Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in Geneva on 17th March 2011, in a Seminar arranged by Interfaith International.

Title of the seminar: Human security and Protection of Rights of Kashmiri people under Pakistani Administration.

Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues aslamo alaykam and good afternoon.

I am grateful to Saradar Shaukat Ali Kashmir and Interfaith International for inviting me to express my views to this august gathering.

Mr Chairman, it is the prime duty of every civilized government to protect life, liberty and property of its citizens. The government has to ensure that there is a rule of law and all citizens are treated in accordance with law of the land. No citizen should be discriminated on grounds of religion, ethnicity, colour or a region.

We people of Jammu and Kashmir are forcibly divided and suffer with varying degrees on both sides of the Line of Control. The title of the seminar is specific and I will focus on that region only; and try to enlighten my audience about the human rights situation on the Pakistani side of the divide.

Pakistan controls two regions of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, namely Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Whereas the former is indirectly ruled through their proxies, Lent Officers and secret agencies; the latter is directly ruled and people of that region are still, in many ways, living in Stone Age, as they are deprived of fruits of democracy and fundamental human rights.

In October 2010, Kashmir National Party arranged a study tour of Gilgit Baltistan and so called Azad Kashmir. We have compiled a report of that visit and a survey which we conducted during our trip. It is difficult to accurately explain the plight of the people over there. People suffer, they are denied of their basic rights, their economy is controlled and managed by Pakistanis, their resources are looted and plundered, but they are not even allowed to protest. If they protest against injustice and oppressive rule they are arrested, imprisoned and tortured; and in some cases killed by labeling them as an Indian agent.

On the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, people protest against the Indian rule. They even use foul language against India. They burn Indian flag, use bad language against forefathers of India and the rulers; and now new trend is to use bad language against Hindu religion and their holy people. I have seen some Kashmiris shouting disgraceful slogans like: ‘Indian dogs out of Kashmir’. Despite that Indian forces only use their guns when they are attacked; and when their lives are under threat because of violence and terrorism; of course, there are some exceptions where some people in uniform committed human rights abuses.

While in Gilgit City we saw men in uniform with guns at every roundabout and every street corner. Gilgit looked like a city under siege. We were travelling in a car and when we approached one roundabout I said to my colleague Abbas Butt: ‘People on the India side shout Indian dogs out of Kashmir and Indian butchers out of Kashmir, and they claim India has been brutal and they commit human rights abuses.’ I said, ‘We have Pakistani soldiers here in Gilgit with their guns; shall I shout Pakistani dogs out of Gilgit and Pakistani butchers out of Gilgit and see their response?’

Fearing that I might shout that slogan, Abbas Butt immediately said, ‘Please don’t do it. They will kill us and throw us in river Indus and no one will know about it as there is no independent media or human rights organistations. But if you want to become a martyr then I suggest you come here on your own and shout what you like.

This shows the difference between two places, and sense of fear prevailing in Gilgit Baltistan. People were not willing to talk and express their views openly, but in private they told us that they were not happy with the Pakistani rule and the way they were exploited and oppressed by the rulers of Pakistan. They were worried that they could be picked up by Pakistani secret agencies and their love ones will never see them again.

Mr Chairman

When people use this slogan, ‘Indian dogs out’, they are spreading hatred and intolerance. It is disgraceful that the entire nation is insulted like this. No civilized person can use this kind of language against another fellow human being. There are many Indians who want the Kashmir dispute to be resolved through a process of dialogue. They know gun and violence can only aggravate the matters. But brains behind these negative slogans want to ensure that people are divided on religious, ethnic and sectarian lines. What we need is a positive attitude that we can promote tolerance and respect for others. We cannot resolve the Kashmir dispute and have peace and stability by use of force or by promoting hatred and extremism.

Mr Chairman

Our struggle is essentially a struggle to determine our future without any fear or intimidation. Right of self determination should not be confused with right of accession which Pakistani governments have been promoting over the years. The right to self-determination is the right of people to determine their own destiny without any conditions attached to it. It allows people to choose their own political status that they can formulate their own strategies for economic, cultural and social development.

