Kashmir Council based in Islamabad, of which the PM of Pakistan is the head. The Azad Kashmir Government based in Muzaffarabad is indeed a puppet in the hands of the Pakistan Government. Same too is the case with Gilgit – Baltistan; they too are controlled by a council based in Islamabad. Its Chairman too is the PM Minister of Pakistan.
Brad Adams the Asia director at Human Rights Watch has said “Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but that. The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.” A similar scenario also obtains in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Both these regions of PoK are in a state of neglect and the local inhabitants are treated as second class citizens.
There are myriad incidents of human rights violations in these areas. However, only some of these get reported and come out in the open. This is because the Pakistani Government has prevented free and independent media from establishing itself therein by imposing unwarranted restrictions as also by using threats and at times effecting the threats. Freedom of expression is ruthlessly curbed. Social media, to the extent it is allowed to be used, may help the world in getting a clearer picture of the conditions prevailing in PoK.
Majority of the population lives in abject poverty. Pakistan is not prepared to share revenues due to the region on account of commercial activity taking place in these parts. Natural resources are being exploited in PoK and the wealth that is being generated on this account is not being ploughed back for the wellbeing of the local populace or the development of the area. There is hardly any socio economic development in the area and basic infrastructure for education and health care etc is missing. The region does not even get its fair share of electricity in spite of the Mangla Dam hydel project, located in Azad Kashmir, generating more than 1000 MW of power. The population of Gilgit- Baltistan is being similarly deprived.
Reports of persons going missing or disappearing are endemic in Azad Kashmir. This happens consequent to their detention/ arrests by the security agencies, which keep an eagle eye on all that is happening. People are kept under surveillance by the ISI/other security agencies and are picked up on the slightest suspicion of indulging in any activity that is not in keeping with what is desired by Pakistan. Many arrests and detentions are also arbitrary. These are made to instil a sense of fear as also use repressive measures against the population.
There is a Pakistan encouraged sectarian divide in the Gilgit- Baltistan area. The local population is majority Shias and minority Sunnis. Pakistan being a predominantly Sunni country is encouraging Sunni migration to these areas with a view to change the demographic canvas. There are radical Sunni elements in the area who are involved in repression at the behest of the Pakistan Government. Pertinently, It is easier for a Sunni to get a job in the region than it is for the local Shias.
Torture is a routinely practiced activity by the security forces in many instances. There have been cases of several custodial deaths but the perpetrators have never been taken to task for these misdoings.
At an event in the UN Congress in Jul this year, the Vice President of the European Parliament, Ryszard Czarnecki, said that the “Pakistani Army was engaged in forceful evacuation of people from their traditional homesteads and farmlands in several areas of Gilgit- Baltistan to make land available for CPEC.”
There are several political leaders from PoK living in exile and they periodically raise the issue of human rights violations at various forums.
• At the 29th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the exiled Kashmiri leaders sought the Council’s attention towards deteriorating human rights situation in the region.
• Jammu and Kashmir National Independence Alliance (JKNIA) an umbrella organisation of UK based Kashmiri diaspora and civil society protested outside the Pakistan High Commission in London in mid-August this year demanding fundamental rights for the people and said that Pakistan has thrown an Iron Curtain around PoK.
The ISI is known to coerce people of PoK to join militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM); any one showing reluctance is arrested and tortured by the ISI. India in a recent statement (in response to Pakistan trying to raise the bogey of human rights violations by India) has commented “Terrorism is the grossest violation of human rights”, and that there was no comparison between PoK and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Farce of Democracy
The so called democracy as it exists in these parts is a farce. Self-governance as spoken about is more of a deception than a fact. Candidates for elections are pre-screened and allowed to contest only if they support union with Pakistan as also pledge their loyalty. As per Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch: “The electoral law undermines Kashmiris’ basic political rights by barring them from seeking office if they oppose Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, those who favour independence invite the ire of Pakistan’s abusive intelligence agencies and military and they risk being beaten and jailed.”
Elections are invariably rigged; so were the elections held on 21 Jul this year to select 41 candidates to the PoK Assembly. Not surprisingly Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 32 out of the 41 seats. Violence erupted in many districts of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, as local people came out in the streets and started widespread protests against the results. According to the protesters they were barred from casting their votes. The protestors pointed fingers at the ISI for rigging the elections. Violence erupted in several towns like Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Chinari and Kotli.
When images of the violent incidents came to the fore, Pakistan said that these were doctored.
Well, what else could they have said!