On 28th May 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered a stinging broadside of Islamabadâ€™s oppressive, undemocratic and colonial subjugation of the Northern Areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, pronouncing â€œit was not understandable on what basis the people of Northern Areas can be denied the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitutionâ€ i.e. right to equality before law, right to reside and move freely, right to vote, right to be governed by their chosen representatives, right to form political parties, right to assemble peacefully, right to freedom of speech and expression, right to habeas corpus and against illegal detention, right to acquire, hold and dispose property, and the right to have access to an appellate court of justice for the enforcement of all other rights guaranteed under the latest constitution of the country (since independence, Pakistan has devised and binned three written constitutions and the standing fourth one was drawn up in 1985). The verdict was an eye opener to the world on the brutality, abuses and exactions perpetrated upon the five million inhabitants of POK and a vindication of the long-standing efforts of human rights activists within and outside the country to alter the grossly unfair treatment meted out to what is officially called â€œAzad Kashmir.â€
For more than forty years, Pakistan has flouted every norm of civilised policy and behavior in POK. Taking a cue from their Chinese mentorsâ€™ â€˜pacificationâ€™ of Tibet by ethnic flooding, successive governments uprooted and cleansed Kashmiris from their homeland and flooded the area with more loyal and dependent Punjabis. A shocking statistic as per the 1991 census, far more grotesque that Dawa Norbuâ€™s estimate that ethnic Han outnumber natives in Tibet by a 70-30 ratio, is that residents of â€œAzad Kashmirâ€ are mostly Sunni Muslim and predominantly Punjabi-speaking, with barely 20 percent Kashmiris. Expropriation of land and residence rights of natives in POK stands in sharp contrast to strictly adhered provisions in the Indian constitution disallowing non-Kashmiris to acquire property in J&K. Far from a â€˜special statusâ€™ that Indiaâ€™s Article 370 grants to J&K, Northern Areas of POK lack any constitutional status whatsoever. A Gilgiti or Baltistani cannot appeal to the Supreme Court or have any legislative representative in the Pakistan National Assembly. The sham court in POK does not entertain even writ petitions against human rights violations. All that rules in the name of law in POK is summary administrative justice handled by an Executive Council of 15 (7 of them non-Kashmiris) that is directly responsible to the centre. The puppet â€˜legislative assemblyâ€™ in Muzaffarabad, putting Farooq Abdullahâ€™s alleged kowtowing to India in the shade, requires Islamabad’s prior approval for all enactments of statutory rules, appointments, public property, budget, loans, taxes, internal security and civil supplies. During â€˜emergenciesâ€™ (euphemism for popular unrest), even these semblances of institutional representation are silenced to facilitate the armyâ€™s scorched earth raids (one horrendous genocide in 1988 in Gilgit had a certain Osama bin Laden as chief â€˜pacifierâ€™). To cut a long story short, â€œAzad Kashmirâ€ is neither peopled largely by Kashmiris nor is it Azad.
Development wise, POK remains one of the poorest and most neglected part of Pakistan, with a minuscule per capita income of Rs.1802, compared to the national average of circa Rs.4500 and J&Kâ€™s average of Rs.2700. Literacy rate in the Northern Areas is 14 per cent for males and 3.5 per cent for women. There is just one doctor for 6,000 people. Piped water supply is non-existent. So is electricity for more than two thirds of the population of the area. Except for some brick kilns there is no â€˜industryâ€™ to speak about and most of the enterprising Mirpuris have settled in Britain to escape the listless fate of their forlorn Kashmiri brethren. Again, the comparison with J&K is relevant since it has comparatively better standards of development on all these counts and that too despite bearing the scourge of a debilitating jihadi insurgency for the last 12 years.
Deeply embarrassed and unable to rebut these reams of evidence and its own Supreme Courtâ€™s damnatory charges (Nawaz Sharif politicised and toyed with judgements of the apex court but somehow failed to preempt this one), Pakistan regurgitated after the May 1999 verdict Zia-ul-Haq mendacious contention of 1982 that Northern Areas were not part of â€œAzad Kashmirâ€ and had â€œnothing to do with the state of Jammu and Kashmir.â€ It was an exercise in supreme cynicism because Gilgit, Skardu, Ghizer, Diamir, Hanza, Chitral etc. were all petty chieftainships in a feudatory relationship with Maharaja Hari Singh and comprised the lionâ€™s share of the 33,000 square miles of Kashmir that Afridi tribesmen and Pakistan army regulars unlawfully invaded and occupied in 1948. The Supreme Court ruling had hoist Pakistan by its own petard and exposed the criminality of its own rights record in POK and threatened to disabuse Pakistani citizens of years of official propaganda and exaggerated slander about human rights excesses in Jammu & Kashmir. Hence the disingenuous technical distinction between POK and the Northern Areas.
However, pulling wool over step motherly treatment and human rights atrocities in POK is no longer tenable because active national liberation movements for freedom from repression have sprung up all over the region and are giving headaches, if not nightmares, to Pervez Musharrafâ€™s government. According to Farooq Haider, chief of JKLF (Yasin Malik faction) in charge of liberating POK, â€œpeopleâ€™s urge to win their rights is simmeringâ€ due to decades of suppression of self-determination voices. One of the reasons why the ISI prefers subcontracting its anti-India subversion devices to jihadi terrorist outfits like Lashkar and Jaish rather than JKLF is due to the latterâ€™s support for the POK liberation groups. In 1999, the amalgam of Kashmiris struggling to redeem themselves from Pakistani clutches, All Parties National Alliance (APNA), staged widespread mass demonstrations against the callousness of the Punjabised armyâ€™s decision to not accept bodies of over 250 Pakistani soldiers from the Northern Areas after using them as cannon fodder in the Kargil war with India. Following ferocious crackdowns, mass arrests and torture of nationalists who took to the streets, prestigious Pakistani magazine Herald wrote that the Northern Areas were the â€œlast colonyâ€ in the eyes of the establishment in Islamabad.
As the vicious cycle of state strangulation of Kashmiri entreaties for democracy, development and human rights is proving unbreakable, more and more conscious residents of POK are resorting to armed underground secession, spearheaded by the Balawaristan National Front. BNFâ€™s leader Abdul Hamid Khan recently appealed to world conscience citing the pleas of â€œtwo million downtrodden people kept in slavery, and deprived of human rights, political rights, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of movement, right to justice, economic and cultural freedom.â€ Calling themselves fighters for â€œvictims of Pakistani sectarian terrorismâ€, BNF rebels have formed an embryonic army that aims to shake off the exploitation and ISI conscription of Kashmiri youth into jamaat-e-islami madrassas. Moves are afoot to secure arms and ammunition from sympathetic countries and wage a â€˜counter-jihadâ€™ like the Northern Alliance did against Taliban fanatics. Pro-BNF elements have also petitioned the United Nations to book Musharraf, his army cohorts and Pakistani religious parties as â€œwar criminalsâ€ for genocide and â€œturning the indigenous people into a minority.â€
In December 2000, BNF wrote to the Indian Prime Minister for assistance arguing that since the organisation had become a popular window for ventilating â€œanger about, and rejection of, the Pakistani occupation, we continue to be targeted and eliminated silently.â€ The thirst of POK Kashmiris for freedom is best represented by Hamid Khanâ€™s request in that letter to have candidates of BNF and POPM (Pakistani Oppressed Peopleâ€™s Movement) included in the electoral rolls of J&K for gaining what they have never been allowed by Islamabad- political choice. It is in keeping with these orisons as well as with post-December 13 deliberations in the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security which favoured stepped up â€œcovert operationsâ€ in POK that New Delhi must immediately start providing, to use a specious Pakistan phrase, â€œmoral and diplomatic supportâ€ for the self-determination project of POK.
One third of Kashmir is shrieking for emancipation from half a century of Pakistani torment, terrorism, and systematic violation of basic human rights. It behooves of the noble libertarian principles of the Indian constitution as well as the ideals set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that India and other freedom-loving nations extend wholehearted support for the benighted Kashmiris of POK in overthrowing Pakistanâ€™s satanic occupation.
Balawaristan National Front’s letter to Indian Prime Minister (November 27th 2001)
Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee
Prime Minister of India
I have the honour to draw your kind attention towards my earlier petition (Sub: “Include Gilgit Baltistan in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) dialogue” dated December 18, 2000), on the subject cited above, and inform you further about the prevailing anti-people activities of Pakistan in Balawaristan (Pakistan Occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (POGB)). You may kindly recall, I represent the Balawaristan National Front (BNF) on behalf of two million people dwelling in 28,000 sq miles (44,800 sq km) of Gilgit-Baltistan. While Pakistan calls it the Northern Areas, we call it Balawaristan, which is the disputed part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Balawaristan National Front (BNF) has been struggling against the illegal occupation of Pakistan since 1992. The people of Balawaristan are deprived of all their basic human rights, political and economic rights, and are subject to incessant oppression by Pakistan. We suffer untold miseries at the hands of the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies, which are deployed in strength to subdue the nationalists of our area. Because the people of Balawaristan have been demonstrating their anger about, and rejection of, the Pakistani occupation, they continue to be targeted and eliminated silently. Your honour can imagine that more than 100 political leaders and workers, including me, are facing state treason charges (Pakistani section 124 A), while there is no single person who faces such charges in your part of J&K instead of their anti-India campaign on the direct instigation of Pakistan.
In the light of the abovementioned atrocities and evil designs of Pakistan, we the people of Balawaristan, do not want to become a votary of Pakistan in any way if plebiscite/referendum is held. We also request your honour to invite the nationalists of Balawaristan and POK (Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) to participate in the J&K dialogue to strengthen the Indian stand.
We request your honour to invite the candidates of Balawaristan and POK to fill the 25 vacant seats in the J&K Assembly, which have been laying vacant for the last many years. Therefore, the elected representatives of Balawaristan and POK would represent their areas, and reveal the oppression of Pakistan before the civilised world on the one hand; on the other, India will automatically gain the favour of the people of these areas.
I also appeal to your government to deliver the orders to the concerned authority to ensure the representation of Balawaristan (POGB) and PoK in the J&K Assembly by following the Indian and J&K constitutions.
Abdul Hamid Khan
Balawaristan National Front (BNF)
Majini Mahala, Gilgit, Balawaristan
(Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan)