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Current Affairs ( 20 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Lifting the veil over Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Northern Areas


PART 1: Lifting the veil

By Sultan Shahin, Editor, NewAgeIslam.com

 

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan-administered Kashmir - This region is a confluence of three of the highest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush. Yet for 57 years, since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, this land of beautiful rivers and high mountain peaks has remained an area of darkness as Pakistan has kept it under an iron curtain.

 

It was with a sense of history, therefore, that a few Indian journalists, including this Asia Times Online correspondent, began their mission, once allowed entry into the region in the last week of November. It was a carefully planned trip under the aegis of the South Asian Free Media Association, which had earlier organized a similar trip to Indian-administered Kashmir for Pakistani journalists. Every minute of our time was accounted for, with the local police force escorting and watching our every move. Yet it must be said, to the credit of President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, that true to his word, he did allow us to interact with every segment of public opinion, including those dissidents who are fiercely opposed to the Pakistani administration, and some who are, surprisingly, pro-India.

 

This has led to some speculation that the president may indeed be sincere in seeking to resolve the long-festering Kashmir tangle, even at the cost of losing complete control of the areas under Pakistan's control. Most observers and residents of Pakistan-administered Kashmir find it unimaginable that Pakistan would ever let go of this area, but that indeed is the implication of Musharraf's latest formula: demilitarize and change the status of all the regions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. [1] He defines change of status as joint India-Pakistan control, United Nations control or independence. This leaves no room for exclusive Pakistani control of any parts of Kashmir. Could it be that he is seeking through the present media exposure to prepare Pakistani people for a change of status of Kashmir areas under their control?

 

“Look for interim, not permanent solutions”, Sardar Abdul Qayyoom Khan

 

The most creative idea in the whole trip came from former prime minister and former president of the part of Kashmir that Pakistan has designated as Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir, or AJK, Sardar Abdul Qayyoom Khan. Khan's party, Muslim Conference, headed by his son Sardar Atiq Khan, now runs the local administration. Known for his problem-solving approach, the veteran politician said, "Look for interim, not permanent solutions. This way you can make even unpalatable ideas acceptable to the different parties to the Kashmir dispute. And who knows, in time interim solutions may lead to a permanent solution."

 

Azad Jammu and Kashmir, with an estimated population of 2.5 million, comprises six districts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch, Bagh and Bhimber.

 

Azad Kashmir creates the impression of being fairly prosperous. Mirpur in particular appears to be quite a wealthy town. But the residents make an effort to point out that this prosperity is no thanks to Pakistani largess. Anyone who points to the grand houses admiringly is told the story behind its prosperity. What happened is that in the early 1950s, Pakistan decided to construct a dam on the river Jhelum to meet its electricity needs. Hundreds were displaced from the villages on the site of the dam. But they found work on the Mangla Dam. However, once the dam was constructed, they had nowhere to go. So many of them decided, encouraged by the British construction company for which they were working, to use the little money they had received as compensation for their land to buy tickets to go to England. Working as factory workers in the Midlands to begin with, they have now become quite prosperous. It is they, I was told, who have built these grand houses in Mirpur, more out of nostalgia than need.

 

A base camp for jihad

 

Azad Kashmir has been used in the past decade-and-a-half as a base camp for jihad in the areas of Kashmir controlled by India. But this correspondent found it hard to discover any jihadi atmosphere in the area. All the stones jutting out of mountains overlooking the roads that criss-cross this mountainous region have been whitewashed free of all jihadi slogans. The only slogans left are those proclaiming support for candidates contesting local elections. The whitewashing has been done in the past year, after Musharraf's announcement that he would not allow Pakistani soil to be used for "terrorist" activities in other countries.

 

Another dividend of the peace process currently under way between India and Pakistan is the closure of all donation camps for Kashmiri jihad. Wherever one went in Pakistan, until a couple of years ago, particularly in the Punjabi towns of Lahore and Rawalpindi, and, of course, in AJK towns such as Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, virtually every street would have a group of people demanding "contributions" in cash and kind for fighting what they called jihad in Kashmir. This correspondent particularly looked for but could not discover a single such camp anywhere in these towns now.

 

Also conspicuous by its absence was any hostility toward India. The only clash that Indian media could see was between pro-Pakistan and pro-independence students in the campus of Azad Kashmir University. The literacy level, particularly among females, is very high in Pakistani Kashmir. Among those who put questions to Indian journalists, the most articulate and the most informed were female students, many of them studying engineering and other technical courses.

