Neither Azad nor Kashmir

Sahil Mushtaq

POK covers an area of 5134 sq miles (13,927 Sq Km) with a population of 4.5 million. The region of POK is officially known in Pakistanistan as the Azad Govt of Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K).  The state is divided into three divisions viz Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Poonch and ten administrative Districts with Muzaffarabad as the capital of the state. The Muzaffarabad division comprises of Muzaffarabad and Neelam, Rawalakot division comprises of Bagh, Poonch and Sudhniti districts and Mirpur division comprises of Mirpur, Kotli and Bhimber.  These ten districts are further divided into 32 sub divisions. The people’s participation in the political and socio – economic development is ensured through elected institutions of AJ&K Legislative Assembly comprising 41 directly with 8 indirectly elected members and the AJ&K Council with 6 elected members.  Presently, Sardar Mohd Yaqoob Khan is the President and Chaudhary Abdul Majeed is the Prime Minister of AJ&K.  Urdu is the official language while Pahari, Mirpuri, Gujjari and Punjabi are also widely spoken.


Farce of Autonomy & Anger against Pakistanistan in POK

Theoretically, Azad Jammu & Kashmir is a self governing state under Pakistan’s control however according to the general public opinion and sentiment in POK reflects that “although ‘azad’ means ‘free’, the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but free.  The Pakistan authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict control on basic freedom and liberties”. It has been acknowledged by the global community as well Supreme Court of Pakistan has admonished Islamabad’s oppressive, undemocratic and colonial subjugation of the POK.  The residents of ‘Azad Kashmir’ are mostly Sunni Muslim and predominantly Punjabis, with barely 20 percent Kashmiris.  Expropriation of land and residence rights of natives in POK stands in sharp contrast to strictly adhered provisions in the Indian Constitution, disallowing non-Kashmiris to acquire property in J & K. Far from a ‘special status’ that Article 370 grants to J & K, people residing in POK lack any constitutional status whatsoever. Development wise, POK remains one of the poorest and most neglected part of Pakistan, with a minuscule per capita income of Rs 1,802 compared to J & K’s average of Rs 2,700. There is an acute shortage of electricity, water and basic amenities in the region.  The problems of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and poor health care are aggravated by religious fundamentalism, inter – faction feuds and terrorism which has created an atmosphere of doom and gloom in the resource rich POK which is being exploited by Pakistan.  There is growing unrest and resentment in residents due to imperial nature and indifferent attitude of Pakistan regime towards POK.  To cut the long story short, “Azad Kashmir” is neither peopled by Kashmiris nor is it Azad.  Anjum Nisar Mir, the leader of Awami National Party recently stated in a public rally that “people in Azad Kashmir are not free but slaves who live in appalling conditions in refugee camps without any constitutional or even fundamental human rights”.

An Unholy Nexus 

There is an ongoing struggle for power and resources sharing between Pakistan Army, ISI, fundamentalist organisations and corrupt politicians in the region.  The area is rich in mineral and marble resources and in addition, the electricity produced at Mangla Dam hydro electric power project also yields revenue for the state.  A multi – billion dollar aid was received in the aftermath of 2005 earthquake for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of earthquake hit zones of Azad Kashmir from international agencies but chunk of that amount was lost in bureaucratic channels and thousands of people continue to live in tents and make-shift shanties.  Health coverage in AJ&K is far from adequate and out of 4.5 million people, almost half of the population lives below poverty line.  There are approx 1.5 million Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan colloquially known as the ‘Mohajirs’ who do not have any constitutional rights and have been exploited by the regime and other power wielders for over many decades. Jamat-Ud-Dawa (JUD), the front name of LeT continues to be the major beneficiary of the monetary aid that is received for reconstruction of POK and also for the Mohajirs which is received from Saudi Arabia as the charity for Kashmir cause. These funds are siphoned off collectively by the ISI / Pakistan Army, militant outfits and state functionaries.  POK is marred with a dismal illiteracy rate and for a population of 4.5 million, there are limited avenues for adance technical education. This is primarily attributed to the regressive designs of Jamat-Ud-Dawa and other fanatic clerics who stonewall the reconstruction of schools thereby forcing the children and youth to enroll in Madrasas which are breeding grounds for the Jihad factory.  There are hundreds of schools which exist only on paper and funds for the same are siphoned off by a cartel of govt officials, JUD and the ISI.

