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The Other Kashmir

July 18, 2009

The recent Indo-Pak summit at Sharm-el Sheikh in Egypt saw the two sides meet after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11/2008. This meeting and the resultant joint statement has been criticized in both the countries. In Pakistan the Gilani government has faced flack because the statement did not mention Kashmir issue pointedly but instead referred to dealing with ‘all pending disputes’. Here in India the critics have said that the mention of Balochistan in the joint statement amounted to an admission that India is active in the tribal province when there have been no conclusive proof of any Indian involvement. However, what intrigues the observers most is that India is hailing the joint statement as a victory of sorts because Kashmir was not mentioned in the statement. This is being seen as a major diplomatic coup. Nothing could be more ridiculous.

The fact is that most Indians and westerners do not know or care to know about the reality of Kashmir. A look at the map below shows the real situation in Kashmir. The much touted Azad Kashmir or what we call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is but a small strip of land. Azad Kashmir covers an area of 13,297 km² (5,134 mi²) and has an estimated population of about four million. Its capital is Muzaffarabad.  Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) – the narrow southern part, 250 miles (400 km) long has a width varying from 10 to 40 miles (15 to 65 km). Pakistan has bi-furcated the Kashmir region under its control and the northern part is now called Federally Administered Northern Areas or FANA. Generally this area is called the Northern Areas. Skardu and Gilgit are the two main towns in this region.  As can be seen in the map, FANA is the much larger area to the north of POK with an area of 72,496 km² (27,991 mi²), directly administered by Pakistan as a de facto dependent territory, i.e., a non-self-governing territory. An area of Kashmir that was once under Pakistani control, but is no longer, is the Shaksgam tract–a small region along the northeastern border of the Northern Areas that was provisionally ceded by Pakistan to the People’s Republic of China in 1963 and which now forms part of China’s Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.

Map of Kashmir

The fact is that Pakistan has played havoc with Kashmir that is under its control. The POK and the Northern Areas do not have representation in the Parliament. The constitution of Pakistan does not recognize them as a part of Pakistan.  While there is a university in Muzaffarabad by the name of Azad Kashmir University, there are hardly any schools and colleges in the Northern Areas. The condition of the people there is abysmal. There is hardly any electricity and there is no piped water. The education levels are around 11 to 15% for the males and around 3-4% for the females. The people from these regions cannot get jobs in other parts of Pakistan as they are not legally a part of Pakistan. Both these provinces are controlled by a nominee of Islamabad who is generally a retired army officer. There is widespread poverty in these areas. The prime minister or president of so called Azad Kashmir has to report to a lowly bureaucrat who is an appointee of the President of Pakistan. Azad Kashmir’s financial matters, i.e., budget and tax affairs, are dealt with by the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council, rather than by Pakistan’s Central Board of Revenue. The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council is a supreme body consisting of 11 members, six from the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and five from the government of Pakistan. Its chairman/chief executive is the president of Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that the people of POK and Northern Areas do not have any rights. They are not citizens of Pakistan and have little to do with Pakistan. The Northern Areas had a population which was more than 75% Shiite at the time of independence, in 1947. Today there has been an influx of Pashtuns and Punjabis who are Sunnis and they have purchased land and property in the Northern Areas. The ethnic people of Northern Areas (also called Balawaristan) have been reduced to less than 55%. There has been an ethnic dilution of the Kashmiri ethos and the unique character of the land has been marginalized.

Balawaristan is the historic name for the Northern Areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Balawaristan National Front, a party was formed on July 30, 1992 under the Chairmanship of Nawaj Khan Naji to fight for the rights of the ethnic people of the Balawaristan. There have been atrocities committed by the Punjabi dominated Pakistan army on the people of this region over the decades. The 2008 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determined that Pakistan administered Kashmir, was ‘Not Free’. It also criticized the Pakistani Government saying ‘The appropriation of land in the Northern Areas by non-Kashmiri migrants from elsewhere in Pakistan, with the tacit encouragement of the federal government and army, has led to dwindling economic opportunities for the local population and an increase in sectarian tension between the majority Shia Muslims and a growing number of Sunnis.’  The same report determined that the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir was ‘Partly Free’. Balawaristan National Front does not consider areas of Gilgit and Baltistan to be legally or constitutionally part of Pakistan. It demands freedom for that part of the world. It does not want to join Pakistan for religious or for any other reason. It condemns the religious and sectarian games played against its people by Pakistan and its intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence. It opposes the attempts of the Pakistani administration to alter the demographic profile of the area, reducing the indigenous people to a minority. It opposes what it sees as the Pakistan government’s attempts to impose Wahhabi Islam on the region’s predominantly Shia population.

On November 3, 2003 Nawaz Khan Najee who was then chairman of the party participated in a rally demanding United Nations intervention regarding the status of Gilgit and Baltistan.

