Mirpur was the name of an historical settlement in the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir (1846 – 1947), variably known as Kashmir State, Jammu Kingdom and/or the Dogra Raj. The name Mirpur postdates the principality’s founding in the middle of the 1600s. Centuries later, the size of Mirpur expanded massively beyond the limits of the original settlement to include areas (Rajghan) with much older histories.
As of 2020, Mirpur is a much smaller place. It lost its sub-districts of Kotli and Bhimbar within the past decades. The much older principality of Rajouri was detached from it during the beginning of the 1900s. Collectively, these areas were known as Chibhal, an arbitrary tribal designation based on naming practises that postdate the actual history of the wider area.
Anecdotally, it was said of Mirpur, or the original settlement of Mirpur, that it was founded by a tribal chief. There’s no evidence that the tribal chief even existed, but that’s just how origin myths emerge around naming practises. The actual areas that interspersed the nascent principality, if indeed it was founded in the 1650s, later became Mirpur District (Zillah) in 1846. The actual point to bear in mind is that the area in question had been continuously inhabited by populations under the patronage of Kashmir for as long as we can narrate Kashmir’s territorial history.
When we look to individual principalities subsumed within Mirpur, fundamentally, a sub-unit of territory, we discover that names of internal and external principalities and sub-divisions regularly changed, but the centre of gravity, or a sovereignty that cascades downwards, lay deep within the wider area’s socio-political mountain ecology. This patronage system was located within the Western Himalaya, and not the Indo-Gangetic Plains of modern-day India and Pakistan. The Indo Gangetic Plains includes the Punjab and Hindustan, the latter term can be misleading when detached from the history I am discussing, but conflated with notions of identity politics.
Oftentimes, the history of the Indus Plains and North India, two separate and distinct regions, are projected onto tribal polities of the Western Himalaya, erroneously, thereby conflating divergent regions within ahistorical categorisations. The ensuing history is anything but historical. It is essentially a political re-reading of past events to further contemporary goals.
It was with the advent of the British Indian Empire, who saw itself as the rightful successor of the Mughal Empire (Sultanat-e-Mughlia), that various tribal polities and larger regions with separate histories converged to form new geo-administrative units of territory. The Mughals would use terms like Subah, Sarkar, Tehsil, Mahal, Pargana to denote sub-units of their territories. The British would use terms like Princely States, Presidencies, Provinces, Districts, Subdistricts to denote their sub-units of territory. For the peoples of the Western Himalaya, these new political trends were unlike any that came before the 1500s.
By no means is this an incidental point. It goes to the heart of discussions about how polities emerge in the first place, who decides their borders, and how they were configured within a shared sense of layered sovereignty. It also goes to the heart of identity politics within documented historical timelines, especially when territories, (not to be confused with Nation States), are forcibly divided and contested by outside powers.
Who decides the borders of a ‘region’ or ‘polity’?
In the absence of advanced technological mapping systems, premodern Rulers would designate the boundaries of their territories through topographical features. The borders between rival polities were never fixed on maps. The delineating of borders on maps is a product of cartography, or the discipline of mapmaking, a very recent innovation of modern times. Premodern borders were formed on the basis of natural barriers separating uplands from lowlands, mountain and hills from plains. They would follow the course of rivers meandering into escarpments, plateaus, and mountain complexes, separating forests from deserts and plains. This is how the ancient world was mapped. Premodern travellers would know if they had entered a different country (‘mulk’, ‘desh’), from the one they had just left on the basis of natural features, and for obvious reasons, there were no border posts manned by immigration officers stamping passports.
If we go back into prehistory, millennia before the emergence of neolithic cities and empires, ordinary people rarely ventured out beyond their immediate localities. The distances people traversed, some 6/10 miles, were a lot smaller than the ones we take for granted. Their entire universe of meaning was shaped by a radius of 6 miles. A tree or a bush could signal the border of a rival forager, or hunter gatherer.
How we’ve been mapping our territorial possessions since our earliest forays into the non-African continents of our African ancestors, has been hardwired into our DNA. I am speaking of a pioneering kind of ancestors, who traversed thousands of miles on foot, settling the most uninhabitable of places, moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, without the aid of modern maps. These instincts have been evolving over thousands of years.
The expansive but ambiguous Kashmir of Antiquity was thus a very different space to the expansive but similarly ambiguous North Indian Plains for reasons explained above. Even the idea of the North Indian Plains can be misleading, if we define the area as a self-sustaining unit of territory with a corresponding identity fixed for all times.
Geographically, geologically, typographically and climatically, the Kashmir of localised history was not the famed and celebrated India of recorded history. It was these sorts of differences that were noted by ancient travellers, and not cultural or linguistic differences, which were rarely mentioned. To travel to India from Central Asia, a huge frontier of sparsely populated nomadic lands merging into the sedentary worlds of powerful Kingdoms and enormous population centres, one had to traverse the tribal polities of the Western Himalaya. The course of rivers, acted like modern-day GPS tracking systems, akin to how Arab Bedouins would expertly use the stars to navigate thousands of miles of desert terrain on the backs of Camels.
Today’s Mirpur region is sandwiched between the frontier regions of Central and South Asia, and it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn why its territorial history has been intimately intertwined with the polities of the Western Himalaya and not North India. It was precisely because of this history that Kashmir entered the imagination of lots of foreign writers, who followed the journeys of Rulers on their way to India. Kashmir became a frontier region to India, and not a frontier region to Central Asia. It was of conduit status, peripheral to India, less important in terms of actual riches and material exploits, but no less important in terms of its beautiful mountain ecology. It firmly entered the Indian imagination during the rule of the Mughals, and not earlier. Mughal Emperors had a profound fondness for Kashmir’s natural beauty, but not so much its native peoples, whom they casually ignored in their descriptions of Kashmir.
My readers should note how I am using the words Kashmir and India through historical nuances lost on Wikipedia contributors and their teaming bandwagons on Social Media. Oftentimes, we project backwards through considerations that would have been unintelligible to our Bronze and Iron age ancestors, when trying to understand their universe of meaning. Even modern concepts like language classification, would have been alien to our forebears, only a few generations ago.
Languages, for their part, never formed the basis of differences in territorial identities, tribal or monarchical. In scholarly literature, these identities are described as linguistic or ethnolinguistic identities. They are wrongly reduced to primordial identities, fixed to territories and never-changing group identities. This trajectory of ideas can be traced back to the 19th century world of colonial politics, when ideas of nationalism were first emerging.
Before the rise of Nation States, group belonging equated to kith and kin networks, and most territories were tribal and dynastic. The spoken dialects of the time had not been standardised, and so they would inconspicuously merge into neighbouring dialects, without anyone being able to notice the changes. Every village community had its own dialect. Entire areas comprised of vast dialect continuums. Dialects located on opposite ends of the continuums were thus unintelligible, and it was only then linguistic and cultural differences were noted by travellers.
For the purposes of linguistic analysis, a dialect continuum is akin to a standardised language from which descend daughter-dialects; these identities – groups are made to identify with their speech communities by outsiders – are not fraternal in nature, and they never have been. Be that as it is, India and Kashmir were two separate realms, when we we appraise this history, namely the history of polities and patronage.
The Mirpur of history was thus an ambiguous mountainous frontier, with no exact boundary fixed through cartographical representation. It fell within the orbit of a Kashmir geography, because of its location and physical proximity to other tribal polities, and not as is being erroneously claimed by Wikipedia writers, a pan-Indian space wedded to ahistorical ideas of a pan-Punjabi unit of territory.
This writers are essentially political agents. They will use terms like ‘Punjab Hill States’, completely disingenuous to how colonial writers deployed such nomenclature. Colonial officers surveying new territories acquired in battle, were the first people to categorise them according to their own foreign paradigms. These same writers would point out that the tribal republics of the Western Himalaya were unlike those of the North Indian Plains, which occasionally would became a sanctuary for defeated ruling tribes and their members. When they spoke of the Punjab Hill States – a term they invented, and by which term they meant semi-independent tribal republics with fictive lineages, they spoke of a centre of gravity located within Jammu (Duggar) and Kashmir, but not Punjab Plains.
To argue otherwise is to spread lies and further the interests of political propagandists, whose claims have no basis in actual historical facts. In the arena of scholarly insights, these post-truths are just gibberish.
A word of advice…
When I point out that Mirpur is not Punjab or North India, I am not disconnecting the wider area of Kashmir from an Indian civilisational space. Civilisational India, for the most part, included areas that interspersed Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. India, on the terms of this analysis was not territories, but a shared heritage thousands of years old.
Whenever we try to narrate historical events of India within the context of a shared space analytically speaking; there are different options open to us. We can relate this history to post-Vedic Hinduism, Buddhism, or an array of Indic religions that would include Sikhism, without discounting Islam. India’s Muslim history is very much part of the subcontinent’s story, it is not alien to India, because ideologues want to write-out 1 thousand years of documented events.
Alternatively, we can relate India’s history to Indo-Iranian dialects, particularly of the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European languages – another Western concept. We could use a completely different schema, should we so choose, proving that the process is entirely arbitrary, and biased in favour of North Indians. South Indians do not speak Indo-Aryan dialects, but this does not mean that their cultural footprints did not impact the languages of the North. South Indians have shaped the story of North India in much the same way North Indians have shaped the story of the South.
For instance, we could deploy genetic insights, another analytical way of looking at the subcontinent of Asia through paradigms of human relatedness which connects North India with South India. Geneticists tell us modern-day South Asians have a shared maternal origin, some 50 thousand years old, which also connects them with Iranians, Central Asians and Europeans paternally, but in varying degrees. It doesn’t mean by having attested roots in a particular part of Central or West Eurasia, that this fact confers a primordial identity on all those sharing mitochondrial or y-chromosomal haplogroups. These ideas are scholarly ideas, shaped by experts tracing human migrations across regions, or maps within conceptual frameworks. They are not biblical ideas, or ideas set in stone, but rooted in knowledge and accredited facts. These facts could be proven wrong subsequently.
No doubt, insights change with advancements in understanding, but they stand in stark contrast to lots of non-facts being paraded as knowledge on various Wikipedia posts, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook posts. We have people with no sustained intellectual investiture in the ideas they espouse, writing whatever they want on “Kashmir”, “true and false Kashmiri people”, “India”, “Indians”, “Pakistanis”, and even “South Asian” genetics.
Conversely, one cannot go from scholarly enquires into the past to forcing millions of diverse peoples, now identified through shared labels, into an imaginary fraternity, controlled by a small group of autocrats lecturing people about their identities. Accredited knowledge stands in stark contrast to political propaganda; it is an intellectual enquiry that does not prejudice any one outcome. Political propaganda is always committed to a political outcome.
Civilisational India is an historically attested fact; who decides the label?
Civilisational India is an accredited idea with a documented past, not to be confused with political projects trying to efface or deny this heritage (Pakistan), or those trying to promote this history in a reductionist way (Hindu nationalism). There is an enormous body of knowledge on the idea of India.
The term South Asia is a complimentary political construct of Western Europeans, akin to the term Middle East. For obvious reasons, the idea of Middle Easterners as a self-sustaining people is a very illusory idea, and it holds true for South Asians, a term we frequently take for granted in the UK, but not North America. The point to take away from this discrepancy is that identity labels are arbitrary, they are not rooted in some innate coherence; Indians in Britain are not Asians in North America.
The term Western Europe, has the same drawbacks as South Asia, or the Middle East. The West is rooted in the idea of Western Europe and it includes North America and lots of other countries, Japan, Australia, South Korea, etc., to contrast it with Russia – the East of the Cold War period, which was located to the east of Western Europeans.
Today, we speak of the nationals of Poland as Eastern Europeans, despite Poland being located in Central Europe and not Eastern Europe. Technically speaking, the Poles are Central Europeans. The legacy of the Cold War, which saw Poland forcibly located within the contours of Soviet Russia, continues to impact nuances in out-dated ideas of what constitutes Eastern European peoples. This is an example of how an “ascriptive territorial identity” based on ideas of geography is conflated with ideological priorities, causing enormous confusion around how various identity labels are understood by ordinary people.
When I use the term ascription for territorial identities, I mean to say that there is an imaginary fixed quality to imposed group identities, on the basis of criteria we take for granted. This is how lots of group identities have emerged, and there is nothing controversial about them either, except when they become contested by way of politics.
Words are nuanced in complex ways beyond a lot of people’s reductionist timelines, or starved imaginations if I’m permitted to call out the political mistruths being spread in the name of history. For instance, Civilisational Europe, has a documented past, variably called the Greco-Roman Civilisation, based on ideas of shared Latin norms, and more recently the Judaeo-Christian Civilisation, based on ideas of religious heritage. Christianity comes from the wellspring of Judaism, which also gave birth to Islam, what we would otherwise call the Abrahamic faiths. The birthplace of these ideas was the Near East, or the Middle East.
The Middle East is not conterminous with the European Continent, and for obvious reasons, North America is excluded. Although, when we do think of ancient Italy or the Greek City States, we think of this history in European terms, erroneously I add. The Greeks and Romans of old, did not extend their sense of groupness to the forebears of today’s “Nordic” or “Central European” peoples, whom they viewed as outsiders to their group. This would be akin to how we narrate ancient Israel’s history. Today’s Isreali Jews can be categorised as Ashkenazi, Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews. Before the creation of the modern-state of Israel, these terms were borne of social and political cleavages outside the lands of ancient Israel. The identity labels we use can be very revealing of a disjointed past.
The continent of Europe is itself a strange concept, only partially true, because Europe is actually part of the Continent of Asia (Eurasia), where geological definitions matter, and not flawed colonial ideas of a European “race”; the “white race” – an historical idea, and not an accredited biological fact. To be ruthlessly honest, where we use definitions of disciplinary traditions, Europeans are Asians, and at the genetic level, all Asians are Africans. Identity labels can thus be misleading if people lack a background in them.
Whenever Britons speak of the Continent of Europe, it may come as a surprise to lots of non-Europeans that the British Isles, oftentimes, are excluded. The idea of continental Europe does not quite extend to the British Isles, because Britain’s European history has diverged to form its own distinct cultural-sphere, the Anglo-sphere, where lots of countries and cultures are connected with a centre of gravity located in England. Whether this past is imaginary, or overstated, it helps to demonstrate that people use labels in different ways. Roman Britain, for instance, did not extend to parts of England, Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland, but no Briton would dare deny that Roman history has impacted Britain’s history in very noticeable ways. British history, like much of the history of the European continent, has been shaped by Roman history. Lots of Europeans voluntarily defer to that past, because of its celebrated storyline, whatever the fictions behind the narratives.
Genetically, European populations belong to shared descent groups, who have shared ancestry with western Eurasians in general, but again, this is only partially true, because all human beings living outside subsaharan Africa are closely related to human beings living inside Africa. Genetics cannot be equated with national or ethnic groups, because genetics operates strictly within the realm of biology, whilst the idea of ethnic or national groups is itself a non-biological consideration. Group identities are social constructs, and not biological facts. There is merely one human race, to borrow an out-dated word from the lexicon of zoology, and it is the human species, the more correct term.
DNA – the stuff of modern-day group fictions
For instance, no national group is 60 percent, or 30 percent “anything” genetically-speaking, because DNA does not work like that, and yet Commercial DNA companies are making billions of dollars in our post-truth world spreading nonsensical ideas around ancient and modern ethnic percentages. One cannot be 10 percent French, or 30 percent Turkish, 50 percent ancient Bronze Age warrior, or 20 percent Neolithic Farmer.
DNA is however a real thing. It is more real than our imaginary group identities. It will continue to impact our lives, as it has done so before our births, and will do so after our deaths. But, the idea of ethnic groups, or nationalistic identities, will be eclipsed by new ideas. The idea of the ethnic group and its predecessor, race, had no social currency in the actual documented past of premodern territorial polities. There will thus come a time, when these bad ideas will be eclipsed by newer ideas, possibly more utilitarian in nature.
In fact, the differences between self-sustaining ethnic, or national groups, are less greater than within groups; ethnic and linguistic groups have more diversity amongst their members than between distinct groups. No one is “pure” anything to denote the false idea of imposed boundaries between ethnic or racial groups, a colonial fiction that has been rejected by modern scholarship conclusively.
Simplistic ideas around race are dangerous, borne of a racialist timeline that resulted in the rise of Nazi Germany and the deaths of millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and disabled children in concentration camps. Lest we forget the horrors of the concentration camps, little children were gassed to death, and their bodies were experimented on to further the researches of eugenics. Back then, “educated” people were speaking of bad races polluting good races. For a time, it was fashionable for eugenicists to advocate the separation of the social classes (racial groups). They would argue that vagrant whites from the lower classes had the capacity to pollute the white race of the upper classes if miscegenation was tolerated. It is part of the intellectual staple in the West to critique bad ideas irrespective of their social currency. It is a criminal offence in Germany to deny the Holocaust to give an idea of how dangerous these ideas are, fears that are fully justified.
Sadly, lots of debunked ideas continue to linger in the echo-chambers of political ideologues operating outside scholarly circles. Because of their practical outcomes, and the social psychology behind group behaviours, lots of simpleton-like people consume these ideas almost religiously. This is as much about belonging, as it is about imagining one’s past, but it can also take a turn for the worst.
False histories, bad science and political propaganda
Consumers of propaganda are a good example when false ideas lead to material outcomes, usually political in nature. Propaganda is always directed at the literate, people who can read the propaganda, but are not highly educated, to be able to deconstruct the propaganda. Propaganda thus thrives amongst dumbed-down populations in human development index terms (HDI); conspiracy theories, for their own part, are also highly lucrative “bombs” of “war”. One can correlate the strength of feeling on any number of conspiratorial claims and levels of educational attainment; very rarely will astute people with insights, and by that I do not simply mean people with qualifications, fall for the rhetoric of division – “the Jews control the world! 9/11 was an inside job! Bin Laden was never killed in Pakistan! Malala Yusuf is a CIA Agent! Britain is controlled by Freemasons! Covid19 is one big hoax!”
Because of enormous contestation in the world today – the Kashmir Conflict is one such example, lots of facts, or non-facts we would have ordinarily accepted, or rejected uncontroversially, are being distorted to manipulate people’s sense of right and wrong. Scholars observing these worrying trends speak of political disinformation that is being “weaponised” to such an extent that we are now living in the midst of a post-truth world. The amount of mistruths being spread online is shocking and western governments should react to protect the naive and impressionable amongst their societies from adopting the bombs of authoritarian actors. This is not to be paternalistic, but to protect children and young adults from the harmful effects of Social Media.
My readers should understand, from the outset of this introduction, where I explore bad ideas of identity politics contextually, whilst exploring related themes, I am saying that Mirpur’s history is being problematised because of the Kashmir Conflict. Egregious political disinformation is being used against unsuspecting people, primarily through the platforms of Social Media to spread mistruths. These bad ideas are poisoning the minds of lots of unsuspecting people, not least British Mirpuris themselves, who repeat the propaganda against their own people. Fortunately, educated British Paharis (if we’re going to be allowed to use our own identity labels), a fair few now, seldom fall for the lies being spread against their community, but they are silent in the face of enormous provocations, because of social stigma against their “group”.
How India got its name is akin to how Kashmir got its name
The word “Kashmir” simply means the land dissected by water; or at least this is how the term is explained etymologically; the term is of Sanskrit origin, mentioned in ancient Sanskrit literature. Of the 16 Aryan Tribal Confederacies (Aryavarta), the earliest recollections of which, again, come from Sanskrit and Buddhist Pali literature, Kashmira, or modern-day Kashmir, fell within the geography of Gandhara and Kamboja, two mountainous regions.
India is the English attributive label for lands eastwards of the River Indus, the Greek word for River Sindh. The first people to use this description were the Persians, from whom later Greek and Roman Rulers adopted the practise. For obvious reasons, the term was not precise, or intended to be exhaustive, but, it traditionally applied to an ambiguous landmass associated with seminal events that were recorded for posterity. It was this India that was celebrated in the works of native Indian historians, and it didn’t quite extend to the hills-mountains associated with Kashmir’s geography.
Fast forwarding centuries later, when we look to Arab incursions into the subcontinent from around the 8th century CE, and prior to the emergence of Persian speaking Turkic Kingdoms of the 11th century, Arab writers would speak of a region called Kashmir, which was their furthest forays into the Indus Plain.
They would speak of reaching the borders of Kashmir, a mountainous region, north of their territories. Crucially, they were not referring to the Valley of Kashmir nestled on the opposite side of the Pir Panjaal Mountain Range, but the Kashmir that began at the foothills of the Salt Range Tract, where the hills and mountains of Mirpur merge with the rest of the Western Himalaya. When I speak of hills and mountains, I am making no distinctions, because geologically-speaking hills and mountains are the same thing; only the elevations change. Hills and mountains stand in stark contrast to plateaus and lowland Plains.
Arab writers, having taken their geographical cues from the Persians, did not consider the mountainous region of “Kashmir” conterminous with “Hind”. The later Mughal-Persian term for India, “Hindustan”, was the juxtaposition of the earlier Arabic word, “Hind”, and the Persian word “istan”, meaning country/landmass. Although this new coinage included lands conterminous with the Punjab Plains (an alluvial flat plain), somewhat tentatively I add. In fact, the actual word “Panjab” – dates back to Mughal rule and didn’t extend to Hindustan either. Crucially, it never included the mountainous tracts beyond the Salt Range Tract.
Again, these are not irrelevant points. They show how the Kashmir of documented history, including modern-day Mirpur, was seen as a separate space to India-Pakistan, without conferring innate coherence on either of the two identity labels, India and Pakistan. There is enormous contestation within India and Pakistan about what is exactly meant by these terms, not everyone in India or Pakistan agrees to be called Indian or Pakistani.
Our intuition could shed some light on how ascriptive identities of regions work in contemporary times. One simple illustration would be to ask, “Punjabis are Hindustanis”; two peoples associated with distinct regions, this much we accept, “but are Hindustanis Punjabis?” Of course, the answer is no, they’re not. We can ask the further question, “Kashmiris are Hindustanis, but are Hindustanis and Punjabis, Kashmiris?” Again, we would answer in the negative, Hindustanis are not Kashmiris.
Inclusive and exclusive group identities; “ascriptive identities”
The fact that an ascriptive identity can be inclusive for one group of people, doesn’t stop it from becoming exclusive for another group of people, which should create some sort of intellectual curiosity on the part of my readers. The inference is clear for minds reconciled with historical norms around naming practises, and not whims and desires of the politico, who want ownership of lands, far from their centres of power, by extending the reach of their identity labels to include disparate lands and/or peoples. Political ideologues will happily incorporate regional lands within their shared political label, but they’ll reject the ethnic persons of those lands within their wider group label. Even if they tried to overcome this handicap of group belonging – (covetous greed has destroyed many nation states), the history of divergent regions becomes a powerful reminder that lots of areas on earth had different legacies at different moments in history, and separatists then deploy this history to separate.
Once the doors to social and political grievances open, as is the case with Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan, 70 years of unjust social and economic exploitation of Azad Kashmiris, it is very difficult to close them afterwards. Ethnic groups like the Pashtun, Baluch, Sindhis have also been reduced to destitution in their own ethnic homelands, and one can see separatism in their indictments of the Pakistani State.
Like I said, the separate history of a region is then deployed to cement the difference between the occupied region and the occupying power. With the right leadership, usually borne of a confident and emerging middle-class, this history can be wielded with devastating effect and precision. History is replete with countries successfully emerging out of tyranny and injustice.
This fait accompli is a kind of history in the making. It has powerful precursors across the world, and not just in South Asia. Pakistan’s ethnic Bengali population in East Pakistan fought a war of liberation against West Pakistan to free itself from what became an incredibly unequal and cruel lived experience. The Pakistan that was created in 1947 by an Act of the British Parliament, became Bangladesh in 1971; two distinct entities, whose histories converged, and then diverged at different points in history.
How Bangladesh emerged is a precursor to what we are seeing in Azad Kashmir, and how Mirpuris (an imposed identity label), the most visible of all Jammu & Kashmir communities outside divided Kashmir State, are being written out of Kashmir’s history.
1. Social and political grievances are at the heart of separatist politics; new countries emerge all the time
Policing resistance narratives
Today, Bangladesh is becoming more prosperous than Pakistan. Before 1971, it was an altogether different story; the region of East Pakistan was a backwater of West Pakistan. Forty years on, Bangladeshis are perceived better than those saddled with the Pakistani passport, one of the worst passports on Earth according to global passport rankings.
Pakistan has become synonymous with corruption, terrorism and poverty. Its university qualifications are being rejected in the Middle East; Pakistani “immigration” quotas in many developed nations are being reduced. The actual numbers of Pakistanis being allowed to migrate to Canada, one good example to cite, are falling drastically when compared to Indians. This wasn’t the case in previous decades. So, why is this happening now?
Because, there is no credible way of knowing if the “highly-skilled” doctor from Lahore, or the pilot from Karachi, purchased his qualification, or attained it through study and training. Even the accrediting structures in Pakistan are corrupt! And this is not to mention Pakistan’s near absence from the 1000 top ranking universities internationally. Pakistan has no tradition of pioneering scholarship in the arts, humanities or sciences. Not only is the country materially poor comparable to rich nations, it lacks social and cultural capital to remove it from its current woes.
As harsh as this description may appear, no one could challenge its self-evident truth.
If I am wrong, I am open to correction?
There is an enormous trust deficit with Pakistan and within Pakistan. The country is mired in so much questionable behaviour that international investors steer clear of the State. Ordinary Pakistanis pay the ultimate price for the costs of tolerating a rogue regime led by Army Generals, whose antics equate to murdering democratic norms. The Pakistan Army is intensely disliked in neighbouring countries, not because of envy or jealousy, but because it has been orchestrating terrorism in civilian areas of India and Afghanistan to pursue highly dubious national interests. It frequently targets the Shia population creating an enemy in the form of Shia Iran. These low-cost, high intensity war games are prosecuted on the cheap to further some dubious political aims.
One can give hundreds of concrete examples of how these policies impact the international image of the country negatively. Only a few will serve my purpose.
Destroying a “Nation” from within; the price of unaccountable “State” power
Pakistan’s Military, we are told by a plethora of accredited experts across the world, is a cancer to Pakistani society. These are not my words, I am merely repeating what I have read in accredited journals and books of scholarship. The real power in Pakistan is the Army. Everyone knows this, except dumbed-down civilians and those with questionable ethics singing the hymns of the army to get favour, or position. It has never been civilian governments, whose reputations the Military has been trampling over to create friction between voters and elected representatives. Politicians are victims of Army propaganda, as are Pakistan’s second-class citizens. Not every elected representative of Pakistan is corrupt, and yet this has become the normative view of civilian governance, because of widespread army propaganda.
After the 9/11 attacks, the Army had received hundreds of millions of American tax dollars to locate, and bring Bin Laden to justice. It transpired that the intelligence services (the ISI) were hiding and protecting him 1 mile from a military installation in Abbottobad, Pakistan. Bin Laden was also responsible for terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia; the Saudis have been providing much needed funds for the upkeep of Pakistan’s economy, to understand the nature of blowback.
Decades earlier during the 1980s, Afghan freedom fighters were engaged in bitter conflict with the Soviet Union. They would complain that the Pakistanis were siphoning off critical funds needed to prosecute that war. This ‘monetary inflow’ came from America and Saudi Arabia; two traditional patrons of Pakistan. The Pakistanis were entrusted to deliver money and weapons to the Afghans. A lot of the money and weapons just disappeared.
The earthquake funds for Azad Kashmir’s reconstruction in 2005 similarly disappeared. Apparently, the military redirected the aid to more pressing needs. The term redirect is a polite euphemism for siphoning/embezzling money, a charge that the military constantly places at the doorstep of Pakistani politicians, unfairly I would like to point out.
International funds for the Punjab floods of 2010 similarly vanished amidst an outcry in Pakistan. International donors have since stopped giving Pakistan money, because it never reaches the intended recipients, the poor and dispossessed peoples of Pakistan.
There is no such trust deficit for Bangladesh. As I write these words, the country seems to be attracting increased foreign investments, prospects that have changed the fortunes of the poor since it left Pakistan in 1971. Power dynamics do change, and sometimes, they change for the better.
The initial cleavages are always demonised by the occupying power structure; if it cant assassinate dissenters, or intimidate them into silence, it assassinates their characters. If the dissenters stay resolute, finding the courage to continue their fight against unjust power, later outcomes could be very rewarding for millions of ordinary people. This is what motivates dissenters everywhere.
Most people in lots of arenas of conflict do not do the actual fighting, this sacrifice is borne by those who have everything to lose. But the benefits that accrue to millions of their countrymen makes the whole ordeal worth it. Convictions cannot be thwarted by threats of state coercion and violence, history is full of examples of tyrannical countries imploding. Before the first shots were even fired, lots of countries have fallen apart, because of all the hate that was simmering beneath the surface.
The Pakistan Army fears widespread dissent. It thus slanders its critics as Indian agents, or non-Muslim deviants – disparaged as Sanghis (Hindutva RSS supporters), or Kuffaar (disbelievers). There is an enormous mainstream willing to reduce Pakistan’s internal problems to Indian and non-Muslim conspiracies.
Separatism is borne of grievances not demonised identities
Lots of regional identities become secessionist and separatist in this way. If an oppressed region has a separate history, as is the case with Azad Kashmir, it wields that history to confer legitimacy on its cause. The international order can accommodate the new polity emerging, because it doesn’t destabilise the existing World Order (geo-politics). These priorities have nothing to do with illusory questions around national fraternity, between ethnic or linguistic regions rooted in some non-existent past. It has nothing to do with foreign conspiracies either.
If we look to documented history, considerations of ethnicity and language are largely missing from pre-modern discussions on the nature of monarchical polities. Sometimes the rulers adopted the religion and culture of the conquered, at other times, they didn’t. But, the ethnic or linguistic character of the historical polity confers no legitimacy on its right to exist. Whenever ideas around ethnicity or language intersect with much older identities in modern-day conflicts, it’s usually through the behest of political narratives being projected backwards.
Like I said earlier, notions around ethnicity and language are fundamentally European constructs borne of the 19th century. Even the analytical labels we use to explain them, postdate the earlier concepts, which should explain the actual trajectory of the ideas. The actual word, “ethnicity” can be dated to 1953!
Occupation and pseudo-knowledge; non-facts
When an occupying power uses academic constructs to retain a region within its forced territorial orbit, by saying, “you’re not separate from us, we are the same people”, it does so to delegitimise actual political grievances. Most of the time, it does this disingenuously. Laypeople may not understand this, but intellectuals operating outside the immediate arenas of political contestation are familiar with the false ethnic narratives.
Patterns behind occupation are repeated the world-over. Narratives used against native peoples are strikingly similar, they are either, 1) forced into a neighbouring ethnic group, or 2) they are written out of the territory completely. It is, as if, they came to their lands from somewhere else – i.e., the imposter proposition.
In the olden days, Imperial Empires would merely mass murder the natives, enslave them, or transport them elsewhere, and that would be the end of the matter. Lots of countries we take for granted today were the product of population displacements, which doesn’t stop the people of the new territories emerging as natives. They are the true stakeholders of their homelands. Jamaicans, Cubans, Brazilians are now natives of Jamaica and not Africa. The descendants of 19th century indentured labourers of South Asia are also natives of Jamaica, Barbados and all the other Islands of the Caribbean, to understand dubious lines of reasoning in other arenas of conflict.
Fruitless debates around ethnicity were never considerations in the past. They’ve only become topical today, because authoritarian regimes have signed up, voluntarily to the UN convention on human rights, which forbids ethnic genocide, or the forcible replacement of people. The immoral position of occupying another people’s lands resonates with the entire world, this is why despotic countries, have to control the narratives coming out of the lands they occupy.
The right to self-determination for occupied peoples, i.e., those denied sovereignty in their own lands is enshrined in international laws. Azad Kashmir is part of the Kashmir dispute, thus it has a separate status to Pakistan, connecting it with India’s Jammu & Kashmir region.
The Pakistani State, and its covert agents, with the blessings of India’s nationalists, (who seem to be changing tact to support Azad Kashmiris against Pakistan under a shared Jammu heritage) are actively writing out Mirpuris from Jammu & Kashmir’s history and geography, whilst a false Punjabi and Pothwari label is imposed upon them to disconnect them from their ancestral tracts. This produces dividends for lots of outcomes, not least separating pro-independence Kashmiris into different ethnic enclaves.
Pakistan does this so that it can continue exploiting Azad Kashmir’s waters, natural and human resources, and its huge remittences from the diaspora, which historically kept Pakistan afloat during the 1980s. It doesn’t want to be accountable to the natives of Azad Kashmir, which are the underlying reasons behind the agitations. When Azad Kashmiris decry this disgusting behaviour, they’re accused of being Punjabis – “You’re not even Kashmiris to speak about Kashmir, so shut up!” This is the standard line of attack. It is a dishonest ploy that has poisoned the minds of lots of Pakistanis, who are simply unaware of how destructive such claims are to Pakistan’s coherence, a massively impoverished society with new fault lines appearing out of the new cracks. These false narratives will eventually be used against Pakistan with deadly outcomes.
To appreciate the irony of disconnecting Mirpur from Azad Kashmir, without Mirpur, there is no Azad Kashmir; it would have remained a backwater of the so-called liberated State. Mirpur’s brethren in Poonch and Muzaffarabad, (they are one people), are not afforded any better treatment. Unlike Mirpuris, they had traditionally been unable to escape the State, because their forebears didn’t create transnational networks that allowed thousands of Mirpuris to head beyond Jammu & Kashmir’s borders. This history is older than Azad Kashmir’s founding in 1947.
Dividing and ruling Azad Kashmir’s population through divide and rule tactics will backfire against Pakistan’s Army; engineering hatred against Mirpuris to demoralise them, will only embolden Azad Kashmir to seek a future outside Pakistan’s corruption. Poonch and Muzaffarabad will come to the defence of Mirpur, because the people know who they are, and where their interests lie. Without Mirpur’s valuable remittences, Pakistan would have been unable to honour its balance of payments – a fact routinely cited in the works of western Scholars decrying the ill-treatment of British Mirpuris at the hands of Pakistani officials.
It is because of these unjust power dynamics that Mirpuris are being written out of Jammu & Kashmir’s history. It is not enough that Mirpur is being written out of Kashmir’s timeline, but the Pakistani Occupier wants to impose a false Pothwari and Punjabi identity on people who are native to their own lands.
As I will elucidate in this discussion, not one square mile of Mirpur is located in the Pothohar Plateau, the Punjab Planes, or the Punjab Province to warrant the false ascriptive identity label of neighbouring peoples onto Azad Kashmiris. Azad Kashmir, for its part, is a separate territory to Pakistan according to the constitution of Pakistan, and the imposed constitution of Azad Kashmir, which has its own anthem, flag and legislative assembly – the hallmarks of a sovereign nation state.
The sham nature of these accoutrements have been exposed by numerous people of conscience, not least those working for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Even Pakistani journalists of conscience have exposed the sham nature of the Azad Kashmir polity.
Moreover, where we turn to literature of the academic bent, not one book, or journal piece on Punjab, or Pothwar, peer-reviewed, or otherwise, in various academic disciplines, geology, geography, ethnicity, and even language, incorporate the lands, dialects and historical memories of Mirpuris within a pan-Punjabi or pan-Pothwari identity orbit. There is no mention of Azad Kashmir within any of those discussions, because the lands of Azad Kashmir have never been part of the Punjab.
Some western writers, have made the illusory connection between Azad Kashmir’s Pahari speaking population and a primordial Punjabi identity, but they are not experts in the field of ethnicity, cultural anthropology, or identity politics! They tend to be journalists, or retirees of political office, interloping into the affairs of native peoples being forced onto the margins of their own societies. Inadvertently, these writers become complicit in Pakistan’s attempts to write Azad Kashmiris out of their ancestral lands. They repeat verbatim Pakistani state-enforced claims having adopted such views in Pakistan, having been chaperoned and introduced to local agents loyal to Pakistan’s vision for Azad Kashmir. They get to sell books, attend events, and receive accolades, whilst the occupied continue to die unnoticed in their own native lands. This is unacceptable.
Mirpur is not situated within Punjab Province (Pothohar Plateau) or Punjab Plains
I cannot over-emphasise how political agendas are thwarting historical facts and brutalising truths, which otherwise would not have been uncontroversial. To that effect, lands eastwards of the River Jhelum, and northwards of the Salt Range Tract in their Pothwar or Punjab definitions, have never included Mirpur, or Azad Kashmir to beg the question, “how on earth did Mirpuris become Punjabis, or Pothwaris?”
Mirpuris are natives of Azad Kashmir. To appreciate the definition of the word, “native”; native simply means “a person born in a specified place, or associated with a place of birth, whether subsequently resident there or not.” Mirpuris have been living in the Jammu & Kashmir homeland even before the State was imposed upon them in 1846. Centuries earlier, even when the word Mirpur didn’t exist, they were rebelling against invading forces. Mirpuris are not natives of Punjab or Pothwar; crucially they’re not claiming these lands for a Jammu & Kashmir State. Yet, it is Pakistan, who wants Azad Kashmir for its political project, cancelling out Mirpur’s connections to Kashmir for an illusory identity rooted in Punjab, which most Punjabi-Pakistanis hate themselves.
I will like my readers to understand that Pakistani Punjabis routinely humiliate native Punjabi speakers, who continue to speak various varieties of Punjabi and not Urdu. Mirpuris have no shared bonds with Pakistani Punjabis, routinely humiliating their linguistic forebears. Mirpuris are thus indigenous to Jammu & Kashmir, and their future is connected with 17 million Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs of that divided “State”.
I challenge any scholarly authority to prove me wrong when I say Mirpur is Jammu & Kashmir, and not 1) Pakistan, 2) Punjab or 3) Pothwar?
So, what do Pakistanis get from lying about Mirpur’s Jammu & Kashmir identity? There are no signs in Mirpur, or any part of Azad Kashmir that say, “welcome to Punjab,… welcome to Pothwar”, or even “welcome to Pakistan”. The absence of these signs prove Mirpur has never been part of the Punjab Province, the Pothohar Plateau, or even Pakistan, where facts matter and propaganda is seen for what it is.
Pakistan’s intelligence services are very reactive and ingenious in their cover-ups, so it’s only a matter of time that new signs will start popping up in the traditional lands of Jammu & Kashmir.
So, how did Mirpur’s forebears identify in the past?
Azad Kashmiris like most Pakistanis and Indians used to self-affirm through their occupational caste or tribal clan backgrounds – that was how people were socially stratified before the emergence of the Pakistani and Indian identities courtesy of British colonialism. But, even then, they did so never to join a wider caste/clan ‘nation’ in India, or Pakistan, at the expense of their own kinship networks.
Like ethnicity, nationality, or race, caste and clan are modern-day group fictions; these imagined nations do not give way to loyalties and fraternities.
The British did not create the caste system, if one reduces western conceptualisations of Brahmanical norms around a four-tiered society to caste. The actual term caste, is a Portuguese word, to understand how conceptual ideas emerge in the first place. The Indian words for caste were Varna and Jatti.
Moreover, the British did not create clan networks either, what native Rulers called the Jagirdari system. They merely manipulated these older, non-political instincts in their pursuit of dividing and ruling their subjects. Colonial ethnologists pursued this priority with vigour, and they were very successful in creating competing ‘interest groups’ with mutually-exclusive myths of origin.
To illustrate this fact according to modern concepts of caste and ethnicity, the Jat (farmers) of Punjab and the Brahmans (priests) of Punjab are ethnically speaking Punjabis – where analytical definitions matter.
The Jat of Sindh and the Brahmans of Sindh are ethnically speaking Sindhis. The Jat of Gujarat and the Brahmans of Gujarat are ethnically-speaking Gujarati. The Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus of Kashmir are Kashmiris; although they have different religions, it doesn’t stop them from being Kashmiris, anymore than one ethnicity, caste or clan group can own Kashmir. It was colonial officers who began the practise of speaking of Brahmans, Jats, Hindus, Muslims as separate groups, to pity groups against each other. They were very open about the priorities they were pursuing though, and one is not merely projecting these priorities into their published policies. Divide and rule was a colonial policy, and native Britons opposed to Colonialism living and working in the UK abjured its use against unsuspecting Indians.
In the modern world of ethnic discourse, caste or clan groups are not substitutes for ethnic identities, neither does religion play any significant role in understanding India and Pakistan’s ethnic groups – Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris, Baluch etc.
Understanding the nuances in group labels
The Pashtun are Pashto speakers, who occupy a shared ethnic space; the Pathan, who do not speak Pashto, living amongst Punjabis, or Biharis, are thus a caste-group for social stratification purposes. The surname Khan does not prove, someone is, or isn’t of Pashtun heritage, and in a lot of cases, surnames are conflated with origin myths.
Ethnic identification operates on the basis of certain observable realities, like language, culture, food, dress – things that are observable, it is never connected with ideas of ancestry, fictitiously linked to non-existent groups passing on their heritage, as if identities are heirlooms.
When some of these fictive lineages become highly pronounced, it is because of the social appeal of claiming such identities, and not because people are connected with a particular ethnic past.
How we identify collectively could also be subject to contestation, not because we’re being dishonest to our own sense of group belonging individually, but because political projects – usually authoritarian in nature, want to police those identities to their advantage.
The inference is very clear, and I can cite a very native example to debunk illusory identity questions. By saying, “I speak English natively”, it doesn’t mean that I am seeking to make fraternal connections with some eternal English-speaking nation. The Canadians, Australians, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans, Jamaicans, all speak varieties of the English language, natively, but they belong to separate nations, or territorial fraternities.
The progenitors of the word “England”, the Angles came from the direction of modern-day Germany, which doesn’t make them Germans ethnically speaking. The overwhelming majority of today’s English people, ethnically-speaking, do not descend from the forerunners of the Anglo-Saxons, which adventitiously conferred its name to a large chunk of the British Isles at a certain point in history. How the ascriptive word “Britain” emerged historically was beyond the agency of native Britons, in much the same way, a Kashmiri or Punjabi identity emerged in India.
Problematising “Mirpuris”; “the expatriates of Mirpur“, but never the “expatriates of Jammu & Kashmir“
In British literature, whenever Mirpuris are described by both western and Pakistani writers, they are differentiated from “Punjabi Pakistanis”, “Pakistanis” and “Indians” for sociological reasons. The latter groups are celebrated by the very pens seeking social and moral redemption, this is a type of unconscious bias that leads to denigration and not enlightened insights.
Only a few decades ago, Indians and Pakistanis were being described as unworthy immigrants to the UK. If one looks at media representations of Indians and Pakistanis, it becomes very clear that they were being problematised. They were presented as poor, uneducated, from peasant backgrounds, with no sense of individuality or civic engagement, but a profound communal instinct.
I can only describe these words as demeaning imagery of the media; one can recollect images of nodding Indians and Pakistanis, with accented English accents, saying in chorus – “yes sir, no sir, how high I jump sir?” These images continue to carry proverbial meaning for lots of us unconsciously hating everything about our reconstructed past.
British Media, most notably the BBC, can expunge the images, but the unconscious bias that lingers in the minds of editors and contributors, continue to shape how Pakistanis and Indians are represented to the general public. “Blacks”, or “African Caribbean” populations are now acceptable, as can be demonstrated in the visual narratives of popular culture unfolding on our television sets, but Asians have yet to enter the mainstream as genuine equals.
The advertisement budgets of stores across Britain employ “white” and “black” models to market their services and products; those budgets accrue from sales, of which South Asian consumers contribute an important chunk. British South Asians have no representation in fashion, entertainment, or popular culture, except in the traditional stereotypical way of the nodding Indian-Pakistani, with his tilting head, saying “yes sir, no sir, how high I jump sir!?” Whenever Asians do appear in the usual peripheral roles – the token South Asians, they are cliched negatively, and this has always been done stereotypically, with individual Indians and Pakistanis queuing up to audition for such “opportunities”.
How Indians and Pakistanis describe Mirpuris is a thus a window into their souls. It proves racism is not the purview of the white English bigot, it is an instinct that exists in lots of victim complexes. Cognitive dissonance is the norm for lots of people, who think they are the embodiment of true liberal values, when in fact they are little more than bandwagons of fashionable ideas and causes.
And so, we have the irony of upwardly-mobile Indians and Pakistanis, writing about Mirpuris through the same bias that degraded them and their forebears just a few decades ago, which is a powerful indictment on the illusory nature of the UK’s BME identity – another imposed identity.
To understand the actual trajectory of the word Mirpuri and the profound prejudice behind it, it is a false analytical group label created by outsiders. Our imagined group, to borrow a term Benedict Anderson, first germinated in British print media through the intervention of Pakistanis. It slowly came to the attention of western writers through the efforts of native informants offering nuances on South Asian identities. The vast majority of ordinary Britons still don’t know who Mirpuris are, a blessing of sorts I guess, given how Pakistanis have been problematising them. Pick up any book on Britain’s South Asians, and read what has been written about Mirpuris, one third, or fourth of all South Asians in the UK, to understand the unconscious bias in such descriptions. The observations carried forward in such writings are cliched, caricatured and offensive.
It is for this reason, I say, Mirpuris are being problematised, socially, economically, religiously and even racially, to appreciate the inconsistencies behind the descriptions. My readers will come across terms like “an inbred race” of “cousin shagging neanderthals” with all manner of “congenital diseases”, – these are deeply racist terms for obvious reasons. If they had been applied to the Jewish or Jamaican diaspora, it would have been the end of a writer’s career. No one wants to associate with closet racists, and yet racism for dispossessed communities goes unaddressed.
The Cowardice of the Bandwagons
This degrading use of language for Mirpuris is a Pakistani vice. But, which sorts of Pakistanis are behind the negative representation, so we can pinpoint where the hate is coming from? They are self-affirming “culturally sophisticated” Urdu-speaking Pakistanis, those whose parents adopted Urdu from “low-caste” backgrounds, frequently deploying connections to cities in Pakistan (the Urbanites), unaware of how an urban identity emerged in Pakistan. They cite the city connection to prove origin myths around nobility. According to their own group narratives in the UK, urban Pakistanis don’t marry their cousins, only villagers do, which is patently false if one turns to the writings of researchers.
This “redemption” is a kind of blame-shifting. The people, who typically offer these insights, think they are redeeming themselves, by throwing lessor-worthy members of their community under the bus. So, they’ll happily use the term cousin-shagging neanderthals for Mirpuris, but would they use this description to describe their linear elders, generations removed from them today?
If I may be bold, would they use this language to describe members of the Prophet’s family (Allah bless him and give hime peace) – lots of them are atheists, so why should they fear a backlash from other Muslims? Would these same Pakistanis have the intellectual integrity, grit and honour to decry Europe’s traditional ruling and aristocratic households as “cousin shagging neanderthals?”
Of course, they wouldn’t. This is what I mean by the cowardice of the bandwagons. It’s easy picking on dispossessed communities, but how will such people fare with the people they admire? How will they ingratiate themselves at the expense of being native informants, getting jobs at the BBC and writing articles for the Guardian, whilst using deeply offensive caricatures for millions of ordinary people?
But, they are social commentators apparently, and, from time to time, they moralise about colonial Britain’s evil divide and rule policies, the lack of opportunities for ethnic minorities (themselves), and that most fashionable of sighs, gender inequality! They display hashtags from the #BLM movement and #Palestine, unfazed by their ‘colourist’ prejudices against dark-skinned people. For the Pakistanis amongst this group of equality and human rights campaigners, I never see them speaking out against the Pakistan military’s complete control of Pakistani society. But, they want to tag onto the suffering of “Muslims” or “Blacks” in other parts of the world.
It is these sorts of people problematising Mirpuris, and they are hypocrites as far as I am concerned. They are not members of my community, and I reject their fraternity for my people’s self-preservation. Whenever they use the terms like Mirpuri, they end up problematising 1 million Britons of Pahari ethnic heritage (Jammu Kashmir), just to show the level of unconscious bias associated with the label. This outcome is a sad and dehumanising reality that produces clear dividends for Pakistanis to deny us any connections with our actual Jammu & Kashmir past, which to me is an attack on our very persons, history and culture, and no doubt, origin myths.
“Mirpuri Pakistani” label; disconnecting Mirpuris from Azad Kashmir
Cynicism can produce direct dividends for Occupier Politics, and sociologists, cultural anthropologists, historians, or linguists should not allow their writings to be weaponised against occupied peoples. I am speaking of experts, who genuinely treat their life long work as vocations, and not career opportunities. Political scientists should be explaining how entire groups of people are being written out of their ancestral homelands so that autocratic rulers can control the territories and police the corresponding identities.
I have been documenting and researching online hatred against members of my community for almost a decade now, and it demonstrates the illusory nature of group fraternities.
Today, in English schools, the classificatory systems of a mostly benign political order; British officials want to evaluate the failures and successes of marginalised ‘ethnic’ groups, is being used to remove Mirpuris from a Kashmir timeline, because of the Kashmir Conflict.
I have every reason to believe that the Pakistanis are behind the choice of labels given to our young respondents. These are the same Pakistanis whose souls are crushed when they are told “Pakis can’t be British”! They have no experience of self-introspection. Their anxieties have left us with bewildering ethnic labels such as “Mirpuri Pakistani” and “Kashmiri Pakistani”; two separate group labels to somehow give the impression that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris, i.e., have no right to even deploy the word Kashmir given their forebears actual lived experiences in a place called Kashmir. Mirpuris are “Azad Kashmiris” in the strict sense of an ascriptive territorial identity; this is how lots of territorial identities emerged across the world; flawed notions of ethnicity do not cancel out these identities.
Furthermore, Azad Kashmiris are not bonafide Pakistanis, according to Pakistan’s official narrative on Kashmir, so how did they become “Mirpuri Pakistani” in the UK, when they’re not Pakistanis in Pakistan?
Do foreign agents have the right to impose an identity label for a UK-based minority within a democratic State?
Crucially, the question I ask of all fair-minded Britons not connected with India and Pakistan’s incessant demands to own Jammu & Kashmir – the land of my forebears, “what is the actual identity of the people telling you that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris?”
Are they Mirpuris themselves, or Indians and Pakistanis?
Crucially, why doesn’t this labelling convention not extend to actual scholarly publications where Mirpuris are identified as Kashmiris in accordance with conventional norms around geographical or territorial identities?
This convention is hundreds of years old; it was the British who gave the world this ‘rules based system’, are they now ready to renege on uncomfortable consistencies in their own democratic system?
The trope that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris, precisely for the reasons of Occupier Politics, could be debunked within seconds, but you have versions of this political disinformation doing its rounds on Wikipedia and other interactive posts. Foreign agents of occupation have turned Jimmy Wales’ online encyclopaedia into an arena of political propaganda for their own national interests. Not even the virtues of philanthropists are spared the clutches of authoritarianism today.
I will show in this epistle that the idea Mirpuris are Pakistani Punjabis is just a ridiculous Pakistani, and to a lessor extent, Indian, imposition, borne of a colonial mindset to disconnect one group of “separatist” actors from another group of “separatist” actors. I am deliberately using colonial-inspired lexicon to show the inconsistencies of those who decry the colonial practices of the British Empire in moral terms hypocritically.
In truth, I should be calling these actors “the pro-independence Kashmiris” to be fair to their struggle for self-determination. The label Kashmiri is borne of their agency and free volition. To be truly democratic, I must accept their choice of words when describing themselves.
It is therefore a disingenuous political ploy of the politico to deny Azad Kashmiris agency in their affairs, and of all places, here in the UK! It is also rooted in unconscious bias to demean and degrade Mirpuris in other areas of their lives.
The actual priority has nothing to do with the mechanics of language, culture or group identity, but, amounts to saying, “Mirpuris cant speak for Kashmir, or Azad Kashmir, or any part of it, because they’re not Kashmiris, they’re from Pakistan Punjab, and in the meantime, we’re going to “other” them in the UK from “Pakistani Punjabis” and “Indian Hindustanis”.
2. Mirpur and Kashmir’s patronage system; who speaks for this historical space?
Long before Punjab and Hindustan became terms of political reference, even when we look to their separate cultural ecologies, the term Kashmir had a self-sustaining political heritage and legacy. When the words “Punjab” and “Hindustan” didn’t exist, the word “Kashmir” existed. The word “Pakistan” is less than a 100 years old; the word Punjab is less than 400 years old, and the word Hindustan is about a 1000 years old – again used in a very ambiguous way for lands that traditionally had their own separate histories.
The word “Kashmir” is much older than a millennia. There is no ethnic equivalent term (Kashur; the ethnic term for Kashmir) in any documented work of history, to understand what is really happening, when Kashmir is reduced to ethnicity, but not landmass. Ancient writers praising the “Kings of Kashmir” spoke of Kashmir, but they never spoke of Kashur.
The Kashmir of history applied to an expansive region, of which Mirpur was a part. Like every other comparable region, it expanded and contracted, and at its core lay certain lands. The word Mirpur may not have existed, say, 1500 years ago, but the landmass of Mirpur was very much part of Kashmir. Although this entire area was not significant to foreign powers in the way an ancient Indian space was; vast lands, peoples and fortunes, it predated the emergence of the Mughal Empire and the British Indian Colony by millennia.
So, my readers are not waylaid by the pseudo historians of Pakistan’s nationalistic project, constantly berating Mirpuris as Pothwaris and Punjabis, Britain created the modern Republics of India and Pakistan in 1947. Pakistanis need to be reminded of this fact, to humble themselves when they espouse ridiculous origin myths about other people’s lands.
How can any people, whose nationalistic identity is younger than some living people, be lecturing others about their historical group or territorial identities? There is something very rotten about that instinct.
Not only was Pakistan created by foreigners, but, so was the Punjab. It was British colonial officers, who created the Punjab Province, not the Mughals or even the Sikhs of the Lahore State.
Under the Mughals, there was no Punjab Province, but, there was a Lahore Province, of which, the term “Punjab” would be used interchangeably and metaphorically. This Province didn’t include Multan, and many areas seen to be integral to a Punjabi identity today. It similarly expanded and contracted, but crucially for the purposes of my own analysis, Mirpur was never part of Punjab’s core-lands, which were located on the Indus Plains of North India, around Eastern Punjab.
The Punjab wasn’t comprised of five rivers, it was actually made up of six rivers, and it was a highly fertile Plain celebrated on account of its delightful landscape. Punjab didn’t constitute mountains; no one thinks of Punjabis as “mountain people”.
Crucially, where origin myths are deployed to historically-attested ascriptive identities, Pakistanis are not going around calling ‘Punjabis’ “Lahoris”, on the basis of an historical provincial label (Subah-e-Lahore), if indeed they want to be true to their reasoning on Mirpur’s pan-Punjabi connections, a premise that’s factually incorrect.
That said, not even the Mughals, who created the Province of Lahore, spoke of Punjabis as an ethnic people. It was the colonial British, who began to use the identity of Provinces in ethnic terms officially. In fact, lots of provincial Indian identities emerged through the linguistic researches of colonial officers, who projected the idea of an imaginary linguistic group identity onto geo-administrative spaces, the largest unit being that of Presidencies or Provinces.
When we rewind back to this history in the making, there was no official Punjabi language policy under the British Raj, whose architects would go on to argue that “Punjabi”, a kind of creolised language in their minds, was not fit for sophisticated thought, or statecraft. These prejudices continue to contaminate the minds of lots of Urdu-speaking Pakistani Punjabis, I am keen to point out. When they start policing linguistic identities, they don’t seem to understand the pickle they’re in, commenting on other people’s ascriptive territorial identities much older than their ascriptive Pakistan-cum-Urdu-speaking-Punjabi identity, some 70 years old!
Before 1947, there was no Pakistan conterminous with any political space in any part of East or West Pakistan. On the other hand, the India of history, was one of Civilisation and not unified peoples dreaming of a united nation called “Bharat” – another origin myth of Indian nationalists. There have been no nationalistic attempts by ancient peoples to bring the diverse nations of India together, outside the clutches of British or Mughal colonialism, which debunks ideas that India cohered as a national space of united peoples. It simply didn’t.
What’s really going on?
The Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir State has thus converged with Kashmir’s much older history violently, leading to all manner of disinformation and pseudo-history on what constitutes Kashmir, past, present and future. It begs the question, who ultimately has the right to speak for Kashmir?
Will it be the native peoples of the region, some 17 million people, or outsiders, some 1.5 billion people?
But, even this priority can be rephrased into the following question; which political actors should shape Kashmir’s eventual outcome for the 21st century; representatives of 1.3 billion Indians (non-natives)? Representatives of 210 million Pakistanis (non-natives)? Or the hotchpotch and informal groups of 17 million rights-bearing state subjects of Kashmir State (natives), now divided between Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Jammu & Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan?
India has since disconnected Ladakh from Jammu & Kashmir to the outcry of Pakistanis, but when Pakistan removed the “Northern Areas”, (the actual historical term is Gilgit Baltistan) from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the same level of outrage didn’t register with Pakistanis. Pakistan has been trying to change the ethnic character of its Provinces for decades, the indigenous Shias of Gilgit Baltistan, will in time become a minority in their own homeland, just like the Turkic Uighur Muslims in Eastern Turkistan, who are now a minority. The parallels between occupied regions are breathtakingly similar.
The Qing Dynasty successfully invaded Eastern Turkistan in 1884 and changed its name to Xinjiang, which simply means “New Frontier”. In Han-Chinese lexicon, the Han would refer to this area as Xiyu, meaning “Western Regions”.
It is quite revealing that autocratic actors behave the same, their policies mirror one another. They’ll change the names of occupied lands to suit their geo-strategic landscapes. In the UK, Pakistanis routinely call Israel, “the Occupied Palestinian Territories” in solidarity with its oppressed natives, but their moral compass does not extend to offering redemptive critiques for Pakistan’s oppressed peoples, the Baluch, Pashtun, and the ‘Azad’ Kashmiris, who refuse to be identified with the Pakistani group-label.
Occupying “foreign” lands, contesting the “native” identities; the old game
So that I’m not accused of being a pro-independence Kashmiri; I actually identify as a British Pahari from divided Jammu & Kashmir to be ruthlessly true to my heritage. My linear forebears came from Jammu, and not just Kashmir, which is still part of a much wider identity that they were also connected to for reasons not worth discussing here. For me Jammu does not cancel out Kashmir, and Kashmir does not cancel out Jammu, in the same way Hindu Kashmiris do not cancel out Muslim Kashmiris, and Muslim Kashmiris do not cancel out Hindu Kashmiris. And what about all the atheists from the Muslim and Hindu camps – must they also be forced into religious identities?
I’m merely writing this critique of how Mirpur is being written out of Jammu & Kashmir’s history, which has been irritating me for many years now. I do not support independence for Kashmir, or merger with Pakistan, or India, that’s not what is driving me. I’m a pragmatist, I don’t advocate for the undeliverable.
I believe in the politics of conciliation and truth commissions, and not the politics of division and continued bloodshed. I believe in prosperity for all, and not unaccountable power for the few. I am fully reconciled with the idea of a democratic Pakistan and a democratic India, but I am not reconciled with the idea of authoritarianism, occupation and humiliation of the masses.
India is a secular democracy that is not presently working in Jammu & Kashmir, because of conflict with Pakistan; I believe that is a fair statement. On the other hand, Pakistan is a military state that has murdered democracy in the name of ideology, greed and deceit; would anyone in their right-mind disagree with me? It is a corrupt State that will implode, and history will prove people like me right.
I live in Britain, where I was born and raised. Britain is my home, and I will defend its ideals. I am forever grateful to my forebears for ending up here, where I was fortunate enough to learn the noble principles of liberalism and secularism, and where I have experienced first hand the truth of a humanity that is missing in many parts of the world, most notably Pakistan. If by expressing my love for Britain, I am a British patriot, then I am a proud patriot. I do not romanticise about some idyllic past that probably didn’t even exist.
But, by becoming a patriot of Britain, doesn’t make me hate other identities. Because I choose to reject the imposition of a Pakistani identity for Azad Kashmiris, especially here in the UK, does not mean I am opposed to Pakistan.
