Islamabad must heed revolt brewing in its backyard
While the focus in the media lately has been on Kashmir Valley, what has not got enough public attention is that residents of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) have been resorting to agitations, demonstrations and rallies against what they term as excesses and exploitations of Islamabad. The inhabitants of POK, a territory Pakistan calls “Azad Kashmir” (the third of original territory of Kashmir that is with Pakistan since 1948) has a population of about 4.5 million and a total area of 13,297 square kilometres, have demanded independence from Pakistan. In the beginning, residents of POK were happy to be the part of Islamic Republic of Pakistan because of religious affinities. Soon, however, they realised that Punjabi dominated Pakistan is treating POK as a colony and the resources of the region were exploited for the benefit of Punjab.
There have been several reported uprisings in Muzaffarabad, Bhimber, Mirpur, Kotli and other major cities of POK. The Islamabad controlled media has not covered these demonstrations, but local dailies and some international media have reported about these demonstrations.
In December 2018, residents of Kotli took out a rally to insist for better medical care. Demonstrators shouted anti-Pakistan slogans and carried placards against the central and POK governments. In November 2018, residents of Bagh demonstrated and demanded that oppressive rule of Islamabad must end and also sought a better education system. In October, United Kashmir People’s National Party also organised protests in several parts of POK.
The demonstrators protested against the hydroelectric dam over the Neelam river, water shortages, exploitation of local resources, rising unemployment and anti- people policies of the government but the main demand was “freedom” for Kashmiri people. They also protested against extra-judicial killings, phoney encounters and disappearances of leaders demanding freedom. Residents claim there is no railway line, no international airport, medical facilities and that the educational system are primitive. There is no freedom of expression and, if any newspaper dares to depict the pathetic condition of the area, it is banned. The Daily Mujadala published a survey in which they found that 73 percent residents of POK wanted to establish an independent country. The survey and other factual reports irritated the Pakistan army and the newspaper was banned.
The demonstrators shouted slogans like “Pakistan go to hell”, “Kashmiris want liberty”, “Butchers of Kashmiris, Pakistan army” etc. The protesters from Jammu and Kashmir National Students Federation even tried to enter India. The security forces resorted to caning and firing tear gas shells to disrupt these protests. Leaders of the All-Party National Alliance claimed that ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency) has “exterminated” more than 100 persons who were fighting for the independence of Kashmir.
Extensive protests were also held last July in Rawalkot, where demonstrators raised slogans against the Pakistani government and the army for supporting diverse terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (L-e-T) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (J-e-M) for carrying out terrorist activities in India. They also protested against maintenance of terrorist camps in POK.
The business community in Skardu in Gilgit & Baltistan (G&B) also demonstrated against the illegal tax regime. The business community mentioned that it is a disputed area and Islamabad had no right to levy taxes there.
There were also protests in Hunza valley against long power cuts and against exploitation by Punjabis and Pashtuns. Demonstrators also shouted slogans against misuse of their land and water resources. The protesters also mentioned that Islamabad is trying to destroy their identity and culture. Residents of POK also organised demonstrations against Pakistan in Geneva and London.
The masses there have no idea that India is opposed to CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). However, the younger generation is getting information about India and world news through the internet. Young students want to come to India for higher studies and demand reservation in IIMs, IITs, medical and engineering colleges. They claim that POK is part of India, hence they are entitled to study in Indian institutions.
Pakistan has waged a low-intensity war against India and is assisting the Afghan Taliban to install a puppet regime in Kabul. Recently, the Pakistan based Jaish al-Adl attacked and killed 27 Iranian border guards. Pakistan is passing through an economic crisis and Prime Minister Imran Khan is asking for bailout packages from friendly countries and International Monetary Fund.
There are several nationalities in Pakistan and, except Punjabis, all are unhappy and some want to secede. The Baloch now are demanding a separate nation. Pashtuns, Sindhis and Muhajirs have earlier also revolted against Islamabad. POK and G&B also want to separate, hence Islamabad, instead of wasting its resources on instigating terrorism in other countries should try to get its own house in order. If the neighbours of Pakistan start assisting these disgruntled nationalities, Pakistan may have to face more disintegrations. Pakistan must remember the old proverb, “Live by the sword, die by the sword”.