Commenting on the unfortunate sinking of a fishing vessel overloaded with migrants off the the southern Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said that this might be “the worst ever tragedy we’ve seen in the Mediterranean.” Her apprehensions could well be true because according to survivors, the ill-fated ship is believed to be carrying anything from 400 to 750 passengers, and with only 104 survivors being rescued and recovery of 78 dead bodies, the figures just don’t add up.
While Pakistan’s Foreign Office [FO] has confirmed that 12 of the survivors are Pakistani nationals, it hasn’t yet been able to identify the exact number of Pakistanis amongst the dead, which is understandable. Being an illegal activity, those involved make no passenger lists and the migrants seldom carry identifications on their person. So, it’s only the kith and kin of the deceased who can confirm their identity and this is a tedious job, especially since one isn’t sure whether his/her loved one was on board the particular ship that sank.
While the FO is on the job of making necessary arrangements to identify its deceased citizens and is even likely to use DNA analysis for this purpose, the local administration in Pakistan has started contacting people to collect details of those who were expected to be on their sea journey when this tragic incident occurred. According to The International News, Commissioner of Mirpur [in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir, or PoJK], Chaudhry Shaukat Ali has confirmed that after the overloaded fishing boat sank, almost 50 people hailing from Kotli area of PoJK who had left Pakistan three months ago have been reported missing.
The Mirpur Commissioner also revealed that the agents who lured these boys belonged to Gujranwala, Gujarat and Mandi Bahauddin. It’s no secret that despite being illegal, human trafficking is a well-established and thriving ‘industry’ in Pakistan that survives on patronage of unscrupulous politicians and government officials. Geo News quoted the father of a missing passenger in the Greek boat tragedy revealing that a Federal Investigation Agency [FIA] employee was a partner of the so-called ‘travel agent’ who took a hefty sum for smuggling his son to Italy.
The inordinately large number of youth from PoJK choosing to leave their homes and take hazardous journeys in the search for greener pastures clearly indicates that Islamabad’s tall claims about excellent employment prospects and immense prosperity in PoJK is nothing but a white lie. There could be only two plausible explanations for the trend of Kashmiri youth choosing to leave PoJK illegally despite the life threatening dangers involved. The first reason is poor living conditions with little or no hope for personal advancement and a stifling environment created by an oppressive regime.
The second reason is that human traffickers prefer smuggling Kashmiris for the simple reason that even if they perish enroute, there will be no public outcry in Pakistan, and hence this is a comparatively less risky proposition. Those who disagree need to answer just two simple questions. One, even though nearly 50 Kashmiris from PoJK have gone missing after the Greek boat tragedy, why has this humongous loss of lives been largely overlooked by the Pakistani media? Two, would the local media have remained silent if 50 Pakistanis were untraceable?
It’s not intended to play politics over human tragedy. However, when a country considers the people of PoJK to be an ‘expendable’ commodity, then Islamabad’s double standards need to be called out. Being under illegal occupation of Pakistan, PoJK remains Indian territory, and its people are Indian nationals. As such, it’s the moral duty of New Delhi to be more vocal and nuanced while expressing appropriate concern regarding Islamabad’s ill-treatment of PoJK residents.
Lastly, in India one finds a rare breed of human rights campaigners whose activities are both selective as well as area-specific. So, there’s nothing odd when a well-read activist concludes that “India needs azadi [freedom] from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India,” but finds nothing wrong with Section 7 of PoJK constitution that brazenly throttles freedom of expression by ruling that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir [PoJK] shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” [Emphasis added].
The marginalised people of PoJK desperately need voices to tell their tales of sorrow to the world so that they are treated fairly by Islamabad. However, the saddest part is that unlike the separatist camp in J&K who somehow have a host of activists not only defending secessionist ideology but also justifying killings by terrorists, the nationalist leaders of PoJK are left out in the cold. Could this be because unlike the pro-Pakistan lobby in J&K, leaders in PoJK who oppose Islamabad’s strong arm tactics don’t have the requisite ‘means’ to ‘arouse’ the collective conscience of the activist community and thus their cries for justice remain unheard?