In place, I live in is called Azad Kashmir, meaning independent Kashmir. The fact, however, is that it is not azad. To call this region azad or independent is an insult to the word independence. But Pakistani authorities try to make us believe that we are independent, just because we can go to mosques and kill cows in accordance with Islamic laws. In fact, going to mosques over there and in Pakistan is not free of risks to life, because of suicide bombs and bomb blasts.

A retired senior Pakistani official, Bakhtiar Qayyum, who now runs a Think Tank called, ‘Pak International Friendship Forum’ wrote about the situation in Pakistan and I quote:

‘The law and order situation in the rest of the country is also not satisfactory. The terrorists and criminal seems to be rampantly taking the population hostage. Fear and insecurity are prevalent everywhere. Influential personalities and government functionaries living in metropolitan cities have build fortress around their living places. It looks that Pakistan has gone back to the tribal period, where each family has to take up arms for their protection. The bomb blasts, suicide attacks, target killings, kidnapping for ransom, looting, arson are rampant everywhere. Police and law enforcing agencies are more involved in security of important government functionaries instead of controlling law and order or curbing crimes from the society.’

He further writes:

‘Power shortage, gas load-shedding, price-hike, unemployment, protest and demonstration by masses have become the order of the day. Hardly any day passes when there is no mass demonstration, turned violent against long and unscheduled power shutdowns and outage of gas supply to domestic consumers. Prices of essential commodities are now raised by hours and government seems to have no control over profiteering, hoarding and unlawful price-hikes. The people of Pakistan are facing the worst shortages of everyday commodities and services in our history; no gas, no electricity, no petrol, no sugar, no flour, no onions, ever rising prices and inflation, new taxes, more factories being closed or going bankrupt, unstoppable judicial corruption, injustice, rising unemployment, rising energy costs, more people dying every day for no fault of theirs, police killing those whom they are protecting, mullahs inciting everyone to kill those who do not conform to their thinking, newly unleashed black mailing and self serving electronic media on the loose only caring for their ratings, hoarding, looting, black marketing, touts, pimps and plunderers having a ball of a time and most important a total breakdown of law and order anywhere and everywhere.’ Unquote

Mr Chairman

This is the situation in Pakistan in eyes of a Pakistani who served his country for decades before he retired; and Pakistani officials and their secret agencies urge us people of Jammu and Kashmir to join this Pakistan. When we show our disagreement we are oppressed and denied of our fundamental rights.

It is right of every individual to get a job and live in peace and join a political party. But that is not the case in this region called Azad Kashmir. Before we can apply for any government post we have to declare that we will be loyal to Pakistan and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. In other words just to become a candidate for a job, I have to declare that I sign away my right to become independent, I sign away my right that I will have no control over my economic resources, and that I will allow Pakistani officials to loot and plunder those resources and deprive myself and my future generations of those resources and fruits of democracy.

It must be understood that so called Azad Kashmir is administered under an interim Act 1974, which was prepared by a Pakistani Minister of Law Abdul Hafeez Peerzada and adopted by the puppet Assembly of Azad Kashmir without making any changes or even debating it. This Act set up a Kashmir Council which takes all major decisions with regard to Azad Kashmir, even promotions of senior officials are decided by the Kashmir Council and Pakistani Prime Minister is its Chairman. He is entitled to appoint 6 Pakistanis to this Council and Azad Kashmir Assembly which consists of all pro Pakistan Kashmiris elects 6 people; and at all times Pakistan and their officials have numeric majority in the Kashmir Council.

I think this explains everything. People of Jammu and Kashmir living under the Pakistani administration are ruled by Pakistan through their proxies and with help of their secret agencies; and they are denied of their basic rights. Resources of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan are systematically looted and plundered; and we cannot even protest against that because of reprisals.

It must be understood that if Pakistan cannot provide good governance to their own people, and look after them, what can they provide to us? We people of Jammu and Kashmir should understand that and formulate policies which protect and promote a Kashmiri interest, and adopt such strategies that our future generations can live with dignity and honour.

I thank you Chair for your patience.