India Must Object To Creation Of COVID-19 Quarantine Camps In PoK For Non-State Residents – OpEd


To jettison differences and come together during an unprecedented calamity is a good thing and to share miseries is even better as these acts of human kindness work as a miracle balm that soothes both physical and emotional pain. On the other hand, nothing can be more repugnant than an act that intentionally puts a people at unavoidable risk just for the comfort and safety of another ethnic entity.

Such a move becomes even more abhorrent when it has government sanction and that’s why people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) are incensed by Islamabad’s decision to set up a CONVID-19 Quarantine camp at Mirpur in PoK for accommodating coronavirus patients belonging to the Punjab province of Pakistan.

When reports about this development first appeared in the media, many had thought that this was just ‘fake news’ being peddled by some anti-Pakistan netizens as part of the ongoing Indo-Pak propaganda war. After all, who in his (or her) senses would ever believe that in a democracy the government would stoop so low as to play favourites with its own people.

Therefore, even when eminent exiled PoK political leaders like United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP) chief Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri and Dr. Amjad Ayub Mirza raised their voices against this move, no one took notice of the same. But now that videos of locals of PoK protesting in Mirpur against quarantine centres being setup there for accommodating COVID-19 positive patients from other parts of Pakistan have gone viral on social media, the cat’s out of the bag.

The people of PoK are an unlucky lot as they have been neglected by successive governments and to add to their woes, the PoK constitution even denies them their very basic fundamental right to question or oppose “the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Taking advantage of this draconian provision, the puppet government in PoK doesn’t even permit peaceful protests by the masses and Islamabad runs this region like a medieval fiefdom as is evident from its decision to turn PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) into a convalescence centre for COVI-19 patients belonging to the other provinces of Pakistan.

Calling it a “diabolical move,” the UKPNK chief has accused Islamabad of “deliberately spreading coronavirus in PoK to get international aid.” He has also accused “Pakistani secret agencies” of trying to quell protests by “approaching and forcing locals to stop opposing and cooperate, otherwise be ready to face the consequences.”

Dr Mirza asserts that “There is a lack of governance in Pakistan that’s why they have handed over the entire country to the Army,” and maintains that “The Army is making all arrangements to suit its interests.” He also holds that the responsibility for non-implementation of ‘social distancing’ in PoK is that of Islamabad since its decision “is forcing people to gather and demonstrate against the setting up of quarantine centres.”  

Besides its illogical decision to transport COVID-19 patients all the way to PoK from Punjab province, Islamabad has also come under fire from local leaders for its inability to evolve a comprehensive strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic. While this would have certainly caused embarrassment to Prime Minister Imran Khan, but their comparison of Pakistan’s kneejerk reactions with India’s relatively more timely and appropriate response has only added to his discomfiture.

Highlighting Islamabad’s inaction by saying “It is a highly commendable act that Prime Minister Modi has announced a ‘janta curfew’ on Sunday to combat coronavirus,” Dr Mirza must have certainly touched Khan’s raw nerve.

Speaking to ANI, noted Washington based GB political activist Senge Hasnan Sering said “Indian PM Modi is playing a constructive and supportive role as expected from the leader of the world’s fourth-largest economy. His policy of ‘no citizens left behind’ has earned him recognition from opposition parties who are also supporting his Sunday lockdown directive.”

He also took a swipe at Islamabad’s total lack of a coordinated response for combating COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s complete apathy towards GB by saying “Although Gilgit-Baltistan is a direct neighbour of China’s Xinjiang, its inhabitants are getting coronavirus infection transmitted from a completely unexpected location like Iran.” To prove his point, Sering remarked, “When compared with Pakistani provinces and PoK, GB has the highest number of positive cases in proportion to population size,” and this is an undisputable fact.

Islamabad talks about J&K being “disputed territory” but yet considers PoK to its integral part. It was extremely upset by the temporary post Article 370 abrogation but is OK with permanently denying the people of PoK their fundamental right to question its so-called ‘accession’ to Pakistan.

During SAARC members video-conference on tackling COVID-19, Islamabad expressed concerns about coronavirus spreading due to ‘lockdown’ in Kashmir, but it’s not only oblivious to the inordinately high number of coronavirus cases in GB, but is even exposing people of PoK to this pandemic by making this region a ‘convalescence hub’ for patients from all over the country.

Does anyone require any further proof that PoK (including GB) are being given a stepmotherly treatment by Islamabad?

Tailpiece- Pakistan has been able to bulldoze its way in PoK since India has been going soft on this issue right since partition. It needs to be remembered that despite being under Pakistan’s control, PoK is very much Indian territory and its people remain Indian citizens. Accordingly, what happens to the people there isn’t by any means, Pakistan’s internal affair. So, New Delhi needs to stand up for its unfortunate citizens living in PoK and oppose Islamabad’s plans to establish quarantine camps for outsiders in this region.

Those who think otherwise and believe that India shouldn’t get into a political slug-fest with Pakistan in times of coronavirus need to understand that since the government is charged with constitutional responsibility of ensuring the well-being of its people, it has to ensure this- come hail or high water.

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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