Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) and Gilgit Baltistan historically belonged to the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after the partition of India in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession, thereby acceding to the Indian Union. While the whole of the erstwhile J&K State acceded to India, portions of it came to be illegally occupied by Pakistan and has been under Pakistan’s unlawful control ever since the Pakistan Army orchestrated the tribal invasion of the territory on 22 October 1947.The area under illegal occupation of Pakistan comprise two administrative regions – Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan(PoGB) and Pakistan Occupied Jammu Kashmir(PoJK).
Ever since, this area has been ruled by Islamabad despite the fact that it is not constitutionally integrated with Pakistan and its people do not have representation in the National Legislature. Having received this bonanza without effort Pakistan set about misusing it as a tool to further its political, economic and strategic objectives; as time passed the covetous Punjabis of Pakistan realised the immense economic potential of the region and let loose massive exploitation to gain control of all assets. Governments and political dispensations in Pakistan changed over time but the policy towards this unfortunate region remained unchanged.
The PoJK is governed under the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Interim Constitution Act passed in 1974. Even though PoJK has a President, Prime minister, and a council, the governing structure is totally powerless and dependent on the Pakistani establishment for the smallest issue at hand. Very often PoJK is described as a constitutional enigma. The Karachi Agreement, which governs the rule of Pakistan over Gilgit-Baltistan, was signed between the President of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, the Muslim Conference and a minister without portfolio from Pakistan, Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani. Even though there was no formal merger between PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan, the fate of the latter was decided by Prime Minister PoJK and Pakistan with no local representative participating in the matter.
Pakistan’s strong post-pandemic recovery came to a halt in FY23 with large accumulated economic imbalances that resulted from the delayed withdrawal of accommodative policy, and a series of domestic and external economic shocks. An IMF loan program in which Pakistan entered into in 2019 had gone off track after the Fund found Islamabad’s commitment to reform lacking and flow of funds towards corruption leading to a suspension of loan disbursements. Pakistan is in deep economic trouble and staring at bankruptcy but appears to have other priorities as it continues to breed terrorism in its backyard.
Present State of PoJK & GB Islamabad’s immature antics to showcase the impoverished PoJK region as Paradise compels one to do so. This is evident from the fact that despite using strong arms tactics, law enforcement agencies haven’t been able to prevent the hapless people of PoJK & GB from protesting against the non-availability of essential commodities, and most importantly, brazen discrimination. PoJK and GB unfortunately, lags in socio-economic development. The infrastructure is less developed, and healthcare and education facilities are not at par with Jammu and Kashmir or Ladakh. High unemployment and poverty rates in the region are indicators of its slower progress.
The schools in PoJK & GB lack basic facilities such as proper classrooms, libraries, and sanitation facilities which directly hampers the quality of education and discourages students from attending school. Both the regions have witnessed high rate of school dropouts, particularly among girls. The majority of educators are not adequately trained and not getting payments leading to substandard education that fails to equip students with the skills required for upliftment of society. Beyond basic education, opportunities for higher education are scarce. This compels many students to migrate to other regions of Pakistan, further exacerbating the brain drain problem.
At least 700,000 young people in PoJK are reportedly unemployed. This is nearly half of the population that still resides in the occupied territory. Another 2 million lives across the world as economic or political refugees. Lakhs of ethnic educated people in PoJK & GB are jobless and yet the people are not getting adequate government employment; there is not a single local Judge in the entire province. In case they look for a government job, they have to pledge to eschew all political activity that may be inimical to the interests of the State of Pakistan. In plain words livelihood is available to them only in exchange for their freedom of expression and their right to protest. On the other hand, Pakistani government officials posted to the area draw double salary. The few local government employees do not get salaries for months on end.
The frustration and disillusionment among the youth in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have led to a series of protests and demonstrations in recent years. The protesters demand better educational facilities, access to quality higher education, and the creation of new job opportunities in the region. The issues fuelling these protests affect not only the general populace but also government employees, including law enforcement agencies and police below grade 17 or those lacking special privileges. A further escalation could lead to a scenario akin to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, where bureaucracy and employees turned against the Shah. Similarly, such incidents occurred in the Arab region in 2011, resulting in the Arab Spring, when the masses started protesting against regional regimes.
Today, almost every single protest taking place in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir and in Gilgit Baltistan echoes the call for reunification of PoJK and PoGB with mother India. They see a vibrant Indian economy based on the finest principles of democracy that are protected by a constitution of consent. Jammu & Kashmir and its development graph is a testimony. The only way forward for the PoJK & GB is to merge with India and look for a better future.
The Author is a Geopolitical Analyst and IT Entrepreneur based out of Jammu and can be reached at [email protected]