How Azad is `Azad Kashmir'

By Sultan Shaheen


If you want to study the situation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and cannot go to even the minuscule part of this region designated as `Azad Kashmir', the best place to go to is England. Bradford, Birmingham, Nottingham, Luton, Slough and Southall are perhaps even better sources of information about the POK than Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Bagh Rawalakot and Kotli. For the Kashmiris living in Britain breathe free air that it not much available in the so-called Azad Kashmir. Even if you so much as apply for a job you have to sign an affidavit saying you believe in the ideology of "Kashmir banega Pakistan" (Kashmir will become Pakistan).

I happened to be in England on the eve of recent election in `Azad Kashmir'. Meeting `Azad' Kashmiris in Britain proved revealing. The politically active among them have organised themselves on the lines of politics back home. Nearly all political organisations and ideologies are represented. They all appear to be working against India and, except JKLF, pro-Pakistan. Their activities range from the ridiculous to the more sober. I come across some Tehrik-e-Kashmir activists in Birmingham attempting to impose a boycott of Tilda rice supposedly imported from India. They are aware that India is far too big and powerful a country with a vast capacity to take losses to be bothered with such nonsense. But they think this helps them spread hatred against India. On the other hand they are making a serious and somewhat successful attempt at lobbying political parties, media and bureaucracy to convince them of the genuineness of their case against what they call Indian occupation of Kashmir and serious human rights violations.

But this is a superficial impression. Beneath the surface, most of them are disgusted with Pakistan and many of them find India's handling of its part of Kashmir, despited the obvious difficulties and current hostilities, more commendable. Several people, for instance, mentioned that while India has respected Kashmir's age-old practice of not allowing outsiders to settle down in the valley, Pakistan has allowed over 28,000 Afghan families to settle down and fleece the local populace in the name of Jihad. These Afghans are even more exploitative that the Hindu baniya ever was, they point out.

The comparisons are endless. Kashmiris in the valley are better educated and better skilled. They have their own university with medical and engineering colleges. Some of us, particularly Mirpuris may be more prosperous, they say, but that is only because we managed to come to England when we were virtually thrown out of Pakistan as we lost our livelihood in the wake of the construction of Mangla Dam. The reference to Mangla Dam always brings out either complete silence in pro-Pakistan circles or vociferous protest from those who are not so particular about living with Pakistan. This Dam is said to supply 65% of the electricity needs of Pakistan, but the so-called Azad Kashmir does not get any royalty. Pakistan's Water and Power Development Agency (WAPDA) is estimated to be earning over Rs. 50 crores from the electricity produced at Mangla, thought the total budget of the Azad Kashmir is in the vicinity of Rs. 10 crores.

The most talked about issue, of course, is that of Northern Areas which has been virtually swallowed by Pakistan Army. It comes in the news periodically only when there are Shia-Sunni clashes in the area of firing by the Army to quell anti-government demonstrations. In a historic judgment when a Kashmiri chief justice of the High Court dared to say a couple of years ago that the area was a part of Kashmir and had been illegally occupied by Pakistan Army, he instantly became a hero. Similar enthusiasm was shown by the Kashmiris towards Raja Mumtaz Hussain Rathore, the last PPP `Prime Minister' of the so-called Azad Kashmir, who started taking up the issue of Northern Areas followed his dismissal and detention by the last Nawaz Sharif government.

This leads any discussion in the direction of almost complete denial of democracy to the so-called Azad Kashmir. While India has at least one or two free and fair elections in the valley, notably in 1977 and 1983, the Pakistani Establishment has dismissed and installed governments of `Azad Kashmir' at will. The only party that has not been able to do so is Ms. Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People Party as it is not considered a part of Establishment even when in power.

It is hardly surprising in view of such perceptions of the Pakistani Kashmiris that they throw out Sardar Qayyoom's obscurantist Muslim Conference which has ruled them for most of the last half a century at the first available opportunity. They did that in 1990 and they have done that now. Sardar Qayyoom's protestations of massive rigging by the PPP government in Islamabad is unbelievable. All that she had to do to win elections there was not to concede Sardar Qayyoom's demand of allowing the Army to conduct elections.

ELECTION EXPOSE SIMMERING DISCONTENT IN POK OBSCURANTIST INDIA-BAITERS FACE MASSIVE DEFEAT

Sardar Abdul Qayyoom Khan's ruling Muslim Conference has been virtually wiped out in the small part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) designated as "Azad Kashmir" where generally farcical elections are held intermittently to buttress the fiction of its Azadi. He has blamed massive rigging for his defeat. This is predictably music to Indian ears. We have ourselves faced similar allegations in international as well as sections of national media in regard to recent elections in our part of Kashmir. But by playing up Sardar Qayyoom's incredible claims in our media and in the diplomatic circuit, we are simply playing in the hands of Pakistan's right wing obscurantists, Army and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

Indian media pundits and bureaucrats may have valid reasons to regard the ruling Pakistan People Party headed by Ms Benazir Bhutto and even its so-called Azad Kashmir branch as communal or obscurantist and anti-India. Obviously they must have more impeccable sources of information and intelligence. But the people of the so-called Azad Kashmir have been consistently told since the formation of PPP itself that it is secular, anti-Islam, anti-Pakistan and pro-India. The Pakistani media, the Sardar Qayyoom government, indeed the entire Pakistani Establishment has indulged in this propaganda on the largest possible scale for years. And yet they have chosen to give a massive mandate to this supposedly secular, progressive, pro-India party. Whether or not the PPP is secular and pro-India is not the issue. The fact that despite this widespread perception, the people of this piece of POK have chosen to elect it again must mean something to us in India. There is so clearly some message in this massive PPP victory and we should try to understand and interpret it in this light. Our hatred for Pakistan seems to have blinded us and we are reacting mindlessly.

Sardar Qayyoom's party has ruled the so-called Azad Kashmir (I prefer to use this term rather that the popular POK, as this area is actually less than half of the POK) for most of the last half a century. He has himself ruled as President as well as Prime Minister for decades. he retains the love and affection of the military-bureaucratic and feudal-industrialist complex that rules Pakistan as ever. He is the darling of the obscurantist elements in the Pakistani Opposition, despite his son Sardar Ateeq's shenanigans. he had himself come to power in the present instance through a farcical election following an undemocratic and immoral, though constitutional and legal, dismissal and even detention of the last Prime Minister Raja Mumtaz Hussain Rathore who headed a duly elected People's Party government.

The rule in Pakistan is that the movement changes hands in Islamabad, the so-called Azad Kashmir government is dismissed and a new one installed through a farce of an election unless this happens to be a Muslim Conference government headed by Sardar Qayyoom. Following this glorious tradition the last Muslim league government headed by Mr. Nawaz Sharif had dismissed Mr. Mumtaz Rathore, detained him and installed Sardar Qayyoom. But Ms. Benazir Bhutto's PPP has never been allowed to follow this tradition. When she came to power a couple of years ago, she was widely expected to reinstall Mumtaz Rathore. She would not have required to rig the elections to do so. For reasons that we will discuss later the people of the so-called Azad Kashmir are fed up with the Sardar Dynasty. Indeed Ms. Bhutto is not capable of rigging elections there or anywhere else.

Ms. Bhutto came to power for the first time having won elections that followed President Zia-ul-Haq's death in August 1988, she was told that as chairperson of the Kashmir Council, she had the power to dissolve the Kashmir Assembly order fresh elections. She was considering the popular demand for dismissal of the Muzaffarabad government. But Sardar Qayyoom criticised Ms. Bhutto's policy of normalisation with India "to undo the Islamic ideology and weaken the Pakistan Army". He wrote to President Guhlam Ishaq Khan: "We will not allow a pro-India government in Azad Kashmir," He made it clear that he would not accept the electoral verdict if the PPP won. And despite all the pressure from the people of Pakistan Occupied `Azad' Kashmir and her party she could not topple the Sardar government. Sardar Qayyoom completed his tenure in 1990.

Informed people are aware that Pakistan is ruled by a troika. A Pakistan Prime Minister can only do things with the concurrence of Washington and the local Establishment which includes the Army, ISI, Bureaucracy, Business, Feudal and Obscurantist elements. Ms. Bhutto's PPP was allowed to stay in power because for a variety of reasons not germane to this discussion she was for the moment begin tolerated by the two other parts of the troika. But she had very obvious limits to her power. She had enough powers thought to ensure that elections in the so-called Azad Kashmir are not rigged by any part of the troika including the Pakistani Establishment which would have loved to see Sardar Qayyoom back in power. All that she needed to do was not to concede Sardar Qayyoom's persistent demand to allow the Army to conduct the elections.

Why did Ms. Bhutto allow Sardar Qayyoom during her second term to continue for so long and complete his full term again is thus no mystery. She was under intense pressure from the Sardar government. But she continued to be so incensed with Mr. Nawaz Sharif who had earlier dismissed and detained the PPP Prime Minister Raja Mumtaz Rathore that she was seriously considering taking them on in this case. This was when, according to my sources in PPP, a new element entered into the picture which proved decisive and finally saved the Sardar government.

President Laghari of Pakistan visited India and met a delegation of Kashmir valley's pro-Pakistan leaders. This delegation pleaded with him to persuade Ms. Bhutto not to dismiss Sardar Qayyoom. Their argument was that in the absence of Sardar Qayyoom the network supporting militancy in the valley would be disturbed. A PPP government there can obviously not be trusted to support the right wing network. Their second argument was even more important. Islamabad dismissing a duly elected Muzaffarabad government without any apparent reason, thought constitutionally valid and legal, would be clearly immoral and undemocratic that it would weaken their case that Kashmir's identity and autonomy would better protected by Pakistan that it is with India. Even though Pakistan has a history of such undemocratic dismissals, this particular dismissal at the height of militancy in the Valley would prove disastrous, so pleaded Hurriyat leaders. Despite all his sophistication and persuasive arguments, my sources tell me, it took President Laghari two and a half hours of intense pleading to dissuade Ms. Bhutto from dismissing Sardar Qayyoom's government.

One wonders if the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leaders in the valley are now pleading with Sardar Qayyoom not to accuse PPP government in Islamabad and his own government in Muzaffarabad of massive rigging in the elections. For, this too weakens their case of Kashmir's accession with Pakistan. It brings to light the farcical nature of `Azadi' in the so-called Azad Kashmir. Of course, even this so-called Azadi is not available to the hapless people of the majority area of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir designated as Northern Areas. The vast areas of Gilgit and Baltistan have simply vanished from the face of the earth as far as the Pakistan Constitution and other legal documents are concerned, though until 1954, Pakistan used to supply maps that showed these territories as a part of Kashmir.

The Muslim Conference alleging massive rigging is indeed ridiculous. The People's Party massive mandate in Azad Kashmir represents not so much its own popularity as it articulates the disgust of the `Azad' Kashmiris with Pakistani Establishment. The Muslim Conference is seen as this Establishment's local representative despite its regional character. Ironically, the People's Party Kashmir unit is seen as more representative of the regional aspirations despite this Party's all-Pakistan character.

The plight of Azad Kashmiris calls for a separate write-up. What we can say here is that economic factors like lack of development of any industry, communication facilities, exploitation of Mangla dam for providing electricity to 65 per cent of Pakistan without any compensation, no local university, no local bank, no new bridges over the river Jhelum and so on do weight heavily on the minds of `Azad' Kashmiris, what they resent most is their virtual slave status in the Constitution, new tensions in the wake of settlement of over 28,000 Afghan families, militant training camps and the inevitable rise of obscurantism due to almost uninterrupted half-a-century rule of the Muslim Conference. They have been told for years now that the accession of Kashmir valley to Pakistan is round the corner. But neither the proud Suddhan tribals, nor the wealthy Mirpuris (most of them have relatives in England) are prepared to accept the inevitable domination of the better educated and numerically stronger `hatos' as they contemptuously refer to the Kashmiris of the valley in case Kashmir is united.

