Social Activists and dissidents face targeted killings in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK)
At a hurriedly called press conference in Nakyal on May 6 in Pakistani Occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK), Awami Worker’s Party leader Nissar Shah advocate criticised the local Assistant Commissioner, Omar Farooq, for launching what Shah called a vindictive FIR against Shamsher Ali Sher, advocate of Samaj Badlo Tehreek’s (Change Society Movement) and a candidate in upcoming general elections.
This is not the first time that social justice activists in PoJK are faced with victimisation and it will most definitely not be the last. In the past, student activists of Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF) have faced arrests and torture at the hands of the occupation forces. Shamsher Ali Sher hails from a respected family of professionals in Nakyal in Kotli district. He is campaigning for the construction of safety walls at blind corners along the Nakyal-Kotli road which is a main cause for frequent road accidents.
On December 31, 2020, a Nakyal bound van carrying a family who were travelling back from Gujranwala in Punjab lost control and fell hundreds of feet down into a ravine instantly killing three women and a man. In another accident that took place on April 11, 2021, five members of the same family lost their lives. They were travelling from Nakyal to Kotli city. “These loss of lives could have been averted provided there was a safety wall build at the dangerous parts and blind corners of the Nakyal-Kotli Road”, says Sher. And now he himself fears for his life and rightly so.
In the past, Arif Shahid, a social activist from PoJK paid with his life for raising voice against social injustice. He was allegedly killed by an ISI hitman outside his house in Rawalpindi on May 14, 2013. Arif Shahid campaigned against the increased bar on political parties to participate in general elections unless they signed a document pledging allegiance to Pakistan.
In 2011, a doctor and a human rights activist from PoJK was gunned down allegedly by the Pakistani secret service the ISI. Most recently Afzal Sulehria, a high profile political and human rights activist and leader of Kashmir National Party, allegedly became yet another victim of the ISI. Sulehria was a towering figure in Muzaffarabad, the capital city of PoJK. He vigorously campaigned against the diversion of Rivers Kishan Ganga (Neelum) and River Jhelum, and in December 2020 had written a letter to the Pakistan army chief demanding all under construction hydropower projects to be brought to an instant halt and deals made between the government of Azad Kashmir and Chinese construction companies be made public. In February 2021, less than two months after he had written to the Army Chief, Sulehria died of a mysterious heart attack.
No autopsy was carried out. It is not uncommon for human rights and political activists such as Shamsher Ali Sher advocate to face persecution after being involved in campaigns that attempt to address issues regarding public interest in PoJK. Those who have raised their voice against the colonial rule of Pakistan, since October 1947, when Pakistan attacked the state of Jammu and Kashmir and forcefully annexed western parts of Jammu province as well as Gilgit Agency, unfortunately share the same fate. Human Rights Watch report sums up the ordeal we face in PoJK most convincingly as follows: “The Pakistani government in Islamabad, (read military establishment), the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence services (Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI) control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir (PoJK)… Azad Kashmir is a land of strict curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books; arbitrary arrest and detention and torture at the hands of the Pakistani military and the police. Singled out are Kashmiri nationalists who do not support the idea of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan.”
Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK