ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Pakistan administered Kashmir: Complex Socio-Political Set-up

New socio-political forces emerging at the micro level in Pakistan administered Kashmir are changing the status quo, with the ruling political elite now facing the stiffest of challenges. Rajput-soodhan caste groups, which have wielded considerable influence in the political set-up of PAK, are facing challenges from the gujjar-jat castes living in the south. The desire to open up the line of control is also intense in PAK and shows that the wounds of history have started healing. The leadership of both India and Pakistan need to further cement the bonds of language and culture between the two parts of the state.


Complex Socio-PoliticalSet-up

New socio-political forces emerging at the micro level in Pakistan administered Kashmir are changing the status quo, with the ruling political elite now facing the stiffest of challenges. Rajput-soodhan caste groups, which have wielded considerable influence in the political set-up of PAK, are facing challenges from the gujjar-jat castes living in the south. The desire to open up the line of control is also intense in PAK and shows that the wounds of history have started healing. The leadership of both India and Pakistan need to further cement the bonds of language and culture between the two parts of the state.


gainst a yellow background, words calligraphed on red signposts describing Jamait-ul-Dawa’s post earthquake philanthropic work greet a visitor upon entering the earthquakedevastated Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK), from the famous Kohala bridge which adjoins Hazara district of North West Frontier Province. The Kohala bridge over river Jhelum holds importance in subcontinental history as it was this place where Jawahar Lal Nehru was arrested by Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of Kashmir in 1946; Nehru had come to the state as a lawyer to contest in support of Sheikh Abdullah but was put behind bars by the Kashmir monarch for demanding the end of monarchy and for the restoration of democratic rule.

Jamait-ul-Dawa which many consider the other name of Lashkar-e-Taiba, is presently at the forefront of relief operations in the two quake affected Muzaffarabad and Neelum valley districts of PAK.The camps are being run quite openly with the Lashkar men, many of whom have fought with the Indian troops on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, providing shelter, clothing and food to quake devastated persons. But to assume that the political ideology which Lashkar propagates is shared by the majority of people living in PAK would be a simplification of the complex socio-political situation existing there. This kind of analysis loses sight of the major changes taking place in our backyard, which have direct repercussions on India’s security and political system. Lack of work on the subject has been mainly due to the inaccessibility and deficit of first-hand information on such a strategic belt of south Asia.

For the last 16 years PAK for India has been synonymous with terrorist training camps, which foment terror on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir and even in the rest of the country. And the very fact that the Lashkar cadre is at the forefront of carrying out relief operations only authenticates this theory. There is certainly more to PAK especially in the present context. Jamait-ul-Dawa taking over the relief operations is due mainly to the political vacuum generated by the incompetent political leadership of PAK. The local political leadership failed to deliver when needed the most, showing the serious disconnect that exists between the political elite and local people. The overwhelming dependence of the PAK politician on the institution of the Pakistan army in PAK is seen to be the main factor behind its incompetence and lack of initiative. This was clearly visible after the earthquake as the entire political elite migrated to Islamabad rather than oversee relief work. In the absence of a political authority, the Pakistani army led the quake operations and the face of civil society was provided by the Jamait-ul-Dawa. It is the incompetence of the political leadership due to which the extremist groups took over relief operations. There was little encouragement of liberal civil society groups here by the state agencies. What makes the PAK political leadership so ineffective?

The main reason is rooted in the status of PAK in Pakistan’s polity. At the constitutional level, the 1974 PAK constitution is the guiding spirit for the ruling political elite of the region. There are shades within the PAK, which makes the region a separate entity from the rest of Pakistan. Pakistan has symbolically tried to display PAK as some kind of nation within a nation by giving the region the nomenclature of ‘Azad Kashmir’ and calling the institution of head of the government prime minister or president instead of governor. But PAK hardly enjoys any federal safeguards that exist for a province in case any injustice is meted out. For instance, the Council of Common Interest (CCI), a constitutional

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

body empowered to resolve interprovincial conflicts in Pakistan can hardly play a part in the case of disputes between PAK and the rest of Pakistan due to the disputed nature of the region. Therefore in any disputation between PAK and the Punjab province of Pakistan or even Pakistan, the balance invariably tilts towards the latter as PAK has hardly any mechanism to address its concerns. There is a serious misgiving among the people that their resources are being siphoned off by the Pakistan government without their having any say in it.

