Freedom in the World 2006 - Kashmir [Pakistan]

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Not Free
Population: 5,093,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: N/A
Religious Groups: Muslim, [Shia majority, Sunni minority] (99 percent), other (1 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kashmiri, Punjabi, Balti, Gujjar, Ladakhi, Shina, other


Relations between India and Pakistan continued to grow more cordial in 2005, as the two governments held several rounds of talks over the status of Kashmir and other issues. Both sides agreed to open a bus service connecting the two capitals of Kashmir in April in what was hailed as an important symbol of improved relations. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government faced demands from nationalist and pro-independence Kashmiri groups for increased political rights within Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Sectarian tensions in the Northern Areas remained high during the year, following the murder of a Shiite cleric in January, with extended curfews, rioting, and other targeted violence between Sunni and Shiite groups being reported throughout 2005. In October, the region was devastated by an earthquake that killed more than 85,000 and rendered several million homeless, creating a massive humanitarian disaster.

For centuries, Kashmir was ruled by Afghan, Sikh, and local strongmen. In 1846, the British seized control of the territory and sold it to the Hindu maharajah of the neighboring principality of Jammu. The maharajah later incorporated Ladakh and other surrounding areas into the new princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, Maharajah Hari Singh tried to maintain Jammu and Kashmir's independence. However, after Pakistani tribesmen invaded, he agreed to cede Jammu and Kashmir to India. In return, India promised autonomy and eventual self-determination for the territory.

India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir within months of gaining their independence. As part of a UN-brokered ceasefire in January 1949 that established the present-day boundaries, Pakistan gained control of roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir, including the far northern and western areas, as well as a narrow sliver of land adjoining Indian-held Kashmir. India retained most of the Kashmir Valley along with Jammu and Ladakh.

Unlike India, Pakistan never formally annexed the portion of Kashmir under its control. The Karachi Agreement of April 1949 divided Pakistani-administered Kashmir into two distinct entities – Azad (free) Kashmir and the Northern Areas. The Northern Areas consist of the five districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Ghanche, Diamer, and Baltistan. Pakistan retained direct administrative control over the Northern Areas, while Azad Kashmir was given a larger degree of nominal self-government.

For several decades, an informal council administered Azad Kashmir. A legislative assembly 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 in Azad Kashmir has been suspended on several occasions by the military rulers of Pakistan. In 1977, General Zia ul-Haq dissolved the legislative assembly and banned all political activity for eight years, while in 1991, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir was dismissed, arrested, and imprisoned in Pakistan.

Chronic infighting among Azad Kashmir's various political factions has also allowed Islamabad to interfere with ease in the electoral process. In the 1996 state elections, Sultan Mahmud Chaudhary's Azad Kashmir People's Party (AKPP) emerged with a majority of seats. The outgoing Muslim Conference (MC) had boycotted the elections, accusing the AKPP of vote rigging and fraud. In elections held in July 2001, with a 48 percent turnout, the MC swept back into power, winning 30 out of 48 seats. However, Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf installed a serving general as the president of Azad Kashmir later that month, amid speculation that Islamabad intended to reassert its control over the territory.

The lack of political representation in the Northern Areas has fueled demands for both formal inclusion within Pakistan and self-determination. In 1988, Gilgit was wracked by unrest after the majority Shias demanded an independent state. The Pakistani army suppressed the revolt with the help of armed Sunni tribesmen from a neighboring province. In 1999, the Pakistani Supreme Court directed the government to act within six months to give the Northern Areas an elected government with an independent judiciary. After the verdict, the Pakistani government announced a package that provided for an appellate court and an expanded and renamed Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). In August 2003, the NALC submitted a proposal to the Pakistani government that called for a more autonomous form of provincial government along the lines of what currently exists in Azad Kashmir. Elections to the NALC were held in October 2004, but the NALC continues to have few real financial and legislative powers, despite continued calls for federal authorities to devolve more power to local elected politicians.

