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Pakistani Kashmir *
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Although Pakistan and India maintained cordial relations in 2007, they made little substantive progress on resolving the status of Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government continued to face demands for increased political rights from nationalist and proindependence Kashmiri groups in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, which consisted of two administrative units—Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf proposed changes to the Northern Areas Legislative Council in October that would moderately increase the council’s power while maintaining significant federal control. However, the reforms had not been implemented by year’s end due to Pakistan’s own political crisis, leaving political rights in the territory severely limited. The broader crisis was felt in Kashmir, as several opposition leaders were detained and some protesters clashed with police after Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December. Though arms continued to flow into the area, there were no reported incidents of serious sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslim groups, unlike in previous years. Recovery and reconstruction efforts pertaining to the region’s devastating 2005 earthquake made progress in 2007, particularly in housing provision.
For centuries, Kashmir was ruled by Afghan, Sikh, and local strongmen. In 1846, the British seized control of the territory and sold it to the Hindu maharajah of the neighboring principality of Jammu, who later incorporated surrounding areas into the new princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh tried to maintain Jammu and Kashmir’s independence, but eventually ceded it to India in return for autonomy and future self-determination.
Within months, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. As part of a UN-brokered ceasefire in January 1949 that established the present-day boundaries, Pakistan gained control of roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir. India retained most of the Kashmir Valley along with Jammu and Ladakh. Unlike India, Pakistan never formally annexed the portion of Kashmir under its control. The Karachi Agreement of April 1949 divided Pakistani-administered Kashmir into two distinct entities—Azad (Free) Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Pakistan retained direct administrative control over the Northern Areas, while Azad Kashmir was given a larger degree of nominal self-government.
A legislative assembly was set up for Azad Kashmir in 1970, and the 1974 interim constitution established a parliamentary system headed by a president and a prime minister. Nevertheless, Islamabad’s influence over the electoral process and governance of the region remained strong. Three rounds of elections have taken place for the assembly, though few observers consider them free and fair. Azad Kashmir People’s Party (AKPP) and the Muslim Conference (MC) are the two main parties contesting the leadership. In the 1996 elections, AKPP emerged with a majority of seats after the MC boycotted the voting amid accusations of fraud. In 2001, the MC won the elections, but within weeks Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf installed his own choice of president, former general Sardar Muhammad Anwar Khan. In 2006, 369 candidates from 15 parties contested the 41 directly elected seats, of which the MC won a majority. MC candidate Raja Zulqarnain Khan emerged as president, and MC leader Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan became prime minister following Musharraf’s nomination.
The lack of political representation in the Northern Areas has fueled demands for both formal inclusion within Pakistan and self-determination. In 1999, the Pakistani Supreme Court directed the government to act within six months to give the Northern Areas an elected government with an independent judiciary and to extend fundamental rights to the area’s residents. The Pakistani government then announced a package that provided for an appellate court and an expanded and renamed Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). Elections to the NALC were held in October 2004, but the body continues to have few real fiscal and legislative powers despite ongoing calls for reform. The Musharraf-backed Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) party dominated the NALC as of 2007, while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) served as the main “opposition.”
Militant groups that had been active in Azad Kashmir expanded their presence in the Northern Areas during the Kargil conflict between Indian and Pakistani-backed forces in 1999, with many of them, including al-Qaeda, establishing bases in the region. Extremist groups that receive patronage from the Pakistani military also continue to operate in both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas, regularly infiltrating into the Indian-controlled section. Although infiltration into Indian-administered Kashmir has declined since 2004, neither the militant groups nor the Pakistani military has abandoned this tactic altogether. In February 2007, following international pressure, law enforcement agencies took steps to curb Islamist activities in the region, closing the Gilgit offices of the Al-Akhtar Trust, listed by the United Nations as a financial facilitator for terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, tension between Islamist pro-Pakistan groups and proindependence Kashmiri groups has also reportedly intensified.
While the Pakistani authorities have readily provided support to armed militants fighting in India, they have been less tolerant of groups that espouse Kashmiri self-determination, including primarily the All Parties National Alliance (APNA), a conglomerate of 12 small proindependence Kashmiri groups. Nationalist and proindependence groups in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement, and others, continued in 2007 to agitate for increased political representation. In October 2007, Musharraf proposed a number of reforms to the governance structure for the Northern Areas, but most groups rejected them as insufficient, saying they lacked a solid constitutional foundation and guarantees of judicial independence. By year’s end, the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan on November 3, which led to widespread restrictions on political rights as well as the postponement of planned legislative elections, had led to a worsening of political freedom in Azad Kashmir, while Musharraf’s planned reforms for the Northern Areas were put off indefinitely.
Talks between India and Pakistan over the ultimate status of Kashmir, as well as other confidence-building measures, have occurred regularly since a ceasefire was instituted in 2003. In 2005, a bus service across the Line of Control (LOC) was launched, linking the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir and allowing some Kashmiri civilians to reunite with family members. In 2007, talks and periodic high-level meetings continued, but little progress was made toward a comprehensive resolution to the dispute.