 

No hostility, but a great deal of curiosity

 

As for India, most Kashmiris show no hostility, even though this area has been used for years as a training camp for militants infiltrating into Indian-administered Kashmir. Even in one of the refugee camps we visited, Manak Payeen, which houses Indian Kashmiris displaced by years of militancy, there was no apparent hostility. Several people told us stories of atrocities perpetrated by the Indian army, stories of rape and custodial death and other human-rights violations. But as soon as this correspondent got hold of a Kashmiri away from the prying eyes of the Pakistani officials who were managing the interaction, all that this old man would talk about was his desire to go back to Indian Kashmir. He was looking forward, he said, with great anticipation to the bus service likely to start between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, the capital of the Indian part of Kashmir.

 

This camp is situated on Chakothi road leading to Srinagar. Once the road opens, he told me, many people would go back to Indian Kashmir, and if the first batch is not maltreated by Indian authorities, as they fear, the trickle would turn into a flood, probably taking away one of the main propaganda planks of the Pakistani authorities. These refugees are regularly paraded before the international media and foreign government officials. This could be one reason Pakistan seems so reluctant to agree to the reopening of this traditional road that provided the only link to the world for the Kashmiris before 1947.

 

 Everyone wants to visit India

 

No hostility, but a great deal of curiosity about India is evident among Azad Kashmiris. From the common man to the elite, everyone wants to visit India. Former prime minister and president Abdul Qayyoom, former chief justice of the Azad Kashmir High Court Abdul Majeed Malik, and even the legendary leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Amanullah Khan, who has a murder case against him pending in India, all expressed a great desire to visit India.

 

A Kashmiri waiter in the Sangam Hotel where we stayed, situated on the confluence (sangam) of the Jhelum and Neelum rivers, was curious to know the price of every vegetable sold in India. He hardly ever travelled to other parts of Pakistan, but for him the most important thing in life was to visit Ajmer, an Indian town famous for the shrine of a saint highly revered in the subcontinent, and Agra, the seat of the Taj Mahal.

 

For him and many other Kashmiris, the most important thing is not which government controls them, Indian or Pakistani - they are sick of all sub-continental politicians anyway. What they miss most in the present arrangement is access to places such as Ajmer and Agra and Delhi, which used to be part and parcel of their lives before partition in 1947, which also led to the effective partition of Kashmir. It does seem cruel indeed to divide these mountains and its people through a Line of Control [2] that passes through their very homes, sometimes leaving the bedroom in one country and the living room in another.

 

Notes [1] The territory of Kashmir was bitterly contested even before India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain in August 1947. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act of 1947, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. The Maharaja, Hari Singh, wanted to stay independent, but eventually decided to accede to India, signing over key powers to the Indian government - in return for military aid and a promised referendum.

 

Since then, the territory has been the flashpoint for two of the three India-Pakistan wars: the first in 1947-48, the second in 1965. In 1999, India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces who had infiltrated Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil area.

 

In addition to the rival claims of Delhi and Islamabad to the territory, there has been a growing and often violent separatist movement against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989.

 

Islamabad says that Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan in 1947, because Muslims are in the majority in the region. Pakistan also argues that Kashmiris should be allowed to vote in a referendum on their future, after numerous United Nations resolutions on the issue.

 

Delhi, however, does not want international debate on the issue, arguing that the Simla Agreement of 1972 provided for a resolution through bilateral talks. India points to the Instrument of Accession signed in October 1947 by the maharaja, Hari Singh.

 

Both India and Pakistan reject the option of Kashmir becoming an independent state.

 

[2] The LoC is a demarcation line established in January 1949 as a ceasefire line after the end of the first Kashmir war. In July 1972, after a second conflict, the LoC was re-established under the terms of the Simla Agreement, with minor variations on the earlier boundary. The LoC passes through a mountainous region about 5,000 meters high. North of the LoC, the rival forces have been entrenched on the Siachen Glacier (more than 6,000m high) since 1984 - the highest battlefield in the world. The LoC divides Kashmir on an almost two-to-one basis: Indian-administered Kashmir to the east and south (population about 9 million), which falls into the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir; and Pakistani-administered Kashmir to the north and west (population about 3 million), which is labelled by Pakistan as "Azad" (Free) Kashmir. China also controls a small portion of Kashmir.

Dec 16, 2004

 

TOMORROW: The Pakistani model of freedom

 

Sultan Shahin is a New Delhi-based writer.

 

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

View Source article:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/FL16Df03.html

 

 

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PART 2: The Pakistani model of freedom

 

By Sultan Shahin, editor, NewAgeIslam.com

 

PART 1: Lifting the veil

 

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan-administered Kashmir - "If the freedom Kashmiris enjoy in Azad [Free] Kashmir is the model Pakistan has in mind for all Kashmiris, we would be better off under Indian occupation, though of course our demand is for independence from both," said a functionary of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (Yasin Malik) group who greeted Indian journalists as soon as they entered Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). From here on, the journey was basically a discovery of how free the Pakistani model of Azad Kashmir really is.

 

The constitution of Pakistan maintains that the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan will be determined by the wishes of the people of the state. AJK thus is neither a province of Pakistan nor an independent entity. The AJK government headed by a prime minister has limited executive powers. The government of Pakistan maintains complete hold through the AJK Council. The prime minister of Pakistan chairs the 13-member council. The president of AJK is the vice chairman and the prime minister of AJK is a mere member of the council. Islamabad nominates six members to the council, who are either Pakistani federal ministers or members of the Pakistan National Assembly. The chairman, along with these six federal nominees, gives the government of Pakistan a majority in the council.

 

Ruled by Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad

 

It is this council dominated by the prime minister of Pakistan that controls all development funds, while the AJK government's powers are limited to utilization of local revenue generated within the territory itself. The council's decisions are final and not subject to judicial review, either by the judiciary of Pakistan or by that of AJK. Power, however, still rests with the officials of Pakistan, and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad, with regard to all legislation and appointments, questions of general policy, budget, internal security and matters relating to civil supplies. The bureaucracy in AJK is on deputation from the federal government.

 

Although there is much political talk of the Kashmiris' right to self-determination, the slogan Kashmir banega Pakistan (Kashmir will become Pakistan) is written everywhere. Indeed, Part 2 of Section 7 of the constitution states, "No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the state's accession to Pakistan."

 

Lack of political rights

 

One of the biggest complaints in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, voiced by nationalist elements both in AJK and the Northern Areas (NA) [1], is the lack of political rights given to the people. Some console themselves with the thought that Pakistani people themselves have seldom had any political rights, as most of the time since independence in 1947 Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators. Pakistani Kashmiris were completely denied the franchise until 1960, as no elections were held until then. Indirect elections were then held between 1960 and 1975 through the system of so-called "basic democracies" propounded by then ruler General Ayub Khan.

 

There is a consensus among Kashmiri nationalist politicians and intellectuals that despite the nomenclature of Azad Kashmir, in effect it is governed through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad and through a chief adviser of the rank of joint secretary. The ministerial post has often been given to non-Kashmiri politicians from different areas of Pakistan with no knowledge or experience of administration in Kashmir. Pakistani officials have always dominated the Kashmir Council and occupied key decision-making positions. The chief secretary, the inspector general of police and the accountant general and finance secretary all come from Pakistan. Many in AJK believe the general officer commanding the Pakistani army at Murree has a big say in their affairs.

 

Limited political activity

 

JKLF leader Amanullah Khan points out that though there are seven or eight pro-independence parties in AJK, the state's constitution and election laws bar those who subscribe to the idea of an independent state. In the 1996 and 2001 elections in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PAK), parties and candidates who wished to participate on the platform of independence and refused to sign a declaration calling PAK's accession to Pakistan an article of faith were denied the right to field candidates.

 

The residents of PAK are given limited rights in Pakistan - they may neither vote in Pakistan's general elections nor hold any public office there, and they cannot take their grievances to the Pakistani Supreme Court. They do not have any rights on the Pakistani national budget.

 

Protest over Identity cards omitting a reference to their status as Kashmiri

 

One major complaint in both AJK and the NA is against the September issue of identity cards. These cards omitted a reference to their status as citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The J&K National Students Federation and the All Parties National Alliance held a meeting at the Muzaffarabad Press Club on September 8 to protest against the issue of the cards. The outfits planned mass burning of the cards and mobilizing of people.

 

Though there has been no action so far on the question of the cards, AJK Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat announced in reply to a question from Indian journalists that his ruling All-Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference party would amend the territory's constitution to abolish the clause requiring would-be legislators to pledge their belief in accession to Pakistan before contesting elections.