The all powerful Kashmir Council headed by the president of Pakistan is the main institutional set-up which links Pakistan and PAK. It is this council which is a policy-making institution for the belt, but here the levers of power are clearly wielded by the Pakistani establishment. Projects for exploiting the natural resources of Azad Kashmir are taken up without even the approval of the local people. It is in Pakistan’s interest to make the people of this land at least participants in the projects where the local resources of Azad Kashmir are exploited. There are some direct cases of economic discrimination with PAK by the federal authority as compared to the rest of Pakistan. For instance, the SCOM, mainly an economic enterprise started by the Pakistan army, is the only mobile provider in PAK where no private company is allowed to set up enterprise. By not allowing any private communication ventures in PAK, the Pakistan army enjoys a monopoly and makes good profit. The introduction of competition would result in the dwindling of profits. In contrast, in the rest of Pakistan there are numerous private mobile companies. Except for some occasional protest by PAK society, there has been little resentment on such issues of discrimination on the part of the PAK ruling elite towards the Islamabad-based federal government.

New socio-political forces are emerging at the micro level in PAK, which is changing the status quo and the meek PAK ruling political elite faces the stiffest challenge. Sooner than later, Pakistan has to come up with answers to the legitimate concerns of the people of PAK and make its federal polity answerable for its interventions in PAK. The traditional power alliances are facing challenges from various other groups who until now had little say in the power alliances. Rajput-soodhans caste groups, which have wielded considerable influence in the PAK political set-up since 1947-48, mainly due to their overwhelming presence in the Pakistani army, are facing challenges from the gujjar-jat caste combination living in southern PAK. This challenge has an economic dimension, as the two caste groups mostly occupy the pockets of Kotli and Mirpur districts. Both the districts have contributed to 85 per cent of Pakistan’s foreign exchange as more than five lakh people from this belt are presently working in the Gulf and European markets. There is a real estate boom in this pocket where demand is outstripping supply exponentially and property rates can easily compare with any cosmopolitan south Asian city. The neo-rich class with their financial power and strong interest in enhancing their social status has started influencing the local politics of PAK by economic might. This neo-rich class is also strongly opposed to the politician-army combination in PAK and strongly resents the meek attitude of the PAK political ruling elite. The divide is also geographical, as soodans and rajputs live in northern and central PAK whereas gujjar-jats inhabit southern PAK. The coming elections of PAK due in the latter part of this year would be an interesting contest between the southern pocket, inhabited by gujjars and jats, and the traditionally ruling political elite comprising rajputs and soodhans in northern and central PAK. The divide is also becoming economic due to the wealth brought by the diaspora belonging to the southern part.

Political Set-up and Linkages

The Muslim Conference has enjoyed a monopoly over the political set-up in PAK since 1947. One of principal reasons for this is the fact that it was this Muslim leadership which had revolted against the maharaja of Kashmir in 1947 in Palandri area of Rawalakot district in present-day PAK. In 1947-48, while the Kashmir valley supported the National Conference, the PAK due to its own cultural base and historical factors allied itself with the Muslim Conference. The historical connection with PAK makes the Muslim Conference a key player in the region’s electoral battle. Its perceived historical role in the context of Kashmir is sighted in electoral battle and this is the main unique selling point of the party campaign during elections. Pakistani institutions like the army have also supported the Muslim Conference for its historical role. Instead of inter-party contests at the democratic plane, the main power contest in this belt has been limited to within the Muslim Conference as one dynasty competes with another. The power bloc that is able to become supreme in the Muslim Conference also wields influence in PAK. The battle is mainly between dynasties. Only twice has the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) been able to come to power for brief intervals here, but only when in Islamabad there was support for it. Now with the new socio-political equations in PAK, PPP is mainly seen as a protector of the interests of the southern part. Bipolar contests with less interference from Pakistan’s federal institutions is an interesting development which has taken place in PAK’s polity.

Another wedge which is strongly manifesting itself in PAK is that between the Islamists and nationalists. Being a nationalist in PAK means espousing a political ideology which does not want the integration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan but rather an independent state. This group faces bitter opposition from the PAK unit of Jamiat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups, which seek the total merger of the region with Pakistan. Even at the student union level, there is a neat division between the two political ideologies. There have been several bloody tussles between the two divergent political schools of thought at the college and university levels. Nationalists’ support among the masses has remained untested as they have not participated in the electoral process. Some of them have contested but have miserably failed in elections as the factor of caste is a key determinant in PAK electoral politics.

The main public pull of Kashmir in Pakistan is centred on Rawalpindi district, which houses the town in Pakistan nearest to Muzaffarabad, the capital of PAK. It is no coincidence that the district is also the headquarters of the Pakistani army, which has often been an important policy-making instrument and directly influenced Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Pathwarispeaking Rawalpindi district is quite distinct from the rest of the Punjab province of Pakistan and in fact, in terms of cultural and societal set-up, Rawalpindi is an extension of northern PAK. A vast chunk of the population living here has migrated from PAK recently and is still allied emotionally with the question of Kashmir. Most of the settlers are from the central PAK pocket, i e, the soodhans and rajputs belt. The issues relating to Kashmir become an important part during any electoral campaign in Rawalpindi district. Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan has the proximity to Rawalpindi and events in the

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006 latter have a vital influence on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. The closeness of Rawalpindi and even Islamabad to PAK is also geographical. Islamabad is known as the second capital of PAK and it enjoys importance for the rest of the PAK region. The time taken to go from the southern tip of PAK to Muzaffarabad city of north PAK is around four hours via Islamabad. It would take more than 10 hours if one restricts one’s travel within PAK, mainly due to the hilly terrain.

