by Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza

As India celebrated her 73rd Republic Day on January 26 this year, there are several aspects of our history that linger on and are continuously hampering our efforts for achieving peace in the region. Independence was not served to the people of India on a platter. We had to fight for it.

Whether it was the pacifist and non-violent cry for freedom of Congress ideological leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or the militant and armed struggles waged by Bhagat Singh and Raj Guru and later by Chandra Subhas Bose under the banner of Azad Hind Fauj, every citizen of India has played their part in the freedom movement.

One might argue that it was Bose’s swift victories against the British in the battlefield that finally played an instrumental role in the British withdrawal or that it was Gandhi’s non-violent pacifist political ideology that ended up in the Batwara (partition) of our motherland.

However, it is not the premise of this article to delve deeply into the debate about the pros and cons of decisions taken by our national leaders of the yesteryears. What I would like to remind our Indian brethren, today, is that more than 6 million Indians are still living under the illegal occupation of neighbouring Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Since October 22 and November 1, 1947, the people of Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (PoGB) have been suffering under an oppressing administration, uncannily run by the Pakistani military establishment.

PoJK is run by lent officers. They are called ‘lent officers’ because they are sent by Pakistan to the so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir (PoJK) on deputation to take charge of various administrative and financial sectors.

One such lent officer is the chief secretary, appointed by Pakistan, who is in charge of the political administration of PoJK. Similarly, another lent officer is the inspector general of police who controls the police and law and order in PoJK.

The accountant general is also a Pakistani lent officer and controls all financial matters in PoJK. So much so that even the secretary health, who is of Major General rank in the Pakistan army, is also a lent officer.

Hence, a dissident leader, Jamil Maqsood living in exile in Belgium, describes PoJK as a pasture for Pakistan army where their horses (military personal) graze freely.

The plunder of our resources in PoJK knows no bounds. From the felling of trees in the once dense forests of PoJK to diverting our waters (Neelum river), and from excavating minerals to exploiting our human resource, Pakistan has looted our land and sucked its resources dry.

At the time of Partition of Indian subcontinent, more that 40% of our land in PoJK was covered with forest. Today only 14% of that 40% is left and even that is a decade-old figure.

Diversion of our River Neelum, originally known as Kishan Ganga, for the purpose of supplying water for a hydropower station, that is dedicated to produce electricity for the Pakistani capital in Islamabad, has led to severe water shortages and ecological damage in and around the capital city of PoJK, Muzaffarabad.

Around 2 million out of a population of approximately 4 million people from PoJK are living as economic and political refugees in the Middle East, Europe and North America. It is their wages sent as remittances via Pakistan for their families are the main source for foreign exchange for Pakistan. We do not have our bank and are unable to make use of the precious remittances sent home by our work force working abroad.

PoJK is governed under an interim constitution written by Pakistan which bars anyone from obtaining a job or to participate in elections unless he or she takes an oath of loyalty to Pakistan and Islam. Therefore, not only our resources are being plundered right left and center, but even our freedom of expression is being crushed day in and day out.

And last but not least, terrorism. Our once peaceful paradise has been turned into the training ground for jihadi terrorists with the aim of inflicting a thousand cuts on the living body of Hindustan.

Since 1947, Pakistan has launched four major operations to destabilize the Indian republic. These are Operations Gulmarg, Gibraltar, Tupac and Koh Pehma. Indian territories occupied by Pakistan since 1947 have been converted into base camps.

Unless the root cause of terrorism is dealt a death blow in PoJK and Pakistan, freedom from strife in the sub-continent will remain a distant marvel.

On the occasion of the 73rd Republic Day, we must remember the ill-fated people of PoJK and PoGB and take steps which could lead to the reunification of the above mentioned occupied territories with India. Meanwhile, please accept greetings on Republic Day from one of your PoJK brethren stranded in exile.

Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK