Trampling human rights in PoK

S P Sharma
The recent visuals of atrocities unleashed by the Pakistani security forces on peaceful demonstrators in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) are a wake-up call for the international human rights organizations that have so far been targeting India for even petty incidents in the Kashmir valley.
These visuals of Pakistani troops making the Kashmiri demonstrators bleed have come in the media for the first time as the press and human rights groups in Pakistan are virtually gagged by the intelligence agencies.
Interestingly, the separatists based in Srinagar claiming to be guardian of the rights of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) have remained mum on these incidents thereby further cementing the fact that they were nothing beyond being puppets of the Pakistani rulers.
Reports of the Pakistani authorities treating people of PoK as slaves had earlier been pouring in, but this time the angry demonstrators gathered the courage to raise slogans against Pakistan in the fortified environment.
The grouse of the people in the PoK is that the area that was rich in natural resources and potential of tourism was being exploited by the Pakistanis without spending even a single penny for their development in return. Development was a distant dream for them and they were being made to live in misery. Muzaffarabad, capital of the PoK, and other areas were being used by Pakistan as launching pads for terrorists.
Kashmiri intellectuals and scholars hounded away from PoK by intelligence agencies have several times in the past highlighted at various forums the plight of their people who were being treated as virtual slaves by the Pakistani rulers. They have also pointed out that unlike the media and human rights bodies that were enjoying complete freedom of expression in India, these institutions in PoK and Pakistan were under the constant threat of the army and intelligence agencies. A number of media persons raising their voice against repression have either been eliminated or have gone missing.
Dr.Shabir Chaudhary, Director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs, in his presentation sometime back in a seminar on human rights at Geneva stressed that on the Indian side of the divide, there is a vibrant media, strong civil society, State Human Rights Commission, representatives of Indian human rights organisations and international human rights organisations. But unfortunately on the Pakistani side of the divide there is hardly any system in place to promote and protect human rights abuses either committed by state actors, private militias or other groups with power and influence. Because there is no effective system to highlight human rights abuses on the Pakistani side of the divide it is sometimes assumed that all is rosy on this side; and Pakistani government and their agencies use their propaganda machinery to promote that view point. This false impression is created that world attention could be focused on the events taking place on that side of the divide.
Chaudhary pointed out that apart from the state agencies there are militant groups which have full support of the secret agencies to harass and intimidate local people in PoK. These so-called jihadi groups recruit vulnerable and poor people in the name of Jihad, and in some cases pressurize them to help and support them. These groups have camps in various parts of Pakistani controlled Kashmir, especially in areas near Muzaffarabad and Neelam Valley, which is used as a launching pad to infiltrate militants to the Indian side of Kashmir that they can commit acts of violence.
There are still thousands of people there who crossed the LoC to seek weapons and training from Pakistan. Now many of these people wish to abandon militancy and go back to Srinagar and resume their normal life with their families. However, these jihadi groups and secret agencies are not happy with this trend and are making strenuous efforts to ensure that no one goes back.
In this regard some Kashmiris clearly expressed their desire to go back and criticised Jihadi groups and All Parties Hurriyet Conference. Among these critics were Jahangeer Butt and Khalid Kashmiri. They exposed corruption and policies of Mutahida (United) Jihad Council and APHC.
Result of this rebellious attitude was that armed men of Muttahida Jihad Council and Hizb Ul Mujahideen kidnapped them. Afzaal Suleria, President of Kashmir National Party told me that national parties of PoK have strongly condemned this act of jihadi groups and their pay masters – secret agencies of Pakistan, Chaudhary said.
Highlighting the situation of people in Neelam Valley and Gilgit Baltistan, Chaudhary stressed the need for special attention for them. In absence of vibrant media, active civil society and human rights organisations, people of these areas are totally at the mercy of the secret agencies; and in case of the Neelam Valley Jihadi groups as well.
In Gilgit Baltistan there are hundreds of people under detention for using right of expression. They are not using any guns, all they say is that they want to be treated with respect, and deserve to be treated like human beings. A famous political activist, Jaan Baba was arrested for speaking against human rights abuses in Gilgit Baltistan; and still he is under detention.
Lal Hussain, a prominent writer and political analyst of Pakistan, in his article, ‘Agony of Azad Kashmir’ writes: ‘So-called Azad Kashmir has a President and Prime Minister. However, the powers of these two offices are less than those of the Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad, itself one of the weakest ministries in Pakistan’s federal Government.’
Ruling elite and other people of the so-called Azad Kashmir have been mentally enslaved through Pakistani propaganda, in name of Islam, brotherhood and through educational system prevailing in this territory for past more than 63 years. Educational syllabus of so-called Azad Kashmir is prepared and approved by bureaucrats of Islamabad. The prime purpose of this is not to educate people; rather it is designed to make people good and obedient slaves of Pakistan.
Mumtaz Rathore was an elected Prime Minister of “Azad Kashmir” and a stalwart of Peoples Party Azad Kashmir faced problems with the Pakistan Government as he had certain disagreements with bureaucrats in as a result of which he was arrested in 1991.
Hussain, after studying the situation of so-called Azad Kashmir said: ‘The army and other state agencies want to control this part of Kashmir with an iron grip behind the façade of democracy. Apart from the traditional Kashmiri leaders, they propped up Islamic fundamentalism not only as an auxiliary force in its conflict with India, but more importantly as force to crush left-wing forces and groups that refused to toe the official line of Islamabad’.
He further writes:
‘This “Azadi” has only brought them deprivation, misery, poverty, and disease. It has forced them to migrate from the beauty of their homeland into the drudgery of faraway lands. They have learnt the real meaning of “Azadi”. Without food, shelter, clothing, health services, education, water, electricity, and other basic needs, freedom is a mirage, a utopia, and a deception.’ Pakistan has vested interest in the rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, which flow through the PoK, Chaudhary pointed out.
(The author is a senior journalist. Feedback: