The numerical scores and status listed here do not reflect conditions in either Indian Kashmir or Pakistan, which are examined in separate reports. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
Pakistani Kashmir is administered as two territories: Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Each has an elected assembly and government with limited autonomy, but they lack the parliamentary representation and other rights of Pakistani provinces, and Pakistani federal institutions have predominant influence over security, the courts, and most important policy matters. Politics within the two territories are carefully managed to promote the idea of Kashmir’s eventual accession to Pakistan. Freedoms of expression and association, and any political activity deemed contrary to Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir, are restricted.
- Fighting between Pakistani and Indian forces took place across the Line of Control (LoC) separating their Kashmiri territories throughout the year, killing 59 civilians according to the AJK government.
- In January, the Pakistani Supreme Court stopped an attempt to overturn the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, after residents who desired full constitutional rights for GB filed a petition. The court instead called for GB’s status to be addressed by Pakistan, but the national government did not comply by year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
Both AJK and GB have locally elected executive leaders. However, the Pakistani government also controls—directly and indirectly—key executive functions, and it is not accountable to voters in the two territories.
Under AJK’s 1974 interim constitution, a president elected by the Legislative Assembly serves as head of state, while the elected prime minister is the chief executive. After the 2016 election, the new assembly elected the local leader of Pakistan’s then ruling Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), Raja Farooq Haider, as prime minister, and Masood Khan, formerly a senior Pakistani diplomat, as president. They remained in office during 2019, despite the presence of a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in Pakistan. An AJK Council is based in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, consisting of both Kashmiri and Pakistani officials and chaired by the Pakistani prime minister. The council holds a number of executive, legislative, and judicial powers, such as control over the appointment of superior judges and the chief election commissioner.
In 2018, the Pakistani government adopted the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 to replace GB’s previous basic law, the 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order (GBESGO). Under the 2018 order, executive functions are shared between a Pakistani-appointed governor and a chief minister chosen by the GB Assembly (GBA). The governor signs legislation and has significant power over judicial appointments; the governor’s decisions cannot be overruled by the GBA. The order also grants extensive authority to the Pakistani prime minister, including exclusive executive and legislative powers on a long list of topics.
GB residents who sought de facto provincial status petitioned the territory’s judiciary to reverse the order. An appellate court did so in mid-2018, but the Pakistani Supreme Court overruled it in January 2019. The Supreme Court instead ordered the Pakistani government to fully address GB’s constitutional status, though it was unable to do so by the end of 2019.
Cohabitation between the locally elected PML-N executive in GB and the PTI government in Pakistan continued in 2019. Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman of the PML-N was named chief minister of GB after the area’s 2015 election; his term ends in 2020. The local president of the PTI, Raja Maqpoon, was named GB governor in 2018, after the PTI won that year’s election in Pakistan.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Neither AJK nor GB is represented in the Pakistani Parliament.
The AJK Legislative Assembly contained 49 seats until 2019, when the region’s election commissioner finalized the creation of 4 new seats. Before this change, 41 were filled through direct elections: 29 with constituencies based in the territory and 12 representing Kashmiri “refugees” throughout Pakistan. Another eight were reserved seats: five for women and one each for representatives of overseas Kashmiris, technocrats, and religious leaders. The PML–N won the 2016 election with 31 seats. The local branch of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won three seats, as did the Muslim Conference, while the PTI secured two. The remaining two seats were won by the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party and an independent. The election process was largely peaceful, though both the PPP and the local PTI leader complained of preelection manipulation, including the use of federal development funds to boost support for the PML-N.
The 33-member GBA is composed of 24 directly elected members, six seats reserved for women, and three seats reserved for technocrats; the reserved seats are filled through a vote by the elected members. The GBA’s legislative authority is limited to certain subjects, and even discussion of some topics—foreign affairs, defense, internal security, and judicial conduct—is prohibited by an 2018 order. However, the order does allow the GBA to exercise legislative powers that were previously allocated to the Gilgit-Baltistan Council (GBC). The council, which now has an advisory role, is headed by the Pakistani prime minister and vice-chaired by the GB governor, and includes six members chosen by the GBA and six Pakistani ministers or Parliament members chosen by the Pakistani prime minister. The GB chief minister also has a seat.
