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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 01:44 GMT 02:44 UK
Pakistan's Northern Areas dilemma
Women in the Northern Territories
Resentment is growing over the local population's lack of political status
By Victoria Schofield

For over 50 years, the Northern Areas in Pakistani-administered Kashmir have been administered by Pakistan although they are not legally part of it.

This curious position arises from what the Pakistani Government calls its unresolved dispute with India over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Northern Territories
The region is strategically very important
When a ceasefire was agreed between the two warring countries in 1949, Pakistan retained control of one-third of the state, India two-thirds.

Of the area administered by Pakistan, a small strip of territory established its separate administration and became known as Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir.

The larger area to the north, through which the river Indus runs, was taken under the direct administration of the government of Pakistan.

Click here to see a map of the region

It borders Pakistan's North-West Frontier to the west, Afghanistan and China to the north, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to the east, leading to the frozen wastes of the Siachen glacier.

The Northern Areas are, therefore, as strategically important to Pakistan as they were to the British in the days of empire.

No status

The issue of its status appears even more anomalous because, at the time of independence, the princes whose separate principalities comprised the area, had indicated their willingness to join Pakistan.

That their accession has never been accepted has been a great disappointment to the majority of the approximately one million inhabitants, who are 100% Muslims (Sunnis, Shias and Ismailis).


Many of the boys who died in Kargil were from the Northern Light Infantry which is based in Skardu

Local journalist
Unlike Pakistan's other four provinces, the Northern Areas therefore have no political representation and no status under Pakistan's constitution.

Instead their affairs are subject to the control of a non-elected minister for northern areas who is selected by the federal government.

From Pakistan's point of view, the accession of the Northern Areas could not be accepted lest India interpret the action as validation of the status quo.

The fear is that Delhi could see this as an indication that Pakistan was prepared to accept the ceasefire line as an international border and that the UN resolutions, requiring a plebiscite to be held throughout the state, were no longer relevant.

Mass movement

Even so resentment among the local people remains.

Relations were also strained when, following the construction of the Karakoram Highway in 1978, Pakistan set up a customs post at Sost - just south of the Khunjerab pass leading from China.

The local inhabitants fiercely resisted any attempt at taxation and adopted the slogan "no taxation without representation".

Mirroring the movement for independence which began in Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s, a movement for independence in the Northern Areas has now been gaining adherents.

Pakistani soldiers during the Kargil war
Many of those who fought in Kargil were from the area
It is currently divided between those who are demanding independence of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and those who are calling for the independence of Balawaristan (from the old name by which the Northern Areas were once known, Boloristan).

This movement has been given renewed impetus among the youth following Pakistan's incursion into Kargil in 1999.

"You see many of the boys who died in Kargil were from the Northern Light Infantry which is based in Skardu," says a local journalist.

"They are upset that initially they were not owned by Pakistan. Instead the Pakistani Government tried to pass them off as mujahideen."

Hope

On the other hand, those who see the benefits of not paying taxes are less concerned about their lack of political rights than about the economic aid they are now being given to develop what is still a poor region.

General Pervez Musharraf
Pakistan's leaders are unlikely to relinquish control
Recent initiatives by the Pakistani Government to encourage tourists to come and view an area which contains spectacular mountain peaks, almost equal in height to Mount Everest, are welcomed.

There is now some slight hope that if the Kashmir dispute is indeed resolved by India and Pakistan, it may pave the way for a resolution of the political status of the Northern Areas as well.

Those, however, who support the independence movement are bound to be disappointed.

Pakistan may have consistently supported the Kashmiris' right of self determination and continued to insist that the Northern Areas form part of the disputed territory, but, regardless of its lack of political representation, the government has always regarded the Northern Areas as ultimately part of Pakistan.

There is, therefore, no question of Pakistan ever agreeing to relinquish control of the area, either to form part of an independent state of Jammu or Kashmir or as an independent state in its own right.

Victoria Schofield is a Pakistan analyst and a writer on South Asian affairs


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