Unheard Voices and Resistance of Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir

The enduring cultural and emotional bonds between J&K and POJK serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a people who, despite decades of separation, remain united in their pursuit of a shared and prosperous destiny.

By Kanwal Singh and Sagina Walyat

In an unprecedented crackdown, Pakistani forces unleashed brute force on a peaceful march to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), organized by the J&K Awami Action Committee. This march, which resulted in  protesters succumbing to injuries by direct firing from police and over hundred being grievously wounded by police,  was a continuation of the region’s longstanding resistance against the oppressive and regressive policies of the Pakistani government. The protest was not an isolated incident but a manifestation of decades of accumulated frustration and suffering under exploitative economic policies.

The Joint Action Committee articulated three primary demands during the recent protest. First one was that electricity should be provided at the cost of production. Another demand was for subsidized flour, aimed at easing the economic strain on the local population, the third demand was End of Elite Privileges. The protesters called for an end to the privileges granted to the POJK  elites, which have been draining more than half of the region’s budget. These privileges include rent-free offices provided by the Pakistani state. Notably, the basic amenities charges are higher in Pojk compare to other parts of Pakistan. The Protest is the result of the policies that have deprived people of the region of their resources, said Randhir Jaiswal, an official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs, India.  

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As the protest gained local and Indian media attention, Pakistan government agreed on two demands out of the three. However, the protest has joined the chorus of voices in the region demanding complete liberation from Pakistani control. The recent events have reignited the call for freedom and self-determination among the people of POJK, highlighting the need for a more sustainable and equitable governance model in the region.

Voices from POJK: Insights from Peace Advocate & POJK Activist Romi Sharma

To gain a deeper understanding of the aspirations of the people in POJK, we engaged in a comprehensive discussion with Romi Sharma—a prominent peace builder, and an activist with ancestral roots in Pallandhri-Sadhnooti area of POJK. Through her social media channels and programs, Romi has played a pivotal role in reuniting families and friends separated by the 1947 partition, giving a platform to the voices from POJK. She serves as a bridge between J&K and POJK, interviewing countless individuals from the region and preserving their shared cultural heritage. 

Reflecting on her interviews, Sharma shared, “Even after 75 years of partition, the culture and language on both sides remain the same. There is a profound emotional connection that the partition could not sever. She highlights the strong resentment among the educated youth, who perceive J&K in India as way more developed and prosperous while they struggle for basic necessities. Romi further added that over the past seventy years, the residents of PoJK had surrendered to the belief that they would never again have the opportunity to converse with their friends and family in J&K. Hence, it is nothing short of a miracle that through her channel, these connections have been rekindled.

Furthermore, the immediate demand of the people in POJK , until the eventual reunification of POJK with J&K, is the creation of a corridor or a passage connecting the two regions, facilitating the reunion of families separated since 1947.

Sharma further explained that over time, “Pakistan has systematically altered the administrative structure, vesting control over POJK with the Pakistani government. In 1974, the ‘State Subject Rule’ in the Northern Areas, like Gilgit Baltistan, was abolished, allowing Pakistanis, primarily Pathans and Punjabi Muslims, to settle and own properties, leading to significant demographic changes.

The government in PoJK serves merely as a puppet, with Pakistan exerting complete control over the area, even utilizing it for terrorist activities against India. The economic conditions in PoJK are dire, characterized by rampant inflation. For years, people have been forced to live apart from their families due to the lack of job opportunities, roads, and infrastructure. Additionally, the electricity generated in the region is sold at exorbitant rates.

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In Muzaffarabad and other divisions, while the “State Subject Rule” partially persists, Punjabi businessmen dominate the markets. Pakistan, initiated efforts to attract entrepreneurs from Punjab. However, these endeavors continue to face resistance from the local population in Muzaffarabad, preventing any significant alteration in the demographic composition. Consequently, to fill the void in low-wage occupations such as masonry, labor, and carpentry, individuals from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab were permitted to work in the Poonch, Mirpur, and Muzaffarabad Divisions.

A large proportion of Mirpur’s population has migrated and settled in the UK and other European nations. They often recruit workers from Punjab for various positions, including watchmen, tailors, and masons. Gilgit Baltistan is heavily impacted by the Chinese corridor, whereas in POJK, the Muzaffarabad area is prominently affected.

Historical Context and Cultural Continuity- The Unfading Shadows of History

George Orwell’s profound observation, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,” serves as a poignant reminder of the traumatic legacy of the 1947 partition and its profound impact on the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. This history, as recounted by our grandparents who were compelled to abandon their ancestral lands, reveals a time when Jammu and Kashmir stretched from Muzaffarabad in the west to Gilgit-Baltistan in the north. The partition, an event never intended to bisect this region as it lay outside the Radcliffe Line, shattered lives, displacing families and friends. Yet, even after 75 years, the cultural and linguistic bonds between Jammu and Kashmir and POJK remain resilient and intact.

Jammu and Kashmir, once a vassal state under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was consolidated during the Sikh Empire. Following the Second Anglo-Sikh War, 1846, the Treaty of Amritsar was signed between the British Empire and Raja Gulab Singh, establishing the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir under British suzerainty. The territorial integrity and geographical boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir remained intact under successive Dogra rulers until the treacherous attack by Pakistan forces (some disguised as tribal militia) in 1947 as Jammu and Kashmir king Maharaja Hari Singh was deciding whether to accede to India or Pakistan. which was further disrupted by the Kabili tribal invasion backed by Pakistani forces.

