By Tanveer Ahmed
To many it may have appeared to have been a spontaneous, short-sighted and pre-emptive unilateral move by the BJP government in Delhi on the 5th of August, to bifurcate 48% of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) under the control of the Indian State into two union territories namely Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir, consequently downgrading the semblance of a State and amending Article 370 to the extent of diminishing any remaining signs of a special status for J&K within the Indian Union.
This move may in fact have been the result of rather more deliberated discussion – albeit behind the scenes – between India, Pakistan, the UK and the United States. Though the hearts of many a Pakistani and even Kashmiri may have fluttered in joy at the mere mention of arbitration on Kashmir by Donald Trump – not just once but twice in very recent memory – however, what may have transpired in discussion between the regional order and international order may well have been collusion at the expense of local order in J & K, yet again!
While the Pakistanis may be scrambling to initiate some symbolic gestures to maintain their structural enmity with India, this move by India has laid bare Pakistan’s inherent, growing and glowing contradictions on the matter of the J & K dispute. Both India and Pakistan have struggled with constitutional ambiguity on the subject since their respective militarised entries here – as dominions of the outgoing British Raaj – in October 1947. Both have also gradually whittled down any legal or constitutional protections that they both were keen to claim on arrival. Even those so-called protections have had a diminishing pattern of actual practicality on the ground.
It is important that those aspiring citizens of J&K who live under Indian administration/control represent themselves and describe in their own words, using the experience they have had of living with India, as to what could be described as a cost benefit analysis of the relationship. For us here in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) or Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK) as many of our co-citizens and the Indian State would prefer to describe it, and Gilgit Baltistan (GB), we have much to lament on Pakistan’s role in 35% of what was hitherto undivided J & K territory, since 1947.
Each of us aspiring citizens of J&K have a duty to represent ourselves and not others. This would be the most authentic route to a solution. What I am writing here for an Indian publication could very well be replicated for a Pakistani publication but alas no invitation from any quarter in Pakistan has ever been forthcoming, not since I arrived in the region in 2005. Furthermore, even comments that I offer on Pakistani websites are rarely published, if at all.
For starters, what India did on the 5th of August 2019 was practically done by Pakistan in GB on the 17th of November 1947. They later ‘rubber-stamped’ their authority via the enforced Karachi Agreement of April 28th, 1949 signed between the Pakistani State and their salaried politicians from AJK. Indeed, this agreement did not even surface in local press for many months after. Some even claim many years after. That is, it cut all land links between GB and AJK indefinitely. For further perspective, there has been a road linking Srinagar in the Valley of Kashmir to Leh in Ladakh since the 1970s. There is no such road linking Gilgit to Muzaffarabad, despite land contiguity.
Whatever India is accused of, is also committed by Pakistan. In many respects the Pakistanis have usually taken the lead in dismemberment of J&K and adopted legerdemain as the tactic, paving the way for India to emulate it.
The major difference which Pakistanis try to exploit to the maximum is the level of civilian killing in the Valley of Kashmir. There is no doubt that Pakistan is peddling a half-truth here. However, given that India and Pakistan’s interests directly clash in the Valley, the casualty rate of civilians there is always likely to be higher. Both countries also sporadically clash on the Line of Control (LoC), whereby the level of civilian casualties here on account of cross fire is always higher than the rate of casualties of either military. Whereas, in AJK and GB there is no direct conflict between India and Pakistan, hence a lower level of casualties. No one in AJK or GB has as much as killed a rat in Pakistan, let alone humans. Yet we remain stifled to the extent Pakistan can get away with.
Resistance in these two regions is a lot more calculated but civilian casualties always occur whenever the Pakistani State has deemed matters to be flowing out of their control. A recent example is the killing of Naeem Bhat on the 16th of March 2018 near Hajeera (and Chakkan da Bagh, Poonch) on the LoC. Bhat lived at least 45 kilometres away from the LoC and thus was never directly affected by cross-fire. In authentic altruistic passion for his co-citizens directly affected, he had joined hordes of other protesters to condemn cross LoC firing and lost his life for his empathy, killed by local forces under the instructions of Pakistani clandestine agencies who monitor such events.
So, unarmed protesters get killed here too.
Citizens of AJK and GB are routinely picked up and ‘disappear’ for speaking up for their rights. Iftikhar Hussain Karbalai of GB has been sentenced for an accumulated period of 90 years, merely for speaking up for his people viz. supporting the compensation seeking affectees of the natural disaster that became Attabad Lake, Hunza in 2010. Baba Jaan Hunzai is serving 40 years for a similar ‘crime’.
Article 35-A of the Indian constitution may have – to date – protected the Dogra era State Subject Law of 1927, whereby the J&K assembly reserves the right to define citizenship in Indian-administered J&K. In AJK, it is still the Kashmir Council (a Pakistani federal institution acting as the Upper House of the AJK legislature and administrative arbiter) that ultimately decides who is and who is not a State Subject (Resident) of AJK.
In GB, they have aborted (without due procedure) the same law since the early 1970s. Whenever, a rising tide of residents of GB raise this issue they are declared as traitors to Pakistan. However, if the same people were to protest India’s moves to abolish Article 35-A, they would be celebrated as faithful Pakistanis for doing so.
