Azad Kashmir or Pakistani Occupied Kashmir? Dr Shabir Choudhry

It was pleasure and an honour to be among prominent liberal, progressive secular and nationalist Pakistanis who gathered in London to discuss serious problems that encountered Pakistan. The Conference was organised by South Asia Against Terrorism and for Human Rights with the title of Pakistan: The way forward.
The SAATH team managed the Conference brilliantly; and all the participants were encouraged to speak and share their views. Among the objectives was to discuss alternative narrative, promote plural society and rule of civilian rule.
Whereas, I learnt many things in the Conference; and enjoyed the company of these learned men and women who gathered here from various parts of the world, I felt that participants were less interested about plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially living on the Pakistani side of the divide.
In other words, the Conference was Pakistan centric; and the participants were less interested about the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir which has embittered relations between the two nuclear rivals and nearly resulted in a nuclear clash. The participants also discussed proxy war, religious warriors, extremism and violence; but perhaps failed to note that Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a big source of recruitment of Jihadi warriors, proxy war, extremism and violence.
Faheem Baloch’s comments were very interesting. He said, CPEC will be a successful project. Pakistan will surely prosper because of the CPEC, because it has blood of thousands of innocent Baloch people. We continue to get dead bodies and are oppressed.

People appreciated his comments. No one appeared annoyed. However, when I finished my submission there were some upset faces. I said:

‘I am not a Pakistani. I come from Pakistani occupied Kashmir and live in London’. I explained how Pakistan violated the Standstill Agreement, attacked Jammu and Kashmir, killed innocent people, kidnapped women; and how this attack resulted in the provisional accession with India and the first India – Pakistan war. We are forcibly divided and suffer on both sides of the divide. I further said many of Pakistan’s current problems are directly related to their obsession of getting Kashmir.

My views were appreciated by some, especially who belonged to KPK and Balochistan; but those who were managing the stage during that session didn’t look very happy; and some others also appeared irritated. One citizen of Azad Kashmir also was not happy, and in his submission, he said we should call this region Azad Kashmir and not Pakistani occupied Kashmir. He also said, we should also not say, Indian occupied Kashmir.

In my second submission, I clarified my view point by saying:

Terminology is extremely essential to understand the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The area known as Azad Kashmir was attacked by Pakistan on 22 October 1947. They established a puppet government and called it Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government. Everything since 1947 is controlled and managed by Pakistan and GHQ.

Also, I added: Their narrative is that areas under India are occupied; and they should be called Indian Occupied Kashmir. The areas under Pakistan are Azad. My point is, if we call this area Azad Kashmir, which does not have any kind of freedom or azadi, then we are promoting the agenda of the GHQ. That is something we, nationalists of Jammu and Kashmir don’t want.

I further said, Kashmir dispute should not be seen with the lenses of GHQ. It should not be taken from defence, strategic and water point of view. It should be considered as human issue where families are divided since 1947; and we suffer on both sides of the LOC. The Pakistani narrative is wrong that only Indian bombs kill people during cross LOC firing. Trust me the Pakistani bombs are also lethal; and they kill our people on the other side of the divide.

In my final submission, I said:

  • Withdrawal of Pak army was demanded by the UNSC Resolution of 13 August 1948. It did not suit the military establishment so they refused.
  • India Pak friendship does not suit the establishment. If there is friendship many lakhs of people will become unemployed and powerless.
  • How there can be peace in the region when jihadi warriors are used as a foreign policy tool?
  • Please don’t regard Jammu and Kashmir dispute as a water and security matter. Regard it as a human problem. Families are divided and suffer on both sides of the divide since 1947.
  • LOC firing should stop as they kill people on both sides of the LOC.
  • Divided people should be allowed to meet.

The declaration was brilliantly drafted and presented. I stood up and congratulated the team which drafted the Declaration; but humbly requested them to add two points, where the draft says:

‘There are constant threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’; add Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan because our nationalists and human rights activists are also targeted by Jihadi warriors and secret agencies and people have lost their lives and some are in prison.

Second suggestion was about the financial awards. I requested them to add Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan as well because due to lack of development people are frustrated and some are recruited by extremists.

The final draft talked about rights of Baloch, Mohajir, Sindhi and Pashtun people; but sadly, my Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan was still missing.

So, what is the message for us? Am I correct to construe that even Pakistani liberals and progressive people are not liberal enough to regard us of deserving equal rights? Like the Pakistani elite, do they also think we are their colony; and do not deserve the same respect.

If this is tolerance level of highly educated liberal, progressive and secular people, imagine what will be the level of tolerance of those who are perceived as extremists and those who are uneducated.

The future looks bleak to me. May Allah help us?

Writer is a political analyst, and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Chairman South Asia Watch, London and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

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