Pakistani Kashmir * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Pakistani Kashmir *

Pakistani Kashmir *

Freedom in the World 2013

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Nationalist groups’ demands for greater autonomy in Gilgit-Baltistan remained unfulfilled in 2012, and there was an increase in sectarian violence during the year. Ongoing talks between India and Pakistan yielded little substantive progress on the Kashmir dispute. Meanwhile, China continued to expand its military presence and involvement in development projects in the region.

When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hindu maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir tried to maintain his principality’s independence, but he eventually ceded it to India in return for autonomy and future self-determination. Within months, India and Pakistan went to war over the territory. Following a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1949, Pakistan refused to withdraw troops from the roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir that it had occupied, but unlike India, it never formally annexed its portion. 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 degree of nominal self-government.

A legislative assembly for Azad Kashmir was set up in 1970, and the 1974 interim constitution established a parliamentary system headed by a president and a prime minister. However, the political process was disrupted for long periods by military rule in Pakistan as a whole. Even when elections were held, Islamabad’s influence over the voting and governance remained strong, and few observers considered the region’s elections to be free or fair. The opposition Muslim Conference (MC) party won the 2001 elections, defeating the Azad Kashmir People’s Party (AKPP), but within weeks Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf installed his own choice of president. In 2006, the MC again won a majority of the 41 directly elected seats in the legislature, and MC candidate Raja Zulqarnain Khan emerged as president. MC leader Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan became prime minister after receiving Musharraf’s nomination, though he was eventually deposed in a 2009 no-confidence vote. Political instability and factional struggles led to a succession of several prime ministers in 2009 and 2010, with some alleging that the federal authorities had a hand in the turmoil.

In 2011 legislative elections, the AKPP won 20 of 41 seats, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) with nine seats and the MC with five. AKPP leader Chaudhry Abdul Majid became prime minister, and Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan was installed as president.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Areas, the lack of political representation fueled demands for both formal inclusion within Pakistan and self-determination. In 1999, the Pakistani Supreme Court directed the administration to act within six months to give the Northern Areas an elected government with an independent judiciary, and to extend fundamental rights to the region’s residents. The Pakistani government then announced a package that provided for an appellate court as well as an expanded and renamed Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). Elections to the NALC were held in 2004, but the body had few real fiscal or legislative powers. The court of appeals was established in 2005.

Faced with continued agitation for increased political rights in the Northern Areas, in August 2009 Islamabad issued the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order (GBESGO), which renamed the region and replaced the Northern Areas Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1994. It provided for a somewhat more powerful legislative body, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), with the authority to choose a chief minister and introduce legislation on 61 subjects. Nationalist groups argued that the arrangement still fell short of full internal autonomy, noting that ultimate authority rested with an appointed governor.

In November 2009 elections for the GBLA, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party at the federal level, won 12 of 24 directly elected seats; 10 of the remainder were divided among four other parties and four independents, and voting for two seats was postponed. Syed Mehdi Shah, head of the PPP’s Gilgit-Baltistan chapter, became chief minister. Following the death of Governor Shama Khalid from cancer in September 2010, Pir Karam Ali Shah, a member of the GBLA, was appointed as governor in January 2011. In 2012, the chief minister announced that the region would be subdivided into three districts to improve administrative functions.

Despite periodic talks between India and Pakistan, little progress has been made toward a comprehensive resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Negotiations continued during 2012 without any significant breakthroughs. In recent years there has been an expanding Chinese military and economic presence in Gilgit-Baltistan, including troops involved in large-scale development and construction projects. Some locals have expressed concerns that the increasingly close relationship between Pakistan and China could pose a risk to peace and stability in the area.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The political rights of the residents of Pakistani-administered Kashmir remain severely limited, despite a number of improvements tied to the end of military rule and the election of a civilian government at the federal level in 2008, and elections for the new GBLA in 2009. Neither Gilgit-Baltistan nor Azad Kashmir has representation in Pakistan’s Parliament.

Gilgit-Baltistan is still directly administered by the Pakistani government, meaning its status falls short of compliance with a 1999 Supreme Court ruling on the issue. Because the region is not included in the Pakistani constitution and has no constitution of its own, its people have no fundamental guarantee of civil rights, democratic representation, or separation of powers.