At least 20% of those residing in GB today are actually Pakistanis settled over decades here: in general, since 1947 and in particular since the early 1970s. That would amount to about 400,000 people out of a total population of roughly 2 million. The figures are less stark in AJK but then there has been widespread civil society monitoring of such malpractices here – of the local administration colluding to help create State Subject Resident certificates for keen Pakistanis – indeed, many a local activist has devoted a life-long struggle to expose such practices in AJK. The late Raja Fareed of Ratta, Dadyaal was one such activist who would use his own expenses to go fight such cases in Muzaffarabad’s higher courts, a couple of a hundred kilometres away at a time.
Many of our co-citizens in the Valley of Kashmir rightly seek the abrogation of AFSPA and other laws which effectively immunise Indian forces from prosecution. The Indians are still operating under a law whereas the Pakistanis feel that they don’t even need the cover of law to practice immunity from prosecution in AJK and GB.
Young NLI (Northern Light Infantry) men of GB and others from AJK serving in Pakistan’s military who were killed on the Kargil front in 1999, were disowned for 11 long years. The intent for land far outweighs any possible sentiment for the people. A similar accusation is of course targeted against the Indian State.
In contrast to Pakistani and Indian controlled J&K, (the territory of) Gilgit Baltistan has endured various changes (in its geographic structure). About 2,000 square miles of the Trans-Karakorum Tract was given – in the interim – to China (as part of the Sino-Pakistan Agreement in 1963). Other tactics have been used to usurp land.
For the past 72 years, the Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa (KPK) – a province in Pakistan – has been subtly encroaching into GB. At the first instance, interference took place in the district of Diamer (as occupation of the land) beyond Basha (in KPK) reached Basri. From where effectively the Pakistani State successfully encroached up to 30 kilometres into (GB) territory. If this area had remained with GB, then KPK would not even have had a claim on Diamer Basha dam at all.
In the second stage, the area of Chitral in KPK which is adjacent to district Ghizer (in GB) encroached into the latter area where the historic polo ground of Shandur is situated. Here, the Chitral scouts with the help of FC (Frontier Constabulary of Pakistan) occupied this ground. Shandur boasts the world’s highest polo ground and tourist resort. This area is the State of Jammu & Kashmir’s 3rd Northern province’s historic part, whose (geographic) boundaries were (mutually) agreed upon (and settled) by Maharajah Hari Singh and the English governor of the Frontier province (modern day KPK).
After achieving total success in capturing these two aforementioned areas, KPK has initiated an attempt to capture the most important part of district Ghizer, which is in close proximity to the borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan and where the lake and glacier of Kurumber is situated. Given that a third world war is anticipated to be over (fresh) water sources, for the locals here their largest source of water is in this very Kurumber.
It has been reported on many occasions that various mountains of GB have been leased out by Pakistan, without as much as informing the GB legislative assembly. Ditto in AJK as well as a growing number of hydro-electric projects which various local politicians claim to know nothing about, until the public protests and even these protests are hampered or diverted as issues of ‘national security’ for Pakistan!
In GB, the locals did not even have any semblance of an administration until Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s directly elected council in 1974. This was replaced with a Legal Framework Order (LFO) in 1994, re-hashed by the dictator Musharraf in 2007 before the prevailing ‘Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment Ordinance of 2009’. This was challenged by a citizen of GB, namely Shafqat Inqalabi through a writ petition in Pakistan’s Supreme Court on the 4th of March 2010. Nothing came of the petition but Shafqat had to undergo immense torture for his sincere efforts.
In June 2016, the outgoing PML-N government in Pakistan’s centre tried to rush through another ‘Order’ for GB and a 13th Amendment in AJK’s imposed Act of 1974, before their country’s general election. No one is even sure of their status today. The GB order was ripped up by a GB Assembly member, namely Nawaz Naji at the time, in full view of the public. Both steps were widely considered as an ugly attempt at further integrating AJK and GB into Pakistan’s federation.
We still endure taxation without representation. We do not possess the right to legislate on our natural resources and are compelled to take orders from un-democratic forces in Pakistan.
Various attempts have been made to ‘legally’ integrate GB into Pakistan. Such attempts were also made in AJK in the early 1970’s, allegedly with the blessing of India. Many a propaganda has been ignited for this purpose to describe it as a fait accompli and even various Western scholars have been duped into thinking that the vast majority of GB would like to become a province of Pakistan, when the reality is far from it.
This was a tactical manoeuvre by local activists to game out Pakistan’s contradictory stance that, “We cannot give you rights because you are not a province of Pakistan!”. The locals responded with, “OK. That’s fine. Make us a province then!” The Pakistanis have tried of course but have been impeded by their own judiciary, as well as resentment from AJK and some Pakistani allies in the Valley of Kashmir. The UN resolutions are just a charade which the Pakistanis continue to dupe their own citizens with, unsparingly.
It appears that the Indians may have softened up the route to such an eventuality after all.
One can go on and on with a very long list of atrocities committed here in AJK and GB, which give Pakistan very little moral authority to preach what it clearly does not practice itself.
As for the future of J&K from an internal narrative/perspective; we are living in very uncertain times where anything could happen at any time. No country in the world is capable of managing everything in their favour. We are proceeding towards a level playing field in the realm of geo-politics. Being large has its disadvantages too. Having the most resources at one’s disposal doesn’t necessarily mean that one has all the solutions.
Nature has its own rhythm and rhyme.
We the aspiring citizens of an undivided J&K need to represent ourselves, not play the fool with our respective statuses, remain cool headed, maintain a democratic and peaceful posture at all times and be comfortable in the knowledge that persistence will bear fruit. After all, we have the formula for a better destiny for over 1.5 billion people in the region.