Unlike the northern part of PAK, the southern part is more integrated with the eastern Punjab province of Pakistan, such as the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum and Gujrat where the Punjabi language is spoken. The linkages of PAK with Punjab province are quite strong on the basis of similar caste permutations, which lead to forging of family ties in a typical conservative agrarian set-up. For instance Bhimber tehsil of PAK which is inhabited by Muslim jats is ethnically quite the same as neighbouring Gujrat and Jhelum districts. There are strong economic linkages between southern PAK and Gujrat, as the agricultural output of Punjab province makes its way to the PAK markets. In fact, Bhimber is the only fertile pocket of PAK where agricultural activity is a profitable proposition.

The bordering area of the Punjab province of Pakistan also has a strong relationship with the political set-up of PAK. For instance, Sialkot district of Punjab province hosts the maximum number of Muslims who migrated from the plains of the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly Jammu district during the riots of 1947. There are six seats each reserved for the refugees of 1947 in the PAK assembly from Jammu and the valley. Most of the vote bank for these seats lives in Sialkot, Gujrat and Jehlum districts. The refugees mainly settled here as it was the nearest from the Jammu side of the border, as maximum migration took place from this belt. Also, after the migration of Muslims from Jammu, many of them were allotted lands in the neighbouring areas of Punjab. After the construction of the Mangla dam in Mirpur during the time of Pakistan president Ayub Khan, several people who were uprooted from their submerged lands were also allotted lands in neighbouring Sialkot, Jhelum and Gujrat districts of Punjab. This is the reason why the people here desire the opening of Jammu-Sialkot route as a number of people living in Sialkot and other pockets of Punjab have relatives settled in the plains of Jammu, and moreover, there is a real upsurge among the old generation to visit their native lands across the Indo-Pak international border which is termed the “working boundary” by Pakistan. Incidentally, though Pakistan has responded positively to proposals of opening line of control points, it has not reacted favourably to the proposal for opening the Jammu-Sialkot route, situated along the working boundary. The reluctance to open up this route is mainly because of the view of the Pakistani leadership that this would dilute the Kashmir issue and it would be difficult for the two countries to agree on common documentation. In the case of the line of control, the two countries have decided to use the permit system for travel. In practical terms, the permit can be used only by residents of the state on both sides of the line of control.

Diaspora and Its Impact on PAK’s Societal Set-up

Diaspora in the case of PAK has a special importance in the contemporary social and political changes in that belt. In fact, it is one of the most important factors dictating the changes occurring at the political level within PAK. The change is also being felt at the social level. Economic migration from present-day PAK has a historic origin

AD 11½

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

dating back to the 1920s when the locals here went to Bombay to work as sea men. As industrialisation required cheap labour in the markets of Britain, this floating and enterprising population went to work there as well. The second wave of migration took place during the construction of the Mangla dam, a mega hydel power project of Pakistan government in the belt, in the 1960s. The construction of Mangla dam on river Jhelum further ignited a mass migration from this belt as agro-based activity collapsed. In fact, the entire Mirpur city and neighbouring hamlets were submerged after the construction of the reservoir of the Mangla dam. During the rule of Pakistan president Ayub Khan in the 1960s, 400 work permits were given by the British government for the displaced population of Mirpur.

As stories of the economic success of the diaspora started reaching this belt migration continued and does so till this date. This migration from Mirpur district also led to a similar exodus from the gujjar populated belts of Kotli and even a few pockets of Rawalakot. Most of the migration has been to British cities. While the Mirpur diaspora is mainly settled in Birmingham, the Kotli diaspora lives in Luton. The diaspora has generated one of the highest per capita incomes in south Asia. In fact, real estate value is also the highest in the belt and easily equals the flourishing cities of Lahore and Islamabad. For instance, average expenditure on a house easily crosses Rs 10 million (Pakistan currency) in southern POK. The neorich class in the form of the diaspora and their families has not been without impact in PAK. This role has now started becoming institutionalised to some extent. For instance, there is a seat in the PAK legislative assembly which is reserved for an overseas resident. Even in the Kashmir Council there is one seat reserved for a person belonging to the diaspora. Prior to elections in the PAK assembly, candidates vie to get funding from the diaspora. A part of diaspora is now directly involved in the electoral sphere.