Under the 2009 GBESGO, Gilgit-Baltistan’s political structure includes the 33-member GBLA and a chief minister, as well as a 15-member Gilgit-Baltistan Council (GBC) headed by the Pakistani prime minister and vice-chaired by the federally appointed governor. The GBC consists of six members of the GBLA and nine Pakistani Parliament members appointed by the governor. The GBLA in turn 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. Ultimate authority rests with the governor, who has significant power over judicial appointments and whose decisions cannot be overruled by the GBLA. Many fiscal powers remain with the GBC rather than the elected assembly. A majority of high-level positions in the local administration are reserved under the GBESGO for Pakistani bureaucrats.

No proindependence candidates won seats in the 2009 GBLA elections. Local nationalist leaders accused the authorities of preventing their parties from holding public gatherings, and a number of nationalist leaders and candidates were arrested during the campaign period. Although violence erupted between supporters of rival candidates, the elections themselves were largely peaceful. Independent observer missions characterized the elections as competitive, despite flaws including an inaccurate voter list, allegations of rigging and interference, and misuse of state resources to benefit the ruling PPP.

Azad Kashmir has an interim constitution, an elected unicameral assembly, a prime minister, and a president who is elected by the assembly. Both the president and the legislature serve five-year terms. Of the 49 assembly seats, 41 are filled through direct elections: 29 with constituencies based in Azad Kashmir and 12 representing Kashmiri “refugees” throughout Pakistan. Another 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 federal minister for Kashmir affairs handles daily administration and controls the budget. The Kashmir Council—chaired by the president of Pakistan and composed of federal officials, Kashmiri assembly members, and the Azad Kashmir president and prime minister—also holds a number of key executive, legislative, and judicial powers, such as the authority to appoint superior judges and the chief election commissioner. The Pakistani military retains a guiding role on issues of politics and governance.

Those who do not support Azad Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan are barred from the political process, government employment, and educational institutions. They are also subject to surveillance, harassment, and sometimes imprisonment by Pakistani security services. The 2011 legislative elections in Azad Kashmir were marred by allegations of rigging and vote buying, as well as some violence and harassment, with at least three election-related killings reported.

Azad Kashmir receives a large amount of financial aid from Islamabad, but successive administrations have been tainted by corruption and incompetence. Aid agencies have also been accused of misusing funds. A lack of official accountability has been identified as a key factor in the poor socioeconomic condition of both Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. However, the region has benefited from improvements in accountability at the federal level and the transfer of some budgetary powers to the GBLA in 2009.

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 sectarian violence. Media owners cannot publish in Azad Kashmir without permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Several dailies and weeklies operate in Gilgit-Baltistan, mostly under the auspices of the K-2 publishing house, and provide some scrutiny of official affairs. However, authorities have banned a number of local newspapers and detained or otherwise harassed journalists in recent years. In June 2012, Gilgit police arrested and briefly detained two journalists over an article alleging that a superior had addressed the law minister using foul language. Local journalists have also faced harassment and attacks from nonstate actors. In October 2012, PML-N supporters stormed a local press club meeting and assaulted at least two members. In the aftermath of a devastating 2005 earthquake, local press freedom organizations set up private radio stations that focus on news and humanitarian information, contributing to greater media diversity. Internet access is not usually restricted but remains rare outside urban centers. Both telephone and internet services in Gilgit-Baltistan are under the control of the Pakistani military, which has unfettered powers of surveillance. The government suspended cellular service in the region on multiple occasions during 2012.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous official restrictions on religious freedom. Religious minorities also face unofficial discrimination and are occasionally subject to violent attack. Since 2009 there has been an upsurge in sectarian violence between Shiite Muslims, who form a majority in Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sunni Muslims who have migrated to the region with the tacit support of federal authorities. This trend continued in 2012. In February, men in Pakistani military uniforms stopped four buses en route to Gilgit near the region’s border with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and killed the 18 Shiite passengers. The authorities arrested five suspects in March. A similar massacre in August claimed the lives of 25 Shiites in the same border region. In April, assailants attacked a Sunni rally in Gilgit-Baltistan, killing six people and injuring 50. At least 10 Shiites were killed in retaliation. In May, the GBLA passed a law aimed at curbing Sunni-Shiite violence, forbidding clerics of one sect from issuing edicts or statements against the other.

Academic freedom and opportunities are limited. Local groups continue to call for the right to instruction on Shiite and Sufi Muslim teachings, as well as local languages and scripts, in government-run schools. Such practices are discouraged by the Pakistani authorities. Many areas do not have schools for girls, and hundreds of teachers receive below-minimum wages and are paid irregularly.

