Kashmiris Demand Basic Rights as Mass Protests Break Out

As the world's attention is largely fixated on the war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East, unrest has erupted in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) in Southeast Asia.

Pakistan’s oppression of occupied Kashmir is only worsening.

As the world’s attention is largely fixated on the war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East, unrest has erupted in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) in Southeast Asia. The Pakistani government is carrying out a massive crackdown against residents in PoJK.

Tensions have further risen in the region since the Pakistani government deployed troops on May 11 and attacked civilians to suppress the ongoing protests.

The protests address the Pakistan’s government failure to solve Kashmiris’ economic, social, and political problems.

Prior to the protests, the United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP) and the Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) issued warnings to the government of Pakistan regarding the use of any force against peaceful protestors.

The warnings were apparently ignored when Pakistan mobilized its troops to the area, leading to wider protests.

Here is brief historical background information about the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir presented by the Hindu American Foundation:

“In 1947, the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir became part of the Republic of India. Shortly thereafter, Pakistani armed forces and Pashtun tribesmen invaded the area, forcing the largest Kashmiri political party to approve the accession. Indian forces were deployed to counter the attacks by Pakistan. In 1948, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 47 requiring all Pakistani military personnel to withdraw from the region before a plebiscite—which would have confirmed the people’s wishes to join India—could be called. Instead of this Pakistan increased its military presence, and no plebiscite was held. In the areas of Kashmir which remained outside of India, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, 41,000 Hindu families were forced to flee from Pashtun tribesmen.

“The historic region of Kashmir has a total area of 85,807 sq. miles and is now divided between three countries. Pakistan occupies approximately 30,160 sq. miles, known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Northern Areas.”

Clashes between Pakistani troops and Kashmiri locals are expected to further escalate. Professor Sajjad Raja posted on X that during the protests,

“Slogans such as ‘Down with #Pakistan’ were shouted. It was started as a people’s rights movement but now this movement will continue till independence from Pakistan.”

Since last year, the Kashmiri movement has engaged in demonstrations and other activities as a means of making economic and political demands to the central government of Pakistan.

Since October 2023 several public protests have been organized across different parts of PoJK under the umbrella of the Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC). This committee is composed of representatives from traders, lawyers, and left-leaning nationalist political parties.

Their main issues were inflated electricity bills, wheat subsidy, an inadequate supply of flour and other basic commodities, rights to natural resources, transfer of ownership of hydro-projects to PoJK government as well as the illegal usurpation of land by Pakistan’s army.

Representatives held meetings with Pakistan’s government and organized several rallies, but so far without any resolution.

Sources from the ground, who wished to remain anonymous, shared with this author some of the developments that took place prior to the May 11 protests. The determination of the activists as well as the unwillingness or incompetence of Pakistan’s central government to meet their requests demonstrate that these protests might be the first step in the region towards wider political changes. Possibly even a revolution.

“During a January 28 meeting in Muzaffarabad, the Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) and all its constituents announced that February 5 would be celebrated as People’s Rights Day (PRD). Despite threats from Pakistan’s government, PRD Day was observed. In response, JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) terrorists targeted an observation rally in Rawalakot city, openly displaying AK-47s, bows, arrows, batons, and chanting slogans in favor of jihad.

“The observance of PRD was a landmark event. The people of PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) openly challenged the government who is denying basic rights to the people.

“The JAAC leadership then announced a long march from across PoJK to the capital Muzaffarabad on May 11. They called it ‘the long march for people’s rights’. The upcoming protest was announced in front of the Provincial Assembly with the slogan ‘Hakook Do, Yaa, Assembly Chhod Do’ (Either give us our rights or dissolve the assembly).

“In order to make the long march successful, JAAC constituents embarked on a door-to-door public campaign in their respective areas. In response, Pakistan’s government requisitioned additional troops of Central Armed Forces (CAF) and Punjab Police.

“The JAAC leaders decided that any attempt by the government to stop the May 11 event would be resisted vehemently.

“On May 1 (International Labor Day), the women wing of JKPNP (the Jammu Kashmir People’s National Party) staged a protest rally and appealed to the local people that they reach Muzaffarabad on May 11.

“Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary of the PoJK government requested the federal government for 6 platoons of CAFs to address the upcoming May 11 protest.

 “The JAAC held a meeting on May 4 which condemned the deployment of forces from Punjab to derail the long march. They also warned the government regarding a potential statewide lockdown. They called on media and journalists to cover the long march and called on police to respect people’s right to peaceful assembly. They also appealed to local people to stock rations and other essential commodities, such as during the Covid-19 era and to be ready for a protracted struggle. 

“Large scale rallies were organized to protest against the deployment of security forces who were intending to stop the long march.

“The government of Pakistan profiled leaders and sympathizers of the movement. They opened old cases and issued warnings.

“People took oath on May 7 on the bank of Mangla Dam to make the long march successful.”

The long-awaited May 11 protests finally were held, but were once again exposed to police violence.

“Businesses remained closed and normal life was affected during a crippling strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s capital Muzaffarabad to protest against a police crackdown, which led to a confrontation between the security forces and demonstrators,” regional media reported.

“Sources said in anticipation of the strike, the government had enforced      Section 144 across PoK and announced holidays in all educational institutions on May 10 and 11. However, people came out in thousands on the road in all districts of PoK.”

Section 144 of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure allows the district administration to issue orders that may impose a ban on a specific activity for a designated period.

Pakistan’s systematic abuse and neglect of Kashmiris in PoJK is doubly hypocritical given the fact that the region is under Pakistan’s control as a result of Pakistan’s 1947 military invasion. At the time of the 1947 partition, Pakistan’s Armed Forces orchestrated an invasion of Kashmir using Pashtun tribesmen and regular military personnel. The Hindu American Foundation describes what happened next:

“The invading tribal militia committed mass atrocities against the people of Kashmir, including massacres of Muslims and Hindus, and the capture of non-Muslim women. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were forced to flee PoK while thousands more were killed.”

The Indian military intervened to stop the massacres.

“The UN Security Council then passed Resolution 47 which required Pakistan to first withdraw all its military personnel and tribesmen from the state as a necessary precondition to holding a plebiscite. In August 1948, however, the UN Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) found that Pakistan had instead increased its military presence in Kashmir.  After a ceasefire in January 1949, Pakistan remained in control of approximately one-third of the state while the remaining two-thirds were incorporated into India.”

Recent mass protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan all show that the incompetent, corrupt government of Pakistan has denied its citizens their basic human rights and needs.

The people’s demands and protests for positive change are often crushed with military and police violence. Perhaps, it is time for the international community to start questioning if Pakistan’s 1947 borders have done any justice for many of its citizens – particularly for those specific regions where people have for years tried to get the central government to hear their voices.

Uzay Bulut
Uzay Bulut
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.