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Why calls for independence are getting louder in Pakistani Kashmir

Pakistan-ruled Kashmir is becoming increasingly restless as pro-independence protesters are clashing with security forces there. Experts say India's recent Kashmir "annexation" seems to have triggered this movement.
Security forces firing teargas and using baton against unarmed protesters is probably a common scene in India-administered Kashmir, particularly in the city of Srinagar. Pakistan-controlled Kashmir has its own problems, but violent demonstrations have been rare on this side of the Line of Control (LoC), which divides India- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir regions. But not anymore.  
Lately, there have been increasing reports about large demonstrations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — officially called Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. On Tuesday, clashes broke out between protesters and police in Muzaffarabad, the region's capital. The police were reportedly trying to disperse a protest rally organized by the People National Alliance (PNA), a group that seeks an independent Kashmir. At least 100 people were reportedly injured in the clashes, with police detaining dozens of activists.
The protesters were demanding that Azad Kashmir's existing legislative assembly be converted into a constitutional assembly and the area's unification with the Gilgit-Baltistan region. 
Pakistan and India both rule part of the disputed Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir, but claim it in full. The restive region is a flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed archrivals. China, too, has some territorial claims in the area.
Demand for an independent Kashmir
Tuesday's clashes were not an isolated event. Earlier this month, police stopped thousands of Kashmiri protesters from reaching the highly militarized LoC. The demonstrators were protesting against New Delhi's decision to abrogate India-administered Kashmir's special status on August 5.
The "Freedom March," which kicked off on October 4, was organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which wants the entire Kashmir region to be independent of both India and Pakistan.
Toqeer Gilani, the president of the JKLF in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told DW that the Pakistani administration's decision to stop protesters from marching toward the border was practically an acceptance of the LoC as a permanent border between India and Pakistan and not a disputed territory.
"We have organized this rally against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to scrap Kashmir's special status. We demand that Indian authorities lift the curfew in Kashmir, let people move freely and release all prisoners," Gilani said.
"At the same time, we demand that both India and Pakistan withdraw troops from their parts of Kashmir and declare it a demilitarized zone. The UN must take control after the demilitarization and organize a referendum in the coming years," he added.
Gilani accused Islamabad of paying lip service to the plight of the Kashmiri people. "UN resolutions allow Kashmiris on both sides to move across the LoC. But Pakistani authorities have blocked the movement, which is tantamount to accepting it as a permanent border," the JKLF leader told DW on the phone from the rally.
An unlikely movement
Analysts say that Indian PM Modi's decision to strip India-ruled Jammu and Kashmir of its special status has unlocked an unlikely movement in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
"Progressive groups that demand Kashmir's independence form both India and Pakistan are forging alliances now. The PNA is one such alliance that has put forward certain demands to the Azad Kashmir administration," Adeel Khan, a London-based scholar who recently launched the @Sail4Kashmir campaign to raise awareness about the Kashmir conflict, told DW.
"PNA's demands are not new, but the movement has gained momentum in the past months. Progressive groups in Azad Kashmir want control over their foreign policy and economy," Khan said, adding that while Azad Kashmir PM Raja Farooq Haider Khan supports an independent foreign policy for Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the demand that the Kashmiri government has control over the region's economy might not be acceptable for Islamabad.
"The protesters demand a change in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — change of institutional heads, for instance. They want fresh elections in which even pro-independence candidates can participate," Khan said, adding that Azad Kashmir's constitution only allows pro-Pakistan candidates to participate in the legislative assembly polls.
It is noteworthy, Khan underlined, that Modi's August 5 decision is actually triggering a progressive movement in the entire Kashmir region.
Anger against Islamabad
After the Indian government's Kashmir move, progressive and nationalist parties in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan formed the PNA, according to Talat Bhat, director of the Stockholm-based Nordic Kashmir Organization, which lobbies for an independent, secular and united Kashmir.
"The PNA rallies in small and big towns continued for two weeks before reaching Muzaffarabad on October 21. But the peaceful protesters were attacked by police as they tried to reach the legislative assembly. The authorities fear that if the protesters gather at the assembly, more people will join their sit-in. That will receive a lot of international attention then," said Bhatt, adding that the Tuesday clashes proved that Pakistan-ruled Kashmir "is not free."
Bhat alleges that the Kashmiris living on the Pakistani side are facing an internet lockdown, in the same way those on the Indian side of Kashmir are facing
Analysts say that clashes in Azad Kashmir could help India divert attention from the problems in its part of Kashmir. Indian media is portraying the Tuesday clashes to support the New Delhi's narrative that Islamabad is the real oppressor of the Kashmiri people, which is not an objective view of the situation, they say.
Some experts point out that Pakistan's direct support to separatist groups in India-administered Kashmir, beginning in the late 1980s, negatively affected the somewhat liberal Kashmiri movement, which took on a more religious outlook afterward. They argue that had Pakistan allowed an indigenous movement to take root in Kashmir, the issue would have gained more international attention.
Islamabad denies it supports any militant group in India-administered Kashmir and insists its backing for Kashmiris is merely diplomatic and political.