Since early 2002, Musharraf has been under sustained international pressure to curb the activities of Pakistani-based militant groups. However, when Musharraf banned the movement of militants from the Pakistani portion of Kashmir into the Indian-held section of Kashmir in June 2003, hard-line Islamist groups in Azad Kashmir organized protest rallies denouncing his decision and vowed to continue their armed insurgency. Militants continue to operate in both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas.

While the Pakistani authorities have readily provided support to armed militants fighting in India, they have been less tolerant of groups that espouse Kashmiri self-determination. In 2001, 12 small Kashmiri separatist groups in Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas announced the formation of the All Parties National Alliance, which committed itself to fighting for an independent Kashmir. Nationalist and pro-independence groups in Pakistani-administered Kashmir have continued to agitate for increased political representation.

Talks between India and Pakistan over the ultimate status of Kashmir, as well as other confidence-building measures, have continued regularly since a ceasefire was instituted in November 2003, and periodic meetings between national leaders have made clear that they want to continue the dialogue. India and Pakistan agreed in February 2005 to start a bus service across the Line of Control (LOC) separating the two halves of Kashmir, which would link the capitals of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. After delays due to differences over how paperwork should be handled and despite threats from insurgent groups – militants attacked targets along the intended route twice before the bus's launch – the service started in April. This historic opening allowed Kashmiri civilians to reunite with family members, many of whom had been separated and unable to see each other for decades.

On October 8, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, along with parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Pakistan proper, was hit by an earthquake whose epicenter was near the Azad Kashmiri capital of Muzaffarabad. In all, at least 85,000 people were killed, 75,000 were injured, and several million were rendered homeless. After several weeks of wrangling, India and Pakistan agreed to open their border at several crossing points in order to facilitate family contacts and improve relief efforts (the first points were opened in early November), and India also allowed Pakistan to fly helicopters over previously restricted airspace. However, both governments were accused of allowing territorial sensitivities regarding the decades-long dispute to overshadow the need to cooperate on a massive relief effort being conducted in very difficult mountainous terrain.

Sectarian tension between the majority Shias and the Sunnis in the Northern Areas continued to be a concern. Violent protests erupted in 2003 among Shias in Gilgit over the government's decision to introduce a new educational curriculum. Attempts by Shias to campaign for changes to the curriculum led to the imposition of a curfew in Gilgit and several other parts of the Northern Areas in June 2004 after thousands of Shia protestors clashed with security forces and attacked government buildings, offices, and a state-run hotel. In 2005, sectarian tension once again erupted following the murder of a Shia cleric in January and remained a problem through the year, leading to a number of other violent incidents and prolonged curfews.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The political rights of the residents of Pakistani-administered Kashmir remain severely limited. Neither the Northern Areas nor Azad Kashmir has representation in Pakistan's national parliament. The Northern Areas are directly administered by the Pakistani government and have no constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights, democratic representation, or the separation of powers, according to Amnesty International. Executive authority is vested in the minister for Kashmir affairs, a civil servant appointed by Islamabad. An elected 29-seat Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) serves in an advisory capacity and has no authorization to change laws or spend revenue. Elections to the NALC were held in October 2004; candidates who won seats included independents as well as representatives of several national political parties.

Azad Kashmir has an interim constitution, an elected unicameral assembly headed by a prime minister who sits for a five-year term, and a president. However, Pakistan exercises considerable control over both the structures of governance and electoral politics. Islamabad's approval is required to pass legislation, and the minister for Kashmir affairs handles the daily administration of the state. Twelve of the 48 seats in the Azad Kashmir assembly are reserved for Kashmiri "refugees" in Pakistan, and the elections to these seats are the subject of some manipulation.

