Friday, 16 October 2015

Azad Kashmir - Free In Name Only

Azad Kashmir - Free In Name Only
October 14th, 2015. \\ World. \\ Tags: KashmirIndiaPakistanChina.
This year, on October 22nd, the ongoing conflict in Kashmir will have been running for 68 years. It is a conflict that has claimed many thousands of lives, that has seen some of the worst of human rights abuses, and which threatens to bring India and Pakistan - both nuclear powers - to war for a fourth time.
Following the end of British rule in 1947, the state of Pakistan was created alongside India. States were allowed to choose whether to join India, Pakistan, or to remain independent. Whilst Hari Singh, the Maharaja of Kashmir, favoured independence, Pakistan had anticipated the annexation of Kashmir to it’s own territory. Due largely to the procrastination of the Maharaja, a Hindu, events spiralled out of control, and Muslims in the state revolted. Local militias and Pakistani forces attempted to occupy the city of Srinagar, but were checked at Uri, in the west of Jammu Kashmir. The Maharaja turned to India for military assistance, prompting intervention by Pakistan, and the first conflict between the two nations began.
The war continued until 1948, when India sought help from the United Nations. The result was UN Security Council Resolution 47 (21 Sept 1948), which called for a withdrawal of troops, and for a plebiscite, or referendum, whereby the Kashmiri people could decide their own future. Pakistan failed to withdraw it’s troops, the plebiscite never happened, and the conflict between what is now a divided nation, occupied by Indian and Pakistani troops, and partially administered by China, which does not accept that the region of Aksai Chin is a part of Kashmir at all, rages on.
Whilst in simplistic terms the ongoing dispute and resultant conflicts may by seen as the continuation of the disagreements that followed independence, the dynamics driving the matter may have changed. There may now be both political and commercial factors standing in the way of a resolution. Kashmir, and its abundant natural resources, appear to be up for sale, and it is not the Kashmiris themselves who are doing the selling.
China has committed the substantial sum of $ 45 billion towards what is know as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This corridor, which will connect China’s north-western region of Xinjiang to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, will develop transport, communications, and energy infrastructure in Pakistan. It is also intended to improve intelligence sharing between the two countries, who are becoming ever closer. CPEC will be a huge strategic asset to China, and it represents the country’s largest ever such overseas investment.
CPEC will run directly through Azad Kashmir, which is controlled by Pakistan.
A close look at the individual projects that comprise the project show an emphasis on water infrastructure. China is facing an impending water shortage crisis. It has a agricultural sector that consumes very high quantities of water - rice and cotton especially - its growing energy requirements require water and it has a huge and growing population. The aquifers are drying up, and China must soon take its water from somewhere else. Kashmir has water in abundance, and a relatively small population.
The Neelum-Jhelum Dam, currently under construction 40 km north of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, is being built by a Chinese consortium, and is due to be completed in 2016. Much of the work on this, and other projects in Azad Kashmir, is being undertaken by the Construction Corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Azad Kashmir is also rich in valuable minerals, such as Gipsum, Lemonite, Mica, Marble, Ruby, Turmaline, Bentonite, Yello Ocher, Pyrites, Limestone and Dolomite. It has an abundance of wildlife that can rarely be found elsewhere. Many of its native species are endangered.
Central to CPEC is the existing Karakoram Highway, which is currently being widened from 10 metres to 30 metres, enabling it move heavy, and possibly military vehicles from China to Gwadar Port, situated on the Arabian Sea in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the capacity of which is also being significantly increased. PLA soldiers are reported to be stationed near to the Khunjerab Pass, on the Azad Kashmir side of the border, close to the Karakoram Highway. Chinese military officials are also, it is reported, to be found at Gilgit, the Pakistani military headquarters in the region. When questioned on the matter recently by the New York Times, Chinese officials did not deny the presence of elements of the PLA in Azad Kashmir.
“Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but, The Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir with strict controls on basic freedoms.” - Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (2006)
Speaking to EU Today, Jamil Maqsood, Foreign Affairs Secretary of the United Kashmir People’s National Party, said “In Islamabad, foreign policy is being taken over by the military, and China is increasingly influencing that policy”. He further told us “When it comes to our land and our resources, it is the Kashmiri people who are the stakeholders, but when these matters are discussed in Islamabad, or elsewhere, we are not even invited to the table”.
The US has also been subject to criticism for supporting the Pakistani economic exploitation of Kashmir. In October 2014, the government of India lodged a protest with the US government for supporting infrastructure projects in the region. Earlier that month, in Washington DC, US special representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan Dan Feldman, US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, along with other key officials had attended a conference organised to raise investment funding for construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
Both China and Pakistan will benefit strategically from the situation that we now see developing. In a few years time, Islamabad will effectively own Azad Kasmir with the political, economic, and military backing of China.
And so now it would appear that the long suffering people of Kashmir, for nearly seven decades pawns in a violent political struggle, now face a new threat: economic colonialism. They, their land, their natural resources, and their cheap labour are all now seen as little more than investment opportunities. 

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