Freedoms of association and assembly are restricted. The constitution of Azad Kashmir forbids individuals and groups from engaging in activities that are prejudicial to the region’s accession to Pakistan. Police in recent years have regularly suppressed antigovernment demonstrations and protests concerning economic hardship and displacement, sometimes violently. In May 2012, it was reported that five human rights activists had been tortured in custody, having been detained since August 2011 over their protests on behalf of displaced disaster victims. Political leaders in Gilgit-Baltistan have also faced arrest and detention.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work on humanitarian issues are generally able to operate freely, while those focused on political or human rights issues face more scrutiny and occasional harassment. The situation for labor rights is similar to that in Pakistan, but with even fewer protections for workers. Unions and professional associations have routinely been banned by the authorities.

The chairman of the GBC appoints Gilgit-Baltistan’s chief judge and other judges on the advice of the governor. All judicial appointments in Gilgit-Baltistan are based on three-year contracts subject to discretionary renewal by the bureaucracy, leaving the judiciary largely subservient to the executive. In addition, the judiciary is not empowered to hear cases concerning fundamental rights or cases against the executive. Meanwhile, as the 1999 Supreme Court ruling has not yet been fully implemented, cases concerning Gilgit-Baltistan are considered outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Azad Kashmir has its own system of local magistrates and a High Court, with senior judges appointed by the president of Azad Kashmir in consultation with the Kashmir Council and the prime minister of Pakistan. Appeals are adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. There are also Islamic judges who handle criminal cases concerning Islamic law (Sharia). Disputes over the politicization of judicial appointments remain a concern, and law professionals claim that favoritism and delays in appointments hinder the courts’ ability to function effectively and independently. The High Court had been virtually nonfunctional due to unfilled vacancies, and over 9,000 cases are pending. In September 2012, the government increased the number of judges in both civil and Sharia courts in order to reduce case backlogs. Two Islamic judges were inducted in November, but four of seven High Court seats remained vacant.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate reportedly 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 security forces are tortured, and several cases of death in custody have been reported. Disappearances in Pakistani-held Kashmir have allegedly targeted individuals who refuse to cooperate with intelligence agencies or participate in militant actions on Indian-held territory. Impunity for such abuses remains the norm. In October 2012, Khushal Hussain Qazi, a former militant, was taken into custody in Azad Kashmir. His wife found him the following day in a hospital under the watch of military personnel, with visible signs of torture, before he was moved to an undisclosed location. His wife received threats after approaching the media regarding the disappearance. Under the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations, residents are required to report to local police stations once a month. A large number of Pakistani military personnel are stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan, particularly at times of potential unrest.

Islamist militant groups that once focused on attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir are reportedly expanding their local influence and activities, including the establishment of religious schools. They have also increased cooperation with militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Tension between pro-Pakistan Islamist groups and proindependence Kashmiri groups—as well as some local residents—has reportedly grown in recent years, contributing to the rise in attacks against local Shiites.

Since the 1970s, the Pakistani government has encouraged the settlement of Pakistanis in Gilgit-Baltistan in an effort to shift the demographic and ethnic balance in the region. Under the GBESGO, many of these settlers were given formal citizenship rights in Gilgit-Baltistan. In response to outbreaks of sectarian violence in 2012, the city of Gilgit imposed a curfew in April that lasted 25 days. Authorities also discontinued cellular service and suspended traffic on the Karakoram Highway, leading to food shortages.

Several hundred families displaced by shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces prior to a 2003 ceasefire remain unable to return to their homes and have largely been excluded from assistance schemes launched after the 2005 earthquake. The Azad Kashmir government manages 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 Pakistan. In January 2012, the Azad Kashmir government announced a $1.1 billion refugee resettlement plan that includes the eventual allocation of residential plots. Bus services linking Indian and Pakistani Kashmir have been established over the past decade, and limited trade across the Line of Control resumed in 2008 for the first time in over 60 years.

The status of women in Pakistani-administered Kashmir is similar to that of women in Pakistan. While honor killings and rape reportedly occur less frequently than in Pakistan, domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse are issues of concern. Women are also at risk of molestation and attack by Pakistani troops, and such attacks often go unpunished. Women are not granted equal rights under the law, and their educational opportunities and choice of marriage partners remain circumscribed. As in some parts of Pakistan, suspected Islamists occasionally mount attacks against NGOs that employ women and on their female employees.