 

"We will abolish this restriction in the future," he said about the clause in Act 1974, or the interim constitution, that barred such candidates from election to the 48-seat legislative assembly who refused to make a pledge in their nomination papers about their belief in the accession of the Jammu and Kashmir state to Pakistan.

 

No coherent answer to persistent questions about the degree of autonomy

 

None of the top politicians the Indian journalists met could give us a coherent answer to the persistent question about the degree of autonomy that the so-called prime ministers, presidents and local administration officials enjoyed. We met PAK Premier Khan, President Major-General (retired) Anwar Khan and Speaker of the PAK assembly Sardar Sayyab Khalid. Each of them concentrated on the brutality with which the Indian army treats Kashmiris in the parts Delhi administers, but none could give a satisfactory answer to the question of why Pakistan was not able to create a model for a genuinely free Kashmir, even after 57 years of administration.

 

Their stock answer was that with Kashmir being a disputed territory, its affairs were in a state of flux; meaning that India was responsible for the lack of autonomy and development, even in the Pakistan-administered state.

 

A host of nationalist organizations

 

Pakistani Kashmiris are clearly not prepared to buy these arguments. A host of nationalist organizations have started working in both AJK and the NA of PAK. Some of these are the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the J&K Nationalist Liberation Front, the All Parties National Alliance, the Gilgit-Baltistan National Alliance, the Balawaristan National Front, the Karakoram National Movement and the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum. Some of the major leaders of these groups, Shaukat Kashmiri of the United Kashmir Peoples National Front, for instance, live in exile after having faced harassment, torture and detention at the hands of the military establishment that actually rules these areas, particularly the NA. But Kashmiri's followers in both AJK and the NA appeared quite active and courageous enough to meet Indian journalists in both parts of PAK.

 

Note [1] Pakistan has divided the parts of Kashmir under its control into two administrative units: Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) of 5,703 square kilometres and the Northern Areas (NA) of 72,496 square kilometres. (The total area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is 222,236 square kilometres. Pakistan controls approximately 78,000 square kilometres of the state.)

 

AJK, with an estimated population of 2.5 million, comprises six districts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch, Bagh and Bhimber. The NA consist of the northwestern part of the erstwhile J&K state wedged between Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and Xinjiang in China. It has a population of 2.8 million and has been divided administratively into the five districts of Gilgit, Shardu, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche.

 

A kaleidoscope of ethnic groups

 

The NA are described as a kaleidoscope of ethnic groups (Baltis, Shins, Yashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladakhis and Turks), of languages (Balti, Shina, Burushashki, Khowar, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pusto and Urdu) and sects (Shi'ites, Sunnis, Ismailis and Nurbakshis). Shi'ites constitute about 55% of the population, Sunnis 25%, Ismailis 15% and Nurbakhshis 5%.

 

AJK has always claimed the NA a part of the territory controlled by it in 1947. The NA have, however, been annexed by Pakistan and are under its administration, described by dissidents as "colonial and repressive". Regardless of their distinct cultural and historical identities, the dissidents point out, sub-units such as Nagar and Yasin have been unilaterally integrated within new district boundaries.

 

Many people in Pakistan and AJK have urged that the NA be treated as part of AJK. When the interim constitution of Azad Kashmir was proclaimed in 1947, the Muzaffarabad government took the line that the Karachi Agreement, which had temporarily placed the NA under the control of Pakistan, had lapsed and that this region should de jure and de facto revert to Azad Kashmir, to which it legitimately belonged. The federal government of Pakistan resisted that effort and has maintained that the NA are an integral part of Pakistan.

 

Pakistan maintains an ambivalent stand over the status of the NA in the context of its demand for the resolution of the "Kashmir issue" through a plebiscite as per United Nations resolutions of 1948. It has never clearly defined the constitutional status of the NA. Pakistan clearly desires to integrate the NA into Pakistan, distinguishing it from AJK. It seeks to differentiate between the NA and Kashmir in the expectation that, in case such a plebiscite is ever held, the NA would vote for Pakistan.

 

Pakistan ambiguity about the Northern Areas

 

Nothing could make Pakistani intentions regarding Kashmir clearer than the ambiguity about the NA. Pakistan would clearly like to keep this mountainous portion of the state in its own control, even in the event of Kashmiris exercising their third option of independence, the other two options being accession to India or Pakistan.

