DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES IN OCCUPIED AZAD JAMMU & KASHMIR
By Vincent Lyn
Azad Jammu and Kashmir, abbreviated as AJK and colloquially referred to as simply Azad Kashmir, is a region administered by Pakistan as a nominally self-governing entity and constituting the western portion of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of a dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947.
AJK considered to be one of the most breathtaking and beautiful places on earth is also a region that experiences strong vibrations of the earth as a result of the Indian plate underthrusting the Eurasian plate. A major earthquake in 2005 killed at least 100,000 people and left another three million people displaced, causing widespread devastation to the region’s infrastructure and economy. Since then, with help from the Government of Pakistan and foreign aid, reconstruction of infrastructure is underway. Azad Kashmir’s economy largely depends on agriculture, services, tourism, and remittances sent by members of the British Mirpuri community. Nearly 87% of Azad Kashmiri households own farm property, and the region has the highest rate of school enrollment in Pakistan and a literacy rate of approximately 72%.
But sadly the history of AJK is one that has been entrenched and embroiled in constant turmoil since 1947. One of my dear friends Sardar Nouman Azam whom I wrote a previous article:
Sardar’s activism consists of efforts to promote social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes and a greater good for his fellow Kashmiris. It is one of the great reasons why we became friends and why I applied for a visa to go to AJK nearly 9 months ago and as of this writing the visa is still pending? But, I hope to get there ASAP so that I’m not only fighting through my pen to battle for the lives of 80 million Kashmiris. Sardar considers me his big brother and we both have much work to do together in spreading global awareness on the plight of the awful situation that continues day in day out for the people of Kashmir. I unequivocally believe that Sardar’s voice needs to be heard front and center as a role model for the youth at the United Nations General Assembly.
But let me not digress from the topic at hand. Back in April 2015 a plan was unveiled by the Federal Home Minister of the government of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr. Rajnath Singh, to settle tens of thousands of non-Kashmiri Hindus in the Muslim dominated disputed territory of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). BJP has long vowed to settle 200,000 to 300,000 Hindus in IOK. The three disclosed and two undisclosed composite Hindu townships for the non-Kashmiris, to be made on the acquired lands of the farmers would be self-contained and heavily guarded. IOK enjoys an independent constitutional status. Article 370 does not allow non-Kashmiris to own land in Kashmir. Modi is well aware that demographics can reshape politics by redrawing the boundaries of population. The decision is akin with the Israeli style settlements in Palestine. It perpetuates the cycle of vicious and unlawful politics. In an ideologically polarized society, the identity-based animus would further gratify the Indian policy of human rights violations and denial to the right of self-determination. Muslims, by far, are a majority with 68.3 per cent of the total population followed by Hindus and Buddhists in IOK. The power of numbers entrenched in democracy would clearly enjoy alliance with prevalent black laws and gradual erosion of Article 370, if settlements are encouraged. Consequently, it would generate more instability in an effort to incorporate IOK politically, ideologically and territorially. With demographics as a crucial factor in any peace building effort, Indo-Pak peace would face uphill struggle even further.
But on the other hand political activists have accused Pakistan of changing the demography of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) in disregard to its own commitments. Islamabad has gradually diluted its constitution in order to facilitate outsiders to grab the land and resources of illegally occupied areas. Islamabad abolished the State Subject Rule in Gilgit Baltistan in 1984, which resulted in demographic changes in the territory. People from different parts of Pakistan are free to purchase land there.
The Contact Group of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Jammu and Kashmir held an informal meeting on the sidelines of the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly.
It is a meeting chaired by Secretary General Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen, with the participation of Member States, the Contact Group issued a joint statement in which it indicated that it discussed recent developments on Jammu-Kashmir issue. The Group’s focus was also on the OIC’s efforts to support the Kashmiri people in their struggle to obtain their legitimate rights, including the right to self-determination, recognized on the agenda of the Islamic Summit and the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC and by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council since 1948.
The participants expressed their commitment to continued support to the Kashmiri people for a lasting solution that respects their dignity and rights. They also prayed for mercy on the departed soul of the Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Geelani, and paid homage to his unflinching commitment to the rights of the Kashmiri people.
The Contact Group also called for the issue to be projected into such worldwide forums as the U.N. The call was also for immediate action to improve the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. In this connection, the participants called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to monitor the situation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday called upon the international community to “take immediate cognizance of the compelling evidence” contained in a dossier issued by Pakistan on September 12 against India’s heinous crimes in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. They called upon the world powers to “hold India accountable” for the crimes committed by Indian occupation forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
A report was shared by the Secretary General and the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), besides a briefing given by Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi, as well as foreign ministers of other states and representatives of the Kashmiri people.
Decisions taken by foreign ministers
- Reaffirmed the OIC’s position and resolutions on the Jammu & Kashmir dispute.
- Further reaffirmed the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the recognized OIC position and the Security Council resolutions.
- Underscored that Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute that has been and continues to be on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) since 1948 and reaffirmed by the relevant UNSC resolutions granting the Kashmiri people their inalienable right to self-determination.
- Stressed that lasting peace in South Asia cannot be achieved without a just settlement of the core Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNSC resolutions.
- Denounced the unilateral and illegal Indian actions of August 5, 2019, and subsequent steps to alter the demographic structure of occupied Jammu and Kashmir through the issuance of over 4.2 million domiciles to non-Kashmiri Indian citizens;
- Affirmed that Indian actions are inconsistent with international law, applicable U.N. Security Council resolutions and India’s own solemn commitments to implement UNSC resolutions.
- Eulogized the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiris for their right to self-determination, and condemned the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Indian occupation forces in occupied Jammu and Kashmir since 1989, resulting in the extra-judicial killing of more than 96,000 Kashmiris, widowing of around 23,000 women, rape of over 11,250 women and girls and further deplored that around 108,000 children have been orphaned, around 110,000 structures including schools and houses have been destroyed, and more than 8652 unidentified mass graves have been discovered.
- Recalled U.N. General Assembly resolutions, in particular, resolution 2649 (1970) which “recognizes the right of peoples under colonial and alien domination in the legitimate exercise of their right to self-determination”.
- Welcomed the meetings of the U.N. Security Council on August 16, 2019, January 15, 2020, and August 5, 2020, to discuss the grave situation in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Recalled the statement of the U.N. Secretary General of August 8, 2019, clearly affirming that the U.N. position on Jammu and Kashmir was “governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions”.
- Welcomed the meetings of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir on September 25, 2019, and June 22, 2020, noting in particular, that the Joint Communiques adopted by the Contact Group unequivocally rejected the unilateral Indian actions of August 5, 2019, as inconsistent with international law and the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
- Recalled the two reports issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2018 and July 2019, comprehensively documenting the gross and systematic violations of human rights in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Recalled the concerns raised by the U.N. Special Procedure Mandate Holders on the grave human rights in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir especially in the wake of the illegal Indian actions of August 5.
- Welcomed the visit of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission to Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) August 5–9, 2021.
- Recalled the visit of the Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir in March 2020 and welcomed his comprehensive report presented to the 47th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Niamey in November 2020.
- Welcomed the forthcoming visit of the Special Envoy on Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
- Denounced India’s continued refusal to allow the Special Envoy, the U.N. Special Mandate Holders and international civil society organizations to visit India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Welcomed the role played by world leaders, parliamentarians, human rights organizations and international media, in raising their voice against illegal Indian occupation and atrocities in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Expressed deep concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the grave humanitarian situation in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and noted with deep concern that the suffering of the Kashmiri people has been exacerbated by lack of access to hospitals, medicines including lifesaving drugs and food supplies.
