Kashmir stirs emotion, debate, politics, sense of rights, legal and geopolitical questions, terrible memories and sad stories, sense of urgency, demands, activism, pains, poems and songs, allurement, greed, mobility, hatred, plans, killings, conspiracies, skirmishes and war. A major part of political psyche in and around the region has been anchored in Kashmir.
Most of the mainstream media reports focus on one part of Kashmir while the other part claimed by Pakistan as Azad Kashmir mostly go under-reported. An article in the famous Pakistan newspaper Dawn (February 05, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1387465/this-kashmir-day-who-will-stand-up-for-azad-kashmiris) focuses a number of aspects of life in the part.
The article, “This Kashmir Day, who will stand up for Azad Kashmiris?”, by Anam Zakaria, author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, begins with a description of posters along the Kashmir Highway in Islamabad, Pakistan. The posters were there ahead of Kashmir Solidarity Day or Kashmir Day, which is observed as a public holiday in Pakistan on February 5 each year. It’s an annual activity to show support for Kashmiris living on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC).
On the annual activity, the article said: “[A] Punjabi self-proclaimed leader of Kashmiris usually makes an appearance, as do other parties advocating for jihad in Kashmir.”
It also said: “Ousted prime minister [of Pakistan] Nawaz Sharif and his daughter also rallied today, with the latter shouting the erstwhile slogan, ‘Kahmir banay ga Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become Pakistan).”
A politics comes out from the slogan: “Kahmir banay ga Pakistan”.
The article claims:
“Over the past decade, however, Kashmir had failed to evoke the same passion in Pakistanis as it did in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Gallup Pakistan — which conducts periodic polls on Pakistani perceptions of the Kashmir conflict — revealed in 2016 that there is growing pessimism amongst Pakistanis over Kashmir’s independence.
“Over the past 25 years, there has been a 14% increase in the number of Pakistani respondents who believe that it will take quite some time for Kashmir to gain independence; 19% increase in those who believe Kashmir will not be able to gain independence at all; and a 14% decrease in those who believed that Kashmir would gain independence in one or two years as compared to when the poll was first conducted in 1990.”
The downward trend referred in the article is further reflected by the following facts the article cited:
“The study also reveals that participation in Kashmir Day events fell to its lowest in 2015 when only 1% of Pakistanis actually took part in any events. Participation has generally remained low since 2010.”
Munir Akram, a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN, wrote a few months ago: “[S]ome among Pakistan’s elites appear to have lost the will to support Kashmir’s struggle […] and seem ready to accept the status quo in Kashmir.” (“‘K’ is for Kashmir”, Dawn, August 20, 2017)
There are hundred and one arguments to ignore the poll-findings and Munir Akram’s observation. But should those be ignored? However, someone, if likes, can question: Shall the trend persist? What factors have influenced the trend? Shall the trend influence other relevant areas? What type of influence that might be – leading to adventurism or to realizing the reality?
Anam Zakaria’s article said: “[P]olitical forces in Pakistan are perhaps observing Kashmir Day with greater zest to show their opposition to their historic foe, India.”
According to the article, Lahore’s streets are full of Punjab government’s posters about Kashmir Day; the Pakistan ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan has also put up posters; emerging political forces are also cashing in on the day, pledging solidarity to Kashmiris.
The article questions: “Is it Kashmir […] that evokes passion in Pakistanis or is it anti-India rhetoric?”
The Dawn article explains in its own way:
“It seems as if Kashmir has been completely consumed by the bilateral politics of India and Pakistan.
“Emotions become heightened only when relations between the two countries sour.”
A few facts referred to in the article are hard:
“By pledging solidarity to Kashmiris […] the underlying assumption is that Kashmiris on this side of the LoC are fully emancipated and satisfied.
“They face no injustices, they have no grievances. No one needs to stand in solidarity with them. AJK [this side of the LoC] is often ignored in discussions on Kashmir, only becoming relevant when Indian forces shell, killing scores of innocent civilians living by the LoC.
“A closer look into AJK, however, reveals a dire state of affairs. 2017 marked the highest number of ceasefire violations since the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Already, over 200 ceasefire violations have been reported in 2018.