In a letter dated November 24, 2004 party Chairman Abdul Hamid Khan presented a peace proposal for Kashmir to President Musharraf and Manmohan Singh. This was however not accepted by any party. The funny thing was that our prime minister also refused to acknowledge that there is a problem in the northern regions of POK. Is not the POK an Indian territory that has been usurped by our neighbors for so long? Should not the prime minister of India care for the welfare of the whole of India? Just because the area is under Pakistan control does not mean that we have washed our hands off our responsibility towards our people there.

On April 25, 2007 European Union published a report entitled ‘Kashmir: present situation and future prospects’. Section 2 of the report noted the absence of democracy in Gilgit Baltistan region and in section 32 deplored the human rights violations in this region. A 2-day conference on Gilgit-Baltistan was held on April 8-9, 2008 at the European Parliament in Brussels under the auspices of International Kashmir Alliance. Here several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) expressed concern over the human rights violation in Gilgit Baltistan and urged the government of Pakistan to establish democratic institutions and rule of law in this area of northern Kashmir. On June 8, 2008 the present Chairman Abdul Hamid Khan who currently lives in exile telephonically addressed a gathering at Gahkuch. He reiterated the demand for independence from Pakistan and deplored the sectarian violence and accused Pakistani intelligence agencies of creating sectarian tension. It is said that more than 4000 people have been killed in the Northern Areas over the years by the Punjabi dominated Pakistan army. If we do not take care of this region, it could be Bangladesh revisited.

The Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement (GBUM) is another political movement, fully supported by the local politicians and has strong political clout in area .It demands a fully autonomous state for Northern Areas. They demand that the Northern Areas be declared an independent state “Republic of Gilgit Baltistan” and that the Northern Areas Legislative Council should be given the status of an “Independent Contitutional Assembly” and given similar rights granted to the existing Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly. They even wrote to President Parvez Musharraf but their demands were ignored.

The fact is that the situation in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is deplorable. The people are leading miserable lives and have to struggle for basic necessities. The total apathy and arrogance of the Pakistan state towards Kashmir comes forth when one finds that a strategically crucial Shaksgam tract was gifted to the Chinese who have since built roads and developed infrastructure on the land in an attempt to amalgamate it with the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.

Compare that with what we have here in India and the facts speak for themselves. There is democracy in Kashmir with a chief minister who has all the powers. Kashmiri’s can live and work anywhere in India and can apply for jobs – both private and public. The infrastructure in Kashmir may not be as good as that of other parts of India but that is because there has been insurgency in Kashmir that has hindered the development work there. The insurgency in Kashmir is also Pakistan sponsored. Pakistan, it seems is hell bent upon ruining the lives of the Kashmiri’s on both side of the line of control. The Pundits have migrated out of the valley and the Muslims living in the valley face constant unrest, their livelihood a casualty in the process. Pakistan is waging a proxy war against India and is trying to fan extremism in the name of religion which is a handy weapon in its sinister designs. The people of India are very clear that India as we see it, is unthinkable without the amalgamation of the whole of Kashmir into the Indian state. That defines us Indians and we feel incomplete when a part of us is in foreign hands. The people of Kashmir are also realizing that their future is more secure and they will have better economic and social opportunities were they to integrate with their mother nation – India. BNF is a manifestation of the aspirations of the Kashmiri’s. While BNF may not be calling for integration with India at this stage, sooner or later they will realize that they will be better off with India than what their condition is at present. The bad news for FANA is that there is no hope for any dramatic improvement in their fate in the near future if the status quo is maintained.

The present government in Srinagar under Omar Abdullah is trying hard to better the lot of the ordinary Kashmiri. This is not a one off situation but in India of today there has been a race towards development and the growing awareness among the people has led the states to try and outdo each other in their quest to attain growth and prosperity. The constant media attention has made it difficult for the elected representatives to sit on their haunches and try and play politics for the sake of politics. The mantra in Indian politics is: perform or perish!

It is clear that India should have a holistic approach as far as Kashmir goes. The valley is not Kashmir. There is Buddhist Ladakh, Shia Northern Areas (and they have a healthy Buddhist tradition as they were converted from Buddhism only in the late 16th century), the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir that is a mixture of Mirpuris, Gujjars and others and then there is the Hindu/Sikh Jammu region. The Chinese must hand over what is not theirs. Till the Chinese hand over the Shaksgam tract this really is a tripartite issue. While India has been careful not to tamper with the Kashmiri identity (there is a ban on purchase of property by non-Kashmiri’s in Kashmir), the Pakistanis have blatantly mocked the Kashmiri ethos. They have ravaged the Kashmir that they control and have given the Kashmiri’s little in return. Human rights issues must be addressed for the region of Balawaristan. That is a real concern for the democratic world and India should make it a point to raise these issues so that the people in these regions know that they have their people who are there for them. India has missed a chance when Kashmir was not mentioned in the recent joint declaration in Egypt. Farooq Abdullah once quipped, as to why are we shy of talking about Kashmir? If anything we should encourage the Kashmir issue to take center stage and let the Pakistani designs be exposed to the world. Pakistan is a failed state. The fact is that every region in Pakistan is in a state of boil. Many fear that Pakistan will implode. Is India waiting for such a politically explosive situation to emerge before it wakes out of its slumber?

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