Azad Jammu and, abbreviated as AJK and commonly known as Azad Kashmir, is a nominally self-governing jurisdiction administered by Pakistan. The territory lies west of the Indian-occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, and was part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Azad Kashmir is part of the greater Kashmir region, which is the subject of a long-running conflict between Pakistan and India. The territory shares a border with Gilgit-Baltistan. Azad Kashmir is one-sixth of the size of Gilgit-Baltistan. The territory also borders Pakistan’s Punjab province to the south and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the west. To the east, Azad Kashmir is separated from the state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Azad Kashmir has a total area of 13,297 square kilometres (5,134 sq mi), and a total population of 4,045,366 as per the 2017 Census.
The territory has a parliamentary form of government modeled after the Westminster system, with its capital located at Muzaffarabad. The President is the constitutional head of state, while the Prime Minister, supported by a Council of Ministers, is the chief executive. The unicameral Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly elects both the Prime Minister and President. The state has its own Supreme Court and a High Court, while the Government of Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan serves as a link with Azad Kashmir’s government, although Azad Kashmir is not represented in the Parliament of Pakistan.
Azad Kashmir’s economy largely depends on agriculture, services, tourism, and remittances sent by members of the British Mirpuri community. Nearly 87% of the households own farms in Azad Kashmir, while the region has a literacy rate of approximately 72% and has the highest school enrollment in Pakistan.
The northern part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir encompasses the lower area of the Himalayas, including Jamgarh Peak (4,734 m or 15,531 ft). However, Hari Parbat peak in Neelum Valley is the highest peak in the state. Fertile, green, mountainous valleys are characteristic of Azad Kashmir’s geography, making it one of the most beautiful regions of the subcontinent.
The region receives rainfall in both the winter and the summer. Muzaffarabad and Pattan are among the wettest areas of Pakistan. Throughout most of the region, the average rainfall exceeds 1400 mm, with the highest average rainfall occurring near Muzaffarabad (around 1800 mm). During the summer season, monsoon floods of the rivers Jhelum and Leepa are common due to extreme rains and snow melting.
At the time of the Partition of India in 1947, the British abandoned their suzerainty over the princely states, which were left with the options of joining India or Pakistan or remaining independent. Hari Singh, the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, wanted his state to remain independent. Muslims in Western Jammu province (current day Azad Kashmir) and the Frontier Districts Province (current day Gilgit-Baltistan) had wanted to join Pakistan.
In Spring 1947, an uprising against the Maharaja broke out in Poonch, an area bordering the Rawalpindi division of West Punjab. Maharaja’s administration is said to have started levying punitive taxes on the peasantry which provoked a local revolt and the administration resorted to brutal suppression. The area’s population, swelled by recently demobilised soldiers following World War II, rebelled against the Maharaja’s forces and gained control of almost the entire district. Following this victory, the pro-Pakistan chieftains of the western districts of Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur proclaimed a provisional Azad Jammu and Kashmir government in Rawalpindi on October 3, 1947. Ghulam Nabi Gilkar, under the assumed name “Mr. Anwar,” issued a proclamation in the name of the provisional government in Muzaffarabad. However, this government quickly fizzled out with the arrest of Anwar in Srinagar. On October 24, a second provisional government of Azad Kashmir was established at Palandri under the leadership of Sardar Ibrahim Khan.
On October 21, several thousand Pashtun tribesmen from North-West Frontier Province poured into Jammu and Kashmir to liberate it from the Maharaja’s rule. They were led by experienced military leaders and were equipped with modern arms. The Maharaja’s crumbling forces were unable to withstand the onslaught. The raiders captured the towns of Muzaffarabad and Baramulla, the latter 20 miles (32 km) northwest of the state capital Srinagar. On October 24, the Maharaja requested military assistance from India, which responded that it was unable to help him unless he acceded to India. Accordingly, on October 26, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession, handing over control of defence, external affairs and communications to the Government of India in return for military aid. Indian troops were immediately airlifted into Srinagar. Pakistan intervened subsequently. Fighting ensued between the Indian and Pakistani armies, with the two areas of control more or less stabilised around what is now known as the “Line of Control”.
India later approached the United Nations, asking it to resolve the dispute, and resolutions were passed in favour of the holding of a plebiscite with regard to Kashmir’s future. However, no such plebiscite has ever been held on either side, since there was a precondition which required the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army along with the non-state elements and the subsequent partial withdrawal of the Indian Army. from the parts of Kashmir under their respective control – a withdrawal that never took place. In 1949, a formal cease-fire line separating the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir came into effect.
Following the 1949 cease-fire agreement with India, the government of Pakistan divided the northern and western parts of Kashmir that it occupied at the time of cease-fire into the following two separately-controlled political entities:
- Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) – the narrow, southern part, 250 miles (400 km) long, with a width varying from 10 to 40 miles (16 to 64 km).
- Gilgit–Baltistan formerly called the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) – the much larger political entity to the north of AJK with an area of 72,496 square kilometres (27,991 sq mi).
At one time under Pakistani control, Kashmir’s Shaksgam tract, a small region along the northeastern border of Gilgit–Baltistan, was provisionally ceded by Pakistan to the People’s Republic of China in 1963 and now forms part of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In 1972, the then current border between the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts of Kashmir was designated as the “Line of Control”. This line has remained unchangedsince the 1972 Simla Agreement, which bound the two countries “to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”. Some political experts claim that, in view of that pact, the only solution to the issue is mutual negotiation between the two countries without involving a third party such as the United Nations. The 1974 Interim Constitution Act was passed by the 48-member Azad Jammu and Kashmir unicameral assembly.
Geography and climate
The northern part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir encompasses the lower part of the Himalayas, including Jamgarh Peak (15,531 feet [4,734 meters]). However, Sarwali peak in the Neelum Valley is the highest peak in the state. Fertile, green, mountainous valleys are characteristic of Azad Kashmir’s geography, making it one of the most beautiful regions on the subcontinent.
The southern parts of Azad Kashmir including Bhimber, Mirpur and Kotli districts has extremely hot weather in summers and moderate cold weather in winters. It receives rains mostly in monsoon weather.
In the central and northern parts of state weather remains moderate hot in summers and very cold and chilly in winter. Snow fall also occurs there in December and January.
This region receives rainfall in both winters and summers. Muzaffarabad and Pattan are among the wettest areas of the state. Throughout most of the region, the average rainfall exceeds 1400 mm, with the highest average rainfall occurring near Muzaffarabad (around 1800 mm). During summer, monsoon floods of the Jhelum and Leepa rivers are common, due to high rainfall and melting snow.
See also: Azad Kashmiri diaspora
Azad Jammu and Kashmir has an almost entirely Muslim population. Most residents of the region are not ethnic Kashmiris. The majority of people in Azad Kashmir are ethnically Punjabi. The main communities living in this region are:
- Gujjars – They are an agricultural tribe and are estimated to be the largest community living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
- Sudhans – (also known as Sudhozai) are second largest tribe of the state, mostly living in Poonch, Sudhanoti, Bagh and Kolti districts. the tribe claims a Pashtun ancestry.
- Jats – They are one of the larger community of AJK and primarily inhabit the Districts of Mirpur, Bhimber and Kotli. A large Mirpuris population lives in the UK and it is estimated that more people of Mirpuri origins are now residing in the UK than in Mirpur district. The district Mirpur retains strong ties with the UK.
- Awans – A clan with significant numbers found in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, living mainly in the Bagh Poonch, Hattian Bala and Muzaffarabad. Besides Azad Kashmir they also reside in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in large numbers.
- Abbasis – They are a large clan in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and mostly live in Bagh, Hattian Bala and Muzaffarabad districts. Besides Azad Kashmir, they also inhabit, Abbottabad and upper Potohar Punjab in large numbers.
- Kashmiris – Ethnic Kashmiri populations are found in Neelam Valley and Leepa Valley.
The culture of Azad Kashmir has many similarities to that of northern Punjabi (Potohar) culture in Punjab province, while the Sudhans have oral tradition of Pashtuns, Peshawari turban is one of famous element wore by Sudhans.
The traditional dress of the women is the shalwar kameez in Pahari style. The shalwar kameez is commonly worn by both men and women. Women use shawl to cover their head and upper body.
The official language of Azad Kashmir is Urdu, while English is used in higher domains. The majority of the population, however, are native speakers of other languages. The foremost among these is Pahari–Pothwari, with its various dialects. There are also sizeable communities speaking Gujari and Kashmiri, as well as pockets of speakers of Shina, Pashto and Kundal Shahi. With the exception of Pashto and English, these languages belong to the Indo-Aryan language family.
The dialects of the Pahari-Pothwari language complex cover most of the territory of Azad Kashmir. These are also spoken across the Line of Control in neighbouring areas of Indian Jammu and Kashmir, and are closely related both to Punjabi to the south and Hinko to the northwest. The language variety in the southern districts of Azad Kashmir is known by a variety of names – including Mirpuri, Pothwari and Pahari – and is closely related to the Pothwari proper spoken to the east in the Pothohar region of Punjab. The dialects of the central districts are occasionally referred to in the literature as Chibhali or Punchi, but the speakers themselves usually call them Pahari, an unfortunately ambiguous name that is also used for several unrelated languages of the Lower Himalayas. Going north, the speech forms gradually change into Hindko. Already in Muzaffarabad District the preferred local name for the language is Hindko, although it is still apparently more closely related to the core dialects of Pahari. Further north in the Neelam Valley, the dialect, locally known as Parmi, can more unambiguously be subsumed under Hindko.