“Men, women and children living by the LoC face the brunt of cross-LoC shelling, but the Pakistani government stays removed from these areas.
“Occasional visits by military and political officials to inspect the areas do little to alleviate the concerns of the people of AJK.
“Just this past week, nine people were injured in Khuirratta, Kotli District. However, when locals came out to protest the shelling, they were forced to retreat.
“Of course, one can argue that Indian shelling is beyond Pakistan’s control. What can Pakistan do if the enemy ruthlessly fires at civilians? But then who is in charge of providing bunkers and basic amenities to the civilian population?
“Why has the civilian population not been relocated from areas scarred by shelling? Where is their compensation and allowance? Whose responsibility is it if not the civilian government’s and the Pakistani administration’s?”
The author narrates first-hand experience:
“Last year when I visited Neelum Valley to enquire about the conditions of families living by the LoC, the locals told me that the civilian government was largely absent from the area.
“During another visit to Naykal Sector in Kotli, I met with a young girl whose mother had been killed by a splinter.
“‘It was Eid and we had tied the goats outside. At night the Indian army shelled and the mortar sliced our goat into two. When my mother went outside to see the animals, a splinter hit her.
“‘No one was willing to take her to the hospital during the shelling. People were asking for lakhs [a hundred-thousand] of rupees to cross the road.
“‘When we finally took her to a hospital, they told us we had to take her to CMH [combined military hospital] Rawalpindi for proper treatment. She died in the process.’
“The young girl emphasised how important it was to have a fully functioning hospital in the area. After all, Nakyal Sector has faced one of the worst ceasefire violations in recent years. Casualties are frequent.
“It should perhaps be the government’s primary responsibility to equip the hospital and ensure that victims receive timely help.
“The same money spent on posters and rallies would be better spent on uplifting the quality of medical services in the area […].
“The deceased’s husband further complained that ‘when someone dies in shelling incidents on the working boundary in Punjab, they are given five lakhs in compensation; when my wife died, we only got three lakhs. Are Kashmiri lives less important than Punjabi lives?’”
Is it a tale of discrimination and negligence?
The reality further depicted in the article is:
“Roads are full of rubble, sewage pipelines are not laid, and doctor-to-patient ratio is alarmingly low. Water and power shortages undermine economic activity in an area where dams have been constructed to fulfil the rest of Pakistan’s energy needs.
“Royalties [from the Mangla Dam] are not given because AJK is not a province of Pakistan, but when it comes to implementing projects that benefit other parts of Pakistan, the area is taken for granted as a part of the country. No permissions are sought from the local government before launching projects that aid Pakistan’s development.
“Locals in Neelum Valley have been campaigning for a road from Athmuqam to Taobat; three Pakistani prime ministers […] have come and gone, each promising construction but to no avail.
“Kashmiris tell me promises are only made to be broken in this region.”
Does it reflect a reality of prevailing politics? And, politics is loaded with class interests. It takes a more complex form when it is played on a chess board of geopolitics.
Anam Zakaria’s article questions:
“[W]ho will stand up for Azad Kashmiris? Are they not Kashmiri enough? Are they not deserving of intervention and attention? Are their basic rights not important?
“[….] Will the Punjab government and the federal government take responsibility for them beyond putting up posters every Kashmir Day?
“Will solidarity with Kashmiris extend to this side of the LoC […]? And will that solidarity still remain even when India-Pakistan relations improve?
“Perhaps it would be more constructive to ponder over some of these questions rather than chest thumping and sloganeering every 5th of February.
“Solidarity must be shown through sustained development policies, protection of basic rights, and provision of basic amenities.
“Posters may instigate sympathies for Kashmiris in Pakistan but that sympathy is nothing but a hallow commitment to the Kashmiri cause when the very Kashmiris the state represents are overshadowed in jingoistic displays in the name of ‘solidarity.’”
The Dawn article presents hard facts, raises bitter questions, and offers opportunity to ponder position on the issue – Kashmir. Kashmir is not only geography. At the heart of the issue are its people, a people’s aspiration for a peaceful, prosperous, democratic life, contradictions influencing the people’s life there. How far a journey can move forward with a hope if the hope doesn’t have mooring in reality? Not that far.
(Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka based writer. This article first appeared in countercurrents.org)