It is all very confusing- Pakistan claims that whereas the people of Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) are ‘enslaved’, those living in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) enjoy complete ‘freedom’ or ‘azadi’ and that is why PaK is called ‘Azad Kashmir’. If one takes into account the inordinately large presence of security forces in IaK, then this observation makes perfect sense. However, the confusion arises when one realises that while the ‘enslaved’ people of IaK enjoy the right to question and even publically protest against the accession of J&K to India, our ‘emancipated’ brethren in PaK don’t have the freedom to express negative views on the subject of accession. Infact, doing so in PaK could land one into serious trouble as Part 7(2) of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974 clearly stipulates that, “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”
What makes everything even more confusing is the natural question as to why the Constitution of a ‘free’ nation, drawn-up and passed by its own very legislators, makes free expression of opinion a crime? If in PaK, the people have really found the ‘azadi’ which they had aspired for, then the question of any criticism regarding ‘accession’ does not arise. Even if there are some adverse opinions voiced on this issue by some disgruntled people or groups with vested interests, does it justify denying the people their basic democratic right to freedom of expression? If the majority of the people in PaK are indeed satisfied with the existing arrangements there, then why are the law-makers so apprehensive that they consider it necessary to impose stringent curbs on the freedom of expression of their own people on the issue of ‘accession’? These questions raise some very serious doubts regarding the credibility of Pakistan’s claim of PaK being ‘azad’ and add to the confusion!
While the government in Islamabad may forget the people of IaK for most part of the year, it never forgets to observe February 5 as ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’. This occasion is celebrated with great fervor across Pakistan and more so in PaK, with the same routine year after year- huge processions protesting the ‘illegal occupation’ of IaK with strong criticism of both the UN and international community for displaying abject apathy on the Kashmir issue. Then there are massive rallies with a host of speakers condemning atrocities being committed on the people in IaK, emotional speeches reaffirming Islamabad’s continued political, diplomatic moral and support to the ‘oppressed’ people of IaK and reiterating Pakistan’s wholehearted commitment towards resolving the Kashmir problem ‘as per the aspirations of its people’. All this is no doubt very reassuring, but since the gargantuan annual show of consummate solidarity soon peters out, in practical terms all it amounts to is unfortunately nothing more than mere emotional rhetoric!
The separatist leadership, which keeps accusing Islamabad of ‘betraying’ the people of IaK by giving trade and commerce considerations preference over the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir, reciprocates in equal measure on this occasion. Forgetting their grouse against Islamabad’s tardiness towards resolution of the Kashmir problem, separatists lavishly heap accolades on the Pakistani leadership lauding it for providing continued support on Kashmir. While this customary expression of profound gratitude by the separatist leadership is understandable, what is confusing is why none of them dares to raise the issue of PaK? Technically speaking, isn’t PaK as much under ‘illegal occupation’ of Islamabad as IaK is under New Delhi? Well, one could always say that when the Maharaja of J&K betrayed the sentiments and aspirations of his subjects by unilaterally deciding to accede to India, the population of PaK revolted against this autocratic decision and voluntarily joined Pakistan, thus making this a ‘democratic’ decision, which should be respected! However, since we have made UN resolutions on Kashmir the basis for demanding our ‘right to self determination’, we have no other option but to abide with and play the game as per the rules laid down by the UN.
Unfortunately, the UN does not recogonise the legitimacy of Islamabad’s occupation of PaK even though a section of the Hurriyat feels that since the entire population of Kashmir wholeheartedly aspires to be part of Pakistan, by its occupation of PaK, Islamabad is in effect actually the ‘implementing’ the UN resolutions. This line of argument is also very confusing because if this true, then why are the people of IaK asking for ‘azadi’ instead of airing their aspirations of ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become Pakistan)? Isn’t it all so confusing? When former interlocutor Dalip Padgaonkar claimed that the “People of Kashmir don’t know the specific meaning of azadi,” he drew sharp criticism from various quarters and I must admit that I too was one amongst the many who had accused the him for deliberately attempting to undermine the Kashmir struggle by his ill-considered and motivated remarks. However, in retrospect, I feel that perhaps Padgaonkar was right all the time, as ‘azadi’ in Kashmir seems to have just too many connotations!
While we must appreciate the support Islamabad has been providing to the people of IaK in their struggle for the ‘right to self determination’, the notion that we are morally obliged to ‘repay’ Pakistan for its assistance by acceding to it, merits greater deliberation. Even if we go by the logic of a senior Hurriyat leader that Kashmir is a “natural part of Pakistan,” then we must first ask ourselves whether we are ready to reconcile and prepared to live in an environment that does not give us any guarantee that our social, moral and unique religious identity will not be obliterated by influx of non-Kashmiris and sectarian ideologies? We would also have decide whether we are willing to accept the reality that it would be Islamabad and not our own leaders who would have the final say in decision making as well as the fact that after having ‘joined’ Pakistan, we would no longer be able to discuss the issue of our accession any further. Thus, while we may strongly desire ‘liberation’ from Indian yolk, expecting ‘azadi’ under Islamabad’s rule may well be a case of ‘great expectations’, if not one of ‘jumping from the frying pan into the fire’!
Our leaders must never forget that they bear on their shoulders, the onerous responsibility of ensuring a brighter future for the people of Kashmir, who have reposed unconditional confidence in their leadership and thus the separatists need to introspect with a rational mind and not let themselves be overcome by emotions. The people of Kashmir have been subjugated for far too long and so; let not the decision on our future be one of ‘compromises’ based on wishful thinking, which may someday bring grief to the people of Kashmir. Our forefathers have in their quest and yearning for ‘azadi’ undergone great privations and made countless sacrifices. Thus, we have no right to betray their aspirations by deviating from this aim. Let us not allow Kashmir to become a sacrificial lamb to the ‘two-nation’ theory- we always had a separate and unique identity and this we must maintain at all costs. As I had mentioned earlier, it is all so confusing because when Kashmir has a distinct national identity and character of its own, as well as all the requisite resources to be a self- sufficient and independent nation, I for one just cannot fathom as to why our leaders are so very shy of demanding the ‘azadi’ that would truly make us the masters of our own destiny?