The plight of people in Pak-occupied-Kashmir
Har Jeet Singh
The Pakistan Government which is extending warm welcome to Hurriyat leaders, calling them true representatives of the people of Kashmir and accusing the Government of India of brutalities, excesses, underdevelopment and human rights abuses, is, in fact, needs to be held responsible exactly for these crimes in areas under its control. The educational and employment facilities and development in the so-called Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas are hardly of any consequence. All jobs have been cornered by Punjabis and settlers from outside. The development funds are either squandered or remain unspent. The so-called President and Prime Minister of Pak-occupied Kashmir are captives of the establishment in Islamabad. The people of these areas, who are mostly Shia Muslims have been cursed to live as second class citizens under the indirect and direct occupation of Pakistan. What Pakistan conveniently ignores are the pleas that the right to self-reliance is more important than the controversial right to self-determination which is interpreted differently by different political parties and factions.
The plight of the people living in Pak-occupied-Kashmir was amply highlighted at the recent session of the UN Human Rights Commission which was told that the average per capita income of a citizen in “Azad” Kashmir is $184, which is less than half the per capita income of an average Pakistani. A presentation given by Arshad Mehmood Khan, a representative of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation, alleged that the people there were under forced occupation of Pakistan and were being economically neglected. There is just one university in the entire region and because of the lack of formal and vocational education facilities, the doors to employment are virtually closed for local Kashmiris.
A year earlier, the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva was presented with a graphic account of the plight of the people of Gilgit and Baltistan by a representative of the Balwaristan National Front, Mohammed Nir. He alleged that the Punjabis and Pathans were steadily being forcibly settled in the areas, thus reducing the local population to a minority and eradicating the local Kalash culture of the Chitral region. The Pakistani Government is being accused of settling outsiders in spite of the fact that under the State Subject rule, no outsider can settle or buy property in any area of Kashmir. He alleged large-scale human rights abuses in PoK and Balwaristan. The Shia majority region of the Northern Areas, which were occupied by Pakistan along with the parts of Kashmir adjacent to Punjab and NWFP, known as PoK is a hugely underdeveloped area, with a literacy rate of only 14 per cent as compared to a national average of 31 per cent in the rest of Pakistan. The area lacks in social and infrastructure development and the people there have to send their children to places like Karachi and Lahore for studies because of the lack of educational facilities there.
No wonder, occasionally, the discontent over the step-motherly treatment of the Northern Areas erupts into violence and protests often marked by ethnic clashes. The Northern Areas were up in arms in June 2003 against the Musharraf Government’s decision to introduce Islamic curriculum in educational institutions.
It is, therefore, not surprising that while they shout from the house-tops about the plight of Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LoC, the Pakistani leaders rarely talk of the conditions in which the people of Kashmir were living under their siege. In fact, one of the many reasons for the Musharraf Government’s reluctance to allow the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service was that when the people in areas under its control will visit the other side of Kashmir, their propaganda about the plight of people there will be exposed. They are likely to compare the kind of freedom, educational facilities and the development enjoyed in the Kashmir Valley with their own conditions. On return, they could narrate their experiences of what they have seen there. This may lead to voices of more democracy and autonomy and thus loosen the hold of Punjabi clique on the people of Kashmir. It is, however, still too early for the bus service to make an impact as hardly six bus services have taken place. Only one bus in a fortnight crosses the peace bridge. But, one expects that the Hurriyat leaders who have gone to PoK now will not close their eyes to what they hear, see and experience. Their mission to PoK may be an eye opener to them unless for their own political reasons and out of their loyalty to Pakistan, they prefer to shut their eyes.