Elections to the assembly were last held in 2015. In keeping with the well-established pattern of victory by the party in power in Islamabad, the PML-N took 15 of the 24 directly elected seats. No other party won more than two seats, including the previously governing PPP.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
The electoral framework in both territories facilitates indirect control by the Pakistani authorities. For example, the AJK Council appoints the chief election commissioner, and the electoral system for the AJK Legislative Assembly disproportionately favors nonresident refugees over AJK residents. The nonresident elections are more vulnerable to manipulation by federal Pakistani authorities, and the party in office at the federal level tends to win these seats. Candidates in the AJK elections must formally endorse “the ideology of Pakistan” and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.
Elections in GB are governed by Pakistani election law and a code of conduct drawn up by the local election commission. The first clause of the code of conduct dictates that parties and candidates must refrain from any action or speech which could be deemed contrary to the ideology of Pakistan or the country’s security. This vague provision can be used to exclude candidates associated with nationalist parties or those disapproved of by the Pakistani authorities.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
Politics are dominated in both AJK and GB by local branches of the main Pakistani parties and some local parties, such as AJK’s Muslim Conference, that are closely allied with the Pakistani establishment. Small nationalist parties that are opposed to union with Pakistan are actively marginalized or barred outright from the political process. Activists accused of opposition to Pakistani rule have been subject to surveillance, harassment, and sometimes imprisonment. The interim constitution of AJK bans political parties that do not endorse the territory’s eventual accession to Pakistan, and similar rules prevail in GB.
There were no high-profile cases in which GB political activists were jailed during 2019. However, those previously jailed remained in detention, including Baba Jan, a leader of the left-wing Awami Workers Party who is serving a life sentence for his participation in protests.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
There is ample precedent for transfers of power between the major parties, though these are typically dictated by parallel changes at the federal level in Pakistan. The PML-N Pakistani government’s decision to replace GB’s governor in 2015 was criticized as a bid to ensure the party’s victory in the GB legislative elections, and federal authorities were similarly accused of working to manipulate the 2016 AJK Legislative Assembly elections in favor of the PML-N.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1.001 4.004|
Because voters in GB and AJK cannot participate in Pakistani elections, Pakistani federal officials and entities are not democratically accountable to them. Security agencies operating in both territories are federal institutions. They work to block and suppress any parties or politicians that adopt positions deemed to conflict with Pakistani interests.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Men and women have the right to vote in both territories. Although there is no bar on women contesting general seats, prevailing norms mean that women rarely exercise this right. Instead, general seats tend to be filled by men. The seats reserved for women are filled proportionally from party lists based on the general vote, meaning the parties themselves determine who will represent women’s interests.
Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and members of Ismaili offshoot of Shiite Islam are represented in the GBA, having won directly elected seats. In comparison, the heterodox Ahmadi sect, which suffers systematic discrimination in Pakistan, is poorly represented in the territory’s political system, as is its Christian minority.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1.001 4.004|
The powers of the elected chief executives in AJK and GB are limited by the fact that the Pakistani prime minister, the Pakistani minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, and through them the federal civil service, exercise effective control over government operations in both territories. As in Pakistan, federal military and intelligence agencies also play a powerful role in governance and policymaking.
The territories lack any meaningful fiscal autonomy, as federal taxes are imposed on both, and they receive a share of the resulting funds from the federal government. The territories’ local representatives are excluded from the Pakistani bodies that negotiate interprovincial resource allocation.
There has been a sustained debate within GB on the idea of enhancing the territory’s status in the Pakistani constitution by designating it a provisional province, granting its legislators powers on par with those delegated to Pakistan’s four existing provinces, and giving GB representation in the federal Parliament. Proponents have claimed that this would reduce any legal concerns hampering Chinese investment as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project and grant GB residents the constitutional rights as those enjoyed by Pakistani citizens. However, figures associated with the struggle against Indian control of Kashmir have criticized the GB proposal as a weakening of the commitment to full Kashmiri accession to Pakistan.
