Skeletons in Pakistan’s Cupboard

Nilesh Kunwar
April 15, 2017 OPINION 343 Views
Skeletons in Pakistan’s Cupboard

For Pakistan, Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 turned out to be a day of contrasts. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was busy lambasting “Indian brutalities” in Indian administered Kashmir (IaK), residents of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) were in turn staging protests against atrocities being committed on them by the ISI. Though such protests are not uncommon in PoK, but what makes this anti government protest unusual is not since it happened on Kashmir Solidarity day but because it was in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad!
One seldom reads news of such demonstrations and even news of the February 5 protest in Islamabad hasn’t been carried by Pakistani media. The reason for such omissions is the coercive methods employed by Pakistan army and the ISI to muzzle the media and browbeat activists. This is not an unsubstantiated allegation but the reality which finds specific mention in the report of Amnesty International on Pakistan for 2015/2016. This report notes that “Some journalists and media channels exercised self-censorship for fear of reprisal from the Pakistan army and armed groups.”
While commenting on the “fear of reprisals,” Amnesty International has equated the Pakistan army with “armed groups” and this rather uncomplimentary comparison gives an idea of how ruthless the army is when it comes to dealing with public dissent. This observation made by Amnesty International outrightly contradicts Islamabad’s assertion that people living in PaK (which it refers to as ‘Azad Kashmir’) enjoy unfettered freedom and are leading a contented life. Resultantly, considerable confusion exists on the factual position regarding civil rights and liberties in PaK.
Entry of independent media into PaK is restricted and the lucky few who do manage to get there are invariably accompanied by liaison officers. The establishment insists that this is merely an administrative arrangement to help visiting media persons in completing their assignment without any hindrances. But ask those who have been there and they will tell you that since the liaison officers insist on being present whenever journalists are meeting people, the scope of any candid interaction with PaK citizens is impossible.
PaK residents believe that the liaison officers assigned to accompany journalists visiting PaK are undercover ISI operatives and so this arrangement understandably precludes the possibility of any objectivity in reporting. Therefore in order to assess the actual position of human rights and civil liberties prevailing in PaK one has to rely on other indicators. Though there aren’t many, but the few credible indicators that are there paint a rather dismal picture of the state of affairs in PaK. Besides Amnesty International reports, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of 2006 on “Azad Kashmir” is another such document.
In this extensively researched document, “Azad Kashmir” has been described as “a land of strict curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books; arbitrary arrest and detention and torture at the hands of the Pakistani military and the police; and discrimination against refugees from Jammu and Kashmir state.” HRW is, as we all know, an organisation that is internationally respected for its comprehensive analysis, unbiased assessments and positive recommendations.
Having acquainted ourselves with the overall situation in PaK, let us examine the recommendations the HRW has made to the government of Pakistan in this regards, and these are:
Release all individuals imprisoned or detained and withdraw immediately all criminal cases against anyone, including Kashmiri nationalists, for the peaceful expression of their political views, including that Azad Kashmir should be independent.
End the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention, other forms of harassment, and torture and other ill-treatment of persons exercising their right to freedom of expression, including those who peacefully oppose Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan or demand greater autonomy for the territory.
Prosecute to the full extent of the law and in accordance with international standards those members of the armed forces, its intelligence agencies, government officials and police personnel implicated in serious violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrests and torture.
Respect press freedom and allow full independent coverage of both past and ongoing events in Azad Kashmir. Remove formal and informal prohibitions on news gathering and reporting by the Azad Kashmir and Pakistani media, and accord all journalists full freedom of movement. End the practice of banning books and literature.
Ensure that human rights organizations have freedom of movement throughout Azad Kashmir and allow them to carry out investigations and fact-finding missions free from intimidation and interference by military authorities.
Even though the recommendations given by HRW are self explanatory, two issues need to be highlighted as they completely expose Islamabad’s duplicity on the Kashmir issue. The first is regarding its clarion call for implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir. Islamabad accuses New Delhi of denying the people of Kashmir their right of self determination but is itself guilty of doing exactly this. Though projected as “Azad” (free)Jammu and Kashmir, PaK has a constitution in which Article 7 (2) (Freedom of Association)states, “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Isn’t it comical that Islamabad which has imposed such an undemocratic constitutional stipulation of expression on the people of PaK should be accusing New Delhi of denying the people of IaK their right of self determination?
The next issue is regarding the banning of books in PaK. It is the duty of every government to ban books that have subversive, sacrilegious or other such insidious contents. But in 2016, the unbelievable happened when two books written by iconic Kashmiri leader Maqbool Bhat, the man whose efforts gave the right of self determination movement a mass following, were banned in PaK. What makes this ban decision even more perplexing is that these books, ‘Mein Kaun Hoon?’ (Who am I?), and ‘Srinagar Jail say Farar ki Kahani’ (Story of (my) Escape from Srinagar Jail) do not contain anything objectionable. What they do contain is the idea of ‘azadi’ (independence) rather than accession with India or Pakistan and Bhat’s narration of his ill-treatment in Pakistan jails after his escape. Is this why these books have been banned?
Tailpiece-In August last year, while speaking about PaK, US States Department spokesperson Mark Toner said, “We do have concerns about the human rights situation there(PaK), have reported it for several years in our Human Rights Report, and we’ve obviously — are always urging all parties in Pakistan to work out their differences peaceably and through a valid political process.” Ill-treatment of PaK residents and denying them their basic rights are skeletons in Islamabad’s cupboard and till it does something about this, organising an event like ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ to draw international attention on “Indian brutalities” in IaK will continue to prove futile!

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