 

Frustrated over the years with the stonewalling tactics of the government of Pakistan over granting autonomy to the NA, three public representatives of the NA, Malik Maskeen, Hajij Ameer Jan and Sheikh Abdul Aziz filed a write petition under Section 44 of the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) Interim Constitution Act of 1974 with the POK high court on October 16, 1990. In its verdict on March 8, 1993, the full bench of the Azad Kashmir High Court declared the NA to be a part of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

 

The chief justice of the High Court who delivered this judgment, now-retired justice Majeed Malik, heads a political party in AJK, demanding independence from both India and Pakistan. He gave visiting Indian journalists a copy of his historic judgment published in the form of a book. This book has become a kind of Bible for independence-loving Kashmiris in Pakistan. People quote chapter and verse from the book to prove that the NA belongs to Kashmir and not to Pakistan. This is a point to which even pro-establishment politicians have to show allegiance. It is difficult to find anyone in AJK or the NA who doesn't agree with the High Court judgment.

 

Northern Areas ruled directly from Islamabad

 

Regardless of the wishes of the Kashmiri people, however, the people of the NA are ruled directly from Islamabad through what is called the Northern Areas Council, which is headed by Pakistan's minister for Kashmir affairs. A chief executive, normally a retired Pakistani army officer, appointed by Islamabad, is the local administrative head. The council is headed by the minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas and meets only when the minister convenes it.

 

Complicating the Kashmir tangle further, Pakistan unilaterally ceded a part of the state to China. They concluded a "Boundary Agreement" in March 1963 under which Pakistan handed over more than 5,180 square kilometres of territory under its occupation to China, ignoring India's objections. Pakistan gave away the entire area belonging to Hunza, south of the Mintaka Pass, to China. India challenged the locus standi of both parties to negotiate and conclude an agreement in respect of the territory of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, over which India had sovereign rights. India protested to both China and Pakistan, indicating that it would not recognize the illegal transfer of territory forming part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Dec 17, 2004

 

TOMORROW: Gilgit valley searches for identity

 

Sultan Shahin is a New Delhi-based writer.

 

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

View Source article:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/FL17Df04.html

 

 

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PART 3: Gilgit Valley searches for identity

 

By Sultan Shahin, editor, NewAgeIslam.com

 

PART 1: Lifting the veil

PART 2: The Pakistani model of freedom

 

GILGIT, Pakistan-administered Kashmir - Surrounded by three famous mountain ranges, the Himalayas, the Karokorams and the Hindukush, Gilgit Valley is perhaps the most fascinating and spectacular part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. But the visiting India media personnel had hardly been able to take a deep breath at Gilgit airport, trying to soak up the breathtaking beauty of the valley, when we were confronted by a demonstration by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF - Amanullah group) that seeks the third option of independence from both India and Pakistan. (The other options being either accession to Pakistan or India.)

 

The JKLF demonstrators were cordoned off and not allowed by the airport security to meet the visiting media. This was no major loss as we had already met their chief, Amanullah Khan, in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad. But as soon as we reached our government-run motel, the proponents of a fourth option were awaiting us. They are seeking the independence of the Gilgit-Baltistan region designated by Pakistan as the Northern Areas [1] from India, Pakistan and even the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

 

In their view, this paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers has a separate identity and needs to be an independent country. They include the neighbouring Ladakh and Kargil across the Line of Control [2] in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir also as part of their country, which they variously name as Balawaristan and Bolor.

 

Though an interaction with local nationalist leaders was not a part of the official itinerary, we were allowed to meet the proponents of the third option, like the JKLF cadres, and also proponents of the fourth option, members of organizations like the Balawaristan National Front (BNF), the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum, the Gilgit Baltistan United Action Forum, the Muttaheda Quami Party and the Karakorum National Movement.

 

Outsiders (mainly Sunni Pashtuns) settled in the Shia region

 

JKLF president (Gilgit-Baltistan) Zia ul-Haq, said the Northern Areas (NA) had been denied the right to self-rule. He complained that the state's rules that give a distinct identity to this region have been grossly violated in the NA, and outsiders (mainly Sunni Pashtuns) have been settled in the region. Like several other nationalist leaders, he expressed the fear that the demographic character of the region was being deliberately changed with the settlement of outsiders.