The appropriation of land in the Northern Areas by non-Kashmiri migrants from elsewhere in Pakistan, with the tacit encouragement of the federal government and army, has led to dwindling economic opportunities for the local population and an increase in sectarian tension between the majority Shia Muslims and a growing number of Sunnis. Ethnic violence first erupted in 1988, with riots in Gilgit that killed at least 150 people, and it continues to be a concern. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), between June 2004 and October 2005 as many as 100 people died in sectarian violence that broke out over a government decision to introduce a new educational curriculum. The situation improved somewhat in subsequent years after a group of religious leaders drew up a peace agreement and the authorities cracked down on extremist groups. Sporadic attacks continued to occur, however, and the ICG noted a recent escalation of religious rhetoric and a growing amount of sophisticated weaponry pouring into the area.
In October 2005, Pakistani-administered Kashmir and parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were hit by a major earthquake. At least 88,000 people were killed, 100,000 were injured, and several million were left homeless, most in Pakistani Kashmir. Initial reconstruction efforts were marred by allegations of corruption and political sensitivities that delayed assistance to those in need. However, international aid agencies cited a marked improvement in relief efforts in 2007, particularly regarding housing. On the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, the United Nations estimated that 150,000 homes had been rebuilt and 200,000 more would be completed by mid-2008. Nonetheless, 60,000 families reportedly remained homeless, while the rebuilding of schools and restoration of public services was painfully slow and inflation in the prices of building materials decreased the value of reconstruction grants to local residents.
The political rights of the residents of Pakistani-administered Kashmir remain severely limited. Neither the Northern Areas nor Azad Kashmir has representation in Pakistan’s national Parliament. The Northern Areas are directly administered by the Pakistani government under the Legal Framework Order of 1994; the region is not included in the Pakistani constitution and has no constitution of its own, meaning there is no fundamental guarantee of civil rights, democratic representation, or the separation of powers. Executive authority is vested in the minister for Kashmir affairs, a civil servant appointed by Islamabad. A 36-seat Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC)—of which 24 seats are filled through direct elections and six each are reserved for women and technocrats from each district—serves in an advisory capacity and has no authority to change laws or control revenue. Elections to the NALC were held in 2004, with independent candidates and representatives of national political parties winning seats. In October 2007, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf announced a package of reforms that would change the NALC into the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly, devolving fiscal and legislative powers to locally elected politicians. The package would also allow for the election of a chief executive accountable to the assembly, but it would maintain federal control over the judiciary and the top executive post of “chairman.” The region would continue to be administered under the Legal Framework Order rather than a constitutional framework like in Azad Kashmir, thus still falling short of compliance with a 1999 Supreme Court ruling on the issue. At year’s end, Pakistan’s broader political crisis cast doubt on the future of the proposed reforms.
Azad Kashmir has an interim constitution, an elected unicameral assembly, a prime minister, and a president who is elected by the legislative assembly. Both the president and the assembly serve five-year terms. Of the 49 assembly seats, 41 are filled through direct elections and eight are reserved seats (five for women and one each for representatives of overseas Kashmiris, technocrats, and religious leaders). However, Pakistan exercises considerable control over the structures of government and electoral politics. Islamabad’s approval is required to pass legislation, and the minister for Kashmir affairs handles the daily administration of the state and controls the budget. The Pakistani military retains a guiding role on issues of politics and governance.
As detailed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 2006 report on the region, individuals and political parties who do not support Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan are barred from participating in the political process, standing for election, taking a job with any government institution, or accessing educational institutions. At least 60 proindependence candidates who belonged to the JKLF, the APNA, and smaller political parties were barred from participating in the July 2006 Azad Kashmir legislative assembly elections. Overall, HRW noted that the election process was flawed and “greeted with widespread charges of poll rigging by opposition political parties and independent analysts.” However, unlike the 2001 elections, the polls featured few instances of physical violence and harassment—aside from threats—against candidates or their supporters, possibly because of the greater international presence in the wake of the earthquake. In general, antiaccession parties and individuals are subject to surveillance, harassment, and sometimes imprisonment by Pakistani intelligence and security services.
In 2007, the political crisis in Pakistan reverberated in Kashmir. Chaudhry Majeed, the PPP president for Azad Kashmir, and other party activists were briefly detained in November following Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency, with some placed under house arrest for 30 days. In December, demonstrators clashed with police, burned tires, and blocked roads in antigovernment protests after the assassination of PPP leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, but there were no reported injuries.
Azad Kashmir receives a large amount of financial aid from the Pakistani government, especially following the 2005 earthquake, but successive administrations have been tainted by corruption and incompetence. A lack of official accountability has been identified as a key factor in the poor socioeconomic development of both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Pakistani-controlled Kashmir was not rated separately in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The Pakistani government uses the constitution and other laws to curb freedom of speech on a variety of subjects, including the status of Kashmir and incidents of sectarian violence. In recent years, authorities have banned several local newspapers from publishing and have detained or otherwise harassed Kashmiri journalists. In March 2007, the government suspended its advertisements in publications by the Dawn English-language media group after it reported on a possible resurgence of official support for militants in Kashmir. In April 2007, Dawn reported that the editor and publisher of the banned monthly Kargil International magazine were indicted on sedition and defamation charges for publishing a proindependence article in 2004. In addition to pressure and threats from the authorities, journalists have been known to face harassment and attacks from nonstate actors, though no such incidents were reported in 2007. During the state of emergency imposed on the rest of Pakistan in November 2007, cable operators in Kashmir were instructed to suspend broadcasts of most national and international news channels.
