In the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva (Switzerland), Muhammad Sarfaraz Khan, an activist from Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) has said that radical and extremist groups operating in the region are often ignored by the Pakistan Army and security forces. In fact, they have been encouraged to assist political parties and register in the local election commissions.
He went on to say that by doing so, they plan to manipulate elections, destroy, and undermine free and fair elections and pave the way for the annexation of Pakistan. Notably, Sarfaraz Khan has been a member of the United Kashmir Peoples Party (UKPNP).
Extremism in POJK
While addressing the 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Khan said The POJK Elections Act 2020 imposes loyalty to Pakistan as a pre-requisite for political parties and effectively silences those who advocate for the unification and full integration of Jammu and Kashmir. Notably in the POJK banned terrorist groups have been operating under many names and aliases and are allowed to spread and perpetuate instability and allowed to roam freely.
While condemning the extremism in POJK, he said that the freedom of speech, expression movement and assembly have been systematically suppressed and curtailed for decades, “in order to silence dissent the anti-terror laws are weaponized and this results in book bans, persecution of civil society nationalist activists and human rights advocates, Sarfaraz Khan said at the UNHRC.
Apart from that the activist also discussed the issue of the allocation of forest land and tourist resorts in the disputed areas to its military and citizens. This is a clear violation of the Jammu and Kashmir State Subject Rule of 1927, which has changed its demographics and harmed the environment to a great extent. The presence and operations of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s artery in the POJK is the main contributing factor.
“Unequal access to quality education, limited healthcare access, lack of basic facilities and infrastructure along with electricity and water shortages combined with corruption, growing extremism, lack of job opportunities, inflation, unemployment and political instability are some of the other extra challenges the region is facing,” he said
Highlighting the fact that the people and citizens of the POJK have also gone through innumerable issues mostly related to social, political, and religious factors, the activist has urged the United Nations to take note of these violations and additionally asked the Government of Pakistan to abolish all discriminatory laws and uphold its international and human rights obligations.
Political Unrest in POJK
The political unrest in the POJK is based on a range of issues primarily the denial of basic rights, both constitutional and political. There is a huge sectarian divide and there is constant friction between the Shias and the Sunnis, the former being the majority in Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistan has denied and refrained from the region from possessing legislative autonomy.
Almost a month ago, that is, on August 28, 2023, a Shia cleric in Skardu named Al-Hussaini was charged with blasphemy and was arrested. This move created a huge clash between the Shias and the Sunni Muslims of the region. The people already suffering from a multitude of problems coupled with the arrest began to say “Chalo Chalo Kargil Chalo” or literally let us go to Kargil.
As the protests intensified, the Pakistan Government called the army and security forces to brutally suppress the revolt. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan had a nightmare-like situation when the people of Skardu (POJK) began claims to merge the region with India.