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Drowned in the darkness – Pakistan occupied Kashmir: The world can no longer ignore the other side of Kashmir

The organisations, if they really stand for values on which they argue about Indian Kashmir, must present itself for the PoK and Gilgit Baltistan also. The world can longer afford to lose this litmus test.

Kashmir is, almost unremittingly, the hotbed of diplomatic contention with the world bibbing their bit from the achtung chalices of conflict. Bulk of international organisations, eminent individuals, supposed intellectuals and journalists have a range of opinions regarding the Kashmir valley. The Kashmir conflict – in views of the glutted harbingers of human rights hawking over the virtual skies of the valley – is an extremely labyrinthine one with two sides swinging their sabres perniciously for the land, creating an abating tiffed rumble. Irrespective of clogging by the feebleness, the circle’s obsession with the issue always surfs on the high tide. Central to probably every major diplomatic connection, military engagement and strategic planning, the valley’s conflict is considered as one of world’s biggest.

The valley spawns everything from international criticism, disparaging statements, malevolent propagandas to duplicitous fawning, unjust jobbing and enmeshed fallacies. The conflict morphs into different places for various hyenas itching for their nibbles. For Bharat, it is rightly, an integral part of nation, nationalism, civilisation and culture; a place deserving of protection and development. For Pakistan, the valley is a piece of land supposed to be part of the ‘ummah’ inhabited predominantly by co-religionists that should be annexed anyhow. For international media, Kashmir is a fissile material of all kinds of journalistic demagoguery and an infinite ground for foredooming practice. For global powers, the conflict is another chance for show of strength, significance and interest exploitation. But most definitively, Kashmir is a litmus test of all of the international harbingers, human rights activists, global players, esteemed journalists and concerned nations. The amount of spuriousness that has girded the conflict is astonishing and the only stick of measurement is the level of mendaciousness: lesser the disingenuousness, better the performance in the test.

And on this litmus test, not surprisingly, almost all of the global players, HR activists, journalists and stakeholders utterly fails – the hawk crashes devastatingly on the ground. Often it is forgotten, intentionally or ignorantly, by this circle of harbingers, about the other part of Jammu and Kashmir – Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). PoK was annexed, unjustly, by Pakistan through backdoor infiltration in 1947 just months after both the nations achieved independence. How the part of Kashmir, rightfully belonging to Bharat, was snatched from us is a talk for some other day. What is more baffling is the fact that despite ample knowledge of the existence of PoK and history behind it, the world, without an iota of hesitation, shuts the door in its face. The Kashmir administered by India gets all the light, flashed on it by torches from around the globe, but the Kashmir occupied by Pakistan seldom gets to see any light. The absence of global light in PoK is partly because of occupying state’s intense veiling and partly because of intentional marginalisation by the global torches.

Map of Jammu and Kashmir

The regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan occupied by Pakistan, part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, are spread across 86,268 square km of area and constitute more than one-third of the total area of the state. The former princely state of Kashmir under Dogra rule consisted of 4 core areas namely Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan through its October 1947 Kabaili raids annexed Gilgit-Baltistan along with part of Jammu and after the duplicitous intervention of United Nations – which resulted in the creation of LoC – the region stayed, illegally, under the Pakistani control. Since then the doors to the other side of Kashmir has been rarely opened, if not completely shut down, in the international community’s global panchayats.

Marginalisation and Human Rights Violations

The region under Pakistan’s preposterous control has lost its shine, facing sever cultural challenges, strategic underrepresentation, marginalisation and human rights violations. Pakistan’s approach towards PoK has always been laodicean, debilitating, authoritarian, clandestine and abdicating; considering Gilgit-Baltistan & annexed Jammu as an extra piece of land coming from squabbling, deserving of nothing more than being a launchpad for proxy warfare.

The region of PoK, with all its fragility, is facing one of a kind cultural crisis. Residents face several human rights violations both at the hands of state and at the hands of state’s stakeholders. The region lacking proper constitutional status and working legal system has witnessed an avalanche of human rights violations over the years. Currently more than 100 activists have been charged with sedition for demanding greater self rule in the disputed territory. Students, social workers and political activists have also been languishing in jails for demanding their rightful rights. Deprived of common rights, the people of PoK have to bear the brunt of extremely authoritarian Pakistani establishment coupled with politically sadomasochist and totalitarian Pakistani military force.

According to 2018 Human Rights Report, a climate of fear clogs media coverage and free journalism in the region because of threats by both Pakistani establishment and military forces. “Journalists increasingly practised self-censorship in 2018, after threats and attacks from militant groups,” the report said. “Media outlets came under pressure from authorities to avoid reporting on several issues, including criticism of government institutions and the judiciary. In several cases, government regulatory agencies blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that had aired critical programs.” Another report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) revealed gross human rights violation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Journalists in the territory continue to face threats and harassment in the course of carrying out their professional duties.

In Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the Pakistani government represses democratic freedoms, muzzles the press and practices routine torture, Human Rights Watch said in a 2006 report. Tight controls on freedom of expression have been a hallmark of government policy in PoK. Pakistan has prevented the creation of independent media in the territory through bureaucratic restrictions and coercion. Publications and literature favouring independence is banned. While militant organisations promoting the incorporation of Jammu and Kashmir state into Pakistan have had free rein to propagate their views, groups promoting an independent Kashmir find their speech sharply, sometimes violently curtailed.