- Denounced the deliberate Indian policy to deny and deprive the Kashmiris of essential medical supplies by shifting them to Indian states, and to exploit the pandemic to further perpetuate its oppressive reign in the India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Welcomed the mandate given by the 47th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Niamey to the Humanitarian Department of the OIC Secretariat to examine and analyze the grave human rights and humanitarian situation in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir with particular reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, and extended full support to the visit of the Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs to the AJK, to fully assess the situation and to present concrete recommendations to the 48th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad. To this end, the Ministers particularly urged the Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs to assess the need for an immediate humanitarian call to support the people in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Expressed deep condolences to the Kashmiri people over the sad demise of the revered Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Geelani, and payed homage to his unflinching commitment to the Kashmir cause in the face of persistent persecution and tremendous personal hardship. It was noted that Kashmir’s natural accession to Pakistan was an element of faith for Syed Ali Geelani; he was a true voice and hero of the Kashmiris’ struggle for self-determination, who never lost his ideological mooring for a single moment.
- Deplored the unconscionable act of snatching mortal remains of Syed Ali Geelani from his family by the Indian occupation forces and denying them the right to organize a funeral as well as to bury him as per his will;
- Denounced the gross human rights violations committed against Kashmiri leadership and human rights defenders in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, who are consistently being traumatized, tortured, subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.
- Condemned the use of pellet guns and live fire-arms by the Indian security forces, the use of the so-called ‘cordon-and-search operations’, imprisonment of Kashmiri political leaders, staged ‘fake encounters’, and a deliberate killing spree of Kashmiri youth as a punitive tool to punish entire communities.
Demands of India
- Reverse all illegal and unilateral measures taken on or after August 5, 2019, stop the gross, systematic and widespread human rights abuses in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, halt and reverse the illegal demographic changes in the occupied territory, allow unrestricted access to U.N. Special procedures, international media and independent observers to visit India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and take concrete and meaningful steps for the full implementation of UNSC resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir.
- Conduct an independent investigation against well-documented cases of human rights violations including extra-judicial killings, sexual violence by the Indian occupation forces in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Allow the family of Syed Ali Geelani and the Kashmiris to carry out his last rites in accordance with their wishes and Islamic traditions; and immediately release detained Kashmiri political leaders and youth in arbitrary detention in jails across India.
Other steps by foreign ministers
The foreign ministers of the contact group further:
- Requested the Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to monitor the situation of human rights in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir with a view to continuing reporting on the matter.
- Directed their respective Permanent Representatives in New York and Geneva to regularly brief the UN Secretary General, Presidents of the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, President of the Human Rights Council and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on the evolving developments in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Requested the OIC Secretary General and OIC member states to highlight the worsening situation in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir at various international forums including the United Nations and call for immediate steps for amelioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation and peaceful resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute.
- As provided in several OIC resolutions, requested the OIC Secretary General to write a letter to the President of India seeking a visit by an OIC fact finding mission to visit India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir to conduct an independent verification of the situation on the ground, and to take steps to ameliorate the situation.
- Requested the Special Envoy of the OIC Secretary General to engage U.N. Special Procedure Mandate Holders and international human rights organizations to draw global attention to the gross and systematic violations of human rights in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Called upon the international community to hold India accountable for the heinous crimes being committed by the Indian occupation forces in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
- Determined to take concrete actions on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute during the 48th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Islamabad in March 2022.
- Decided to remain actively seized of the matter.
FM addresses informal meeting of contact group
Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in his address to the contact group during a breakfast meeting, called for a “just” and “equitable” resolution to the Kashmir dispute for peace in South Asia.
The foreign minister underscored the need for the international community to be “very clear on Indian transgressions and hold India accountable”.
“Since August 5, 2019, over eight million Kashmiris continue to face lockdown, military siege, arbitrary detentions and unprecedented restrictions,” said Qureshi.
“Indian occupation forces are committing unspeakable atrocities to silence the voice of the Kashmiris and break their will to resist occupation,” he added.
The foreign minister said the most recent example was treatment of mortal remains of Geelani, when a contingent of India’s occupation forces “entered his family home and snatched his body, denied him last rites and buried him in a nondescript place”.
“There can be no peace in South Asia until the just and equitable resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” he stressed.
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