Illusory Labels

Are we 'British Pakistanis' or 'British Kashmiris'?

British-Paharis originating from Pakistan-administered-Kashmir are categorised as 'ethnic' Pakistanis for official monitoring purposes. And yet independence actors from 'Azad' Jammu & Kashmir, here in the UK and abroad, have been lobbying the UK government to change its position on the ethnic classification of 'A'JK nationals. They argue categorically that British-Paharis are not Pakistanis because they are the 'state-subjects' of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. This reality, they argue, should be reflected in the UK ethnic classification system and so 'A'JK nationals (technically 'state subjects' of an occupied territory) should be re-classified as 'Kashmiris'. Some local authorities in the North of the UK have accepted this position whilst others have not.

So which is it, are British-Paharis, i.e., the diaspora from Mirpur Division, Poonch and Muzaffarabad 'Pakistanis' or 'Kashmiris'? 

We believe that we are neither Pakistanis nor Kashmiris on account of political realities, beyond our control, and which are unsatisfactory at best and unjust at worst for state subjects lacking dual-nationality. These political abnormalities are the product of the 'Kashmir Conflict' (maslah-e-kashmir), an unjust conflict that is currently destablising relations between India and Pakistan and which focuses too much attention on the plight of Valley Kashmiris. We do however accept that British-Paharis have the right to self-ascribe on either label and the majority do self-affirm as Pakistanis contrary to the claims of pro-independence 'Kashmiris'.

We argue that we should first self-affirm on the basis of our ethnicity here in the UK as proud Britons. Irrespective of whether we are Kashmiris or Pakistanis by virtue of nation state labels and our ancestral origins, our cultural region predates the creation of either Pakistan (1947) or the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir (1846) by many hundreds of years. In any case it is absolutely the case that we can make the argument that we are not Pakistanis and neither are we Kashmiris on account of what mainstream Pakistanis and ethnic Kashmiris say and do, whether in positions of power or otherwise.

Let us explain why.

The labels 'Pakistani' and 'Kashmiri' are nationalistic in connotation and thus culturally vacuous whilst not really applying to Kashmir State. On the political front, there is no debate about this claim as it is generally accepted. The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir was a colonial polity that was not really a nation state in any sense of the term. It was a subordinate colonial territory created by treaty and hated by those forced to live within it. Aside from these historical realities there are important conceptual distinctions between the two labels nonetheless.

The term Pakistani is the conduit of a civic nationality devoid of any ethnic overtones. On the other hand the term ‘Kashmiri’ is merely a convenient shorthand for the Princely State and which pro-independence nationalists from AJK argue tenuously is also a nation state 'label'. Crucially the term Kashmiri belongs to the inhabitants of the Valley of Kashmir, a tiny portion in geographical terms of the much larger Princely State. It was only recently after the demise of the Princely State that the term became a self-ascription for the inhabitants of the Vale of Kashmir who previously self-ascribed on the basis of their caste-backgrounds. The 'A'JK-based population in this respect can only be considered 'Kashmiri' in light of the political legacy of the Princely State’s colonial stint (1846 CE – 1947 CE) and subsequently thereafter within the context of Indo-Pak occupation or administration (1947 CE - onwards). These periods are interludes to an otherwise much longer trajectory that saw the region cohere on its own cultural terms. 

The use of the label Kashmiri tells us nothing about the cultural heritage of peoples that transcend the cultural-sphere associated with the Valley of Kashmir who were first represented as 'Kashmiri' through colonial precedents - wrongly we add and a reality acknowledged by British patrons of the State. The fact that the 'A'JK population has a shared ethnic bond with numerous provincial-based Pakistani communities and with communities in Indian-administered-Kashmir means that their cultural history transcends the narrow artificialities of these colonial labels. 

Pakistani Nationality; Pakistan's official position

It is simply false to classify the 'A'JK population as 'Pakistani'. Mirpur does not form part of Pakistan but 'Azad' Jammu & Kashmir. It forms part of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, an outwardly autonomous state recognised by Pakistan as being independent but internationally as forming part of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir and awaiting final settlement through the wishes of its people.  According to the most up-to-date constitution of Pakistan (1973), Pakistan has only Four Provinces, namely Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkwa (formerly NWFP) and Punjab; one Federal Capital namely Islamabad; the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and dubiously ‘territories included in Pakistan’. Both 'Azad' Jammu & Kashmir and the federally administered Northern Areas are therefore not Provinces of Pakistan, although much to the outrage of the peoples of these regions, it is Islamabad's federal writ that is absolute. 

