Recovering POK: Promise and Prospects
by N S Rajaram on 19 Aug 2019 26 Comments

Following the revocation of Article 370, Kashmir has become an integral part of India. Mr. Amit Shah has expressed the goal of recovering the rest of the territory of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, as well as Aksai Chin now held by China. This presents both challenges and opportunities as POK has two distinct entities, Azad Kashmir and the northern area known as Gilgit Baltistan.


Azad Kashmir consists of ten districts including Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and others. Its residents have relatives on both sides of the LoC and may even welcome unification and freedom from Punjabi domination. They resent being looted by jihadi groups claiming to fight India. Here is a note I received from a resident of Azad Kashmir:


“I am from Muzaffarabad, in Azad Kashmir. Honestly speaking most of us don’t care about what is happening in India or Indian Kashmir. We are rather scared of what happens here whenever something happens in India. Because this gives Hizbul and the likes to extort money from businessmen in the name of funds for Jehad. Hizbul has their main center here. So their men drop in every now and then for (forced) donation. My father yesterday gave 15000 rupees to their people. They were asking for 40,000, but as a bargain they took our work force for increasing the mob size at Press club area (our office is nearby) for a protest rally against Indian action in Kashmir.


“My elder brother who was bargaining for lesser amount was held by hair and humiliated in front of our workers. Already doing business these days is difficult and these people stopped a day’s work for us. Even in Mosques they are standing there for forced donation. They don’t give us information on how the money was spent. There is a reason why people working for Hizb have much bigger houses. The situation is not too different in Indian Kashmir with extortionists hitting businesses and mosques.


“My grandfather’s brother’s family is in Indian Kashmir and I went to meet them a few years ago. I found that the infrastructure is much better than what is here. It wasn’t top notch but it was way better than ours. Here they provide us with zero facilities and loot us. The price of petrol, food and other commodities in steeply increasing here. Pakistanis from other parts must come to see how much water problem do we have here. Our water from Neelum (aka Kishenganga) is being diverted to other parts without our consent. Land of locals has been snatched for power projects meant to serve other parts of Pakistan, but not Kashmir.


“Only last week we had a massive protest but our protests against Neelum-Jhelum project are not covered by media. So rest of the country hardly gets to know our problem. To counter the protests, a fake propaganda through a fake video was spread that India is attacking Jhelum project from 30–40 Km. That was done to show that those who are protesting against the project for losing land are doing it at behest of India. But rest of the Pakistan will never get to know the reality of the games being played against people of Azad Kashmir.


“They are just doing this Jehad propaganda, the fear of India to divert attention from the poor situation here. Farooq Haider, our PM is a puppet of Pakistan army. They are not going to fight war, they just use such opportunities to extort money from us. Can’t they work towards proving us better facilities? If Pakistan can’t provide facilities at least don’t loot our water and other resources. Most of the people who have a job or are doing business don’t care about what India is doing in IOK. We are now a much smaller nation and cannot take that piece of land back. We don’t want to ruin our present over something we cannot get. These Jihadi groups are using illiterate people for their benefits.


“If this extortion doesn’t stop and if we are not provided better facilities, Azad Kashmir would see a big revolution. We are not slaves of Pakistanis. I have saved three CCTV grabs of extortion of money, and few audio recordings as well. We are thinking of migrating abroad. If I leave Pakistan, I will upload these on YouTube.”


While we cannot take this as hundred per cent accurate for all of POK, it is close to reality, something not covered by the Indian media either. So integrating Azad Kashmir with the rest of Kashmir should not present insurmountable problems as they are the same people divided by politics and history. It is a different story with Gilgit-Baltistan, which I may discuss in a future article.


Bright Economic Future


Unified Kashmir has a bright economic future. Unlike most of India which is subtropical, Kashmir is temperate-Alpine with different crops and vegetation that have high value. To begin with, it grows high value fruits like apples and peaches that are not easy to grow in other parts of India. Himachal Pradesh and the Nilgiris do to some extent, but significantly inferior in both quality and quantum, compared to Kashmir.


A less known fact is the high value of timber that grows in Kashmir, willow wood and walnut trees. Willow is used to make cricket bats that are sold worldwide. It is heavier but less expensive than English willow which commands premium price, but as with cameras, the less expensive Kashmir bats sell many more units and bring in more money. Most serious cricketers carry and use both, but beginners are advised to use Kashmir willow. Since both Jammu and Sialkot (across the border) have major leather goods making facilities, combined with cricket bats, Kashmir can be a major sports goods manufacturing hub, attractive to companies like Adidas, Nike and others.


Wood from walnut is used for furniture, but that is somewhat wasteful. Walnut is the wood of choice for the stocks of sporting firearms - high grade guns and rifles made in the US and Europe - because it is strong, attractive, and takes checkering. Since Kashmir is known for high quality wood craftsmen, they could easily be trained in checkering gun stocks. This would bring contracts from major sporting arms companies like Winchester, Remington and others.


Then there is tourism. Kashmir surpasses Switzerland in both area and mountains. It lacks the skiing and other infrastructure facilities of Switzerland for winter sports. But this can make Kashmir an attractive investment destination. Further, Kashmir can host winter Asian Games along the lines of the Winter Olympics, perhaps Kashmir may even host a Winter Olympics someday. All this will take capital and commitment. But the potential is there, and the possibilities are exciting.



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