The wearing of hijab is now mandatory for female students and teachers. Individuals are being required to register as Pakistani citizens in the 2023 census. Another development contributing to concerns of Talibanization is the expansion of the Rehmatul lil Alameen Authority’s activities in the region. A special report by Dr. Sakariya Kareem on the plight of the people of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK)
People living in the Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) are being forced against their will to accept measures instituted by Islamabad aimed at incorporating this territory into Pakistan. Three steps have been recently taken which signal these efforts.
The first step is making hijab a compulsory part of the uniform for girl students and women teachers in the PoJK region. The second step is to force the people of POJK to register themselves as Pakistani citizens, under the 2023 census and the third is the constitution of the Rehmat Ullil Alameen Authority. These are the latest measures that reflect misplaced priorities in Pakistan when the country is on the verge of economic collapse.
Of the three, the second is unprecedented as previous Census documents showed the PoJK people resident of Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Their NADRA ID cards showed as “native of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir”. This has now been discontinued. The compulsory hijab order was issued (6 March 2023) by the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” Education Department and it specifically targets co-education schools where girls and women teachers in rural areas have been merged with the boys’ schools since their numbers and school infrastructure do not match the requirements.
The Dawn newspaper reports that the order applies to all female students and teachers and requires covering of all female heads in ten districts. It quotes Deevan Ali Khan Chughtai, the “AJK minister for elementary and secondary education”: “We have done it exactly in observance of the injunctions of God and His Messenger (peace be upon him) […] The women have been ordained to wear veils and men have been ordained to lower their gaze.”
Officially, PoJK has 92 per cent literacy among boys and 90 per cent among girls. The Gilgit Baltistan area supposedly tops it. But on the ground, it reflects the overall neglect and paucity of infrastructure that school education suffers in Pakistan, where girls are worse off compared to boys.
The Global Citizen says, “Millions of Girls in Pakistan aren’t attending school” quoting Human Rights Watch (HRW). The British newspaper The Guardian also quotes from a survey which states that millions of girls are especially at risk, and HRW is calling on the government to step up for their futures.
Another step towards Talibanization in PoJK is the extension of the work of the Rehmatul lil Alameen Authority. Set up in October 2021 by former Pak PM Imran Khan, the authority is to conduct research on the Prophet’s biography and hadith to build the character of the youth in Pakistan.
In addition, the authority also consults with experts to make the biography of Muhammad a part of the academic curriculum and will explain Islam to the world. The reality of this exercise was exposed by Zahid Hussain, who wrote in the Dawn newspaper that the authority is really an “extension of Gen Zia’s legacy of deploying religiosity to achieve political gains, with the cover of resetting the system in the name of Islamic faith, the moves are to undermine the freedoms of expression, democratic processes in the country and encourage authoritarianism”.
Implementation of this Authority in PoJK will certainly have a regressive impact on the people of the region and lead to a blurring of the unique Shia and other religious/ethnic identities of the people of the region. Perhaps most telling in the series of efforts to integrate PoJK people into Pakistan is the rejection by the Bureau of Statistics in Pakistan of the demand of civil society in PoJK to register citizens as residents of PoJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan) and the insistence that they should register themselves as Pakistani citizens.
This step not only violates the UN Resolutions but also violates the human rights of the people of PoJK who could be identified according to their ethnic or tribal identity. On 1 March 2023, Pakistan rolled out its first digital population and housing census ahead of the Parliamentary elections in the middle of the year. Prior to this, Pakistan had deleted the term “native of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir” from the digital NADRA ID cards of the residents of PoJK. Subsequently, the separate identity of PoJK and local languages was excluded from the Census form.
PoJK activist Amjad Mirza revealed that the Bureau of Statistics had declined to accept the demand to add a section for Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, in the Census 2023. Despite protests by the people of PoJK, the census authorities continue to register them as Pakistani citizens. This was not the case in previous years.
The Daily Times also reported that the District Bar Association of Kotli passed a resolution supporting the Kashmir Development Foundation campaign demanding the inclusion of “Bashida-e-Riyasat Jammu & Kashmir” in the Census2023 online form. The District Bar Association demanded an amendment in form of a Census to give full representation to the citizens of the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir settled in Pakistan in the census form.
The resolution was passed in which the Government of Pakistan and the Joint Commissioner of Census of Pakistan were asked to include options for certain answers related to the domicile and language of citizens of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan settled in Pakistan for business and other purposes. At the same time, the move to impose the hijab on women by the Sardar Tanveer-led PTI government has been severely criticised by local journalists and activists who find it to be an attack on women’s rights.
Others compared it to the Taliban decree in Afghanistan. Senior journalist Mariana Baabar Tweeted and criticised the decision and stressed that women should be given a choice. The PoJK government has “made it mandatory for female students and teachers to wear the hijab in mixed-gender educational institutions. “#give women a choice #stop dictating to women and men,” she said.
Murtaza Solangi, the executive editor of Nayadaur Media, tweeted, “First Afghan Taliban broke the ‘shackles of slavery’, as declared by Taliban Khan and now his great deputy” has “broken the shackles of slavery” in PoJK. “The Toothless Dentist (Pak President Arif Alvi) who acts like an activist of the fascist party must answer how their govt is enforcing Taliban rule” in PoJK, he went on to say. The plight of the people of PoJK needs to be internationally highlighted.
Clearly, Pakistan wants to gobble up illegally occupied territory in violation of the UN Resolutions of 1947 and 1948. Gen. Zia ul Haq began the process of Islamization of this occupied territory and today, steps are being taken to erase the local linguistic and ethnic identity of the population. These need to be vigorously opposed. The problem is that Pakistan is today on the verge of collapse and little attention is being paid to the people of PoJK. This is the tragedy of the situation.