Election in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Banned Outfits Contest, Public Curbed

Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa is contesting elections in PoK under the name of 'United Kashmir Movement'

4 min read
Election in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Banned Outfits Contest, Public Curbed

The good old Jamaat-ud-Dawa—whose chief is, in theory, under arrest—is contesting elections under the name of 'United Kashmir Movement', while the anti-Shia terrorist group Sipah-e-Sahaba is contesting under the name of Rah-e-Haq Party.

The banned organisation Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan—the one asking for the beheading and expulsion of French Ambassador—was allotted the symbol of 'crane' to contest elections by the Election Commission of Kashmir.

The lists were available on internet until June when the Ministry of Interior of POK banned their participation under the Terrorism Act. The same Terrorism Act is generally used to prevent, both in PoK and Gilgit Baltisan, dissenters to contest elections and to jail and torture human rights activists, students and journalists.

Needless to say, nobody banned JUD or Sipah-e-Sahaba. Their goons are everywhere, like JeM goons, and have a capillary control on the territory.


Imran Khan's Brand of Azadi in Azad Kashmir

In his latest and more cherished avatar, the 'Ambassador of Kashmiris', Imran Khan closes the election campaign in Pakistan occupied Kashmir speaking at two big rallies. In his speeches, Khan promises 'panem et circenses' (bread and fun) to the inhabitants of the so called 'Azad' Kashmir, twice assuring them that Islamabad would grant them the right to live as an independent nation if they decided to do so even after acceding to Pakistan through the United Nations-sponsored plebiscite.

Leaving the constitutional and legal problems aside, let's focus on freedom in the land of Azadi, and the way Pakistan is dealing with the citizens of one of the most sealed regions in the world. “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”. And these include elections and the electoral process.

“Whoever wins elections” says an activist “will not represent the free will of citizens but Islamabad's control of the land. They don't need to rig elections, the process is rigged at the root. The only freedom we, citizens of the 'free' Kashmir have, is the freedom to become members of JuD, JeM, or other islamic extremist organisations. We have the freedom to go and die for their purposes, to propagate their ideology. For the rest, in the land of freedom, we have no right to speak, no freedom of religion, no freedom of conscience”.

Human Rights Situation in PoK

According to locals and to international reports, in fact, anyone who wants to take part in public life has to sign a pledge of loyalty to Pakistan, while anyone who publicly supports or works for an independent Kashmir is persecuted.

In its report “Update of the Situation of Human Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019”, released on 8 July, 2019, the United Nations stated:

“Azad Kashmir is 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. Singled out are Kashmiri nationalists who do not support the idea of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. For those expressing independent or unpopular political views, there is a pervasive fear of Pakistani military and intelligence services-and of militant organisations acting at their behest or independently”.


No Curbs on Terrorists, All Rules Applicable Only to Public

However, none of this holds true, according to locals, if you are a terrorist, an extremist, or a member of a banned organisation. While Islamabad is looking for the approval of FATF to get out of their grey list claiming they are curbing on terrorist groups and banning extremist organisations, PoK is becoming every day a bit more a free playground for jihadis. On 5 February 2021, the Jaish-e-Mohammed was freely holding a rally in Rawalkot, POK.

From videos you can see the crowds, and policemen and army people amongst the people cheering and shouting slogans. They were claiming that jihad will go on, and challenging the rest of the world to come and see that their struggle will never end. Mind you, this is not their struggle for freedom, but for radical Islam. “The non-muslims and the agnostic people in Pakistan, and specially in PoK” says a local non-believer “are seen as people with no right to live".

In an organised manner, public service texts are sent to the mobile phones of general public to encourage them to 'report' ex-muslims or non-believers to the police”. To make sure the region is kept under the rule of terrorists organisations hand-in-glove with the Army and ISI, Kashmiri nationalists who do not support the idea of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan or those expressing independent or unpopular political views are persecuted. Officially banned terrorist organisations, however, are allowed to contest elections under different names.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book isBalochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets at @francescam63. This is a testimony based article, and the protagonist wishes to remain anonymous. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

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