I don’t hate Pakistan. But, it is a horrible place for minorities, women, the poor and that most hated of groups now – the liberals. Pakistan exists for the upkeep of the rich, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that. Does this make me a xenophobe of a Pakistani lived experience? I don’t think it does.
Lots of British, American, Canadian Pakistanis make comments similar to mine in private, but in public, they wave the Pakistani flag, such is their desire to belong to the Pakistani “tribe”. This is the extent of their longing for belonging in the diaspora. They offer the thing they love, nothing but lip-service, with no personal sacrifices whatsoever. They won’t dare ask the question, “who is wronging who in Pakistan, and why are we all silent like lemmings?”
I concede that lots of natives of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and Jammu & Kashmir, want to remain under Indian, or Pakistani control. But, why is that the case? Is it because of financial inducements – as native clients? Is it because of natural affinities of religion (identity politics) with the occupying powers? Or, is it because of occupier-politics; intimidation and the threat of retributive violence?
Despite 70 years of Pakistani occupation and brain-washing in Azad Kashmir, the majority Muslim-Sufi population has not cowed into silence, which is a remarkable testimony to their spirit of defiance in the face of such bad odds. These numbers are increasing exponentially, and those of us, who happen to be privy to these trends, see something very ominous on the horizons.
There is a lot of muttering in Azad Kashmir about the ill-fated decision to rebel against the Ruler of Kashmir State; lots of our forebears were involved in that rebellion I would like to remind Indians intent on reducing the anti-Dogra rebellion to a Pakistan conspiracy, which it wasn’t.
Decisions can be wrong. Hindsight is a lovely thing, when you rely on emotions, but not clarity of vision. There are people, who are now telling us that the Dogra Rulers were much better than the Pakistani Rulers, who, when they had the opportunity committed a genocide against Bengalis in 1971.
Whether, this is the reimagining of the past; I suspect it is, it doesn’t absolve the Pakistan Military of its crimes against millions of ordinary people. Crucially, the Dogra ethnic people are native to Jammu & Kashmir, which makes them our brothers and sisters, with whom we can have discussions about the State as genuine stakeholders. The Pakistanis are not native to any part of the old Princely State, and they have no right to dictate the framework and terms of our discussions. Their intelligence service operatives are intensely disliked.
Both Azad Kashmir and the Vale of Kashmir increasingly want to form an independent, reunited and sovereign Jammu & Kashmir State for different reasons. In AJK, it is a rejection of perceived injustices; economic, social and humiliating exploitation. In the Vale of Kashmir, it is because of human rights violations.
Since the 1500s, the peoples of Mirpur and the wider Kashmir State have been denied their collective voice to shape the political narratives that impact their lives. Throughout that timeline, Mirpur, Jammu, Kashmir, whatever terms people want to use, have been continuously occupied by foreign powers, which would account for why there is so much Indian and Pakistani clamour to explain who Mirpuris are (code for Azad Kashmiris), and what they’re not in relation to ethnic Kashmiris, (code for Valley Kashmiris).
Weaponising Punjabi Caste Kashmiris against pro-independence Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir
Divide and Rule; ISI’s greatest accomplishment
There is a third group, with no provable ties to the Valley of Kashmir, but probable ties to Jammu & Kashmir State, who constitute the Caste Kashmiri population in Pakistan, predominately in the Punjab Province.
Like a lot of historically documented ascriptive territorial identities, this group was labelled Kashmiri by virtue of the colonial classificatory system, and not because of ethnic ties to Kashmir State. Members of this group comprised almost entirely of “low caste” occupational caste groupings denied land rights in the Punjab. The colonial apparatus racialised this population as a ‘non-martial race’, and described its members in very disparaging terms.
Upwardly-mobile members of this population in the British Punjab Province, later aggregated, what they assumed wrongly to be native Kashmiri surnames (Butt, Dar, Khawajah etc) to mask their occupational caste backgrounds. They were essentially fleeing from inhumane social stigma, the type that still exists in Pakistan.
This population’s lived experience, where historical memories mean something, was shaped by enormous suffering, making them natural allies of Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris opposing unjust authoritarian power. I consider this demography part of my own heritage, they are my brothers and sisters, when we try to narrate the history of our forebears lived experiences. When it comes to human suffering, Azad Kashmiris, Punjabi Caste Kashmiris, Valley Kashmiris, Hindu Pandit Kashmiris, Jammuwal people, the Gilgitis, the Baltis, etc, are all one people.
Today, the identity of Punjabi Caste Kashmiris is currently being weaponised by Pakistan’s intelligence services against Azad Kashmiris to sow discord between Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris. AJK and the Valley want independence from both Pakistan and India to understand the priorities of creating cleavages between people fighting for independence.
Punjabi Caste Kashmiris are, for obvious reasons, bonafide nationals of Pakistan with no legal or political claims to Jammu & Kashmir State (rights-bearing “state subjects”). Some aspirational members of this demography, politically-minded, are being manipulated to do Pakistan’s bidding against Azad Kashmiris. If one looks at their social media accounts – a lot of which are committed to demonising Indians, they constantly speak of 1) Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, 2) Islam, and 3) the barbarism of Hindu India.
I have been exploring how the Punjabi Caste Kashmiri identity emerged, but those findings are not relevant to this discussion. What I will say, where definitions of ethnicity mean anything, Caste Kashmiris from Pakistan are predominately ethnic Punjabis, who may have originated from Jammu & Kashmir State at some point, but they resort to origin myths and purported surnames to prove a Valley-centric Kashmir connection. This projection is borne essentially of priorities flowing out of Pakistan today.
“India’s integral part”; “Pakistan’s jugular vein” – the bogus nature of oft-quoted mantras!
The reification of the idea of Kashmir, India’s integral part and Pakistan’s jugular vein, has unduly influenced some members of the Punjabi caste Kashmiri population to think they are the embodiment of a special status linked to an idyllic Kashmir, an arena of enormous suffering, violence and bloodshed, without failing to mention the contestation of native identities.
When one speaks to members of this demography about their primordial “Kashmiri” identity, they’ll retort that their forebears, all of them apparently originated from Srinagar, and were historically high-caste Brahmans, or Muslim Rulers. They seem to have a dislike for Punjab, or claiming any connections with Punjabis, a rather odd move, when you look to their actual lived cultural norms.
They deploy debunked colourist notions around the idea of the Kashmiri “race”; “look how fair I am (in my heavily filtered pictures no less), it proves I’m a pure Kashmiri”; “look at my rosey red cheeks…,” another rather silly position to take given the larger numbers of darker-skinned people amongst them in real life. If, indeed, cringe-worthy claims are evidence of racial profiles in the first place.
In terms of how “fairness” proves a physiognomy-connection to Kashmir, a silly idea my readers would readily concede, they don’t seem to understand that lots of Azad Kashmiris are much fairer than them, and yet they don’t claim to be “ethnic” or “pure Kashmiris”.
No Azad Kashmiri would ever feel the need to deploy ideas around race to prove a connection with divided and disputed Kashmir, because they’re stuck in the territory that’s been bifurcated. It’s just taken for granted that they come from divided Kashmir, because this is how the landmass has been described internationally, and not just historically. To reiterate, this is what is meant by an ascriptive territorial identity, it is the conventional norm across the world.
Outside notions of territorial ascription, Kashmir, for Azad Kashmiris, is profound suffering, not a badge of honour or pride. Azad Kashmir is oppression, inequality and the humiliation of the masses; the poorer a person, the lower his or social status, and the greater the pain of alienation. How fair someone is, means nothing to Azad Kashmiris, because it offers nothing tangible to the people.
Relatively speaking, who isn’t fair in Azad Kashmir; who doesn’t have green eyes, or brown hair – a self-hating obsession on the part of lots of Pakistanis, when they constantly “other” themselves from Indians?
Colourism is an anxiety for lots of Pakistanis, and not just Punjabi Caste Kashmiris. The latter resort to these ideas possibly because they cant really prove a connection to Kashmir except through origin myths and adopted caste surnames.
Millions of Punjabis are no less dark, if not, more fair-skinned than ethnic Kashmiris, which doesn’t prove anything either racially speaking. How communities were described by colonial writers has seriously warped how contemporaries view one another. Race myths have been rejected for a reason; the claims were false biologically speaking and dehumanising.
What is more interesting in the case of Punjabi caste Kashmiris, is the near absence of “Watal” [click here], or “Shia” amongst them; they know nothing about how ordinary people were treated with impunity by some of Kashmir’s “Sunni” rulers!
In the Valley’s highly discriminatory caste-system, the Wattal self-identify as Sheikhs, and the large plethora of “Butt” and “Dar” Muslim groupings were never connected, ancestrally, to Kashmiri Brahmans, who are themselves comprised of enormous diversity.
The term Shiekh was given to lots of low-caste converts to Islam, usually from occupational backgrounds, what high-caste Pakistanis call the “Kammis”, a very offensive term. Overtime, the occupational castes aggregated more prestigious identities, especially when they became more educated, or wealthy. Traditionally, the higher castes, or clans connected with India’s old patronage system, didn’t automatically lose their lands or social prestige, when they converted to Islam. They carried on identifying through their clan identities, a social marker of respect, which is still the norm today.
Hereditary titles like Rajah, Chaudhry, Sardar, there are many other titles, continue to have great social prestige in Pakistan and India despite the gradual loss of power for lots of the old Zamindar, the landed groups. These titles carry greater social significance than ideas of being an “ethnic Kashmiri”, much less the notion of being a “Punjabi Caste Kashmiri”. Kashmiri Pandits continue to be respected in India, not because they are ethnic Kashmiris, but because they are, purportedly, of Brahman descent – that’s the actual priority behind the wider group’s ascriptive identity. In the history of India’s ruling households, no Brahman high-priest was ever equal to India’s Kings (Rajput), or their regional feudatories; the former were subject to the patronage of the latter. At the heart of such identities lies unjust social relations and inequality, and not the origin myths of later generations.
“Low caste groupings” of the Valley continue to be looked down at by the “higher castes”, comprised of the Jilaanis and others, which doesn’t make origin-myths of the “Ashraaf” anymore true. Lawrence in his seminal work on Kashmir’s plastic caste-titles has offered us some very interesting observations. He spoke of how low caste Muslims would aggregate the higher castes of their non-landed peers, when they became rich, aggravating the latter, who would go to great lengths to prove that they weren’t of low-caste origin themselves! He was writing during the late 1800s, early 1900s, which gives his insights particular relevance.
Today, lots of us are aware of these dehumanising tendencies, how the upwardly-mobile amongst us, formerly of humble backgrounds, start making outlandish claims about their noble past “othering” their poorer peers. I personally take pity on these orphans of history, not because I find their antics funny, but because of how horrible life was for their actual forebears.
I sincerely ask, who isn’t a Sayyid or Mughal in Pakistan today? It’s become a running joke amongst lots of Pakistanis that everyone from the “low castes” is apparently from somewhere else, but never the native lands from which they accrue their life stories, which should force the “higher castes” – whose parents came to Britain as low skilled workers to emancipate themselves too, why are the “low castes” compelled to do this?
It only proves in my mind that the whole system of social stratification is rotten in Pakistan, and the sooner we get rid of this dehumanising caste, clan or class system, the better for people’s sense of innate dignity. We rely on origin myths and arrogance when we maltreat people to justify our blatant inhumanity; everyone of us should own our actual suffering to expose the charlatans amongst us.
Problematising Ethnic Kashmiris; weaponising Hindu Pandit “origin-myths”
Muslim ethnic Kashmiris, for their part, are being forced into an imaginary ethnic enclave, that did not exist in history, to cleverly disconnect them from other ethnic cultures and peoples that’ve traditionally been indigenous to the same mountain ecology, but who crucially share the same vision for an independent State.
The Kashmir of documented history had a territorial legacy characterised by a distinct patronage system; the celebrated rulers of that Kashmir and their hill-armies, Turushka mercenaries, this is exactly how they were described by native Kashmiri writers; I’ll have occasion to explore this history elsewhere, came from outside the Valley of Kashmir. Although central to Kashmir’s story, they would not have been considered ethnic Kashmiris today. The descendants of this population can be found outside the Valley of Kashmir, on surrounding hills-mountains in Azad Kashmir and India’s Jammu region, located around strategic entry-exist points leading to the Plains of North India. Many of them also settled India, where they were incorporated, centuries later, into British India’s dubiously classified ‘martial races’.
