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The Northern Areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

The Northern Areas in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) have been split into five districts: Gilgit, Baltistan, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche. A population of 1.5 million inhabits a vast area of 72,495 square kilometers. Sparsely populated as the area is, the ethnic groups are varied – Baltees, Vashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladakhis and Turks, speaking a multiplicity of languages, including Balti, Shina, Brushaski, Khawer, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pushto and Urdu.

The sect-wise breakdown of population in the Northern Areas is:

Gilgit – 60% Shia, 40% Sunni;

Hunza –100% Ismaili;

Nagar – 100% Shia;

Punial – 100% Ismaili;

Yasin – 100% Ismaili;

Ishkoman –100% Ismaili;

Gupis – 100% Ismaili;

Chilas – 100% Sunni;

Darel/Tangir – 100% Sunni;

Astor – 90%Sunni, 10% Shia;

Baltistan – 98% Shia, 2% Sunni.

The Northern Areas are the only region in Pakistan whose status is not specified in the Constitution. While Kashmir is mentioned as a disputed territory, the Northern Areas find no mention in the relevant schedule, nor do they have an autonomous or constitutional status of their own. The people of the Northern Areas are, consequently, not citizens of Pakistan within the meaning of the Constitution and do not enjoy any fundamental, legal, political or civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The region is also out of bounds to foreigners and journalists, except for occasional tightly controlled guided tours selectively organised by the Army or the intelligence agencies. The Northern Areas have thus been under virtual Martial Law for over five decades. Under the existing Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR), framed during the colonial era, every resident of the region has to report regularly to local intelligence personnel and all movements from one village to another have to be reported to the authorities.

In the aftermath of partition, these areas were declared to be part of the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir State so that whenever a plebiscite was held, their votes would go in favour of Pakistan. In 1963, Pakistan unilaterally ceded a sizeable chunk of Gilgit and Baltistan to China, which has long had territorial claims in the area. Under the so-called Sino-Pakistan 'boundary agreement' of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Territory to China in Aksaichin in order to facilitate China to build the Karakorum Highway providing overland link between Beijing and Karachi. This highway passes through Kashmir territory and has been constructed illegally without the permission of India. This includes a portion of Hunza territory of the erstwhile Gilgit Agency of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Over the years, especially after the Shimla Agreement in 1972, successive Pakistani Governments have sought to amalgamate these areas into Pakistan by declaring them "federally administered territories". The ‘Azad Kashmir’ (PoK) Governments, on the other hand, have been arguing ever since 1950 that Gilgit and Baltistan were a part of Kashmir and should thus be incorporated into ‘Azad Kashmir’.

On being petitioned on the status of the Northern Areas, the ‘Azad Kashmir’ High Court passed a verdict in March 1993 criticizing the unrepresentative and arbitrary administrative system and denial of fundamental rights in the Northern Areas. It directed the ‘Azad Kashmir’ Government to immediately assume administrative charge of the region and asked the Government of Pakistan to assist the ‘Azad Kashmir’ government in this task. The Pakistan Government appealed in the Supreme Court, which, in a judgment passed on September 14, 1994, stated that " the Northern Areas are part of Jammu & Kashmir state but are not part of "Azad Kashmir" as defined in the "Azad Kashmir" Interim Constitution Act, 1974".

Until 1994, the people of the Northern Areas had no elected assembly, or even a municipal council, and no representation in the Federal National Assembly. In October 1994, the Federal Government allowed the political parties of Pakistan, but not of ‘Azad Kashmir’, to extend their activities to the Northern Areas.

The first party-based elections to a 26-member council called the Northern Areas Executive Council, were held in October 1994, and it was announced on March 31, 1995, that its members would have the same status, emoluments and privileges as the members of the North West Frontier Province Legislative Assembly. But the council had no legislative authority, only advisory powers. The real power continued to be vested in the Ministry of Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs headed by a Joint Secretary to the Government of Pakistan based in Islamabad, which exercised supreme control in all matters. Pakistanis man the civil, police and security services. There is no right of appeal against the judgments of the judicial commissioner.

Following a verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in March 1999 recommending the extension of legislative, financial and administrative powers as well as an independent judiciary with writ jurisdiction, the first Northern Areas Legislative Council was elected in 2000. Under the new legal framework order, it was granted powers to legislate on local matters and impose local taxes. But the superstructure of the Northern Areas administration was left unchanged so that Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs continues to be its chief executive.

When the rest of Pakistan voted for a new civilian government in October 2002 elections, the Northern Areas remained outside the political process.

