The LoC Disputed Territory: Shown in green is Kashmiri region under Pakistani control. The orange-brown region represents Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir while the Aksai Chin is under Chinese control. Credit: CIA World Factbook.
India and Pakistan, connected to each other through umbilical cord, parted ways at birth on the pretext that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and that the twain can never co-exist or so they said.
While the origin of Two-Nation Theory may be attributed to Sir Syed Ahmed and later Allama Iqbal, it was the Muslim League supreme leader and Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who successfully forced the Congress leaders to accept it. After achieving his goal, Jinnah, it is widely claimed, wanted Pakistan to revert back to the principles of secularism and democracy and envisioned Pakistan to follow the path of modernism with religion consigned to individual space.
Alas! It was not to be. The events unfolded in a manner that the real power to govern Pakistan fell in the lap of military-mullah combine. On the other hand, India emerged as a robust democracy, notwithstanding some glitches and some flaws. People brought high and mighty down when they performed badly and elevated common men and women to highest seats of power when they showed promise. Whereas Pakistan has always suffered from severe civil-military imbalance, the civilian supremacy in India has never been challenged. What Pakistan today is and where it stands in the comity of nations actually requires no description.
Let’s interject the Kashmir narrative at this stage in this discourse to complete the puzzle and then see where we are headed. A section of Kashmiris led by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani has remained favourably inclined to take entire J&K to the folds of Pakistan. The whole movement for Azadi or Right to Self-Determination (RSD) or plebiscite or implementation of UN Resolutions constitutes just the Ways and Means for them to achieve the End i.e. “Merger of J&K with Pakistan”. They have joined hands for Azadi group only till the part 1 of the struggle – force India to agree to RSD. It is a different matter that other than religion, there is nothing that binds J&K to Pakistan. Can we hold back and think before we take the leap for it may become too late ?
Reverting back to Pakistan, we need to do a quick audit of what is happening to those who aligned themselves with that country. The early civilian political class failed to give stability to loosely joined territories of what became Pakistan acceptance. The failure of political class pushed the masses to yearn for alternative models and thus began the onset of series of military coups and dictatorships. Though military interventions are by no means desirable, they are understandable in the context of tremulous political cultures. The entire atmosphere in Pakistan is riddled with severe misconceptions about what space can be ceded to the people from non-core areas of Pakistan and those from other faiths.
Increasingly, the Balochis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns, Mohajirs, Saraikis, Kashmiris, Baltic and others have felt marginalised and are up in arms to secure their interests. The word secular, in both letter and spirit, is virtually absent from the Pakistani discourse. Even those who understand that secularism is fundamentally different from atheism often raise the question: “what good is secularism?” and “all we need is the right interpretation of religion.”
Balochistan, the most restive province of Pakistan, has entered into a new era of violence and dissent. Inputs regarding atrocities being committed on innocent civilians by the Pakistan Army and its sponsored terrorists keep coming out frequently despite an attempt to keep the province under wraps. The prevalent unrest, due to extreme poverty, instability and the systematic loot of natural wealth of the resource rich province, is being accentuated by the buildup of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is looked upon as yet another attempt by the federal government to fully colonise the region. The people residing within the restive province cannot get their anguish heard since the region is being kept behind the proverbial iron curtain by the government and the Pak Army. Media is almost non-existent and local protests are suppressed with an iron hand; local Baloch activists simply disappear from the face of the earth.
Gilgit-Baltistan formerly called the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) is the larger political entity of the occupied territories with an area of 72,496 square kms. It has effectively been administered by Pakistan as a de facto dependent territory, i.e. a non-self-governing territory. Through Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Self Governance Order 2009, it was ostensibly granted “full autonomy”, but GB Reforms Order 2018 has turned the clock backwards yet again. However, the people of the region are no longer ready to take things lying down. They are coming out in large numbers to protest against the arbitrary manner in which they are being treated. The CPEC is designed to pass through the occupied territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. This passage through an area which is under international dispute and not part of Pakistan is, by itself, illegal. It is also immoral to the extent that permission for the passage has not been sought from the locals. The Pakistani establishment has brazenly indulged in persecuting natives of Gilgit-Baltistan on one pretext or the other and through militarization, attempt are being made to change the demography of the region.
People of Kashmir (under Pakistani control) feel that Pakistan has been ruling over them through the Kashmir Council. “It needs to be abolished”, said a leader of the United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP). Such protests have been intensifying of late. People in the region were virtually living in a colonial era where they were being subjected to massive oppression and human rights violations. “We don’t have the right to elect our own representatives in Pakistan’s Parliament. We don’t have an independent judiciary and constitutional rights. The region is run by the executive orders of the Minister for Kashmir Affairs from Islamabad,” he explained. Same goes for Pakhtoons, Mohajirs, Sindhis and others we spoke of earlier. Surely, we do not want to be part of such a Pakistan, to which anyone who decided to align with is repenting today.
Come to our part of Kashmir, the conglomerate of two dozen or so parties called ‘Hurriyat Conference’ claimed the ownership of representing people’s aspirations after rejecting the choice of people for governance out of mainstream political parties as merely a compulsion. Of course, mainstream political parties also keep harping “Hurriyat-walon se baat karo”. So, we take it that Hurriyat Conference began with some semblance of support from people. But, what happened next ? It broke down and did so badly due to ego clashes, infighting, outside interventions and divergence of goals. Consequently, the Hurriyat Conference has lost its status, and is now equivalent to a ‘hartal machine’, constantly giving calls for illegitimate bandhs. However, they should internalise the fact that despite being an amalgamation of several ‘intelligent’ heads, they have pathetically failed to give a certain direction to the freedom struggle. And now, with the revelation that the blood of Kashmiri people is being ‘sold’ for a petty amount of money, their relevance to the freedom struggle has reached its nadir.
A lot of blood has been shed in the name of Kashmir without actually formulating the roadmap for where the struggle intends to reach. What will explain the stance of Hurriyat which has failed to respond to the overtures of New Delhi during the holy month of Ramzan so far? They cannot even speak up for bringing in peace in reciprocation. Probably, waiting to take orders from where it comes, but has not come yet since the powers-that-be are busy fighting elections. Not that such offers are often made !
So, what do we do ? My take is that foremost thing to do while we remain confused about our future is to give ‘Peace a Chance’. Stakeholders in Kashmir including the civil society should evaluate their own parameters on what peace means. Some prefer the term normalcy to the rather utopian sounding ‘peace’ because they do not think Kashmir was ever at war, or remains in any form of conflict. Let people experience a period of calmness and no bloodshed of near and dear ones. Let students go to schools and colleges disruption free. Let the business during heavy tourist and fruit season go normally this year. Let Amarnath Yatra happen most peacefully without any shadow of gun. Kashmir needs to modernize its tourist facilities and give the Kashmiri people more opportunities for entertainment. The food for thought here is, attempts must be made to establish the normalcy in Kashmir.
As prime professionals in the game of counter-violence, perhaps the Army also needs to take this more professionally, war-gaming it with all its premier institutions and giving the Nation the results of all its nurtured military intellect. It is high time for Kashmiris to breathe the non-violent air for a change and save precious lives of its children.
*Farooq Wani is a Kashmir-based Senior journalist and political analyst