Historically, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has held a unique political status. It is the only region that is a self-governing entity under the administration of Pakistan. The region has a historical background rooted in the partition of British India in 1947, which resulted in the division between India and Pakistan. This relation can be traced back to the Indo-Pakistan partition of 1947 when it became a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. However, AJK was granted special autonomous status by Pakistan and considered a government representing the entire former State of Jammu and Kashmir existing prior to August 1947.
The term “Azad Kashmir diaspora” refers to the community of people of Azad Kashmiri origin who live in different countries across the globe. These individuals have migrated from AJK for various reasons, such as economic opportunities, political unrest, or seeking a better quality of life. However, the AJK diaspora plays a significant role in preserving their cultural heritage, promoting solidarity within the community, and contributing to the development of their homeland through remittances. In addition to highlighting human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir and expressing Kashmiri aspirations for the right of self-determination.
However, the continuous migration also had negative impacts back home, such as brain drain. The migration of highly trained and educated individuals from AJK is one aspect of the diaspora that needs to be thoroughly discussed, particularly its significant impact on the region’s socio-economic development. Therefore, to promote sustainable development and advancement, this article will analyze its advantages, disadvantages, and potential future directions.
Strengths of Azad Jammu and Kashmir diaspora
The total number of AJK diaspora members is estimated to be around two million. The United Kingdom houses the largest AJK diaspora population, nearly a million. The Middle East, the United States, Canada, and Australia are among the significant AJK diaspora destinations.
The diaspora plays a crucial role in the economic development of the region. Through remittances, investments, and entrepreneurial projects, they contribute significantly to the local economy. These monetary inflows not only raise the standard of living for their families back home but also boost AJK’s infrastructural development, economic growth, and employment prospects. Moreover, the skills and knowledge that the diaspora acquired while living overseas have been used to advance a number of industries in AJK, including technology, healthcare, and education.
Additionally, investments and business ventures initiated by diaspora members create new employment opportunities, boost entrepreneurship, and contribute to the overall development of the region. The AJK diaspora significantly contributed financially to the building of numerous schools, hospitals, and stadiums throughout the region.
KORT (Kashmir Orphans Relief Trust) is an international Orphan Charity located in AJK and the United Kingdom. The KORT was built by a Mirpuri who migrated to the UK in the 1980s. The major donors to this massive project are the AJK people residing in the UK. The non-profit organization KORT works to help orphans and children from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them a safe and secure home, a top-notch education at prestigious universities, colleges, and schools, and all home-like amenities in one location. Since 2005, KORT has provided services to hundreds of orphan children. In addition, KORT has played a significant role in helping those in need who have been impacted by natural catastrophes in recent years. It is one of several success stories of overseas Kashmiri philanthropic work.
The AJK diaspora also plays an important role in providing political support to highlight the Kashmir issue in Western capitals. They have lobbied their governments to exert pressure on India to settle the Kashmir conflict amicably. The AJK diaspora has also played a significant role in advancing and increasing public awareness of the Kashmir conflict. Through peaceful public demonstrations globally, the Kashmiri Diaspora community has successfully raised awareness regarding the severe human rights abuses occurring in Indian-occupied Kashmir. As a result, massive responses from international organizations were received, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc.
Challenges caused by brain drain
Many highly skilled professionals from AJK choose to migrate to developed countries in search of better opportunities, higher wages, and a lack of incentives to stay in the region, resulting in a brain drain that leaves the area with a shortage of skilled workers and potential businessmen. It poses a serious risk to AJK’s progress and development since the loss of competent workers hampers the growth of key sectors and prevents sustainable development. Loss of talent and a qualified workforce could exacerbate AJK’s already-existing issues, including social and economic disparities.