Another major language of Azad Kashmir is Gujari. It is spoken by several hundred thousand people among the traditionally nomadic Gujars, many of whom are nowadays settled. Not all ethnic Gujars speak Gujari, the proportion of those who have shifted to other languages is probably higher in southern Azad Kashmir. Gujari is most closely related to the Rajasthani languages (particularly Mewati), although it also shares features with Punjabi. It is dispersed over large areas in northern Pakistan and India. Within Pakistan, the Gujari dialects of Azad Kashmir are more similar, in terms of shared basic vocabulary and mutual intelligibility, to the Gujar varieties of the neighbouring Hazara region than to the dialects spoken further to the northwest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and north in Gilgit.
There are scattered communities of Kashmiri speakers, notably in the Neelam Valley, where they form the second-largest language group after speakers of Hindko. There have been calls for the teaching of Kashmiri (particularly in order to counter India’s claim of promoting the culture of Kashmir), but the limited attempts at introducing the language at the secondary school level have not been successful, and it is Urdu, rather than Kashmiri, that Kashmiri Muslims have seen as their identity symbol. There is an ongoing process of gradual shift to larger local languages, but at least in the Neelam Valley there still exist communities for whom Kashmiri is the sole mother tongue.
In the northernmost district of Neelam there are pockets of other languages. Shina, which like Kashmiri belongs to the Dardic group, is present in two distinct varieties spoken altogether in three villages. The Iranian language Pashto, the major language of the neighbouring province of Khuber Pakhtunkhwa, is spoken in two villages in Azad Kashmir, both situated on the Line of Control. The endangered Kundal Shahi is native to the eponymous village and it is the only language not found outside Azad Kashmir.
Historically the economy of Azad Kashmir has been agricultural which meant that land was the main source or mean of production. This means that all food for immediate and long term consumption was produced from land. The produce included various crops, fruits, vegetables etc. Land was also the source of other livelihood necessities such as wood, fuel, grazing for animals which then turned into dairy products. Because of this land was also the main source of revenue for the governments whose primary purpose for centuries was to accumulate revenue.
Agriculture is a major part of Azad Kashmir’s economy. Low-lying areas that have high populations grow crops like barley, mangoes, millet, corn (maize), and wheat, and also raise cattle. In the elevated areas that are less populated and more spread-out, forestry, corn, and livestock are the main sources of income. There are mineral and marble resources in Azad Kashmir close to Mirpur and Muzaffarabad. There are also graphite deposits at Mohriwali. There are also reservoirs of low-grade coal, chalk, bauxite, and zircon. Local household industries produce carved wooden objects, textiles, and dhurrie carpets. There is also an arts and crafts industry that produces such cultural goods as namdas, shawls, pashmina, pherans, Papier-mâché, basketry copper, rugs, wood carving, silk and woolen clothing, patto, carpets, namda gubba, and silverware. Agricultural goods produced in the region include mushrooms, honey, walnuts, apples, cherries, medicinal herbs and plants, resin, deodar, kail, chir, fir, maple, and ash timber.
In addition to agriculture, textiles, and arts and crafts, remittances have played a major role in the economy of Azad Kashmir. One analyst estimated that the figure for Azad Kashmir was 25.1% in 2001. With regard to annual household income, people living in the higher areas are more dependent on remittances than are those living in the lower areas.
Some well-known and popular tourist destinations are the following:
- Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir, is located on the banks of the Jhelum and Neelum rivers. It is 138 kilometres (86 mi) from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Well-known tourist spots near Muzaffarabad are the Red Fort, Pir Chinassi, Patika, Subri Lake and Awan Patti.
- The Neelam Valley is situated to the north and northeast of Muzaffarabad, The gateway to the valley. The main tourist attractions in the valley are Athmuqam, Kutton, Keran, Changan, Sharda, Kel, Arang Kel and Taobat.
- Sudhanoti is one of the eight districts of Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. Sudhanoti is located 90 km (56 mi) away from Islamabad, the Capital of Pakistan. It is connected with Rawalpindi and Islamabad through Azad Pattan road.
- Rawalakot city is the headquarters of Poonch District and is located 122 kilometres (76 mi) from Islamabad. Tourist attractions in Poonch District are Banjosa Lake, Devi Gali, Tatta Pani, and Toli Pir.
- Bagh city, the headquarters of Bagh District, is 205 kilometres (127 mi) from Islamabad and 100 kilometres (62 mi) from Muzaffarabad. The principal tourist attractions in Bagh District are Bagh Fort, Dhirkot, Sudhan Gali, Ganga Lake, Ganga Choti, Kotla Waterfall, Neela Butt, Danna, Panjal Mastan National Park, and Las Danna.
- The Leepa Valley is located 105 kilometres (65 mi) southeast of Muzaffarabad. It is the most charming and scenic place for tourists in Azad Kashmir.
- New Mirpur City is the headquarters of Mirpur District. The main tourist attractions near New Mirpur City are the Mangla Lake and Ramkot Fort.