Forgotten Kashmir: The Other Side of the Line of Control

Ashok Bhan
The Dinkar P Srivastava is an accomplished diplomat, ex Ambassador of India to Iran. He negotiated the MoU for Indian participation in Chabahar Port. He has based his book largely on Pakistani sources. He has attempted to look at the issue in terms of Pakistan’s position and aspirations of the people of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. This makes it an unconventional work. To someone associated with public discourse on the Kashmir imbroglio,it would have been preferable if he had taken into account the writings of Indian commentators. However, one must say to author’s credit he has produced a researched book, which brings out a fresh perspective. The author has served in Pakistan and dealt with J&K affairs in the Ministry of External Affairs for eight years.
The book opens with a chapter on Invasion. The author has quoted from Maj General Akbar Khan’s book ‘The Raider in Kashmir’ to show that the decision was taken in meetings chaired by Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. He has also cited Yusuf Sarraf, who was a Muslim Conference activist and a close associate of Choudhary Ghulam Abbas. Saraf writes that no Kashmiri leader was involved in the decision-making at higher levels even though they had by then crossed over to Pakistan. This exposes the myth that this was an indigenous uprising.
The author has also pointed out that Pakistan’s official narrative changed the date of formation of the provisional government from 27th October to 24th October. He has cited a passage from Maj. Gen Akbar Khan’s memoirs which mentioned clearly that the provisional government was announced on 27th October. Akbar Khan’s account cannot be ignored. He was a prime actor in the drama. He led the so-called ‘tribal’ invasion while he was still a serving Pakistan Army officer.
There are two other revelations in the book which are worth noting. The author has shown on the basis of reports of the UN Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) that Pakistan expanded in the Northern Areas after the cease-fire went into effect on 1st January 1949. Even more interesting is the observation that Sardar Ibrahim denied ever having signed the Karachi agreement which is the basis of Pakistan’s illegal control over the territory, which is now called Gilgit-Baltistan. Here again, he has substantiated his argument with reference to quotes by POK activists.
The heart of the book is the chapters on the POK constitution and Gilgit-Baltistan Orders of 2009 and 2018. The POK constitution strengthened Pakistan’s control over POK by vesting all legislative powers in the Council headed by Pakistan’s prime minister. This makes a mockery of the elected assembly, which remains a powerless body. As executive powers are limited to the extent of legislative powers, this makes the POK Government also a week entity. The book cites comments on a senior POK leader that the assembly agreed to the constitution as there was a Brigadier from ISI sitting in the public gallery. The ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974’ vests legislative powers in the Council headed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister. The constitution left undefined powers of the elected assembly. The elections have taken place since 1975. But this constitutional scheme ensured that the elected assembly and the government have remained powerless.
The author has pointed out that the 13th amendment of the POK constitution in 2018 did not rectify this power imbalance between Islamabad and POK Government. Though the Council was relegated to the advisory role, its powers were directly assumed by the Pakistan Government instead of being transferred to the elected assembly. Pakistan now exercises direct powers over 32 subjects within POK. Even 22 subjects on which the POK assembly can legislate are subject to Pakistan’s consent. This is worse than the situation of Pakistan’s provinces which do not require Islamabad’s approval on subjects that are not part of the Federal list.
The book brings out that the situation of Gilgit-Baltistan is much worse than that of POK. This is directly administered by Pakistan. While elections on the basis of the adult franchise were held in POK in 1970, the Northern Area, now called Gilgit-Baltistan had to wait till 2009 before it got an elected assembly. The Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2009 gave limited autonomy and allowed the local assembly to legislate on 161 subjects. This entire list of 161 items where the G-B assembly could legislate was abolished under the Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018. There were popular protests, and the G-B Supreme Appellate Court set aside the Order. Pakistan’s Government went in appeal to Pakistan’s Supreme Court against the decision of G-B’s highest court. The Supreme Court connived with Islamabad to restore the Order against which the people of the territory were protesting. Pakistan raised the issue of deletion of article 370 in J&K. It does not believe in the grant of autonomy to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The author has given an in-depth analysis of the economy of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan on the basis of official budget figures. The chapter on Water, Natural Resources, and Under-development brings out that no payment was made to POK for 36 years after the completion of Mangla Dam, which provided irrigation and hydro-power to Pakistan. When the payments began in 2003, it was paid 1/7th the rate paid to Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. POK was given Rs. 0.15 per unit as water usage charges, while Punjab’s provinces were paid Rs. 1.10 per unit as hydro-power royalty. This huge differential is justified on the ground that Pakistan’s constitution limits payment of royalty to ‘provinces’, while POK does not fall in this category. As the author points out, its separate status did not come in the way of Pakistan exploiting its natural resources. This became a problem only when it came to making the payment.
Though the book deals with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,it also takes the reader on a journey through Pakistan’s political and constitutional developments. The author has explained that this is necessary to understand if Pakistan has treated the people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir on par with its own people. The answer is clearly negative. The author has produced a book that will long remain a reference work for researchers and readers. But it has a message for the people on this side of the divide also.
(The author is a Geo political analyst,Distinguished Fellow USI Chairman-Kashmir(Policy and Strategy) Group.)