 

BNF leaders Ali Mohammed Taj and Mohammed Rafique, too, complained about the scrapping of state subject rules and complained that outsiders were settling in the area. They said that Pakistan and its '"agencies" were suppressing the nationalists and crushing all expressions of nationalist ideology. They revealed that nearly 150 of their workers were fighting cases of treason and sedition. A senior JKLF leader revealed that nearly 300 Kashmiri youths are currently in jails in Azad (Free) Kashmir.

 

The NA consist of the north-western part of the erstwhile J&K state wedged between Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and Xinjiang in China. It has a population of 2.8 million and has been divided administratively into five districts, Gilgit, Shardu, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche.

 

Other more senior leaders of this group had met us in Muzaffarabad, though interaction with them was not a part of the official itinerary. Indeed, our South Asian Free Media Association organizers were not happy with some of us spending too much time talking to these people. Clearly, while Pakistan is willing to deal with the third options, the fourth option is too much for it to stomach. This despite the fact that President General Pervez Musharraf's recently articulated formula gives some hope for these regions also to get their political status changed.

 

Balawaristan National Movement

 

There has been widespread discontent among the people of the NA for quite some time. The most prominent group agitating for self-rule or freedom is the Balawaristan National Movement. Since 1999, there have been demands by dissidents for an independent republic of Balawaristan, including the NA regions of Gilgit, Baltistan, Chitral, Shhenaki Kohistan, and Indian Kashmir areas such as Ladakh and Kargil. The movement has been led by the BNF and the All Party National Alliance (APNA), an umbrella organization of political groups from Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PAK).

 

Balawaristan leaders argue that if the people of the region cannot vote for the Pakistani parliament, then how can and why should Pakistan apply its laws in the NA? Asked why so little public support has been demonstrated for their position, they said that there was a climate of fear created by what they called "agencies", referring to the myriad intelligence organizations monitoring their activities. They even pointed to some people right there who they said were from the "agencies". This, they said, stifled the voices of the people. The climate of fear became apparent when even an elected member of the district council, Mohammad Javed Mirza, of the Karakoram National Front, felt unable to give his home telephone number. He told this correspondent that telephones of all politicians and activists were tapped. He said: "We are being ruled by force. We were even stopped from meting you. But we have come at great risk."

 

"Even Amanullah Khan was beaten up here last year for seeking to organize a demonstration," said another disgruntled JKLF leader.

 

“Northern Areas Legislative Council has hardly any powers”

 

The NA are ruled directly from Islamabad through what is called the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC), which is headed by Pakistan's minister for Kashmir affairs. A chief executive, normally a retired Pakistani army officer appointed by Islamabad, is the local administrative head. The NALC is headed by the minister of Kashmir and the Northern Areas and meets only when it is convened by the minister.

 

There is great dissatisfaction with the current system. As Zia ul-Haq of the JKLF pointed out, it has hardly any powers to set either legislation or development priorities. The NALC members who met with Indian journalists found it difficult to justify their constitutional status. In fact, there was so much confusion, even the speaker of the NALC, Malik Mohammed Miskeen, had to retract his statements several times as they were immediately contradicted by other members and proved to be wrong. All they were able to agree on was that the situation was far from perfect, though they said it was improving.

 

Another point of confusion among the NALC members was on the question of the NA being a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While the speaker said it was not a part of J&K, the former deputy chief executive, Fida Mohammed, and several other members said it was part of the "disputed" state. Indeed, the speaker later appeared to be on the verge of retracting from this statement as well. There appeared a clear disconnect between the publicly stated view of an elected member and his privately expressed view. Several elected members of the NALC profess their pro-independence or pro-fourth option (independent Balawaristan) view in private.

 

Pakistan maintains an ambivalent stand over the status of the NA in the context of its demand for the resolution of the Kashmir issue through a plebiscite, as per United Nations resolutions of 1948. It has never clearly defined the constitutional status of the NA. Pakistan clearly desires to integrate the NA into Pakistan, distinguishing it from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). It seeks to differentiate between NA and Kashmir in the expectation that, in case such a plebiscite is ever held, the NA would vote for Pakistan. Significantly, while the NA comprises 72,495 square kilometres, the AJK consists of only 5,703 square kilometres.