Until 2005, candidates in elections to the Azad Kashmir assembly were required to support the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities barred at least 25 candidates from the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) from contesting the July 2001 elections after they refused to sign a declaration supporting the accession of all of Kashmir to Pakistan. Several hundred JKLF supporters, including its chief, Amanullah Khan, were arrested while protesting against the decision. Fifteen other nationalists who agreed to the "accession" clause competed in the elections, but none won a seat. In April 2005, an amendment was made to the electoral laws that withdrew this condition. However, as there have not yet been new elections, this positive development has yet to be tested in practice.

Azad Kashmir receives a large amount of financial aid from the Pakistani government, but successive administrations have been tainted by corruption and incompetence. A lack of official accountability has been identified as a key factor in the poor socioeconomic development of both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. In November 2004, the National Accountability Bureau issued orders for the sitting minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs, Faisal Saleh Hayat, to appear in court on corruption charges that were originally filed in 2000. However, he has yet to stand trial.

The Pakistani government uses the constitution and other laws to curb freedom of speech on a variety of subjects, including the status of Kashmir. In recent years, authorities have banned several local newspapers from publishing and have detained or otherwise harassed Kashmiri journalists. In 2004, the magazine Kargil International was banned after it published a pro-independence article, and its editor and publisher were arrested and charged with sedition in 2005. Also during the year, the federal government, worried about the increase in sectarian violence in the Northern Areas, "advised" newspapers to restrict coverage of events, allegedly out of a concern that sensationalized reporting would further inflame sectarian tensions. When a number of newspapers refused to refrain from covering such news, the government suspended official advertisements in eight newspapers. In addition to pressure from the authorities, journalists face some harassment from other, non-state actors. Khursheed Ahmed, the Gilgit bureau chief of the national Urdu daily Khabrain and the president of the Gilgit Press Club, was targeted several times during the year by bomb attacks at his home in March and July. Ahmed speculated that the attacks may have been a retaliatory measure taken against local journalists who refused to publish the statements of extremist organizations. Internet access is not usually restricted but remains confined to urban centers.

Pakistan is an Islamic republic, and there are numerous restrictions on religious freedom. In addition, religious minorities face unofficial economic and societal discrimination and are occasionally subject to violent attack. Shiite Muslims, who form the majority of the population in the Northern Areas, include a large number of Ismailis, a group that follows the Aga Khan. Sectarian strife between the majority Shiite population and the increasing number of Sunni Muslims (many of whom are migrants from elsewhere in Pakistan) first erupted in 1988 and continues to be a problem. In June 2004, violence erupted in Gilgit between security forces and Shiite protestors who were campaigning for changes to be made in religious textbooks, which they allege present only a Sunni version of Islamic history.

Sectarian tensions were raised again in early 2005 after the murder of a prominent Shiite cleric (who had led the campaign for the separate curriculum) and remained simmering throughout the year; on January 8, suspected Sunni extremists shot Agha Ziauddin Rizvi, which sparked a wave of violence in which 15 people were killed. Although Gilgit and Skardu were placed under curfew for over a month and the Rangers, a paramilitary group, were deployed to maintain peace, further waves of violence occurred in which dozens of civilians were killed and an estimated 35,000 were evacuated. Extremists from both sides targeted the Ismaili community, accusing them of supporting the other side, and carried out tit-for-tat reprisal killings, such as the March murder of former inspector general of police Sakhiullah Tareen by Shiite assailants.

Freedom of association and assembly is restricted. The constitution of Azad Kashmir forbids individuals and political parties from taking part in activities prejudicial to the ideology of the state's accession to Pakistan. Political parties that advocate Kashmiri independence are allowed to operate but have not yet been able to participate in elections. According to Amnesty International, some people who do not support the accession of Azad Kashmir to Pakistan have been dismissed from their jobs and denied access to educational institutions. A number of nationalist political parties have been formed in the Northern Areas that advocate either self-rule or greater political representation within Pakistan. However, their leaders are subject to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and long jail terms. The Balawaristan National Front, which advocates for independence for the Northern Areas from Pakistan, estimates that more than 70 individuals are facing sedition or treason cases as a result of their political activities.