Linkages with J and K

In cultural and linguistic terms PAK is far closer to Jammu province as compared to the Kashmir valley. The largest number of divided families of PAK lives in Jammu province and this is the reason people desire the opening up of more routes to the south of Pir Panjal, i e, Rajouri-Poonch belt or even the Sialkot route along the Indo-Pak international border. There is a feeling that policy-makers both in New Delhi and Islamabad have been slow in realising the basic reality that it was the geographical area situated to the south of Pir Panjal which bore the brunt of partition. Thousands of people had to migrate from both sides leaving their centuries old habitats.

The desire to open up the line of control or even borders is intense in PAK and it clearly shows that the wounds of history have started healing. One of the most liberal political groups of PAK, Mirpuris living to the south of PAK want access to linguistically similar Hindu parts of Jammu by opening of the Nowshera route. Similarly, people living in Kotli desire an opening with this pocket. The forging of bonds on non-religious basis in two culturally homogeneous fissured parts of Jammu and Kashmir is a positive development in south Asia which needs to be fully understood. In 1947 it was this pocket of the erstwhile united state of Jammu and Kashmir which witnessed communal conflagration leading to loss of human lives and displacement of people on either side. While there was an en masse migration of Hindus from PAK to Jammu, a similar migration of Muslims was witnessed in the plains of Jammu. The displacement on either side of the line of control was also coupled with the most horrific massacres. After five decades, the way these wounds are being healed on the either side of the line of control is clearly discernible in PAK. The bonds of language and culture between the two parts of the state are what the leadership of both India and Pakistan need to further cement in order to make an effective beginning in understanding the fuller dimensions of the Kashmir tangle.

Besides, there is a serious need to fully handle the problem of divided families on either side of the line of control. There is also a blame game being played between authorities on both sides.While the PAK administration points out that they have sent more than 5,000 permits, the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir is quite slow in perusal of the documents. The Indian side blames the other side and points out that they have been quite fast in the perusal of documents and the delay has been on the PAK side. Another sign of poor coordination between the two sides was witnessed when the line of control was opened for civilian traffic in the month of January 2006. At first 22 residents from J and K were granted permission to enter PAK and everyone whose name figured in the list came to the spot to cross over. But at the last moment, J and K authorities were informed that only 16 residents were given final permission by the PAK side. Many civilians were informed about the rejection of their papers at the last moment.This created problems for the civilians who were travelling with their families.

Tanzeems and PAK Society

The main discourse in India on PAK has centred on militant outfits or tanzeems and their operations within this territory. The emergence of militant tanzeems after 1990 also represents the societal and cultural base of PAK and the rest of Pakistan. Like in any Sunni Muslim society, here too there are three broad sectarian groups – Ahle-Ahdis, Deobandi and Braveli. Islamist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad owe their allegiance to the Ahle-Ahdis and Deobandi respectively. The population living in southern PAK is Braveli and after the collapse of militancy under the banner of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the early 1990s, due to sectarian factors, there is little cadre of the Braveli sect in Islamist groups. The post-September 11 environment has made a difference in PAK as the militant outfits that operated quite openly cannot be seen to operate with the same freedom. At the societal level, people feel that a political dialogue is the best way to move forward. Peace-time dividends in the form of a ceasefire along the line of control and movement of divided families on both sides of it have strengthened the peace constituency and thus marginalised the tanzeems.

Confusion over History

There is serious confusion over history in PAK since 1947. Most of the scholarly inputs are based on courses run by universities in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Kashmir studies is a full-fledged discipline in Pakistan and is taught at the postgraduate level in the prestigious universities of Punjab. Invariably, people of PAK intertwine their history with that of the Kashmir valley which is itself a culturally distinct civilisation and has its own past, much different from the rest of the regions of the state. Symbols of the Kashmir valley have been adopted in scholarly studies, which have little relevance in the milieu of PAK. For instance, the Chinar tree which is found in the Kashmir valley due to its

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006 temperate weather and not in PAK, a topical zone, finds its presence as an emblem at various official buildings. Though at the political level, a majority of PAK residents describe themselves as Kashmiris, the cultural underpinnings of their identity are clearly being manifested gradually. Hence, there is a contradiction between political and cultural identity in PAK.

Civil society groups based on linguistic identities such as Pathwari or Pahari groups have started emerging in PAK, which is a truer representation of the local reality rather than identities that have no relevance in local society. Melting of the line of control and greater interaction with the people living on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir would erase this confusion and make the people living in PAK more confident of their secular and culturally rich past. This would also secularise the societal set-up of Hindu dominated Jammu as it would become a more inclusive entity by retaining its centuries old cultural, linguistic and historical ties with PAK and also help the valley to maintain its historic secular identity.This would go a long way in creating a harmonious tract in south Asia on both sides of the line of control, which is at present the main trouble spot between India and Pakistan. This would automatically turn the joint vision of Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharaff of making borders irrelevant into reality.



[The article is based on a 15-day study tour to PAK and Pakistan. The author was allowed to cross the line of control on a permit.]

Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top