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It is Time to Call Pakistan’s Bluff on Kashmir; By Jai Kumar Verma

C3S Paper No. 0108/2016  

The party in power in Islamabad,Pakistan,  the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), won 31 out of  the 49 seats(direct election is held for only 41 seats) in the assembly elections of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) held on July 21, 2016. A total of 26 political parties and 423 candidates participated in this farcical elections. The performance of other political parties was very dismal as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won 2 seats, while All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (AJKMC) and Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had to be content with 3 seats each.

2.674 million people had cast their votes in these assembly elections, which were held under the supervision of the Pakistani army.  Nawaz Sharif congratulated the people of Kashmir for the conduct of peaceful elections. However, the residents of PoK  have claimed that they were not allowed to cast their votes and were stopped  from entering polling booths under the garb of security or  other flimsy pretexts.

After the declaration of the election results violence has erupted in many districts of PoK, as local people came out in the streets and started widespread protests against   rigging  during July 21 elections.  Protesters  also claim that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from Pakistan were the one responsible for the elections being rigged.

Pakistan claims that it holds free and fair elections but in reality the elections were totally rigged and people of PoK have no right of self-determination.However out of 49 seats in Legislative Assembly, 8 seats are filled by elected members while Kashmiris settled in other parts of Pakistan elect 12 members on the basis of fraudulent list of voters, which includes several non-Kashmiris. Hence, election in PoK was held only for 29 seats.  Pakistan government has excluded 20 seats from election process with ulterior motive of keeping its control over PoK.

All the candidates had to sign an affidavit that stated, “Kashmir banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will become Pakistan), which contradicts Pakistan’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir where it pleads for the right of self-determination.

The nomination papers of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and All Parties National Alliance (APNA) were rejected as they refused to sign the affidavit that “Kashmir will become Pakistan”.

The constitution of PoK states that no one can propagate or work against the accession of Kashmir in Pakistan. The separatist leaders in J&K should compare themselves with the residents of PoK who have no right to speak against Pakistan, while in J&K they make demonstrations, shout anti-India and pro-Pakistani slogans and even raise Pakistani flags and burn Indian flags in public places.

Pakistani government and the army suppress anti-Pakistani protests with full force in PoK. Those who raise such slogans are either imprisoned or eliminated. The media in PoK is not free to report and there is strict control on the media reports concerning PoK.

There are medical and engineering colleges in J&K and inhabitants of J&K are better educated than their counterparts in PoK. There are several restrictions in PoK. The budget of the state is prepared and approved by Pakistani government.

The Indian government spends large amount on giving subsidy in J&K, while the natural resources of PoK are plundered by Punjabi dominated Pakistan. Mangla Dam in PoK fulfills 65 percent electricity needs of Pakistan and the water is utilized in irrigation of arable land in Punjab, but no royalty is paid to PoK.

There is no industry, insignificant communication facilities, no medical or engineering colleges; new bridges have not been constructed on river Jhelum and reports suggest that Pakistan has even settled 28,000 Afghan families in PoK, effectively changing the demographic profile of this scenic region. The nefarious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and several terrorist groups are running terrorist camps in this self-governing administrative unit which has infused gun culture within its boundaries.

Gilgit and Baltistan which are parts of J&K have been usurped by Pakistan. In J&K, free and fair elections occur regularly while farcical elections happen in PoK. The position in Gilgit and Baltistan is worse. They have been separated from PoK and are alternatively called Northern Areas. Elections to its legislative assembly were conducted in June 2015.

Pakistanis claim that whole of J&K will become part of Pakistan, but the ground reality is that the residents of PoK and prosperous Mirpuris do not want merger of J&K and PoK, as they are afraid that better qualified J&K people will dominate the area.

The international community, including India, must raise the issue about the farce elections conducted in PoK and the blatant violations of human rights and gross exploitation of the people of PoK. Pakistani media and politicians always talk about J&K as an ‘area under Indian control’, but they do not mention about the pitiable condition of residents of PoK. The international media, including Indian media, had paid scanty attention to the recently concluded fake elections in PoK.

PoK has unique strategic importance due to its geographical location adjacent to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Muslim majority Xinjiang province of China. It is also a gateway to the Central Asian Republics. China has realized the importance of the region and agreed to spend USD 46 billion on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which would link Gwadar port to Xinjiang province and pass through PoK.

India must lodge strong protest at all international forums as it is an Indian territory which has been illegally occupied by Pakistan. China and Pakistan both are exploiting natural resources of PoK, while China has objected on India’s oil exploration in South China Sea claiming it as a disputed area. Analysts mention that China is eyeing on rich water resources of PoK.

Pakistan condemns India over human right violations in J&K even as there is ruthless repression in all parts of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, but unfortunately, India remains defensive and instead of highlighting oppression by Pakistan, India only defends itself.

Indian policy makers must understand that at times offence is the best defence. India should print world maps in which not only Kashmir is depicted as Indian territory, but several parts of Pakistan claimed by Afghanistan should be shown as disputed areas. Halfhearted defensive policies have not done any good to the country. Pakistan and terrorist outfits sponsored by ISI are actively involved in carrying out terrorist activities in J&K, yet the same Pakistani government  makes allegations at all international forums about the human right violations in J&K.

India must adopt an aggressive posture and highlight Pakistan’s repression of the illegitimately occupied Kashmir and the whole of Balochistan, North Waziristan and other areas, as well as the farcical elections in Gilgit and Baltistan and PoK.

(Jai Kumar Verma is an independent analyst working on issues that are of strategic relevance to India. He can be reached at: jai_pushpa@hotmail.com)

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