Internet access is not usually restricted but remains confined to urban centers. Deliberately limited telephone and mobile phone access has been expanded in the wake of the 2005 earthquake. The presence of foreign media and aid organizations has also helped to partially open up a tightly controlled information environment. Books that do not adequately adhere to a proaccession stance are regularly banned, according to HRW.
Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous restrictions on religious freedom. Religious minorities also face unofficial economic and societal discrimination and are occasionally subject to violent attack. Shia Muslims, who form the majority of the population in the Northern Areas, include a large number of Ismailis, a group that follows the Aga Khan. Sectarian strife between Shiites and the increasing number of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are migrants from elsewhere in Pakistan) first became a concern in 1988 and continues to be a problem. In 2005, several waves of sectarian violence killed almost 100 people and led to a month-long curfew. Sporadic attacks continued to take place during 2006, including the destruction by fire of an Ismaili place of worship, but no violent incidents were reported in 2007.
Freedoms of association and assembly are restricted. The constitution of Azad Kashmir forbids individuals and political parties from taking part in activities that are prejudicial to the ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan. As such, police in recent years have regularly suppressed antigovernment demonstrations, sometimes violently. In 2005, at least 10 people were killed when police opened fire on Shia student protesters, and lengthy curfews were imposed to prevent demonstrators from assembling. In 2007, police clashed with demonstrators on several occasions, but there were no reports of deaths or lengthy detentions. In October, police baton-charged dozens of people demonstrating against a proposal to move the capital of Azad Kashmir from Muzafarrabad. Three people were arrested but released the same day. In November, police blocked activists of the proindependence APNA who were protesting in favor of truck service across the LOC from entering a town near the ceasefire line as planned.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally able to operate freely. However, the Aga Khan Rural Support Program—run by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), an international development organization that focuses on Ismaili communities worldwide—has been subjected to harassment and violence. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 Report on International Religious Freedom, Sunni extremist groups have in recent years vandalized AKF-funded schools and health clinics and have attacked AKF personnel, although no such attacks were reported in 2007. The situation for labor rights in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir is similar to that in Pakistan.
The judiciary of the Northern Areas consists of district courts, a chief court, and since 2005, a separate court of appeals. With appointments based on three-year contracts subject to discretionary renewal, the judiciary is largely subservient to the executive. Azad Kashmir has its own system of local magistrates and high courts, whose heads are appointed by the president of Azad Kashmir. Appeals are adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. There are also Islamic judges who handle criminal cases concerning Islamic law. In April 2007, local lawyers protested the appointment to the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court of Justice Mohammad Reaz Akhtar Chaudhry over the court’s most senior judge, Justice Manzoor Hussain Gilani, arguing that it violated constitutional conventions and rules of seniority. The newspaper Dawn reported that the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court rejected a petition by the lawyers challenging the appointment and ordered that future petitions of a similar nature not be entertained by the courts.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operates throughout Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and engages in extensive surveillance (particularly of proindependence groups and the press), as well as arbitrary arrests and detentions. In some instances, those detained by the ISI, the police, or the security forces are tortured, and several cases of death in custody have been reported. Impunity for acts of torture and other mistreatment of civilians by the military and intelligence services remains the norm. The territory also continues to be governed by the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations, under which residents are required to report to local police stations once a month.
A number of Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda, operate from bases in Pakistani-administered Kashmir with the tacit permission of Pakistani intelligence. Tension between Islamist, pro-Pakistan groups and the proindependence Kashmiri groups—as well as some local residents—has reportedly intensified in recent years. In June 2007, a land dispute broke out between villagers in Azad Kashmir and the Islamist organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), identified by the United States as a terrorist organization. Following the alleged torture of two men and the killing of a 17-year-old boy by JUD members, a mob burned down a temporary hospital the group had established following the 2005 earthquake.
Several hundred families displaced by shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces around the LOC prior to the 2003 ceasefire remain unable to return to their homes and have largely been excluded from earthquake-related assistance schemes. In addition, the Azad Kashmir government manages relief camps for refugees from Indian-administered Kashmir, the bulk of whom arrived after the situation on the Indian side worsened in 1989. Many more of the refugees (roughly 1.5 million) live elsewhere in Azad Kashmir and throughout Pakistan.
The status of women in Pakistani-administered Kashmir is similar to that of women in Pakistan. While the HRCP reports that honor killings and rape occur less frequently than in other areas of Pakistan, domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse continue to be issues of concern. Women are not granted equal rights under the law, and their educational opportunities and choice of marriage partner remain circumscribed. In May 2007, the United Nations and other aid agencies temporarily suspended their work after suspected Islamists mounted an arson attack on the home of two aid workers; the organizations had received warnings against hiring women.