Although the constitution stipulates somewhat ambiguously that the territories of Pakistan include “such States and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise” (see Pakistan constitution), this provision contradicts the status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir by the United Nations, to whose resolutions Pakistan is a voluntary signatory, (crucially, for our argument here Pakistan-administered-Kashmir has never acceded to Pakistan). Much can be made of this provision and so one should make the necessary comparison with the Palestinian territories and Israel’s illegal occupation of them mediated nonetheless through its own legal instruments. The fact that the interim constitution of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (1974) refers to its inhabitants as State Subjects and denies ownership to any of its lands by Pakistani Nationals should leave no doubt that Pakistan-administered-Kashmir is an occupied territory with the appearance of its own sovereignty. Pakistan’s administration of the region can only be discharged under its obligations to the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), see security council resolution 39 and 47 (1948).

Therefore in either of the two scenarios posed, it is simply wrong to argue that British-Paharis by virtue of their connections with 'Azad' Jammu & Kashmir are either Pakistanis or Kashmiris.

Why Does This Matter?

Put bluntly 'occupation' is 'occupation' and in the case of the 'A'JK population with its large British diaspora, they have been duped by the Pakistani establishment in thinking that they are Pakistanis when they lack the ordinary benefits that come by way of being a citizen of a country. They do not have the same rights as mainland Pakistanis because they are not Pakistanis and so for instance, they may take great delight in cheering on the Pakistani cricket team, wearing Pakistani cricket t-shirts and shouting Pakistani slogans - but they cannot play for Pakistan nationally or internationally. Legally speaking they are 'state-subjects' of a 'country' that doesn't really exist and so the politically ambitious amongst them cannot aspire to the 'Presidency of Pakistan', neither can they vote in Pakistani elections, for they must content themselves with the second-class citizenship of 'Azad' Jammu & Kashmir, a polity completely controlled by Pakistan. If they sought the political destiny of their country outside the clutches of Pakistan's military, they would not be allowed to participate in the political affairs of their country. They would be considered enemy agents against the Pakistani State despite successive governments of Pakistan claiming internationally that the peoples of 'Kashmir' have the right to decide their own future.

Culturally, there are other considerations to bear in mind. The 'A'JK population belongs to a cultural-sphere that transcends the creation of Pakistan (1947) and the emergence of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir (1846) by many hundreds of years. And yet as a people they know very little of this heritage despite being the actual beneficiaries of numerous settler peoples who contributed vastly to the civilisations of the subcontinent and who in turn where indigenised since Vedic times (1500 BCE – 1100 BCE). The Indo-Aryan Kingdoms known as Gandhara and Kamboja and represented in the very geography and linear history of Mirpur and the Pahari-Ilaqa (Hilltopia) are intricately interwoven with the cultural tapestry that now defines such extant populations. An example in point is ‘Gandhara’, an ancient civilisation in the North West of the subcontinent that also had its own corresponding polity of the same namesake (1st century BCE – 11th century CE). It was from this region that Buddhism was cultivated historically during the reign of Ashoka, (304 BCE - 232) BCE before its eventual spread into the Valley of Kashmir and into other neighbouring regions. Ashoka for instance resided in Taxila where he had also assumed the governorship of Gandhara during his father's reign. Even its language at the time 'Prakrit' cultivated for this specific task, refined in the historical seminaries of learning in Taxila and Neelum evolved into the language-branch to which ‘Pahari’ (or Northern Lahnda) is genetically connected. It is also from this region around 1000 CE that the Islam of Central Asia made its real headway into the remainder of the subcontinent, through which the vibrant traditions of Sufism entered and became indigenised. Many of these later settlers merged with the extant population and are now represented in the essentially hybridised people of the Pahari-Patwari Ilaqa, speaking Pahari and subscribing to the Pahari cultural-norms of the region.

Tribes from Afghanistan that arrived later around 1500 CE and who have over the centuries completely changed the demography of the Peshawar Valley and neighbouring regions of Swat are actually intrusions into this historical cultural-sphere. Radical religious elements within these tribes have also been responsible for the destruction of numerous cultural artefacts associated with the Gandharan heritage. This destruction predates the iconoclasm of the 'Wahhabi-inspired' Taliban by centuries. Some from these communities have ironically claimed this heritage for themselves erroneously on internet forums and in their written publications

Despite these historical realities, the linear descendants of the original inhabitants of this region are being told today that they have no material culture of their own. Disparagingly, they are being told that they are an extension of other ‘ethnic’ people who monopolise further the corresponding linguistic or ethnic labels. It is therefore important that Pahari-Mirpuris and other Paharis for example who represent the eastern extent of this cultural-sphere reinitiate themselves into their own history, develop their own historical narratives and exist as a people in their own right and on their own terms. In doing so they will discover the huge contributions their ancestors made to the various civilisations of the Indian subcontinent. They must never forget that history is on their side in the pursuit of such a valuable undertaking, not least because it was their ancestors who fought Alexander the Great on the plains of Kharri (Southern Mirpur) during his 'Indian' campaigns.

© Copyright 2013 Portmir Foundation

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