 

The full bench of the Azad Kashmir High Court declared the NA to be a part of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir

 

There is one piece of recent history that almost everyone in NA, particularly the pro-independence group, never tires of recounting. Frustrated over the years with the stonewalling tactics of the government of Pakistan over granting autonomy to NA, three public representatives of the NA, Malik Maskeen, Hajij Ameer Jan and Sheikh Abdul Aziz, filed a writ petition under section 44 of the POK (Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir) interim constitution act of 1974 with the POK high court on October 16, 1990. In its verdict on March 8, 1993, the full bench of the Azad Kashmir High Court declared the NA to be a part of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

 

The chief justice of the court, who delivered this judgment, now retired Justice Majeed Malik, heads a political party in AJK, demanding independence from both India and Pakistan. He gave visiting Indian journalists a copy of his historic judgment published in the form of a book. This book has become a kind of Bible for independence-loving Kashmiris in Pakistan. People quote chapter and verse from it to prove that NA belongs to Kashmir and not to Pakistan. This is a point to which even pro-establishment politicians have to show allegiance. It is difficult to find anyone in AJK or NA who doesn't agree with the court judgment.

 

Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum

 

Even the pro-Balwaristan people agree with the judgment to the point that they say NA is not a part of Pakistan. They, however, have their own version of history that proves that NA is not even a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Mirza Nadir Hasan of another fourth-option party called Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum, which is also part of the all Parties National Alliance, distributed a research paper seeking to prove that NA becoming a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state was essentially a part of British conspiracy. The paper says: "It [Pakistan] also accepted the independent republic of Gilgit-Baltistan created on November 1, 1947, in all its official national and international correspondence but blundered because of its evil intentions and is facing the music now."

 

In their interaction with local journalists in Gilgit, Indian media asked about the level of freedom of the press in the NA. The local press appeared to be free to report on anything, provided it was first cleared by the authorities, particularly the home secretary, who also functions as information secretary. The independence of the media thus depends entirely on the tolerance of the local administration. There are no laws to protect journalists, and some of the journalists, such as the editor of K2, Raja Hussain Khan Maqpoon, had been jailed for expressing a view that went against the state's ideology.

 

Islamabad apparently encouraging sectarian violence

 

Another major complaint is about Islamabad apparently encouraging sectarian violence. The paper accused Pakistan of following a policy of divide and rule in the manner of the colonial British rulers and said Pakistani "agencies" were creating Shi'ite-Sunni tensions. It is not very difficult to create these tensions as NA is described as a kaleidoscope of ethnic groups (Baltis, Shins, Yashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladakhis and Turks), of languages (Balti, Shina, Burushashki, Khowar, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pusto and Urdu) and sects (Shi'ites, Sunnis, Ismailis and Nurbakshis). Shi'ites constitute about 55% of the population, Sunnis 25% , Ismailis 15% and Nurbakhshis 5%.

 

The NA faced a lot of trouble in 2003 over the Islamic textbooks that the Pakistan Ministry of Education had issued as a part of the curriculum for schools in the region. According to Shi'ite community leaders, the textbooks promoted Sunni thought and values and their introduction was an attempt to promote sectarian hatred between the two communities. A large number of protest rallies were organized in Gilgit and hundreds of primary and secondary school students boycotted classes.

 

There is no way of verifying the level of public support for the NA (or Balawaristan that includes Indian parts like Kargil and Ladakh) gaining independence from all three - India, Pakistan and Kashmir. But there can be no doubt that a section of Gilgit-Baltistan's political thinkers and activists are seriously preoccupied with searching for the region's separate identity.

 

Notes

 

[1] Pakistan has divided the parts of Kashmir under its control into two administrative units: Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) of 5,703 square kilometres and the Northern Areas (NA) of 72,496 square kilometres. (The total area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is 222,236 square kilometres. Pakistan controls approximately 78,000 square kilometres of the state.)

 

AJK, with an estimated population of 2.5 million, comprises six districts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch, Bagh and Bhimber. NA consists of the north-western part of the erstwhile J&K state wedged between Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province in Pakistan and Xinjiang in China. It has a population of 2.8 million and has been divided administratively into the five districts of Gilgit, Shardu, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche.

 

NA is described as a kaleidoscope of ethnic groups (Baltis, Shins, Yashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladakhis and Turks), of languages (Balti, Shina, Burushashki, Khowar, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pusto and Urdu) and sects (Shi'ites, Sunnis, Ismailis and Nurbakshis). Shi'ites constitute around 55% of the population, Sunnis 25%, Ismailis 15% and Nurbakhshis 5%.

