Is the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ a part of the Kashmir Valley?
A few days back I had tweeted that:
#TIL a huge chunk of the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ is actually made up of areas in the Jammu division – quite distinct from Kashmiri culture
— Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) May 7, 2014
The Government of India (GoI) has also indicated a strategic shift in its approach with its plans to rename ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’ (PoK) as ‘Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir’ (PoJK). This post will survey the factual basis of the name PoJK.
The current PoK region comprises of the areas under the Pakistani control in the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. This area came under Pakistani occupation in 1947-48 when Pakistani tribal lashkar backed by the Pakistan army attacked the princely state with the aim of laying siege on Srinagar. The Indian forces retaliated once the Instrument of Accession was signed. The matter was taken to the UN and after protracted negotiations, a cease-fire line was agreed upon that formalized Pakistani occupation over one-third of the state. This line today is the de-facto border. Under the 1972 Shimla agreement, the cease-fire line was renamed as “Line-of-Control”.
This PoK region is an amalgam term referring to at least three distinct cultural regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan with a lot of diversity within each of these three spheres. But these regions have been split into two administrative divisions under the Pakistani regime. The two are as follows:
1. Giligit-Baltistan: The Giligit Agency, The Baltistan district of the Ladakh Wazarat, Hunza and Nagar were combined into a single administrative unit called ‘Northern Areas’ in 1970. The region is ethnically diverse with languages and dialects like Shina, Balti (a Tibetan dialect), Wakhi and Khowar. Note that there are negligible Kashmiri speaking people in this region. Principal religion is Shia Islam with a significant Sunni minority. The region was known by the geographic appellation ‘Northern Areas’ until 2009, when a self-governance order renamed the region to Gilgit-Baltistan and gave it a province-like status for the first time. India claims this region to on the grounds that the entire J&K is an integral part of India. Even Pakistan sees this region as one part of the larger Kashmir dispute.
2. Azad Kashmir: This area comprises of parts of both Kashmir and Jammu regions. The districts of Neelum, Muzaffarabad, and Bagh lie in the Kashmir Valley. The Pir Panjal mountains isolate the Kashmir valley from the other districts – Poonch, Sudhnati, Kotli, Mirpur and Bhimber. Pir panjals act as a geographic and cultural barrier. For example, in Mirpur and Bhimber, the people belong to Pahari or Punjabi ethnicity. Though this entire region is officially called ‘Azad Hukumat-Riyaasat Jammu & Kashmir’, it is referred to as Azad Kashmir for all practical purposes thereby underscoring the Kashmir dispute while rejecting the non-Kashmiri identities of the Jammu region.
GoI’s proposal of renaming PoK to PoJK is factually correct as the PoK region consists of a significant non-Kashmiri populace. It will be consistent with the Indian stand about the indivisibility of the entire province of J&K.