Protests in POJK

Col B S Nagial (Retd)
The misrule of Pakistan in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir(POJK), which include Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, reached a flashpoint when the people wrote to Italian Senator Luigi Compagna in Inside over. (The Print, dated 03 Feb 2023). Latterly, Pakistan’s economic meltdown has badly affected the region. Pakistan is disseminating about failed causes as millions of its people clamber for wheat and foodstuff and face the darkness due to power cuts. In POJK, the public wretchedness is no less than in many parts of Pakistan. Rather, it is more in this region.
Continuing with the historical rhetoric, ‘Kashmir Soldrity’ day was celebrated by Pakistan on 05 Feb 2023. Pakistan tried hard to sell fake news about Jammu and Kashmir, whereas the real story is being played on the streets more so in POJK. People of POJK are out on the streets and struggling for wheat flour, pulses, and power supply. Facing sharp rising inflation and unemployment, a vortex of misery and hopelessness as Pakistan itself has been spiralling down for the past several months.
Military leadership and political leadership are at each other’s throats. Millions affected by floods and enormous food crises remain mute spectators to the failure of leadership at all levels. The absence of leadership at this desperate point in history is horrendous. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has travelled to more capitals and countries than most earlier leaders in the quest for funds. His other contemporaries have been rambling as climate change leaders.
On 16 Dec 2022, massive protests erupted in POJK. People are comparing these similarities between the conditions of then East Pakistan in 1971 andin Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan now. Leaders make a clarion call for freedom from suppression and occupation of the Pakistan military and Punjabi establishment.
Nevertheless, the humiliation for the people of POJKincreased manifold when their leader, so-called President Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry, flew out when angry mobs were on the streets. He left for a two-week visit to Turkey, the UK and Belgium. The exigency of such a tour is not known to the public. The public anger has only heaped further in his absence.
However, this is not the first time their leaders have abandoned to run away from reality. People have been protesting for a long time against the imperiousness of the Pakistan military, which administers POJK as a colony. It is alleged that there has been a massive scale of land seizingby the military authorities. Under the garb of CPEC, Pakistani and Chinese business houses, supported by their respective militaries, have been exploiting both the people and natural resources.
Also, in Gilgit Baltistan, people have been vexed against the local authorities and federal government for grabbing land openly by the military leaders. In Dec last year, Manawar saw a furious public protest at the confinement of young people for dissenting against the Pakistan military. The Pakistan military is allegedly grabbing public properties under numerous excuses in collusion with local politicians. The Pakistani military quickly fastened on the protesting people and branded them, terrorists.
It is learnt that the Pakistan military and political parties have also been converting the mountainous region into a sectarian centre. Clashes over petty matters are becoming common. People consider such sectarian conflicts are being fashioned to disguise the failure of the governance and fear of a public uprising.
Pakistan’s governance of POJK has been enigmatic in this area, which has significant strategic consequences. Some have alleged that Pakistan has refrained from granting legislative autonomy to POJK because of this strategic significance, fearing repercussions. The establishment has brutally crushed political unrest in POJK in the past. On the other hand, this movement could acquire a violent shape due to continuing wretchedness and lack of hope for betterment.
Pakistani leadership must ask itself, whose side are they are, their people or empty ideologies? Prevailing poverty and chaos will only increase the possibility for the youth to be indoctrinated into extremist ideologies, a danger to Pakistan’s security and the world. In the meantime, Europe and the US are busy with the war in Ukraine, while tomorrow’s security threats are born in today’s economic desperation.
These days comparisons between this side and POJK on the other side of the Line of Control are being drawn. This was unthinkable earlier. Differences are visible on the ground. Something unexpected has happened on this side that has changed the perception of how the Jammu and Kashmir issues should be understood and looked at through the prism of the future.
There has been an enormous shift due to three things. One the abolition of Article 370, the work that needed to be done to tell the world that the change has been good for the people of J&K, and it was a clear signal to Pakistan that these changes will change the geo-strategic realities as it will have to answer the questions about the territories of the erstwhile princely state of J&K under the illegal control of Pakistan.
Dreams of the people of J&K and Ladakh were fulfilled. There was a massive flow of tourists in J&K. Huge investment has been made in J&K to develop roads and infrastructure. Whereas the people in PoJK are reeling under poverty. They lack access to the basic amenities of life. They were suffering from political and economic suppression. They watched what was happening on the Indian side of the LoC, and now they are raising their voices to get similar treatment. However, the Pakistani Government is killing their voices and aspirations through military oppression.
Conclusion: Through naked aggression, Pakistan occupied a large portion of the erstwhile state of J&K, kept it under its illegal occupation despite UNSC resolutions, and named it ‘Azad Kashmir’.Before the Maharaja of J&K could finally sign the accession on 26 Oct 1947 in India’s favour, a tribal raid stage-managed by the Pakistan Army triggered immense impairment in terms of loss of lives and property in parts of J&K. Prefaced on close geographical proximity and a principally Muslim majority population in the erstwhile state of J&K per se, Pakistan, after independence, has been inexorably laying claim on the entire area of J&K, which is undoubtedly baseless.To fulfil its speculative claims, Pakistan’s three conventional wars and culpable proxy war in J&K have drawn the territory into a flashpoint.
Pakistani leaders have claimed Jammu and Kashmir as central to their foreign policy. If we look at Pakistan’s policy toward J&K closely, it indicates that it has been more of a political comfort for Pakistan since 1947. It was a smokescreen to cover up widespread insufficiencies and an intricate foreign policy mechanism to use state-sponsored terrorism in the quest for strategic depth.