 

NA leaders describe Pakistan as "colonial and repressive"

 

AJK has always claimed the NA a part of the territory controlled by it in 1947. The NA have, however, been annexed by Pakistan and are under its administration, described by dissidents as "colonial and repressive". Regardless of their distinct cultural and historical identities, the dissidents point out, sub-units such as Nagar and Yasin have been unilaterally integrated within new district boundaries.

 

Many people in Pakistan and AJK have urged that NA be treated as part of AJK. When the interim constitution of Azad Kashmir was proclaimed in 1947, the Muzaffarabad government took the line that the Karachi Agreement, which had temporarily placed the NA under the control of Pakistan, had lapsed and that this region should de jure and de facto revert to Azad Kashmir, to which it legitimately belonged. The federal government of Pakistan resisted that effort and has maintained that the NA are an integral part of Pakistan.

 

Pakistan maintains an ambivalent stand over the status of NA

 

Pakistan maintains an ambivalent stand over the status of NA in the context of its demand for the resolution of the "Kashmir issue" through plebiscite as per UN resolutions of 1948. It has never clearly defined the constitutional status of the NA. Pakistan clearly desires to integrate the NA into Pakistan, distinguishing it from AJK. It seeks to differentiate between NA and Kashmir in the expectation that, in case such a plebiscite is ever held, the NA would vote for Pakistan.

 

Nothing could make Pakistani intentions regarding Kashmir clearer than the ambiguity about NA. Pakistan would clearly like to keep this mountainous portion of the state in its own control, even in the event of Kashmiris exercising their third option of independence, the other two options being accession to India or Pakistan.

 

Frustrated over the years with the stonewalling tactics of the government of Pakistan over granting autonomy to NA, three public representatives of the NA, Malik Maskeen, Hajij Ameer Jan and Sheikh Abdul Aziz filed a write petition under section 44 of the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) Interim Constitution Act of 1974 with the POK high court on October 16, 1990. In its verdict on March 8, 1993, the full bench o the Azad Kashmir High Court declared the NA to be a part of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

 

H C judgement Bible for independence-loving Kashmiris in Pakistan

 

The chief justice of the High Court, who delivered this judgment, now retired Justice Majeed Malik, heads a political party in AJK, demanding independence from both India and Pakistan. He gave visiting Indian journalists a copy of his historic judgment published in the form of a book. This book has become a kind of Bible for independence-loving Kashmiris in Pakistan. People quote chapter and verse from the book to prove that NA belongs to Kashmir and not to Pakistan. This is a point to which even pro-establishment politicians have to show allegiance. It is difficult to find anyone in AJK or NA who doesn't agree with the high court judgment.

 

Regardless of the wishes of the Kashmiri people, however, the people of NA are ruled directly from Islamabad through what is called the Northern Areas Council, which is headed by Pakistan's Minister for Kashmir Affairs. A chief executive, normally a retired Pakistani army officer, appointed by Islamabad, is the local administrative head. The council is headed by the Minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas and meets only when the minister convenes it.

 

Complicating the Kashmir tangle further, Pakistan unilaterally ceded a part of the state to China. They concluded a "Boundary Agreement" in March 1963 under which Pakistan handed over more than 5,180 square kilometres of territory under its occupation to China, ignoring India's objections. Pakistan gave away the entire area belonging to Hunza, south of the Mintaka Pass, to China. India challenged the locus standi of both parties to negotiate and conclude an agreement in respect of the territory of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, over which India had sovereign rights. India protested to both China and Pakistan, indicating that it would not recognize the illegal transfer of territory forming part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

 

[2] The Line of Control (LoC) is a demarcation line established in January 1949 as a ceasefire line, following the end of the first Kashmir war. In July 1972, after a second conflict, the LoC was re-established under the terms of the Simla Agreement, with minor variations on the earlier boundary. The LoC passes through a mountainous region about 5,000 meters high. North of the LoC, the rival forces have been entrenched on the Siachen glacier (more than 6,000 meters high) since 1984 - the highest battlefield in the world. The LoC divides Kashmir on an almost two-to-one basis: Indian-administered Kashmir to the east and south (population about 9 million), which falls into the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir; and Pakistani-administered Kashmir to the north and west (population about 3 million), which is labelled by Pakistan as "Azad" (Free) Kashmir. China also controls a small portion of Kashmir.

Dec 18, 2004

 

Sultan Shahin is a New Delhi-based writer.

 

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URL: http://www.newageislam.com/current-affairs/lifting-the-veil-over-pakistan-occupied-kashmir-and-northern-areas/d/615


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