Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is witnessing violent street protests since last week's elections there, with the people of the illegally-occupied territory questioning the authenticity of the elections. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party the PML (Nawaz) won 32 of the 42 seats.
As the protests began, Pakistan ordered a clampdown on the media, barring them from reporting from the region.
It's nothing new in PoK, a region that even the Pakistani media and intelligentsia say has one of the world's worst human rights records. As one Muzzafarabad resident said in 2006, "India is our enemy and Pakistan is our friend, but with friends like these, who needs enemies?!"
Is the situation any different today? Shabir Choudhary, a leader in PoK, says it's actually much worse.
This, even as Pakistan accuses India of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir and continues to fish in our troubled waters in the state. By doing so, it not only covers the stench of its own human rights violations, it also manages to keep international heat on India.
But it's time now to peep into PoK.
Pakistan occupied Kashmir, which goes by the ironic misnomer Azad Kashmir (and includes Gilgit-Baltistan), has been under Pakistan's control since October 22, 1947. With a population of around 4.5 million, it is spread over some 13,297 kilometres.
The very first indicator of what life is like in PoK under Pakistani occupation should come from the fact that there is no independent media in PoK. The Azad Kashmir Radio, which operates in the region, is entirely under the control of the Pakistan military and ISI.
Crushing the opposition
Pakistan's atrocities in PoK is not a new phenomenon. Last year, in the run up to elections, several voices were crushed violently by Pakistan. One protest at Kotli was crushed merely because people were demanding electricity in Kotli, which is rich in power generation!
As elections approached, the military went about systematically damaging the houses of the politial opposition in the region in the town of Haveli, leading the head of the Kashmir National Party Shabir Choudhary to expressing fear that Pakistan was out to crush all opposition in PoK.
The atrocities were at an all time high ahead of elections last year.
The nomination of Aftab Ahmed was rejected after he had said he believed in an independent Kashmir and not in the sovereignty of Pakistan over that region. Under the law that governs PoK, every citizen has to believe in the ideology of Pakistan and in Kashmir's accession to it.
India had expressed concern over recent footage appearing in the media that clearly highlighted the atrocities committed by Pakistan in PoK. Brutality was at its peak to quell rebellion and voices of dissent.
Take for instance the case of Shaukat Ali, a Kashmir and a Shia activist. His whereabouts are unknown today, and he is feared to be in the Pakistani military's custody. There are several reports and also a statement by a leader, Amir Humza Qureshi, who says that the human rights violations in PoK
are the worst in the world.
The government in Muzzaffarabad is a mute spectator and a puppet, with instructions to treat the people of PoK as refugees. They are often victims of state-sponsored terrorism.
In the past few years, protesters have been crushed violently for making demands such as better education,
communication and healthcare. In the absence of independent media, these voices have not been heard so far. It is only recently that voices in Mirpur-Muzzaffarabad are being heard. Gilgit-Baltistan continues to remain blacked out.
A large number of persons have gone 'missing' in PoK, thanks to the military-ISI-terror complex. Hundreds of these missing people are believed to be in secret jails, and many more are feared to have been killed.
No tolerance zone
In 2008 Freedom House's World Freedom Report listed PoK's status as "Not Free". Another report by Human Rights Watch said that the military shows no tolerance for dissent and the presence of an elected government is a mere formality.
All aspects of life in PoK are under the control of the army and the military and several incidents of torture to strike down dissent were mentioned in the report, which also noted that there was no instance of the perpetrators of these violations having been prosecuted.
Even during the 2012 earthquake, Human Rights Watch has noted, telephone lines were limited and monitored. Telecom stations in PoK are under the control of a Pakistan army unit called the special communications organisation.
There is also widespread discrimination against people who go from J&K seeking refuge in PoK. They are constantly monitored and often subjected to physical and mental
abuse, even torture.
Several reports have highlighted the fact that military bases are deliberately set up close to civilians areas so that the latter can be monitored. The entire government-military establishment is set up so as to be able to instantly crush any dissent by force.
Violent crushing of protests
While Pakistan cries foul when the Indian army fires pellets at the stone pelters in the Valley, it is quite shocking to note the manner in which dissent is crushed in PoK. The military quotes the Azad Jammu
and Kashmir Interim Constitution.
Under Article 4(7)(2) it is said that no person or 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 States accession to Pakistan.
This has given the military immense powers and all protests are violently crushed.
In 2005, 10 Shia students were killed by the police, merely to send out a message to potential demonstrators. Similar incidents of wanton violence by the military have been reported in 2006 and 2008.
The European Union had expressed concern that the PoK was being governed by a Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad, pointing to the fact that this ministry was completely dominated by Pakistanis.
The powers of this ministry are such that it can dismiss the Prime Minister of PoK. Moreover, the President of Pakistan can summarily dissolve the legislative assembly of PoK. Even judges can be appointed only after the ministry has approved them.
Home of Lashkar-e-Taiba
In Muzzafarabad, the capital of PoK, the lurking danger of the Lashkar-e-Taiba is always imminent. Their primary training camp and launch pad is located here. Ajmal Kasab and the nine others involved in the 26/11 attacks were trained in this camp before being launched into Mumbai.
An Indian IB report states that the Lashkar-e-Taiba houses 43 camps, and there are at least 80-100 terrorists undergoing training at any given time, and these terrorists are exclusively meant for the Pakistani deep state's 'India operations'.
Most worryingly, the report notes that the ISI-Military has unleashed the Lashkar extremists on civilians in PoK. These terrorists are now not only the eyes and ears of the ISI, they even seem to enjoy a free hand in killing dissidents.