A Pakistani parliamentary committee, then headed by foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz, reviewed GB’s status in 2017 and recommended integrating it into Pakistan, while stopping short of giving it de jure provincial status. The Pakistani government subsequently adopted the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, which was criticized for failing to grant the provisional provincial status that many GB politicians demanded. The Supreme Court’s January 2019 ruling overturned an appellate-level ban against the order, but also called for the government to expand political rights for the territory’s residents. Pakistan’s government did not fulfill the ruling by the end of 2019, and requested extensions from the court instead.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Both territories have formal safeguards against official corruption, and GB is within the jurisdiction of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau, which has a field office in Gilgit. However, as in Pakistan, corruption is believed to remain endemic, with enforcement actions subject to political influence.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Transparency and access to government information are limited in practice. The AJK government has made a gesture toward transparency by posting basic information about its departments online.
|Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?||-2.00-2|
The Sunni Muslim share of the population in GB—historically a Shiite-majority region—has increased significantly in the decades since a pre-1947 rule was abolished to allow immigration from different parts of Pakistan. State agencies are suspected of deliberately encouraging this migration to engineer a demographic change. Under the 2009 GBESGO, settlers were given formal citizenship rights in GB; critics of a clause in the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 have argued that it appears to extend GB citizenship rights to all Pakistani citizens, further encouraging settlement. The pre-1947 restrictions on acquiring residency and citizenship are still in place in AJK.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
AJK and GB are subject to laws that curb freedom of expression, particularly related to the political status of the regions. Media houses need permission from the AJK Council and the federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan to operate. A wide range of media are present and active. However, coverage of news and politics does not diverge from official Pakistani narratives, including that India’s hold over the Kashmir Valley is illegitimate and all Kashmiris aspire to Pakistan accession. This compliance is achieved through a mixture of censorship, self-censorship, and harassment. A number of outlets have faced closure by authorities in recent years.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1.001 4.004|
Both territories have a predominantly Muslim population, and there is no official or social tolerance of nonbelief. Tools used to compel expressions of belief and conformity with official interpretations of religious doctrine include laws criminalizing blasphemy, rules requiring observance of Ramadan, and an obligation to denounce the heterodox Ahmadi sect to obtain a Pakistani passport. Although there is a history of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in GB, no major incidents were recorded in 2019.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Each territory is home to a growing education system, and education is much valued as a path to migration and employment. However, in academia there are acute sensitivities around the issue of constitutional status and no tolerance of debate or materials questioning Pakistan’s claims over Kashmir. Student union activity has long been subject to state monitoring for signs of nationalist political views. Local languages and scripts are not taught in government schools. There is a history of attacks on schools in the Darel Valley by Islamist militants who oppose secular and girls’ education. One such arson attack was reported in August 2019.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Federal intelligence agencies maintain a prominent and intrusive presence in both territories. Discussion of heterodox political or religious views consequently carries significant risks. The authorities have increased their monitoring of social media and sporadically punish expression of anti-Pakistan or separatist opinions.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
The authorities’ observance of freedom of assembly is highly discretionary. The Pakistani state traditionally uses AJK as a platform to protest against Indian control of Jammu and Kashmir and the treatment of the population on the Indian side of the LoC. Protests that do not directly challenge Pakistani control or the territories’ constitutional status tend to be tolerated. In April 2019, traders demonstrated in the AJK capital of Muzaffarabad after India suspended trade across the LoC. After India ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status in August 2019, Pakistani and Kashmiri officials made statements condemning the move in the AJK Assembly’s hall and attended street demonstrations. The Jammu Kashmir People’s National Alliance (JKPNA), an alliance of proindependence groups, was formed in August 2019 and uncharacteristically succeeded in holding local events calling for a provisional all-Kashmir assembly in AJK. The JKPNA later held a proindependence rally in Muzaffarabad in October, which was also tolerated.
However, in keeping with their well-established pattern, the authorities arrested at least 22 activists belonging to the independence-oriented Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) when they held a sit-in protest in September. Authorities disrupted their efforts to march to the LoC, in protest against the clampdown in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. The authorities have also worked to stop protests against the CPEC initiative, relying on harassment, intimidation and the use of army checkpoints to dissuade protesters.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are subject to strict registration requirements and thus operate at the pleasure of the authorities. NGOs working on political or human rights issues face more intrusive government scrutiny and, in some cases, harassment.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
AJK is subject to labor laws similar to those in Pakistan. However, unions and professional organizations are frequently barred. Labor laws and union activities are poorly developed in GB.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Both territories have nominally independent judiciaries, but the Pakistani federal government plays a powerful role in judicial appointments. On politically sensitive issues, the AJK and GB courts are not considered to operate with independence from the executive in Pakistan.
