Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: The Home of Forsaken Citizens of India
Pakistan is in illegal occupation of five districts of Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Diamir, Ghizer, Hunza Nagar, Skarduand Ghanche and named it as Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas. At last the world is beginning to see the plight of the citizens of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the facade of liberty enjoyed by the people of POK stand exposed. POK has been colonised by Pakistan as China has colonised Tibet, the only difference being that China has improved the communication network and infrastructure in Tibet, whereas POK is completely devoid of development. Personal, constitutional and civil liberty stand suppressed by force in POK. It has become a living hell, and state repression of more than six decades is slowly unfolding and exposing the government of Pakistan and POK for perpetuating neglect, subjugation of constitutional rights, poor infrastructure development, growing unemployment and governance-deficit. In 1970, the area was named as ‘Northern Areas’. In 1974, ZA Bhutto scrapped the Citizenship Act, allowing outsiders to freely buy property and settle in the region.
Today POK is colonised and there is an attempt to alter the demographic balance to prevent any uprising against the government of Pakistan. Large tracts of land are under possession of rich Punjabi businessmen and serving and retired military commanders.
‘Sarzamin-Be-Ain Ki Awaz’ “the voice of the people without constitutional rights” is being muffled by Pakistani establishment. The struggle for restoration of civil rights, self-determination to merge with J&K and demand of equal status has been continuing for quite some time now. But the irony is that the voice of the people is being suppressed by force and coercion. State repression is manifest through illegal detention, disappearance of activists, torture of innocent people, brutality against vulnerable unarmed civilians, denial of expression and communication blackout. Suppression of civil rights has become a norm of governance in POK. For long India and the global community have maintained silence on violation of human rights of the citizen of POK. Political leadership in J&K and Delhi need to acknowledge that citizens of POK are legally the citizens of India. Time has come to own the people of POK as fellow Indians. In fact the people of POK are the citizens of undivided J&K and thus are natural citizens of India and the map of India does support this argument. Any attack on the rights and property of the people of POK indeed is an attack on the Indian state. Thus, constitutionally, the government of India is morally and legally bound to protect its citizens living in POK (India should not acknowledge division of POK as Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas and must continue to address it as POK and even the J&K Map support this argument).
The conspiracy to divide POK is to legitimise the sovereignty of Pakistan over Gilgit- Baltistan. This has the tacit support of China since the Economic Corridor between Pakistan and China passes through the disputed areas of POK. If Pakistan can manoeuvre and somehow declare that Northern Areas is not disputed territory and is sovereign part of Pakistan that would legitimise Chinese investment in Northern Areas. It will shut the door for Indian claim over the Northern Areas. Indian occupation of Siachen has direct impact for China especially its illegal control over Sakshgam Valley. Population of Northern Areas is pro India and has expressed their desire to be merged with India and this sentiment must be respected and encouraged.
The Pakistani establishment has been able to strangulate the voice of activists by absolute autocratic rule; for instance, the whereabouts of Shaukat Ali Kashmiri a Shia activist of POK are unknown, he is believed to be in custody. The condition of Kashmiris in POK is deplorable, and Amir Humza Qureshi, an emerging leader of Jamaat-i-Islami describes that people of POK are facing the worst kind of Human Rights Violations being faced anywhere else in the world.
The Pakistani establishment and the puppet government in Muzaffarabad treat people of POK with contempt and consider them not better than Muhajirs or refugees. Under the prevailing circumstances the citizens of POK are fighting a lone battle without any moral or material support from global community.In-spite of the subjugation one must admire the will of the people to raise their voice against state terrorism unleashed by the Pakistani establishment. People are making legitimate demands for improvement of communication network, health care, education, restoration of full democratic rights and rule of law. It is absurd to label the reasonable demands of the people for dignified living as handiwork of India to destabilise Pakistan. Pakistan brutality and protests against Islamabad in the Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoK) are going viral and a leader from J&K Moulana Syed Athar Hussain Dehlavi after touring the areas has stated that people residing there want to be a part of India as they are impressed with governance here and are distressed with growing extremism in Pakistan.
“The region did not get any democratic representation. People of this occupied region always live under the shadow of violence, as POK is the main centre for terrorist training camps. The protests in Mirpur-Muzaffarabad have just started getting the limelight, Gilgit-Baltistan is still in dark as there is no media coverage of atrocities and aspirations of these neglected regions,”
The Government of India must take all possible measures to protect life, property and rights of its citizen whether within or in occupied territory. Opportunities existed when India could have taken over the Gilgit- Baltistan areas. Even now, there has been no effort to reach out to the people of this region, who have been subjugated and exploited.
It was a recent footage that has highlighted the atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistani forces on the residents of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. It reminded one of the gory tales of the atrocities committed in the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
Unfortunately the civil rights champions and pro-active Indian mediawere notoriously silent about the plight of fellow countrymen in POK. One wonders what would have happened if such deplorable conditions were prevailing in J&K? It is time that the Government of India should do everything possible to protect its citizen and mobilize international support to restore liberty and freedom of its citizen in POK. Following measure needs to be adopted urgently:-
- India must display and profess a sense of belonging with the people of POK and consider grant of citizenship rights to them being part of erstwhile undivided J&K.
- India should represent against the human rights violation to UN and Red Cross Society and should insist on restoration of human rights and civil rights to the people of POK.
- India should earmark separate budget for development of POK for health, education and infrastructure development. The earmarked budget should be accumulated as corpus for subsequent development as and when situation improves and people are allowed to exercise their choice to merge with India (J&K).
- India should provide diplomatic counsellor facilities to the citizens of POK globally.
- India should offer scholarship to bright students of POK to study abroad or even in Indian Universities.
- The Indian Government should bring out a white paper on the conditions of its citizen in POK and accordingly efforts be mobilised to restore the law and order situation in POK till final settlement of their merger with J&K materialises.
- Human Rights watchdogs and media should highlight the plight of its citizen in POK till Government of Pakistan is forced to respect the human rights.
- Increase interaction with people of POK through people to people contact especially the people of Northern frontiers.
There may be some resistance from J&K against mobilisation of support in favour of people of POK, but time has come when India should declare that it will do everything possible to protect its citizens in POK. If POK is geographically part of India, in that case it is the responsibility of Government of India to protect its citizens as well. This is an opportunity which Pakistan has offered to India to create favourable ground conditions to mobilise public support for merger of POK with J&K. India should not let go this leverage. Time has come when India should stand with the people of POK (including Northern Areas) in their struggle first for dignified living and second their merger with J&K. India must remind that Kashmir issue is not confined to the Sunni-dominated Valley that comprises 11 per cent of the geographical area of the State and is inhabited by only 22 per cent of its total population, but also other areas and ethnic groups that form the majority in Jammu & Kashmir State, including Gilgit-Baltistan and POK. The State Subject Act should be restored and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan must have complete control over their land and resources.
Bhashyam Kastur, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Northern Areas, IDR, May 30, 2014.
 Anil Gupta, The Forgotten People Of India, The Pioneer, 13 October 2015.
 Revolt Brewing in the so-called Northern Areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, J&K Insight
RSS organ calls for freeing PoK from Pakistan, says it’s ‘only solution’ to end issue, First Post, Oct 5, 2015.