For a vast majority of people, the word Kashmir is the moniker applied to the whole area of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, the Northern provinces, including Gilgit and Baltistan, and the China-controlled areas of Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin. This is an error, as it trivializes the complex issues plaguing the entire region and does not enumerate the stakeholders in this area.
In the map above, one can see that the epicenter of the conflict, the Kashmir Valley, is just a small part of the state. Kashmir occupies 15,520 square kilometers of the total area of 2,22,236 square kilometers covered by the entire area of Jammu and Kashmir. Thus the situation, as of today, is that 45.7% of the area of Jammu and Kashmir is with India, 35% is with Pakistan, and 19.2% is with China.
Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) is administratively divided into two parts: Azad Jammu and Kashmir (also called Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas.
The so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) region is governed under the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act passed in 1974. Even though AJK has a President, Prime Minister, and a Council, the governing structure is totally powerless and dependent on the Pakistani establishment for the smallest issue at hand. Very often, AJK is described as a ‘constitutional enigma’ with the ‘trappings of a country’. Azad Kashmir is one sixth the area of Gilgit Baltistan and has a population of 40,45,366 as per the 2017 census. The majority of people in Azad Kashmir are ethnically Punjabis and not ethnic Kashmiris. They are all Muslims, except for some 4,500 Christians in the area who struggle to get residential status and property rights in AJK. The economy here is dependent largely on farming and tourism. The northern terrain of Azad Kashmir encompasses the lower area of the Himalayas, which is to say that the mountains here are lower than the average northern Himalayan peaks.
The people of Azad Kashmir consider the Kashmir Valley as an extension of their territory and are deeply invested in the ‘liberation’ of the Valley. It is here that an overwhelming majority of the militants in Kashmir are trained and cross over to India across the Line of Control (LoC). Long disenchanted by Islamabad, the people of Azad Kashmir have been demonstrating against the Pakistani control of the region and have been calling for independence.
Situated at the convergence of three great mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Himalayas, and the Hindu Kush – Gilgit-Baltistan is an important geo-strategic site. The region contains all five of the peaks higher than eight thousand metres in Pakistan (the Himalayas are the only place where peaks higher than eight thousand metres are found; there are 12 eight thousanders) and has more than 50 peaks higher than seven thousand metres. The region effectively provides Pakistan with direct and free land access to its ally China through restive Xinjiang via the Karakoram Highway. It has an estimated population of 1.8 million people. About 40% of the people are Shia Muslims. The people from this region do not identify themselves as ethnic Kashmiris. Since Pakistan occupied the region, it has remained in constitutional limbo, which means no elections were held there until recently. The Constitution of Pakistan does not cover it under any of its provisions nor does it recognize it as a territory of Pakistan.
Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin, both uninhabited, are Chinese-administered territories in J&K. Aksai Chin was under Chinese control through the 1950s and was consolidated during the 1962 Indo-China war. Shaksgam Valley was ‘gifted’ to China by Pakistan in 1963.
Ladakh is a part of India and had been seeking the status of a Union Territory that was finally granted to it in 2019. Development in Ladakh had been neglected for long by the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir because of it being sparsely populated (most of Ladakh is a barren desert) and remotely located. It has had only two MLAs from its territory in the State Assembly (Ladakh is divided into two districts), despite it being much larger than the other two regions of Jammu and Kashmir (Ladakh occupies around 60% of the state’s geographical area). The people of Ladakh are Buddhists (46%) and Shia Muslims (54%) and do not share any of the Kashmiri ambitions for freedom. The Ladakh area has been claimed by China and Pakistan to be a part of their territory.
Jammu has a population of about 12.5 million people, which comprises 65% Hindus, 31% Muslims and 4% Sikhs. It occupies a larger area than the Kashmir Valley and is divided into 10 districts. The Dogras constitute 47% of the population. The Kashmiri cause has very limited support in Jammu as the state is largely content with being a subject of India.
The Kashmir Valley is populated by some 6.91 million people as per the 2011 census and 97% of them are Muslims, the rest being Sikhs and Hindus. Kashmir also has 10 districts.
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