Lots of Hindus and Sikhs, and not just Muslims, originate from this ancient Turushka population. Turushka simply meant Central or West Asian, as opposed to North Indian. It gets frequently confused with the term Turkic, much like the term “Mughal”, which meant Central Asian (Turanian) as opposed to Iranian, a term that should not to be confused with the modern identity-label “Iranian”. Before the interventions of Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Iran used to be called Persia.
The only reason why Iran changed its name from Persia during the 1800s, was because of racialist claims that Persia and India’s “Aryan” Rulers were related to Europe’s ruling households. It has nothing to do with contemporary claims that the Ayatollahs wanted to deploy the term Iran (land of Aryans) to include non-ethnic Persian speaking peoples within their Islamic Republic.
Be that as it is, to explain the relatedness of people across lots of territories outside the reductionism of nativists, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Indians, and many other nationalities and ethnicities, originated from the old Turushka population. Their complete coalescence with Indian populations was so successful, that they forgot about the old migrations.
Lots of the Turushka left their nomadic pastures in Central Asia and headed for the riches of the Indian Plains. Ancient India was akin to modern-day Europe or North America in immigration terms. For more than 1700 years, since we can access this economic data, India’s GDP was consistently one of the largest in the world.
Nomads, usually expert horsemen, became sedentary populations coalescing into the Brahmanical caste system as Kshatriya – “the warrior caste”. Brahman notions of the warrior castes, thus intersect with British colonial notions of the martial races. One can see the trajectory of lots of dubious race ideas, when we go back into time to see how a number of fictive identities emerged in the first place. But, ultimately, the new identities do not cancel out the older migrations.
Civilisational India is a land of diverse peoples, and not just “occupational castes” or “fictive lineages”
Professional historians have written about how India’s “foreign” Agnikul Rajput became indigenised during the 5th century, emerging out of the Kushan, Scythian, Hephthalite, White Huns and others. This history was thousands of years in the making, and the names of these ancient populations were never lost to Indian writers. The descendants merged into various Indian populations adopting the native religions of India, which just shows how tolerant ancient India actually was.
These migrations were eclipsed by another set of migrations/invasions, where Turkic nomadic populations converted almost entirely to Islam with the advent of the Arabs during the 7th century. Certain groupings of Jat, Rajput, Gujjar and others, originate from these premodern migrations, well before their subsequent identity labels emerged in India. Because they went in the direction of India, they became Hindus and Buddhists.
Centuries later, they converted to Islam and Sikhism, and no doubt, atheism, if indeed, people are allowed to self-define outside the established “official” labels of rulers. This is the nature of human migrations across the world, and how foreign populations coalesce with native populations to become the same people. Colonial researchers wrote extensively about these migrations, and they were not entirely wrong in their historical observations, minus dehumanising “Aryan” race paradigms that plonked them at the top of a human tree.
Strictly-speaking, the term “Arya” implied nobility. In relation to territories, it implied the territorial realms of the noble ones. It was never used in racial terms by the actual progenitors of the word, who ended up in different parts of India and the world, speaking different languages and forming new identities.
No ‘identity’ is native to its lands, but indigenous peoples become contested when an outside foreign power wants those lands for its own political project. This has happened to the Native Americans (identified as “Native Indians”) and Aborigines of Australia. It has happened to the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews.
Enlightened thinkers true to their vocations, offer no political solutions to intractable territorial problems, because of the amount of division that exists within a society. It is usually control freaks monopolising power, who destroy multiethnic nation states, and not those fighting for their inalienable rights against unaccountable power. Good people try to redeem the naive amongst them through historical facts and not popular anecdotes and hate. They are aware of the dehumanising attempts of the politico to write entire peoples out of their lands and historical memories – the very definition of occupation, mental and physical.
The Occupier will twist the writings of historians, linguists and cultural anthropologists to push their political agendas; I can easily evidence the same patterns of occupation unfolding across the world. In light of these unjust power dynamics, I can say conclusively that the Kashmir of recorded history, like the India of recorded history, in all its celebrated forms, was never a uniform ethnic space that only belonged to one group of people exclusively. Lots of different and diverse peoples lived and were associated with this Kashmir within the context of an Indian civilisational timeline. No one but an ignorant nativist would dare challenge this uncontroversial fact.
3. Understanding ascriptive territorial identities, and the politics of social negation (prejudice)
The colonial tactic of divide and rule, is now being deployed by Indians and Pakistanis against pro-independence Kashmiris in every forum of debate and discussion, disingenuously and contrary to the democratic ideals and humanistic values that gave birth to the modern countries of India and Pakistan, two ethnically and linguistically diverse Nation States.
It is a form of moral turpitude, when people decrying the ills of colonialism, become amnesic of their own propagandistic traits, imposing a restrictive ethnic, religious and ancestral identity onto territorial Kashmiris, knowing full well, that this will make independence for Kashmir unlikely.
A play is then made on what the word “Kashmir” implies; Indian and Pakistani bandwagons then emerge from every nook and cranny of the Kashmir Discourse to tell Azad Kashmiris that they are not really Kashmiris, unlike the ethnic Kashmiris. When attacking ethnic Kashmiris, the former are told by Indians that they are not really Kashmiris, unlike the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, who are supposedly, the original and legitimate occupants of the land.
Just imagine the arrogance of these positions?
Only yesterday, Indians and Pakistanis were decrying the iniquities of colonial impositions, and Britain’s pseudo race-science? Whether the Pakistanis and Indians, like it or not, lots of Azad Kashmiris choose to be identified as Kashmiris. By doing so they are conscientiously rejecting the imposition of a Pakistani identity label; it is positive self-affirmation, and lots of these Kashmiris are aware of their actual connections to a shared Kashmiri past rooted in enormous suffering.
The Bharat Origin-Myth; giving some context to purported primordial identities
If hundreds of millions of Indians, with no ancestral connections to the Indo-Aryan speaking Bharat tribe outside Eastern Punjab, feel empowered to call their lands “Bharat”, they should be careful not to impugn the origin-myths of Azad Kashmiris, who actually do occupy a space called Kashmir by virtue of documented history, albeit a colonial one, but which extended further back into the chronicles of time.
Before large chunks of that landmass became Jammu, it was associated with Greater Kashmir, and this history is much older than the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. Even Jammu has an older history than Punjab; when the word Punjabi didn’t exist, there was a language called Dogri. It was adjudged the language of the hills and mountains, but not the Punjab Plains, the flat lands.
Mughal writers spoke of a language called “Lahori”, which would have been conterminous with Eastern Punjab today, to understand how identity labels emerged in the past. The Mughals viewed Jammu very differently to Punjab; Jammu was hills-mountains, and Punjab was flat Plains.
That said, the idea of a Greater Kashmir is no different to the idea of a Greater London, Greater Toronto, or a Greater India. The idea of a Greater Pakistan does not fit these paradigms for reasons not worth exploring in detail. Suffice to say briefly, Pakistan was created in 1947, it has no historical centre of gravity that can bring diverse peoples into its fold; we mustn’t forget that East Pakistan left West Pakistan in 1971 because of exploitation and humiliation. Not much has changed since then in ‘West’ Pakistan.
One needs to cite some international examples; Chechens are Russians, not because Chechnya was historically Russia, or Chechens are ethnic Russians, but because there is an identity rooted in the idea of Greater Russia that incorporates lots of neighbouring tracts. The centre of gravity is thus located in Russia, and there is a history to this ascriptive identity.
Devout Muslim Chechens are secular Russians today; understanding ‘accommodationist’ identities
Decades earlier, the Chechens were fighting a war of independence against the Russians, weaponising “Islam” against the “atheist” Communist State. Today, the sons and daughters of those holy warriors, Mujahideen with genuine Islamic credentials, have reconciled with Russia, disheartened by the Islamic World’s double standards. The froth of the urban Muslim masses, love the hype of their victim-complexes, rather than understanding people’s actual suffering and predicaments.
The Northern Irish are similarly British, despite the Island of Ireland not being located within the British Isles geographically speaking. Sinn Fein, the representatives of a united Ireland disagree, and advocate for the reunification of Ireland outside Britain’s control.
The people of Gibraltar are British, lots of whom descend from ancestors with roots in the Iberian Peninsular, some of whom have no ancestral connections to the indigenous Britons, Celtic speaking populations. Spain claims Gibraltar, as part of its own landmass. But, because Spain is a genuine liberal democracy, it does not engage in occupier-race politics, akin to Indian and Pakistani narratives on Kashmiris, to somehow create illusory ethnic cleavages between Gibraltarians.
Canadians, Americans, Mexicans, Brazilians are Americans, because they occupy the southern and northern continents of America, despite speaking different languages and having different cultures. The association in question, has nothing to do with imposed notions of shared fraternity, but power dynamics. The United States of America is not the only “America” in the “Americas”, but because it has taken ownership of the word America, when we do think of Americans, we don’t think of Canadians.
When a French youngster of Algerian descent, born and raised in Paris, is told that he is not really French, native French speaking people come to his defence. Nativist protagonists, who would like to argue otherwise, are condemned as racists, and rightfully so. Only, a 19th century pseudo-race scientist, the type incriminated in the Nazi genocide of “non-European”, “non-Aryan”, “Semitic Jews”, would have a problem with what I am saying – to give an idea of how loaded these terms were.
The world is replete with hundreds of such examples, of people affirming and negating identities, but, ultimately, it is the same established naming convention that allows Indians and Pakistanis to self-affirm as Britons, Canadians, or Americans. The attributive quality of belonging to a political space, has nothing to do with notions of language, ethnicity or genetics, courtesy of a liberal order that redeems people on account of their humanity, and not their supposed backgrounds.
Akhand Bharat; or Greater India
If this is what is meant by the term “Akhand Bharat”, a Greater India that can accommodate entire peoples and divergent lifestyles, then the idea is, without doubt, one that has historical pedigree. It may be a projection from the perspective of someone investigating origin myths, but it cannot be rejected either. It has a practical value that should be investigated on its own terms, and not be reduced to something threatening or evil.
To just give some context to the foregoing. In the UK, we have the bizarre case of Indians and Pakistanis, self-affirming Britons no less, telling Mirpuris, they have no right to claim they are Kashmiris, because Mirpuris are not ethnic Kashmiris, (apparently Punjabis) and Mirpur is not even located in Kashmir. As I have shown in this enlightened discussion I hope, the premises upon which such claims are based are actually false. Worse, the same protagonists cannot fathom the inconsistencies of their own stated arguments.
For the Pakistanis, they have no sense that only 70 years ago, they were Indians, and now they die with embarrassment, if anyone confuses them for Indians – a regular occurrence! This is a clear case of self-hatred.
When these false claims fail to produce the requisite dividends, they then resort to another set of origin myths around caste and clan backgrounds to deny Mirpuris connections to Kashmir, unaware of how ignorant these subsequent observations actually are. Having written most of the Wikipedia posts on Kashmir, they then cite the same posts, as evidence to prove Mirpuris are not Kashmiris. This is how their circular reasoning works. It is a crude type of argumentation that exposes the dishonesty of the people behind this emerging body of knowledge – all non-facts of gibberish proportions.
It is very difficult trying to explain to highly politicised Pakistanis that they were “Indians” less than a century ago, so they shouldn’t be insulting “Hindustanis”, with whom they share enormous commonalities, and not just a North Indian language erroneously called “Urdu”.
They are more “Indian” in ethnic terms, and by ethnic, I mean observable lived cultural experiences; speaking a certain language, eating certain foods, dressing a certain way, even non-verbal gestures, etc, than the rest of us trying to preserve our own ethnic native cultures. But, this seems to be lost on them, and they think they are being insulted.
Our mothers never wore “Lehngas”; our fathers didn’t eat “Biryani”; and our grandparents didn’t speak a North Indian Hindustani dialect erroneously called “Urdu” , just to name a few of these cultural practises that connect Urdu-speaking Pakistanis to North Indians.
Indians are no better in their delusions either, when they resort to primordial identities – a completely debunked intellectual position.