Under PoK’s constitution, which Pakistan imposed in 1974, election candidates are prescreened to ensure that only those who support Kashmir’s union with Pakistan can contest elections. Anyone who wants to take part in public life in PoK has to sign a pledge of loyalty to Pakistan, while anyone who publicly supports or peacefully works for an independent PoK faces persecution. As per an ALRC writing, Pakistan’s intelligence and security forces arrest and disappear persons who refuse to participate in ‘jihad’ against Bharat or don’t provide information to the intelligence agencies about the movements of people across the border control line. A significant number of cases point to the ISI’s involvement in these disappearances.

Series of arrests and missing persons bears testimony to the horror of crackdown and absolutism imposed upon the PoK residents. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an anti-terrorism court in Gilgit-Baltistan sentenced journalist Shabbir Siham in absentia to 22 years in prison on charges of defamation, criminal intimidation, committing acts of terrorism and absconding from court proceedings.

Baba Jan, a prominent political activist in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory and a founding member of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP), is one of many activists currently jailed by the authorities. He is serving a life sentence after lobbying the government to compensate the displaced people of the valley in the aftermath of a landslide. He had organised a protest demanding compensation, which turned violent and led to his arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act. According to a family member who met him, Jan said his only crime was to seek basic human rights for the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan.

On 21 November 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan authorities arrested journalist Muhammad Qasim Qasimi after he engaged in a verbal argument with a local police official.

The Inquilabi Socialists Karachi (ISK), a left-wing group based in Gilgit with branches and activists across Pakistan, alleged about the illegal crackdown by Pakistani authorities on them across the region of Gilgit-Baltistan. ISK activists has no end in sight for human rights violations and crackdown in the region. Bilal Balti, a member of ISK told Asia Times – “Law-enforcement agencies are on a rampage across Gilgit-Baltistan. Even activists are being silenced for uploading pictures and posts on social media. Freedom of expression has been compromised while an atmosphere of fear prevails over the horizon of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Not sure who the next target is,”

On February 13, 2018, the police arrested Ehsan Ali, a well-known lawyer and activist from Gilgit-Baltistan. Ehsan, President of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Court Bar Association and founding leader of Awami Action Committee, was also representing Baba Jan in court. His arrest sparked countrywide protests and he was released soon after. Ehsan was arrested on the charge of sharing an allegedly “anti-religion” post.

The News, Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper, described his arrest as signalling a “crackdown on activists” and said, “The Baba Jan case has become a symbol for how the Pakistani state treats dissent and Gilgit-Baltistan and other peripheral regions in the country.”

In 2006, people in Gilgit-Baltistan carried out a protest against the imprisonment of over 500 young men by security forces. The political crackdown and arrests were made against people protesting against the CPEC, which they said would only benefit China and Pakistan’s Punjabi traders.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), Pakistan’s “response to local dissent and alienation has been an overbearing security presence, marked by army checkpoints, intimidation and harassment of local residents, and crackdowns on anti-CPEC protest.”

Demographic Changes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir 

Forced demographic changes is another stick used by Pakistan to control PoK. A large bulk of Punjabis and Pathan Sunnis have deluged themselves, with the intentional active assistance from the establishment, in Shia dominated Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan regions. “There is virtual genocide going on against the Baltistanis. They are in the worst of conditions, Pakistan’s ISI is after them.” Bharat Karnad, former NSA board member and research professor at CPR, told Financial Express. “Pakistan is committing genocide there for the last 40 years but we are not highlighting it” he added.

Pakistan has gradually diluted its constitution in order to facilitate outsiders to grab the land and resources of illegally occupied areas. Pakistan abolished the state subject rule in Gilgit-Baltistan in 1984 which resulted in demographic changes in the territory. “Pakistan has never kept its end of the bargain when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir. It has encroached the land of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). It has awarded the PoJK land to China. It is changing the local demography the further violates the state subject rule” said Senge H. Sering from institute of Gilgit-Baltistan studies in Washington. The Gilgit Baltistan order 2018 – which overruled the previous 2009 Gilgit Baltistan empowerment and self-governance order granting limited autonomy – enhances the authoritarian powers of Pakistan state over the region. With the increasing power and tightening grip, the Pakistani establishment is changing the course of the fragile mountainous region.

The population of Shias in Hunza valley and Gilgit-Baltistan is witnessing a large influx of Sunnis from Punjab and Khyber provinces. The demographic structure along with social hierarchy completely turned around in recent years, specifically, after the CPEC project. The region’s sophisticated culture and traditions bear the brunt to this unnatural imposition of population. Marginalisation in resource allocation, hegemonic authoritarianism and social hierarchy restructuring coupled with overexploitation of rich resources and culture is destroying the region’s uniqueness. Pakistan is depriving locals of jobs, quality education and opportunities and forcing them to join the terror outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Laskar-e-TOI a (LeT) and Hizbul-Mujahideen camped on the soil of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan.

In spite of gross human rights violations; systematic demographic changes, marginalisation; deliberately ensconced crisis of religious fundamentalism; establishment’s protectionism, authoritarianism, absolutism and lower calibre mercantilism and deprivation of basic rights, the situation of PoK still remains a thing of the different realm for much of international community. The leading western media voices – who excessively cover the Indian administered side of Kashmir and clamorously encores on even fallacies and ersatz – have absolutely no access to mountainous grounds of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Despite such adverse circumstances, the world’s deliberate deafness towards the loud screams of PoK, is the worst possible crisis for the region. The world which vociferously and vehemently instils itself into Indian Kashmir shuts the door to Pakistan occupied Kashmir’s face. But the global powers, media and harbingers can no longer float on one side. The organisations, if they really stand for values on which they argue about Indian Kashmir, must present itself for the PoK and Gilgit Baltistan also. The world can longer afford to lose this litmus test.

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Yogendra Singh
Columnist and undergraduate student from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Two time state topper in Science and Art of Lecturing.

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