The Pakistani administration has also been involved in efforts to alter the demographic profile of the region, reducing the indigenous people to a minority. In the Gilgit and Skardu areas, large tracts of land have been allotted to non-locals, violating the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolutions and the J & K State Subject Rule. Other outsiders have purchased substantial stretches of land since they are, by and large, economically better off than the locals. As of January 2001, the old population ratio of 1:4 (non-locals to locals) in these areas had been transformed to 3:4. The rapid induction of Punjabi and Pakhtoon outsiders has created a sense of acute insecurity among the locals. The region is also deprived in terms of education and infrastructure, and there is only a negligible presence of daily newspapers, radio or TV stations.

Northern Areas Structure of Governance

The Northern Areas have the status of a Federally Administered Area. The chief executive authority for the region is vested in the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas, States and Frontier Regions. Assisting him is a Deputy Chief Executive who is appointed by the Chief Executive from amongst the members of the Northern Areas Legislative Council, who shall be elected by majority vote by the members of the Council. The Deputy Chief Executive enjoys the status of a Minister of State. Advisors, who are appointed by the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Deputy Chief Executive, from amongst the members of the Northern Areas Legislative Council, assist the Deputy Chief Executive. The Advisors are entitled to the status of a Provincial Minister.


The principal civil servant in the Northern Areas is the Chief Secretary, and Secretaries head the departments. "Government" is defined by the Northern Areas Rules of Business, 1994, as meaning the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary, Northern Areas.

Northern Areas Legislative Council

The Northern Areas Legislative Council is headed by the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas, States and Frontier Regions and it meets only when the Minister convenes it.


Each district has a court of District and Sessions Judge. There are ten civil judges also exercising the powers of judicial magistrates. There is a Chief Court, comprising of one Chairman and two members, which acts the court of appeal from the decisions of the District and Sessions Judge. The Northern Areas Council Legal Framework Order, 1994, provides for the Court of appeals as the apex court of the Northern Areas, and provides for its establishment as soon as possible. Such a Court of Appeals has so far not been set up, and the decision of the Chief Court is, consequently, final. The Northern Areas have thus remained deprived of a High Court and of the facility of writ petitions against arbitrary state action. The people of the region cannot, moreover, appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Sectarian Violence

Since 1988, the Northern Areas has witnessed sectarian violence that has claimed a number of lives. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, the Northern Areas have a Shia majority. The Pakistani establishment has long supported an anti-Shia programme in this region. A local insurrection broke out in Gilgit in May 1988 and in order to suppress the rebellion, the Special Services Group of the Pakistani Army based in Khapalu was dispatched. Pervez Musharraf, then a young Brigadier, was in charge of the operations, in which Musharraf used Sunni tribal irregulars to execute a brutal pogrom against the locals. Truckloads of Sunni tribals were sent in from the Afghan border to the region, and they indulged in anti-Shia brutalities unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. After eight days of ceaseless violence, the Army ‘stepped in’ to restore peace. Later on, the Shia population was further alarmed when large numbers of Sunnis were brought in from Punjab and the NWFP to settle down in Gilgit, radically altering the demographic profile of the area.

The anti-Shia pogrom resurfaced in 1993, when sectarian riots started again in Gilgit, leading to the death of 20 Shias. The ill-fated Kargil intrusions of 1999 into the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir added to the discontent in the region. 73 per cent of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) of the Pakistan Army, which was primarily used for these incursions and suffered the maximum casualties, is drawn from the Shia sect hailing primarily from the Northern Areas. The Shia soldiers were pushed into the suicidal mission, and later reportedly disowned by their own Army.

Year 2003 saw trouble brewing in the Northern Areas over the Islamic textbooks that the Pakistan Ministry of Education has issued as part of the curriculum for the schools in the region. According to Shia community leaders, the textbooks promote Sunni thought and values and are an attempt to promote sectarian hatred between the two sects. Almost everyday, hundreds of primary and secondary school students boycott classes and stage protest rallies in Gilgit.


The Northern Areas remain one of the most neglected and poorest parts of Pakistan. In 1981, the female literacy rate in the region was just three percent and the male literacy rate was 14.7 percent (well below the then national average of 26 percent). In the 1995 national achievement surveys, children and teachers in the Northern Areas scored the lowest in the country, and it was the only region in which girls scored lower than boys, reflecting serious gender equity issues. There is no industry to speak of except a few brick kilns. According to an article on the World Bank website, "Over 90 percent of the region’s 800,000 people live in small villages scattered along valleys carved by glacial streams and rivers. Subsistence agriculture is the norm and access to basic social services is often limited or unavailable. Roads are few, with one highway as virtually the only link to the rest of Pakistan."

The Pakistani Government has reportedly set up only 12 high schools and two regional colleges in the Northern Areas, with no post graduate facilities. Very few locals are able to secure government jobs, and when they do, they are paid 25 per cent less than non-native entrants from Pakistan's Punjab province. There are no local dailies, or local radio or television stations. According to the most recently available data, there is just one doctor for 6,000 people. Piped water supply is virtually non-existent. And two thirds of the population must do without electricity in an area where winters are extremely harsh.






Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.