Thursday, May 24, 2007

Northern Areas Integral Part of Pakistan?

In a pre-emptive response to a European Parliament report on Jammu and Kashmir, the Pakistani Ambassador to Belgium, M. Saeed Khalid, has proclaimed that the Northern Areas was never part of Jammu and Kashmir, but an integral part of Pakistan, and has been since 1947. Such mendacity is not only bold but brazen and, not to mention, quite foolish given the evidence to the contrary.
Baroness Winterbourne, whose report is to be presented before a European Parliament plenary on Thursday, has sent a 7-page reply to Ambassador Khalid, stating that she is "unable to commend your Government's new position to the European Parliament." The Baroness' reply appends colonial era maps and treaty documents which make clear that the Northern Areas were part of undivided Jammu and Kashmir.

Experts contacted by The Hindu also expressed surprise at Pakistan's position. Navnita Chadha-Behera, a professor at New Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia university and author of two books on the conflict, said she was "astounded by the new claims." "Both the United Nations resolutions and the 1949 Karachi Agreement make clear Pakistan considered the Northern Areas to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir," she said.

Intriguingly, Ambassador Khalid's claims fly in the face of the Pakistan's own judicial position on the Northern Areas. In a judgment delivered in September, 1994, Pakistan's Supreme Court held that while the Northern Areas are "not part of Azad Kashmir as defined in the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act," the region was indeed "part of Jammu and Kashmir state" as it existed before 1947.

As a result of Pakistan's ambiguous position on the Northern Areas, the region had no elected assembly nor representation in the National Assembly until 1994. Only in 2000 did a Pakistan Supreme Court judgment lead to the establishment of a body with powers to legislate even on local matters. However, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs continued to be the chief executive of the Northern Areas Legislative Council.
I’m not sure if Ambassador Khalid is freelancing or just parroting Islamabad, but it will definitely put a wrench in Pakistan's attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue. Instead, it will bring attention to Pakistan's mishandling of the Northern Areas, from poor governance to maltreatment of its residents, who are mostly Shia.
Successive Pakistani regimes, activists in the Northern Areas have long complained, have also been engaged in engineering large-scale demographic changes in the region. In violation of both United Nations resolutions and Jammu and Kashmir's pre-independence state-subject laws, the large-scale settlement of ethnic Punjabis and Pashtoons has changed the pre-independence non-local to local population ratio from 1:4 to worse than 3:4.
Pakistan is willfully flouting the same U.N. resolutions it’s been championing. It is abundantly clear what Pakistan is up to: by changing the demographic make-up, the Northern Areas will safely accede to Pakistan when (and if) the issue is settled. And since Pakistan is unilaterally declaring Northern Areas to be theirs in perpetuity (which they have no right to do), it would be perfectly legal if India unilaterally declare Jammu and Kashmir to be part of the Indian union for perpetuity. The Line-of-Control (LoC), currently the de facto border, would become the du jour border.

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