An Open Letter:
What are you doing with Hurriyat, Yasin Malik?

It is easier for an Indian to sympathise with you, regardless of the folly of your pursuit. With your emaciated body, you are the only Gandhi-like figure on the kashmir horizon. Despite your militant past, the country appeared to have accepted your protestations of peade when you renounced violence. Released from captivity, you received the best media attention any Kashmiri leader had got, perhaps with the solitary exception so Shabir Shah. But when you went on fast for three days in Delhi nevently to focus attention on human rights violations in Kashmir, there was hardly an mediaperson or realy any one else around. I wonder if you have been wondering why.

I wanted to ask you-what are doing with Hurriyat, Yasin Saheb?-when I visited you on the second day of your fast. But you were in no dondition to converse. You have been taking so much on yourslef, despite ill-health. Also, the question would have been a trifle awkward with so many Hurriyat leaders, including Chairman Mirwaiz Omar Farooq surrounding you.

You and Shabir Shah are the two prominent leaders who are associated with peaceful means of protest as well as what is called the third option, independence from both India and Pakistan. As other members of the Hurriyat Conference still stand for accession with Pakstan your association with Hurriyat has always been rather intriguing. Now this question has acquired some urgency with the recent declarations of the Hurriyat chief during his recent trip abroad. At a news conference in Washington, he said: "No Third Option exists on Kashmir. All components of All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, despite their diversity have accepted this. The Kashmiris have to decide in a plebiscite whether they should opt for India or Pakistan."

Hurriyat's total and rather desperate dependence on Pakistan become even more pronounced during the last SAARC foreign ministers' conference in Delhi. Senior Hurriyat leaders like Umar Farooq, Sayed Ali Shah Geelani adn Professor Abdul Ghani met the visiting Pakistani foreign minister Sahabazda Yaqub Khan and criticised Islamabad's efforts to improve trade relations with India. They felt Pakistna's business interests might overshadow the political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Since Pakistan seemed keen to remove trade barriers with India under the SAARC agenda, they feared it might ultimately not give that much importance to the Kashmir issue.

That Pakistan was getting ready to dump the Kashmiris and perhaps concentrate on improving its battered economy had become clear to me, Yasin Shaeb, several months ago. You couldn't have forgotten what happened in Leicester, U.K. last August. Expartriate Kashmiri leader Dr. Ayyub Thukar had organised a conference of Kashmiri leaders from India Pakistan as well. No one turned up from Pakistan. This became particularly embarrassing for the organisers because two people arrived even from India - the present writer and Mr. Subodh Kant Sahai. Finally, Islamabad, probably after much coaxing and cajoling, instructed its deputy High Commissioner in London to attent the conference who was able to reach there only for the last session.

One can hardly blame Pakistan, though, for this state of affairs. In the case of proxy wars this is almost routine. This is what Shah of Iran did with Mulla Barzani's Kurdish secessionist movement in Iraq. This is what Saddam Hussain does with Iranian Kurdish secessionists in Iran. Support them, use them, sell them and dump them is virtually the norm.

As Pakistani pro-occupation with tis impending political and economic disintegration grows, Hurriyat is bound to grow even more desperate. It is bound to shout louder and louder from rooftops higher and higher ist protestations of loyality to Pakistan. It is for leaders like you, Yasin Saheb, to think if Hurriyat is correctly representing your point of view. Shabbir Shah has proved smarter. He has manoeuvered himself out of Hurriyat at the right time. I wonder if you would reconsider your position vis-s-vis Hurriyat before it is too late for you to extricate yourself out of the mess that Hurriyat is beginning to sense it has got itself into.

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