Atrocities in POK

 Human rights abuses are rampant in POK ranging from target killings, forces disappearances, torture to political repression, electoral fraud and suppression of freedom of speech.  According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the ISI and Pakistan Army carry out extensive surveillance of press and pro-independence operations.  Pakistan Army continues to carry out arbitrary arrests in which people have been tortured and several have died.  Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) has cited that dozens seem to disappear regularly, especially who are suspected of spying for India.  According to the report “persons are arrested and disappeared if they refuse to join or attempt to leave the militant outfits engaged in Jihad inside Indian Kashmir or don’t provide information to the Intelligence agencies about the movements of people across the Line of Control.  A significant No of cases points to Pakistan Army & ISI’s involvement in these disappearances”.  Brutal killings, bombings and subjugation of people in POK is the order of the day. A stinging example of Pakistan Army’s atrocities to their own stock was witnessed when a Pakistani soldier, Mohammad Iqbal Awan, was arrested and disappeared for five years and repeatedly subjected to torture, due to which he lost his teeth, his spine was fractured, his legs were burnt, his head was seriously injured and the individual has been crippled, by the ISI on false charges of working for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in POK. He was cleared of all charges in a court martial at the Kharian cantonment, Punjab province.  While the governance in POK is ‘replica of Pakistan’, it is an evil concoction of Ayub Khan’s democracy, Zia’s Martial Law and Pakistan Army’s dictatorship. The ‘Blasphemy Laws’ have also been enforced in the region indicating the clout of the extremist Maulvis.  According to Human Rights Watch, the Pakistan Govt represses democratic freedom, muzzles the press, discriminates and tortures the people hailing from POK especially the Mohajirs. Pakistan Army & Police are solely responsible for execution of these heinous designs.  Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch states that “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 wrath of Pakistan’s abusive intelligence agencies and military, and they risk being beaten and jailed.” 

Status of Women

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reports that the status of women in POK is similar to that of women in rest of Pakistan.    Women are not provided with equal rights under the law, and their educational opportunities and choice of marriage partner remain “circumscribed” in POK. Domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse continue to occur at alarming rate. The United Nations and other aid agencies have temporarily suspended their work after suspected Islamists mounted an arson attack on the home of two aid workers; the organizations had received “warnings against hiring women”.  Honour killings and rape are also not uncommon in POK which are preferred weapons for revenge and to demonstrate power.

From Mohajir to Mujahid in Azad Kashmir 

Owing to lack of basic education and employment avenues, a large No of youth from Mohajir camps are being recruited by terrorist organizations. The desperate youth after being indoctrinated in Madrasas are easy prey for the plethora jihadi outfits operating from Muzaffarabad.  The United Jihad Council which is the umbrella organisation for terrorist outfits also has its HQs at Muzaffarabad and at least 40 major terrorist training camps are located in POK.  Youth hailing from poor families or criminals languishing in jails are also lured into joining the Jihad bandwagon either by coercive subversion, love of easy money or in the name of Islam. Many Kashmiri have been forced by ISI to turn from refugees to religious warriors.  The refugees hailing from the vicinity of Line of Control are prized assets as they are being used as ‘Guides’ to facilitate infilt due to their knowledge of terrain and routes of infilt. Cabeirri De-Bergh Robinson in her book ‘Body of Victim, Body of Warrior’ makes an interesting observation wherein she questions the role of Islamic fundamentalism in social & political transformation which has turned many victims into perpetrators in the Kashmir conflict.  The role of Pakistan Army & ISI has been pivotal in turning a Mohajir into Mujahid and she sums up her research as “For Kashmiri refugees, the challenge of being a Mujahid is not dying like a Shahid (Martyr) but living like one” 

While Pakistan Army foments unrest in POK and J & K, it is reaping the divine retribution & karmic debt of creating and fuelling insurgencies in its neighborhood as it is inextricably engaged in fighting a multi front war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic movement of Uzbekistan in South Wazirstan, the anti Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Darra Adam – Khel-Kohat in Khyber Pakistanhtoonwa (KP), Shia dominated Kurram Agency of FATA, Jaish-e-Mohammad in SWAT Valley of NWFP and the formidable Baloch rebels. Having deployed approx 1,50,000 soldiers in KP province and FATA, Pakistan Army has suffered 15,700 causalities including  over 5,000 dead since 2008 and total causalities including  civilians number almost 50,000 since 2001.  There is a visible dip in the morale of the Pakistan Army as they are reluctant to fight fellow Muslims.  Fratricide, AWL cases and insubordination incidents are rampant. The Islamisation of Army has further aggravated the man management problems and officer’s with affinity for Jihad are coming in positions of command.  Many soldiers have been captured unceremoniously and once proud professional Army seems to be irrevocably headed downhill.

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