Protests erupt in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir against Neo-Colonization and exploitation by Pakistan
Protests erupted last week across Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir, over violation by Pakistan of the most basic of human rights of the people of the beleaguered region. Pakistan, through underground tunnels, is diverting the flow of the Neelum river away from Muzaffarabad and into the pampered Pakistani province of Punjab. This is being done as a part of the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum power project constructed near Muzaffarabad that recently became fully operational. The project was conceived by the Pakistani Government as a vital part of the solution to Pakistan’s acute water and electricity woes. It is, however, turning out to be a bane for the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir on whose territory it is located.
The Neelum river is the primary source of drinking water and irrigation for the people of Neelum Valley and Muzaffarabad, and its diversion is leading to a drought-like situation there. Residents of Muzaffarabad have described the present state of the normally fast-flowing Neelum river as akin to a storm water drain filled with sewage waste and silt despite this being the peak of the monsoon season when the region gets most of its rainfall. Media reports quoted a protestor as saying: "It is important to launch a movement which can expose Pakistan to the world…. With the production of electricity from Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project, the people of Pakistan will get all benefits. We want to ask the government of Pakistan that what we will get in return of Rs 50 billion they will be earning out of this project. Instead of providing free electricity to us, they have been charging four-times higher bills from us".
Ruthless exploitation of the people and resources of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir to benefit Pakistan has led to considerable resentment amongst the people of the region. This, combined with the near-total absence of tangible benefits to the region from the several hydro-electric and other Pakistani projects, has led to a feeling of being colonized. This has manifested itself in a long string of protests by the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir in recent months. In January this year, protests were held throughout Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir against exploitation of their water resources by Pakistan. The Awami Action Forum that spearheaded the agitation, political parties, and people of Muzaffarabad held protest demonstrations against the Kohala Hydropower project and blocked the Muzaffarabad-Rawalpindi highway while raising slogans against the Pakistani Government. In the same month, traders under the banner of ‘Anjuman Tajiran’ (trade union) in Muzaffarabad blocked the Neelum Valley road and burnt tyres to express their indignation at the frequent and prolonged power-outages in the region that has led to the traders suffering huge losses in their businesses. This protest vividly illustrates the piquant and iniquitous situation that the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir find themselves in – their lands are the engine-room of Pakistan’s electrification drive and their water the fuel, but they themselves are unceremoniously deprived of this electricity that is reserved for quenching Pakistan’s thirst for power. Reports suggest that Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir already produces an estimated 1,500 MW of electricity through hydropower, almost all of which is transmitted to Pakistan. Several other large hydro-electric projects are additionally being constructed there by Pakistan without even consulting with or obtaining the consent of the people of the region. The Pakistani Government does not pay any royalty for these projects to Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir. And to top it all, the Pakistani Government does not deem it justified or appropriate to at least fulfill Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir’s meager total requirement of 400 MW of electricity.
The construction by Pakistan of a large number of dams and hydropower projects in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir is being done without any scientific study on their impact on the fragile ecology of the region or on the environment. Neither does it take into consideration the displacement of the indigenous population as had happened when the Mangla Dam was constructed in the 1960s. Specific to the Neelum-Jhelum power project, the ecological impact is expected to be significant and long-term as the Neelum Valley is home to unique flora and fauna, which experts believe will be severely affected by the project.
Recent protest demonstrations in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir have not only targeted exploitation of the region’s resources but have also been directed against the atrocities being perpetrated by the Pakistani Army and intelligence agencies on the people of the region. In March this year, massive protests broke out across the region against the brutality of the army and police on local residents. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) along with local political parties organized a joint protest rally from Tetri Mor to Mazarpur. Similar protests were organized in other towns of the region. The police responded with baton charges and opening of fire on the protesters, killing two of them on 16 March. Mir Afzal Suleria, a nationalist leader of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir, revealed that Pakistan's intelligence agencies were using locals living near the Line of Control (LoC) as human shields by “using their homes to fire gunshots and mortar shells across the border. The return fire comes directly to these houses, resulting in heavy casualties... For the past 70 years, the army claims to be here for our protection, but why are they using us as shields to carry out attacks. It shows that the government is deliberately wanting people to die so that they get a chance to promote their propaganda. We condemn it and nationalists in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir are united in launching a protest against the Pakistan government".
