(Reporting by Pankaj Choudhary)
MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is witnessing protests and demands for freedom from Islamabad's vice-grip. A day-long seminar attended by over 2,000 people in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, saw repeated calls against the way Islamabad governs the region and demands for the shutting down of the terrorist camps spread across the region.
The seminar was organised by the United Kashmir People's National Party (UKPNP) on Wednesday, to commemorate the Tariq Mehmood Shaheed Peace Foundation.
Leaders who spoke at the event demanded the restoration of self-governance to Kashmiris. They also called on people from across the political spectrum in PoK to join hands to combat extremism and the large number of terrorist training and staging camps spread across PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The UKPNP's student wing, the United Kashmir National Students Organisation (UKNSO), staged a demonstration. Its members raised slogans demanding freedom, and the recall of the Lent Officers - four high-ranking officials appointed by Islamabad who control all authority in the region.
UKPNP leaders also raised objection to the exploitation of the land and resources of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. But most worryingly for Pakistan, their objection specifically mentioned 'mega projects' in the disputed area - a shot that implicates the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), without directly mentioning it.
Not just CPEC, a number of other projects that are the result of the China-Pakistan 'all-weather' friendship have been constructed in Gilgit-Baltistan. As the only land under Pakistani control that borders China, the Karakoram Highway (KKH), passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. The 30-year old KKH project is now seen as a critical part of CPEC.
Pakistan also proposes to build a massive hydroelectric power project in PoK, called the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. This is the same project that Pakistan had refused to bring under CPEC after China asked for the right to own and operate it.
The PoK leaders pointed out that all these projects are clear violations of United Nations resolutions on Kashmir, as well as international laws.
UKPNP leaders also expressed anger and concern over the effects of terrorism, radicalisation and intolerance on local populations in PoK "in the name of jihad". They accused Pakistan's intelligence agencies for trapping poor Kashmiri youth in a cycle of terrorism.
They also said PoK is the site of regular human rights violations, especially in the form of the enforced disappearances of people who live in villages along close to the Line of Control.
UKPNP also urged Pakistan to withdraw all fabricated sedition charges against peaceful Kashmiri nationalists like Baba Jan, Iftikhar Hussain and their colleagues. Pakistan tried these under anti-terrorism laws and sent them to prison for 40 years. UKPNP demanded their immediate and unconditional release.