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The Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan does not want to talk about

Amid all the focus on Jammu and Kashmir in recent times, the status of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) consisting of the so-called ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has been largely ignored. Severe media restrictions, both local and international and even apathy has ensured that Pakistan has been able to act with impunity in this region.

Two of Pakistan’s main arguments against the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 are that it would lead to changes in demography and that it is violative of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Both these arguments are not only false and malicious but it is Pakistan that has been guilty on both these counts.

Thus, the state subject rule has been held in abeyance in GB since the 1970s. This was done to deliberately dilute the Shia/Ismaili character of the region by facilitating the migration of a large number of Sunnis from Pakistan. From 1998 to 2011, due to large-scale migration, it is estimated that the population in GB surged by 63 per cent, as against 22 per cent in so-called ‘AJK’, where the State Subject Rule was still in force. This kind of social engineering has led to severe sectarian strife, especially under General Zia and later on as in 2012, as well as dilution of the local culture and identity.

Among Pakistan’s machinations that have been violative of the UNSC resolutions are the following:

(i) It manipulated letters of accession from the Mirs of Nagar and Hunza even though they had no power of accession since they were under the suzerainty of the Maharaja of J&K. Yet, it suppressed these letters from the UN hoping to include these areas in the plebiscite.

(ii) The Karachi Agreement of 28 April 1949, supposedly signed between a Minister in the Pak Government, the ‘President’ of so-called AJK and the President of the Muslim Conference under which the administrative control of GB was transferred to Pakistan. The travesty was that neither was anyone from GB a signatory to this agreement nor did the so-called AJK Government have any representation from or administrative control over GB and neither did the Muslim Conference have a political presence there.

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Subsequently, Ibrahim Khan, one of the supposed signatories denied publicly that he had actually signed the Agreement! Despite these dubious facts, Pakistan has been exercising control over the region and lecturing Bharat on constitutionality.

(iii) On March 2, 1963, Pakistan further violated the UN resolutions, when it ceded about 1,868 square miles (5,180 square kms) of GB to China in the Shaksgam Valley even though it was accepted that the sovereignty of the region did not rest with it.

Following the Karachi Agreement Pakistan governed the area through the draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) right up to the 1970s. The FCR, akin to martial law, did not allow any political activity and gave the authorities blanket powers to arrest and interrogate any person.

In 1974-75, the Northern Areas Council Legal Framework Order replaced the FCR, introduced rudimentary administrative and judicial reforms, but did not empower the people of G-B. In 1982, Zia-ul-Haq proclaimed that the people of G-B were not part of the State of J&K and extended martial law to GB declaring it ‘Martial Law Zone-E’ (A to D being the four Provinces).

In 1994, Benazir Bhutto introduced the Northern Areas Legal Framework Order that vested all executive powers with a Federal Minister. The August 2009, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment of Self-Governance Order changed the name of the region from Northern Areas to G-B. However, the elected Legislative Assembly was functional only in name as the unelected Legislative Council headed by the PM of Pakistan took all decisions.

In 2016, under pressure from China to elevate the constitutional status of GB to a province in order to provide legal cover for Chinese investments under the CPEC, Pakistan set up a high-level committee. This committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, then Adviser to the Pak PM on Foreign Affairs recommended that GB may be provisionally given the special status of a province, pending final settlement of the J&K issue. This led to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 in May 2018.

However, the Government of Pakistan continued to retain exclusive powers to make laws in critical areas. The matter was taken up in the Supreme Court where an attempt was made to water down the powers of the PM of Pakistan but did not empower the local people. Various legal judgments have underlined the constitutional ambiguity of the area, the denial of fundamental rights of the people and the fact that they have no recourse to an independent judiciary.

Some of these include the 1993 Malik Muhammed Miskeen vs. Government of Pakistan judgment of the AJK High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan judgment in the 1999 Al Jehad Trust vs. Federation of Pakistan. The lack of fundamental rights is graphically demonstrated in the case of Baba Jan, a political activist who was detained in 2011 for organizing a protest march of those who had been impacted by a devastating mountain landslide into the Hunza River. He was subsequently convicted for life under anti-Terrorism laws and this for leading a civic protest.

Ever since 1947, Pakistan has sought to treat so-called ‘AJK’ and GB as settled issues while shifting the spotlight on J&K and projecting that the ‘dispute’ is about the latter. The visit of Imran Khan to Muzaffarabad on 14 August, Pak Independence Day and his aggressive and threatening speech testifies to this.

Pakistan has managed to do this by clamping a blanket of censorship on the areas under its control and fomenting terrorism in Bharat’s part. For long, the international community bought this narrative even as successive governments in Bharat were focused on dealing with the consequences of terrorism.

The time has come to shift gears, make Pakistan accountable for keeping these regions suppressed for seven decades and also hold out hope to the people of the area that being a part of J&K, Bharat has not forgotten or forsaken them.

(This article was first published on The Economics Times on August 15, 2019 and has been reproduced here with minor change – references to ‘India’ has been replaced with ‘Bharat’)

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