Pakistan asserts new claims on Kashmir's Northern Areas
23 May 2007
New Delhi: Pakistan's Ambassador to Brussels has laid the foundations for a diplomatic furore by asserting new claims on the Northern Areas, a sprawling 72,495-square kilometre tract of Jammu and Kashmir occupied in 1947. In a letter written to Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, the author of a European Parliament report on Jammu and Kashmir, Ambassador M. Saeed Khalid has claimed that the 'whole of [the] Northern Areas was not a part of Jammu and Kashmir state in 1947.' Ambassador Khalid insists that the United Nations resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir 'do not, in any manner, apply to any part of the Northern Areas.' As such, he argues, 'integration of the Northern Areas with Pakistan is also not prohibited' — a suggestion likely to irk not just India, but many politicians in the sensitive frontier region. Pakistan's claims mark a break with decades of established foreign policy. Although it ceded a small part of the region to China in 1963, Pakistan has historically been reluctant to formalise its de-facto direct rule of the Northern Areas. Pakistani diplomats believed that India would use such an act to strengthen its case for institutionalising the status-quo in Jammu and Kashmir. Historical record Baroness Winterbourne, whose report is to be presented before a European Parliament plenary on Thursday, has sent a 7-page reply to Ambassador Khalid, stating that she is 'unable to commend your Government's new position to the European Parliament.' The Baroness' reply appends colonial era maps and treaty documents which make clear that the Northern Areas were part of undivided Jammu and Kashmir. Experts contacted by The Hindu also expressed surprise at Pakistan's position. Navnita Chadha- Behera, a professor at New Delhi's Jamia Milia Islamia university and author of two books on the conflict, said she was 'astounded by the new claims.' 'Both the United Nations resolutions and the 1949 Karachi Agreement make clear Pakistan considered the Northern Areas to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir,' she said. Intriguingly, Ambassador Khalid's claims fly in the face of the Pakistan's own judicial position on the Northern Areas. In a judgment delivered in September, 1994, Pakistan's Supreme Court held that while the Northern Areas are 'not part of Azad Kashmir as defined in the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act,' the region was indeed 'part of Jammu and Kashmir state' as it existed before 1947. As a result of Pakistan's ambiguous position on the Northern Areas, the region had no elected assembly nor representation in the National Assembly until 1994. Only in 2000 did a Pakistan Supreme Court judgment lead to the establishment of a body with powers to legislate even on local matters. However, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs continued to be the chief executive of the Northern Areas Legislative Council. Successive Pakistani regimes, activists in the Northern Areas have long complained, have also been engaged in engineering large-scale demographic changes in the region. In violation of both United Nations resolutions and Jammu and Kashmir's pre-independence state-subject laws, the large-scale settlement of ethnic Punjabis and Pashtoons has changed the pre-independence non- local to local population ratio from 1:4 to worse than 3:4 Violence has often broken out as a consequence of the large-scale settlement of Sunnis, often supported by Islamist neoconservative groups, and the region's Shia natives. In 1988, Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then a Brigadier, helped put down a violent insurrection that claimed hundreds of lives. Again, in 2003, violence erupted after Shia groups complained about school textbooks propagating neoconservative Sunni Islam.