Sadly it would take a national disaster for some people – such as your Blogger - to become aware of some of the realities that exist in Azad Kashmir.
For instance, I never had any idea that, at the time of the earthquake , not only mobile phone companies were not allowed to operate in Azad Kashmir but there was no PTCL telephone network there either. Instead there was a limited telephone communication system operated by something called Special Communications Organization, which was apparently a functional unit of the Pakistan army.
And then, while most of us suspected the government of Azad Kashmir to be a smokescreen, I had never truly comprehended the sheer scale of the façade.
It was shortly after the earthquake that I learnt that the so-called president, prime minister and cabinet ministers of that benighted place were more or less permanently ensconced in Rawalpindi, only making infrequent trips to the place of their imaginary governance.
Obviously the disconnect between the supposed ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’ was much greater than any preconceived notion I might have had.
I fear that the actual state of affairs in Azad Kashmir would probably make even a hardened cynic cringe with embarrassment.
Recently the Human Rights Watch organization published a 71-page report on ‘Azad’ Kashmir – and yes, I did squirm after reading bits like:
"...the federal government in Islamabad, the army and the intelligence agencies control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir...The military shows no tolerance for dissent and practically runs the region as a fiefdom.”
HRW doc: “With Friends Like These…” - Human Rights Violations in Azad Kashmir
For those interested, here is a summary of the report:
“Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.”
…“There is a façade of an elected local government, but the federal government in Islamabad, the army and the intelligence agencies control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir,” said Adams. “The military shows no tolerance for dissent and practically runs the region as a fiefdom.”
Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, and this practice is also routine in Azad Kashmir. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture by the intelligence services and others acting at the army’s behest but knows of no cases in which members of military and paramilitary security and intelligence agencies have been prosecuted or even disciplined for acts of torture or mistreatment.
Despite the Pakistani government’s criticism of human rights violations in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir state in India, refugees from Jammu and Kashmir are discriminated against and mistreated by the authorities. Kashmiri refugees and former militants from India, most of whom are secular nationalists and culturally and linguistically distinct from the peoples of Azad Kashmir, are particularly harassed through constant surveillance, curbs on political expression, arbitrary arrest and beatings.
“The Pakistani government often pretends that the only problems faced by Kashmiris are in India,” said Adams. “It should start looking into ways of ending human rights abuses in Azad Kashmir.”
Human Rights Watch urged international donors, which have poured billions of dollars of urgently needed relief and reconstruction aid into Azad Kashmir since the earthquake, to insist on structural changes in governance and the promotion of both human rights and the rule of law. Recent corruption allegations against senior government officials highlight serious weaknesses in the rule of law and governmental accountability.