The lack of investment in education and infrastructure results in a limited pool of skilled individuals available to contribute to the region’s growth. Furthermore, political unrest and poor governance create an uncertain environment that makes skilled workers reluctant to stay in or come back to AJK. This brain drain leads to a loss of talent and expertise, making it even more challenging for the region to progress and compete on a global scale. Due to the loss of competent workers, AJK struggles to generate new job possibilities and promote economic growth, which eventually leads to economic stagnation.
As diaspora members settle in different countries, there is a risk of losing touch with their roots and traditions, leading to a gradual erosion of cultural identity. Balancing dual identities and cultural assimilation can be a challenge for diaspora communities. This often leads to feelings of isolation and a sense of not fully belonging to either culture. Additionally, the pressure to adapt can result in the loss of unique cultural traditions and practices, further exacerbating the identity and integration issues faced by diaspora communities.
The people of AJK are significantly impacted by Pakistan’s political and economic circumstances. Pakistan saw a substantial surge in brain drain as a result of the country’s ongoing instability and inflation. Therefore, there is a growing trend of educated individuals opting to leave the country, even at the cost of losing their lives at sea. In June 2023, a ship off the coast of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea sank, killing 28 men from the Kotli area of AJK. Despite these risks, people, particularly youth, are leaving the country in mass. An official study claims, for instance, that 44,000 residents of AJK traveled abroad to look for employment during the first half of this year.
Lastly, the diaspora often encounters difficulties in participating in AJK’s political processes. The limited political representation of the diaspora hinders their ability to influence decision-making processes and advocate for their community’s interests. This not only limits their ability to contribute but also disseminates a sense of powerlessness and exclusion. This lack of representation can lead to feelings of frustration and disempowerment, as they are unable to advocate for important issues. As a result, their voices are frequently ignored, and their issues go unresolved.
It is crucial for the government and important stakeholders to act promptly in order to enhance the diaspora linkages with the developing sectors of AJK, such as tourism, heritage, education, health, and social welfare. The government should invest in areas of skilled building and vocational training so that a consistent supply of skilled professionals can also be ensured. These initiatives can help find better jobs in overseas markets.
Furthermore, the government should begin implementing measures, such as attractive salaries and perks, to attract qualified workers to stay and work in the area. The AJK diaspora can collaborate with the government to provide funding and resources for entrepreneurs. Develop partnerships with Kashmiri diaspora-led companies to establish research and development centers across AJK, creating employment opportunities. Invest in infrastructure development, including transportation, healthcare, and education, to improve the overall quality of life and make it a more attractive place for talented individuals to stay and also for the diaspora youth to visit it. Overall, AJK can witness exceptional economic growth and develop into a more rich and vibrant community by effectively utilizing the financial resources and knowledge of the diaspora.
A balanced approach is needed between sending people abroad and retaining talented people in the homeland. In this context, promoting entrepreneurship and job creation is a crucial aspect of addressing the brain drain. By creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, AJK can attract and retain talented individuals. The creation of business incubators, support for small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), and encouragement of innovative and tech-driven industries can all help achieve this. Additionally, investing in programs for skill development and vocational training can give people the tools they need to launch their own enterprises and boost the local economy. Governments can draw in more investors and promote entrepreneurship by fostering a business-friendly atmosphere. This can be achieved by providing tax breaks and financial aid to innovative businesses, establishing incubators to support the growth of startups, and easing access to markets and global trade opportunities.
To conclude, the AJK diaspora and their involvement can play a crucial role in addressing the challenges faced by the region. By leveraging their expertise and resources, the diaspora can contribute to the development and growth of AJK. However, it is essential to address the issue of brain drain, wherein talented individuals leave their homeland for better opportunities abroad. To tackle this, initiatives can be taken to create opportunities and incentives for diaspora members to return and invest in their home region. This way, the AJK diaspora can not only contribute to the region’s development but also help in reversing the brain drain trend.
The opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Research Society of International Law (RSIL), its editorial team, or its affiliated organizations. Moreover, the articles are based upon information the authors consider reliable, but neither RSIL nor its affiliates warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.