AJK's raison d'etre

However the tumultuous events of October 1947 were conducted or have been subsequently reported or interpreted leaves little doubt as to the paucity of pro-active, rational public output from the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir State in determining their national identity.

Much as the Dogra ruler Hari Singh had ultimate little say in maintaining an independent State, the public were either swept in discrimination-driven emotion or were victims of backlash-driven atrocity. The opportunity of blossom that is associated with the transition from a carefully carved out autocracy to a dynamic democracy (a la European nation states) was cruelly denied to the people. That opportunity has been in cold storage for almost 64 years.

Given that the territory west of the LoC (invoked under questionable circumstances on October 14, 1947) was and is fabulously described as ‘Azad Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir’, it’s high time that it lives up to it’s name. Certainly, the emergence of ‘soft power’ in North Africa demands that it do so. It is no longer tenable to sink deeper into the abyss that is the ‘Indo-Pak Peace Process’, less still to demand a stake in the proceedings. It is clear that the government in Pakistani-administered Kashmir contributes less in governance output than what a modern-day municipality would be expected to. It is contradictory constitutional status, absence of economic policy and opaque administrative structure leave its citizens at sea and unless a civil organisation can somehow mobilise itself to deliver these fundamental tenets of progress to the people, the wheels of 21st century South/Central Asia are unlikely to propel forward.

The international community would do well to appreciate that the Indo-Pak conundrum is far more destabilising than the ‘War on Terror’ and engages far more indigenous military resources than the upwardly mobile youth of India, Pakistan and Kashmir can tolerate for much longer. It should also be apparent that clear, open, neutral and intellectual discourse on the wider region in the vicinity of Kashmir cannot (and certainly hasn’t in the past) be conducted elsewhere in the region but in Kashmir, more specifically in the ‘Azad – free’ part of it. The absence of genuine political discourse in India for Pakistan or for Pakistan in India can be facilitated by Mirpur or Kotli. There’s no reason why in due course that facility can’t be extended to Skardu, Kargil or Kathua.

There is of course a sense of assertiveness conspicuously missing from Kashmiri political discourse. It still has trouble jumping out of the seemingly structural indispensability of appeasing India and Pakistan’s enforced presence. Civil society in a genuine “Azad Kashmir” would be perfectly placed to re-enforce genuine political space for Kashmiris as well as Indians and Pakistanis in general. The closed structure in AJK is designed to do precisely the opposite of that. Hence, the necessity of civil society in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to take responsibility themselves for creating that space so that the whole region benefits.

For the above to be possible, widening the economic scope of Pakistani-administered Kashmir would be amongst the first measures to be ushered in. A lot of the public is conditioned to assume that curtailment of their own development potential is for a wider, noble cause viz. that of the global ummah (brotherhood) of Muslims, which ostensibly relies on Pakistan as a pillar of strength. Some benefiting at the expense of the rest is deemed a historical reality which would necessitate a virtual alteration of human nature for it to be overturned. The public thus feels collectively inclined to concentrate on the do-able and devise economic targets that are achievable. A local doctor friend of this writer considered that because most of the public had compromised their souls in order to combat the stark economic hurdles facing them; discussing change with them would merely aggravate their malaise. “The wording may be right but the audience is wrong”, he succinctly summarised.   

Connecting the applicability of freedom in all its denotations and linking that with open economic opportunity may have been achieved by the young brothers and sisters of North Africa but their ‘partners in predicament’ here are ill-equipped to grasp that concept just yet, it seems. While the former march forward shoulder to shoulder out of a grim and savage past, the latter await a messiah or perhaps a bunch of innovative trail-blazers.

Meanwhile, the conduct of Pakistani authority in curbing forward-movement in the territory of Kashmir that they control requires further objective analysis. It will be equally interesting to see whether they will continue to adopt traditional means of restricting fundamental freedoms or ‘wait and see’ before adapting their policy to contain the possible ramifications of an increasingly aware public. In either case, the idea of AJK’s population shunning it’s derived nature of being an adjunct of Pakistani politics must be unthinkable for the ‘powers-that-be’.

The politics of deception either on the part of the Pakistani State towards AJK or the politicians of AJK vis-a-vis the public, along with being carefully nurtured by media and solidified by the cramped economic structure, is arguably further exacerbated by the absence of any meaningful social organisation in the territory. It is possible that this factor has inhibited the international human rights community from playing a more supportive role. No indigenous organisation has been able to expand on or take forward the issues highlighted by the Human Rights Watch report of 2006 for example.

Social change processes have also not materialised despite the influx of foreign non-government organisations post-earthquake in October 2005. Recognising that NGO’s are ever more dependent on government and corporate financing, it is difficult to imagine them working in solidarity with grass-roots movements which emphasise a sentiment of freedom that is in direct conflict with the existing structures of nationhood. Relying on India and Pakistan to relent could be a long wait. There being little or no form of organised philanthropy devoted to conflict resolution is yet another structural impediment.
Remembering that the division of the State in 1947 was initiated in the very territory that is described as ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, the responsibility for re-unification also lies here-in. Whenever one studies the issues related to friction between Jammu and the Valley or between Ladakh and the Valley, one can’t help believing that Jammu’s de-linking from Pakistani-administered Kashmir and Ladakh’s de-linking from Gilgit Baltistan has contributed much to this present-day scenario. India and Pakistan’s concentration of attention on the Valley was always going to divert more resources and political power there.

Jammu’s natural growth and importance is severely restricted by it being cut off from us-it having to compete with the Valley for the centre’s attention- giving the nature of India and Pakistan politics was always going to be an uphill struggle. Re-linking Jammu and re-opening those natural routes with not just our side of the LoC but with Sialkot and the other industrial towns of the Western Punjab up-to Lahore would do more than mitigate the tension arising out of a truncated Jammu competing with a politically pivotal Kashmir Valley. A similar argument could be suggested for Ladakh and Gilgit Baltistan.
The raison d’etre for a truncated yet supposedly Azad Jammu and Kashmir must be refreshed and clarified. Offering a solution to the region is the prospect that it can position itself into. Doing away with thrusting religious identity on the other and coming to terms with the events of 1947 could usher in an era of prosperity that for many Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris is yet unfathomable.

Author is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com.