In the face of these tumultuous events, Maharaja Hari Singh of the erstwhile Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession, thereby integrating Jammu and Kashmir into the Dominion of India. This legal document, signed in 1947, stipulated that the accession covered three key subjects: defense, external affairs, and communications, with India pledging assistance in these areas. However, the invasion by Pakistan forces and subsequent UN-brokered ceasefire led to the division of the state, with significant portions falling under Pakistani control, now known as Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) or so- called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

POJK is divided into two sections: Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. It shares borders with the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the south and west, Gilgit-Baltistan to the north, and the Indian union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the east. Muzaffarabad serves as the capital of POJK/AJK, which is further divided into three divisions: Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, and Poonch. Key locales in so-called AJK, include Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Rawalakot, Bagh, Palandri, Bhimber, Hattian Bala, Neelum Valley, Jhelum Valley, and Sudhanoti. The region’s primary communities are the Gujjars and Pahari tribe, but over the past 75 years, Pakistan has significantly altered the demography of POJK.

China’s Influence in POJK, Global Silence and International Apathy

China’s influence in POJK adds an additional dimension to the region’s troubles. Pakistan, grappling with longstanding economic instability, has increasingly leaned on China. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, traverses POJK, making the region strategically significant for Beijing, and this has led to demographic changes and increased Chinese presence, further complicating the region’s dynamics and exacerbating local grievances. The situation in Balochistan, the starting point of CPEC and home to the crucial Gwadar port, mirrors the neglect and exploitation seen in POJK.

Pakistan’s longstanding internal crisis and pervasive corruption, coupled with the growing strategic importance of PoJK and Balochistan for China, are leading the country to repeat its past mistakes and inciting sovereignty crises in these regions. The recent conflict in PoJK risks spilling over into Balochistan, potentially invigorating its long-standing freedom movement. In such scenarios, this additional instability threatens the viability and future of China’s highly aspirational China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, and furthermore expediting Pakistan’s existential crisis.

These frequent protests across Pakistan including POJK – Gilgit- Baltistan also exposing Pak’s fake narratives on peaceful Pakistan occupied J&K. As the people in these regions continue to bear the brunt of continued exploitation, illegal arrests, forced disappearance and abuse, highlighting the dire consequences of this geopolitical dynamic. Despite severe human rights violations in these regions, the international community, particularly the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Western media, has largely remained silent. This silence contrasts sharply with their vocal stance on human rights issues elsewhere. Jamil Maqsood, a prominent PoJK activist based in Brussels argue that “India is not responsible for these conflicts, as it has a legitimate and constitutional claim over POJK and seeks unification of Jammu and Kashmir, which was disrupted by the invasion of tribal militias and the Pakistani army in 1947.”

India’s Committed Stance 

Post-2014, India has adopted a robust and proactive diplomatic stance on POJK, a significant departure from the past. Frequent and articulate commentary from the Indian government on POJK is gaining acknowledgment from international communities. Pakistan’s deliberate demographic changes since 1947 present a serious challenge, as protests continue to erupt. The perceived failure of CPEC and the resulting disenchantment among the people across the Line of Control (LOC) are now redirecting their aspirations towards India, seen as a beacon of development.

Human Rights PoJk Activist, Jamil Maqsood emphasizes that the sole desire of POJK’s people is to be integrated with the state of J&K, administered by India. India considers Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) to be an integral part of its territory, illegally occupied by Pakistan. 

The Indian Parliament has consistently passed resolutions reaffirming its stance and denouncing Pakistan’s actions in the region. These resolutions unequivocally assert India’s sovereignty over the entire Jammu and Kashmir territory, including PoJK, and demand the region’s return to Indian governance. A notable resolution, passed on February 22, 1994, reiterated India’s dedication to peacefully resolving the Jammu and Kashmir issue while voicing concern over human rights violations in POJK. Out of the 114 seats in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, 24 are permanently reserved for representatives from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK).

The narrative of POJK is one of resilience and unyielding spirit amidst decades of oppression and neglect. The voices echoing from this troubled region reflect a collective yearning for justice, autonomy, and reunification with their cultural and historical roots in Jammu and Kashmir. As Pakistan continues to impose exploitative policies and demographic manipulations, the people of POJK remain steadfast in their demands for equitable treatment and recognition. This also marks a significant moment for India, as the residents of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) are turning their hopeful  gaze towards India, seeking a path of progress and development.

India stands with a strong political stance and a proactive, vocal diplomatic approach, a departure from previous norms. As firmly stated by EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar, “Our Position on POJK has always been and will always be very clear. POJK is part of India and expect one day we will have the jurisdiction, physical jurisdiction over it.”

The current policy is poised to pave the way for this integration. It is imperative for global stakeholders to acknowledge and address the legitimate grievances of the POJK populace, ensuring that their cries for freedom and self-determination are not lost in the cacophony of geopolitical maneuvering. The enduring cultural and emotional bonds between J&K and POJK serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a people who, despite decades of separation, remain united in their pursuit of a shared and prosperous destiny. However, there’s looming uncertainties on unification, amongst majority of people of Indian Jammu and Kashmir with respect to additional anticipated economic burden and demographic challenges.

Contributor(s): Kanwal Singh is a Scholar, Policy Analyst and Columnist from Jammu & Kashmir, India and Sagina Walyat is a Researcher, Delegate Australia-India Youth Dialogue, AsiaGlobal Fellow, The University of Hongkong and India based Human Rights Lawyer at High Courts.

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