Nawaz, Bilawal assure Fazl of participation in Azadi March

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have assured Maulana Fazlur Rehman that their parties would participate in his Azadi March, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said on Thursday.
According to a statement issued by the JUI-F, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has made telephonic contacts with Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto. 
Fazl inquired after Sharif's health and prayed for his early recovery, the statement said, adding that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo reiterated his party would participate in Azadi March.
The JUI-F Ameer thanked the PML-N leader for throwing his weight behind the Azadi March despite his health condition.
According to the JUI-F, the contact between Fazl and Nawaz Sharif was made through Shehbaz Sharif.
Moreover, Maulana Fazlur Rehman also telephoned Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to discuss the Azadi March.
According to JUI-F, Bilawal too assured the maulana of his participation in the protest.
"Where should I join the march," the JUI statement quoted Bilawal Bhutto as saying. 
The JUI-F chief advised the PPP chairman to become part of the march from Sukkur.
The statement said a meeting between the two leaders was expected to take place before the Azadi March begins.
The PPP chairman told Maulana Fazlur Rehman that he was due in Larkana within a couple of days where they can hold a meeting.
Meanwhile, Geo News reported that Maulana Fazlur Rehman has reached Larkana from where he would lead the Azadi March on October 28.
A JUI-F leader said that the march that would start from Karachi on October 27 and would stay overnight in Sukkur.

Why Pakistan has been unable to immunise its population against polio


Pakistan saw 69 new cases of polio until September. It is one of the 3 remaining nations, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic.

Pakistan’s battle against the deadly poliovirus seems to have hit a roadblock, with the nation reporting 69 new cases until September this year. It is one of the three remaining countries, including Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic.
Pakistan’s attempts to stamp out the crippling disease, however, has many obstacles — public ignorance, myths about a Western plot to sterilise Muslims, attacks on health workers and resistance from parents to getting their children vaccinated.
Rise of the viral infection this year was seen even as the country’s anti-polio campaign had neared its goal of total eradication in 2018. A World Health Organization (WHO) report published last week said the increase in polio cases in Pakistan has been monumental — there were only 12 reported incidents in 2018.
“This was a golden opportunity for Pakistan to achieve its long sought-after goal of interrupting poliovirus transmission. The increase in cases in 2019 shows that the momentum and opportunity created at that time has now been lost,” WHO’s technical advisory group had said in August, after concluding a meeting on polio eradication in Pakistan.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which oversees global polio eradication efforts, had similarly declared Pakistan’s efforts at eliminating the disease a “disaster”. In its 2018 report titled ‘How to cut a long story short’, the body had remarked, “Some would say that the Pakistan Polio Programme is fooling itself into thinking that it has made any progress at all since 2017.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of Pakistan’s international polio eradication partners along with WHO, Rotary International and UNICEF, had stated that the nation accounts for 80 per cent of global wild polio cases.

Sterilisation bid, cover for spies

Sample this data by the IMB. There was an increase of only one polio case in 2018 compared to 2017 but more sites across the country were found to have been contaminated by the deadly virus. The agency had also noted an increase in vaccine-derived poliovirus cases — 75 till October 2018 from 63 in 2017.
It further said rumours and anti-polio sentiments had turned people against polio vaccines in Pakistan. There were rumours circulated of the vaccine being “harmful to children”.
“Frontline workers, especially females, are often harassed and abused within communities in Pakistan,” the report said.
Coupled with this were also fears of fake vaccination drives, with radical Islamists believing them to be part of a Western plot of sterilising Muslims. There are also fears of the campaign being a cover for spies to catch militants.
People still recall the Abbottabad incident in 2011, when a Pakistan doctor had visited homes for a fake vaccination drive as part of the US intelligence effort to locate Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The incident is alive in the memory of parents who often find excuses to avoid vaccinations.
“This one time, I kept going back to a woman’s house to convince her. Every time she said the drops gave her grandson a stomach ache. After a month, I gave up,” a public health was quoted saying.

Political, administrative reasons

IMB had also expressed concern that the Pakistani leadership wasn’t “listening to people on the ground who are best informed by local realities”. Not surprisingly then that the agency’s report also notes how elections in the neighbouring country jeopardise its efforts at eradication.
Another report states that “in 2013, when Pakistan went to the ballot, the tally of polio cases was 93. The next year, these shot up to 306. Then again, the year of the 2018 elections, a total of 12 cases were reported from across the country. Now, the newly-elected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is grappling with 69 cases.”
IMB terms “delays, rejections of travel authorisations and visas” as another big hindrance to Pakistan’s polio eradication movement. Similar concerns were voiced by the WHO too which said that the positive environmental samples were symptoms of a programme in crisis.
“There are serious problems in coordination and implementation and to-date unresolved issues with campaign quality, monitoring, accountability and community engagement.”

Areas affected by poliovirus

As many as 13 WPV1-positive environmental samples were reported — one each from the districts of Dadu, Karachi Orangi, Hyderabad, Karachi Baldia and Karachi Saddar and two each in Sukkur and Karachi Gadap districts, Sindh province.
“One sample was also reported in Quetta district, Balochistan province, one in DG Khan and two in Lahore, Punjab Province.”
According to the IMB study, the country’s southern and northern corridors continue to display strains of the virus on both sides of the border. Outside these corridors, the virus continues to circulate in central Pakistan (eastern Balochistan, northern Sindh and southern Punjab). There is also intense circulation of the deadly virus within and surrounding the core reservoir of Karachi.“No claim can credibly be made that the Polio Programme is firmly on track to interrupt transmission… The poliovirus is seen in the same reservoirs over and over again,” IMB had said last October.