In recent years, police have suppressed antigovernment demonstrations, sometimes violently, in both Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas, and have imposed lengthy curfews in order to forestall protestors from assembling. These have included rallies by nationalist political organizations, as well as student protests and demonstrations by the Shiite or Sunni communities. A report by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that during the curfew imposed in June 2004, police used excessive force against civilians and arrested the leadership of the Shiite community that had organized the protests and hunger strikes. In October 2005, 10 people were killed in clashes between Shiite students and security forces; press reports alleged that security forces had fired indiscriminately into a group of unarmed students who were protesting the death of another student in police custody.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally able to operate freely. In 2003, the HRCP established an office in Gilgit to monitor the human rights situation in the region. However, the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, run by the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), an international development organization that focuses on Ismaili communities worldwide, has in recent years been subjected to increasing harassment and violence. According to the U.S. State Department's 2005 International Religious Freedom report, Sunni extremist groups have vandalized AKF-founded schools and health clinics and, in December 2004, unknown assailants believed to be linked to extremist groups killed two medical personnel at an AKF office in Chitral and burned vehicles belonging to the organization. Following the October 2005 earthquake, there were reports of some intimidation and violence towards NGOs involved in the relief effort. The BBC reported that the Sindh-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement was forced to temporarily close its camps and abandon its relief efforts in November after repeated attacks and intimidation from suspected militants. The situation for labor rights is similar to that of Pakistan.

The judiciary of the Northern Areas consists of district courts and a chief court, whose decisions are final. The NALC Legal Framework Order of 1994 provides for a separate court of appeals, and this was finally established in 2005. The territory continues to be governed by the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations, under which residents are required to report to local police stations once a month. Azad Kashmir has its own system of local magistrates and high courts, whose heads are appointed by the president of Azad Kashmir. Appeals are adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. According to the HRCP, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operates throughout Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas and engages in extensive surveillance and monitoring (particularly of pro-independence groups and the press), as well as carrying out arbitrary arrest and detention. In some cases, those detained by the ISI, the police, or the security forces are tortured while in custody, and several cases of custodial death have been reported.

A number of Islamist militant groups, including members of al-Qaeda, have bases in, and operate from, Pakistani-administered Kashmir with the tacit permission of Pakistani intelligence. Several militant groups that advocate the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan receive weapons and financial aid from the Pakistani government in support of their infiltrations into Indian-administered Kashmir. Under pressure from the United States, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, undertook several steps to curb infiltrations across LOC, such as banning the main militant groups and persuading them to close some of their training camps in Azad Kashmir. However, by 2003, militant activity had increased to previous levels. Tension between the Islamist, pro-Pakistan groups, and the pro-independence Kashmiri groups has reportedly intensified. The militant presence increased in the Northern Areas during the 1999 Kargil conflict with India, and several militant groups continue to operate there and engage in anti-Shiite activism.

Until a bilateral ceasefire was declared in November 2003, shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces around the LOC in Kashmir killed or displaced numerous civilians; some of these people remain unable to return to their homes. In addition, the Azad Kashmir government manages relief camps for refugees from Indian-administered Kashmir, which are funded by the Pakistani government. The appropriation of land in the Northern Areas by non-Kashmiri migrants from elsewhere in Pakistan, which has been tacitly encouraged by the federal government and army, has led to dwindling economic opportunities for the local population, as well as an increase in religious and ethnic tensions.

The status of women in Pakistani-administered Kashmir is similar to that of women in Pakistan. While the HRCP reports that honor killings and rape occur less frequently than in other areas of Pakistan, domestic violence, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse continue to be issues of concern. In the first reported case of its kind, three military personnel were accused of a rape of a woman in Azad Kashmir in July 2005; despite being pressured to withdraw the case, the family was able to have a case registered. Women are not granted equal rights under the law, and their educational opportunities and choice of marriage partner remain circumscribed. In February 2004, a spate of attacks by suspected Islamist hard-liners opposed to women's education targeted girls' schools in the Northern Areas.

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