The president of AJK, in consultation with the AJK Council, appoints the chief justice of the territory’s Supreme Court. Other judges of the superior courts are appointed by the AJK president on the advice of the council, after consultation with the chief justice. The chief judge and other judges of GB’s Supreme Appellate Court are appointed for three-year terms by the prime minister of Pakistan on the recommendation of the governor. GB residents briefly gained the ability to petition Pakistan’s Supreme Court due to the controversy surrounding the territory’s 2018 governance order. The court allowed GB residents to appeal to it directly in its January 2019 ruling on the order, though the Pakistani government sought to reverse this change when it requested an extension to comply with the ruling in February.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
The civilian court system in both territories features basic due process guarantees, including defense lawyers and a right to appeal, but arbitrary arrests and other violations are not uncommon, particularly in security-related cases. Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which is often used to suppress dissent, includes vaguely defined offenses, allows extended detention without trial, and applies to juveniles, among other problematic features. Since 2015, the Pakistani government has allowed civilians facing charges of terrorism or sectarian violence to be tried in military courts, which have fewer due process protections and can impose the death penalty.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Torture and deaths in custody at the hands of security forces have been reported, especially for independence supporters and other activists. Separately, extremist groups devoted largely to attacks on Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir operate from AJK and GB and have links with similar factions based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One such group, Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammad), killed over 40 paramilitary police officers in a February 2019 suicide attack in Indian Kashmir. Pakistani and Indian aircraft engaged in bombing runs and dogfights soon after, but the Pakistani government pledged to close militant locations in Pakistani Kashmir in March.
A 2003 cease-fire agreement between the Indian and Pakistani armies is supposed to protect AJK from attacks across the LoC. However, the two armies engaged in several episodes of intense fighting across the LoC during 2019. The cross-LoC firing often targeted civilians, damaged their residences, and left them at risk of injuries from unexploded ordinance. The AJK government reported that 59 civilians were killed along the LoC in 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
As in Pakistan, women in the territories face economic discrimination, disadvantages under personal status laws, and abusive customary practices, the perpetrators of which often enjoy impunity. LGBT+ people, ethnic minorities, and non-Sunni religious groups also suffer from discrimination, and Afghan refugees have encountered increased harassment and pressure to return to Afghanistan since 2015. Pakistani authorities have been reluctant to offer citizenship to migrants displaced from Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Periodically these refugees have been subjected to abuse and arbitrary arrest for demanding greater rights.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
The people of AJK and GB have Pakistani national identity cards and passports. They are internationally recognized as Pakistani nationals. However, there are reports of passports being denied or unrenewed for citizens suspected of questioning Pakistani control over the region. The territories’ heavy military presence and the threat of shelling and other violence along the LoC restricts internal movement for civilians.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
AJK’s pre-1947 state subject law, which bars outsiders from seeking permanent residency, allows only legal residents to own property. In GB, residents have raised concerns about possible displacement by CPEC development projects, and at least some forcible evictions have been reported to date. Procedures for establishing private enterprises in the territories are onerous in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
In both territories, the legal framework criminalizes domestic violence and so-called honor killing, but harmful traditional practices related to sex, marriage, and personal behavior often prevail amid weak enforcement of formal protections, especially in more conservative areas. Informal justice mechanisms operating at the village level are the first point of recourse for many incidents involving sexual or domestic violence against women, and their judgments can inflict further harm on victims.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Both territories, but particularly GB, have historically been less economically developed than Pakistan, and their population has depended on labor migration to supplement incomes. The lack of local control over extractive industries prompts periodic complaints that residents are being deprived of the benefits of natural resources. There are divergent views in GB regarding the extent to which local people stand to gain from economic activity generated by the centrally managed CPEC.
Child labor is known to occur in Pakistani Kashmir, though the AJK government banned the practice in its territory by passing the Restriction of Employment of Children Act 2016 and amending it in 2017. Under this legislation, businesses in AJK cannot hire residents under the age of 17.
On Pakistani Kashmir
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Global Freedom Score28 100 not free