Another massive protest against Pakistan's increased support and financing of terrorist activity in the region was organized by the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir in Rawalakot last month. Sardar Jagir Khan, a leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). described the plight of the residents of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir that had led to the protest: "We have repeatedly said that 'non-state actors' (terrorists), who are constantly being smuggled into Jammu & Kashmir by Pakistan's secret agencies, have sabotaged us. The world is now seeing it as an act of terrorism. Nobody has been listening to us... When the international community put pressure on Pakistan to eliminate terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), they activated Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar. Now, Jaish-e-Mohammed is getting shelter and being promoted in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir". In yet another protest demonstration in Tarar Khel region of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir last month, locals vented their ire against decades of occupation, discrimination and oppression by Pakistan. The protesters lamented that they were denied basic human rights and amenities for decades and were forced to live under constant threat.
Protests were also organized throughout Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir on 22 October 2017, to mark the ‘Black Day’. It was on this day, 22 October, in 1947, that the Pakistani Army, disguised as tribal raiders, invaded the undivided State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and forced its fragmentation. Protests were held in Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Kotli, Gilgit and Hajirah, amongst other places in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir. Demands were made for Pakistan to withdraw from Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir and hold a plebiscite as per the UN Resolutions. Sardar Mahmood Kashmiri, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir National Independence Alliance (JKNIA), stated: "We are protesting against the division of Jammu & Kashmir. On this day, in 1947, our beloved country was invaded, divided and captured by the Pakistan Army and they still continue to loot and harass the good people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, who are living in fear as they are constantly staring down the barrel of a gun".
Pakistan has been flagrantly attempting to position itself in the international arena as the champion of the cause of the people of Jammu & Kashmir on both sides of the LoC. Whether it possesses the moral justification to claim such an exalted and honorable title for itself is highly questionable in view of its contemptuous disregard for the rights – both human and to resources – of the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir that it illegally and forcibly occupies. This is amply borne out by the long and weighty lists of grievances being articulated at the near-incessant stream of protests taking place in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir in recent months. It is only the heavy hand of the Pakistani security establishment that has thus far ensured that such protests are kept tightly under wraps, with coverage being blacked out of the local media.
Despite Pakistan’s de facto treatment of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir as part of its territory, its legal status is that of a self-governing state that has its own President, Prime Minister and Legislative Assembly. Pakistan’s attitude towards Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir is apparent from the fact that it is the least developed among all the regions under Pakistan’s control. If Pakistan were genuinely interested in bettering the condition of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, it would draw up agreements with Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir that would ensure that the people of the region received equitable returns for the projects Pakistan is undertaking there for its own benefit. As per official estimates, Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir has the potential to generate 4,635 MW of electricity. Pakistan currently has a deficit of over 5,000 MW. These figures indicate that fair and conscientious handling of the situation by Pakistan could yield almost its entire requirement for electricity from Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir alone, while the royalty received by the latter would enable it to significantly bolster its socio-economic indices and ensure the betterment of its people. The crude fact of the matter is that the welfare of the people of Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir does not figure at all in Pakistan’s calculations. Any such consideration would actually be antithetical to Pakistan’s exploitative designs. Pakistan has chosen to treat Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir as a modern-day colony, exploiting its resources to the full while simultaneously silencing voices of dissent through violent force.
As for Pakistan’s credentials as a campaigner for the people across the LoC in the Indian Administered State of Jammu & Kashmir, it cannot be denied that Pakistan does pay lip service at every opportunity that presents itself. Just as in Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir though, what Pakistan actually does on the ground and the impact such actions have on the people is what is really relevant. Pakistan breeds violence by sending in hordes of indoctrinated terrorists armed with modern lethal weapons. Among those killed and maimed by these Pakistan-dispatched terrorists are the people of Jammu & Kashmir, of whom Pakistan lays claim to being the self-appointed guardian. This violence begets more violence in the form of the response of the Indian State, as also the concomitant restrictions on rights and liberties.
Pakistan, the self-styled champion of the cause of the people of all parts of Jammu & Kashmir, is in reality undoubtedly the biggest violator of their rights. The sooner the people on both the sides of the LoC realize this, as they are increasingly doing, the earlier a solution to the vexed issue will come to fruition.