There is no “Bharat” in history that incorporated tens of millions of people across South Asia. Bharat was the name of an “Indo-Aryan” speaking tribe from today’s Eastern Punjab region. This is a fact that has been historically attested. Ruling members of this tribe may have gradually moved into the North Indian Plains, coalescing with the native populations there, from what is today Pakistan – if ironies weren’t so poetic, but this doesn’t make Indian citizens the blood relatives of the ancient Bharat. If indeed, archaeologists and Indologists are correct about these premodern migrations, my caveat; I rather take my intellectual cues from scholars committed to their vocations than political ideologues spewing venom in the name of nationalism.
Suffice to say, not everyone from today’s 1.3 billion Indians descends from the Bharat – a self-affirming “Aryan” tribe, which doesn’t stop the origin myth of Akhand Bharat becoming a badge of shared fraternity either, if at its core, lies tolerance and not hate of outsiders, especially Bharati Muslims – note, how ascriptive territorial identities work. If they’re inclusive, they can work, if they’re exclusive, they lead to all manner of problems.
Nativism leads to the denial of human rights for ethnic minorities
Good, decent and hard-working people everywhere understand the priorities behind racism. They can appreciate the dangers of nativism and the politics of envy. They don’t need to be lectured about why the concept of primordial race is dangerous when conflated with a particular group of people; the rejection of an ascriptive territorial identity for an ethnic minority usually amounts to a denial of basic human and civic rights.
Racism, a social construct, is related to the idea of race, which in yesteryears was understood as something primordial, “fixed and unchanging”. It was presented as a biological construct that wreaked havoc in the world. Enlightened peoples across the world understand the fluid nature of group identities and the origin myths behind the various labels. They understand the trajectory of persecution and discrimination, and their intersection with prejudice and bigotry. The road of unconscious bias is a well-trodden one, it begins life as subtle prejudice, and then moves into the realms of discrimination and persecution. If it is not challenged, it usually ends in genocide, once sinister political forces rubber-stamp the hatred in question.
But, there is a wider point here. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Indians and Pakistanis are serious about policing the Kashmiri pro-independence identity, they should begin, in earnest, by creating Hindi-Urdu ethnic enclaves for everyone in their respective countries, to prove their sincerity on Jammu & Kashmir, when they cynically reduce the complex history of this Princely State, some 84 to 86000 square miles to a dubious ethnic label (Kashur).
Of course, India’s liberals are already fighting the creeping Hindisation of the country, spearheaded by nationalists who feel threatened by multi-faceted expressions of the Indian identity, something that is good for India. It proves in my mind, that these nationalist type activists; ethno-fascists in saffron coloured attire and Islamo-fascists in bright green attire – this is how I like to imagine these haters, are just spewing non-facts.
Aside from not having any genuine intellectual investiture in the nonsensical facts they espouse contradictorily I add; on social media they do this through anonymous accounts, they then speak the language of fraternity, disingenuously.
The Pakistanis, accusing the Indians of ethnofascism, are however, more morally bankrupt in their pronouncements. They would do well to look hard in the mirror, when they apply the same dirty tactics against Kashmiris in their own so-called Azad or Independent Kashmir region.
If a person can lie about another group’s past, without any compunction, why should he be expected to speak the truth about his own country’s present and future priorities? When Indians and Pakistanis wilfully try to write entire peoples of Jammu & Kashmir out of their native homelands, they lose all moral credibility to narrate a pan-Indian or pan-Pakistani history.
I repeat this uncontroversial statement as someone, who is sympathetic to the priority of keeping both India and Pakistan territorially intact. We prosper more when we work together, rather than splitting into factions.
If India claims Jammu & Kashmir in its entirely, and wants to disprove already debunked Pakistani lies on the two-nation theory, they should begin by treating Azad Kashmiris and Gilgitis as “Occupied Indians”, rather than antagonising them any further, because of their hatred against Pakistan. Azad Kashmiris do not hate Pakistanis, they despise Occupation forced onto them by Pakistan’s Rulers in the name of Kashmir.
It was the Muslim League, in cahoots with British colonialism that destroyed British India. What became Azad Kashmir had previously been a backwater of Jammu & Kashmir State. The people of Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad were fed up with despotic rule of autocratic actors. They made the fatal mistake of thinking Pakistan would be a better place for them, because they were Muslims. Having liberated their own areas from the Dogra Raj, they handed over their lands voluntarily to Pakistan. Ideas of a Muslim Utopia were never realised, and Azad Kashmiris discovered that Pakistan was a fraudulent idea to further the interests of “North Indian” Muslims, who weren’t even indigenous to West and East Pakistan, if indeed what is said about the architects of Pakistan is true.
Pakistanis have no compunction when this history is narrated back to them by the indigenous people of Azad Kashmir. The Pakistan Army now has full reign of Pakistan, where a dumbed-down population is ineffectual in holding corrupt institutions and processes of the State to account.
Indians could very easily win the hearts and minds of Azad Kashmiris, if only they changed tact and started to open up lines of communication between themselves and ordinary Azad Kashmiris. Pakistan is now seen for what it is across the entire world, namely a malevolent force that consumes the dead flesh of its own countrymen. Britain’s intelligence services haven’t forgotten that it was the Pakistan Army that facilitated its territory for the purposes of creating some dubious terrorist networks to pursue a covert war against India. The 7/7 bombers who murdered innocent people in London were trained in Pakistan, indoctrinated on the internet by Islamofascists worshipping all manner of bogus grievances against the Muslim Ummah. The Pakistan Army benefits from this nihilistic narrative.
No one takes Pakistani propaganda on Kashmir seriously anymore, so Indians should start speaking directly to Azad Kashmiris, wherever they are living in the world. They shouldn’t behave like the Pakistanis, by trying to play one AJK or JK community against another, to somehow undermine opposition to India. It just do the complete opposite to show how hallow Pakistan’s rhetoric on Kashmir actually is.
Gandhi fought for humanity; Jinnah fought for land; how they dressed and spoke speaks volumes
What did Mahatma Gandhi fight for, when he sought to peacefully protest colonial indignities in British India in the simple attire of a Hindu sage, bestowing the profound insight, “an eye for an eye, will make the whole world blind”? Sadly, I have no moral equivalence for Mr Jinnah, the bacon-eating, gin-drinking Muslim “atheist”, who preferred his Saville Row double-breasted suits to Gujarat’s ethnic dress. He never prayed a cycle of prayer in his entire life, and yet he wanted to save practising Muslims from barbaric Hindu Fanatics. It was this language of division that created the “Hindu” menace in the first place, as people began murdering one another over a shared piece of territory, that had been thousands of years in the making.
Upwardly-mobile Hindustani-speaking Panjabi-Pakistanis, who now own Jinnah’s legacy, re-imagining the North Indian dialect they speak as “Urdu” but never a native North Indian language, with grand claims of being Sayyids (Allah bless the Prophet and give him peace) and Mughals (descendants of India’s Mughal Rulers) from Lahore and Karachi, are cynically lecturing Azad Kashmiris about their “real” Pahari and Punjabi ethnic identities!
These cruel ironies are lost on them. They end the process of demeaning and belittling Azad Kashmiris by making themselves feel good. Because, they despise their Indian past, self-hatred is indeed a contagious disease in Pakistan, they think they are insulting Azad Kashmir’s “Paharis” by calling them Punjabis, or Pothwaris, as if the latter two identities are much lower in the scale of civilisational terms to Urdu speakers.
They don’t seem to understand that the joke is on them; Urdu has no status other than the one imposed upon it through debunked origin myths of people, who have nothing substantive to offer the wider world. What exactly are Urdu-speaking Pakistanis proud of in civilisational terms when they insult other people’s languages?
I ask this question in all sincerity? What have they contributed to the world in humanistic, scientific or technological terms? Absolutely nothing. Paharis continue to speak their ancestral tongues with pride, and they don’t pretend to come from the loins of foreign peoples. They’re fighting to preserve the old connections for the familial and not the alien.
In effect, both Indians and Pakistanis destroy the very fraternity they claim to preserve, once they become thought-police over group identities they despise, seldom looking to the facade-ridden exteriors of their own ahistorical origin-myths.
Which of the two groups sincerely self-introspects first, could win the hearts and minds of Azad Kashmiris tired of the Indo-Pak conflict over land. I have less confidence in Pakistanis though.
4. We should take our intellectual cues from genuine liberal democracies
In appraising Mirpur’s documented history within the context of Kashmir State, before and after the seminal event of 1846, namely the Treaty of Amritsar, I hope to show that a lot of what has been written on Mirpur is simply not true. Wikipedia, Quora, Facebook, and other interactive sites, are the worst places to consult when learning about Mirpur, or Azad Kashmir’s history.
I would add, Pakistan’s history is also being deliberately garbaged, to be fair to my Pakistani brothers and sisters, trying to salvage what little honour is left to them in a world closing its door onto Pakistan’s 210 million nationals. It seems to me that lots of highly-politicised Indians are vandalising online pages committed to extolling Pakistan’s post-1947 history. Lots of Pakistanis want to be honest about their country’s woes, but they have to contend with rapturous applause of intellectually-dishonest Indians trying to demean and degrade ordinary Pakistanis.
Constantly, in the comment sections of Pakistani YouTube videos that do not involve Indians, self-appointed authorities emerge to leave degrading and often times, offensive remarks – but again, I ask sincerely, are these really Indian actors?
I used to think they were Indians, until I started to dissect the reasoning and messaging behind the comments. I have my doubts now. Having familiarised myself with how Pakistanis operate in the hate they generate on behalf of the “Indian enemy”, I am convinced a lot of anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim rhetoric online, especially when it takes an Indian hue is ISI propaganda to stir up reactive hatred against Indians. The ISI has reduced its 5th generation psychological warfare to a game of cat and mouse hatred. This will not end well for them, and is something completely forbidden in Islam, if they had any attachments with Islam.
In narrating Mirpur’s actual history amidst a chorus of angry and hateful Indian and Pakistani voices, I have already pointed out that I am not promoting the cause of independence for any part of the erstwhile State. I am not a tribal naysayer. It is for the hereditary state subjects of Jammu & Kashmir, the embodiment of a political identity that is being problematised by Indians and Pakistanis, to decide their future freely and without intimidation. I can merely express an opinion on Kashmir’s future prospects, and this is why I say, independence is impossible.
Diasporas should nonetheless give a platform to the natural aspirations of their peoples, without being prejudicial to any one outcome. Divided Jammu & Kashmir has a diaspora of 1 million people in the UK, with an emerging middle-class, and this community should be serving the interests of those left behind, and not rubbing shoulders with people intent on degrading, belittling and humiliating their poorer peers.
A genuine democrat is beholden to the will of his or her people; where he speaks critically about the pros or cons of a political decision, he does so with intellectual integrity, and not as an agent of foreign occupation. Britain, Canada, Australia, amongst many genuine liberal democracies are people-inclusive societies; dissidents of these political identities have been given the option of ceding, or remaining within the larger territorial entities; the Scotland Independence Question; Brexit; Montreal and Canada; Australia and the Monarchy Question, etc.
Having witnessed the debates firsthand, the civility of people towards one another on both sides of the debate, because of what the larger entities offer, the natives of the smaller regions opt for safety, security and genuine citizenship. They are not waylaid by misplaced romanticism around origin-myths and separatism, without discounting powerful economic and social arguments to the contrary borne of huge grievances.
Azad Kashmir could, however, have a wonderful future outside Pakistan’s stifling corruption. That is a proposition that I hope Azad Kashmiris would seriously consider outside Pakistan’s norms of occupier-politics both in AJK and abroad.
Azad Kashmir does not need Pakistan, if it could reconcile with India, which does not mean outright accession to India, which should be an option nonetheless. If it had a trading corridor with India, it would prosper beyond all measure for the benefit of 4.5 million dispossessed people, who have no option but to leave their native lands, and join the diaspora abroad.
In Pakistan, Azad Kashmiris are frequently humiliated; it has become a rite of passage for lots of returning British Mirpuris to endure humiliation at Islamabad Airport. These are not the figments of anyone’s imagination – privately, lots of Azad Kashmiris hold negative views towards Pakistanis, a people who have no sense of how they are being viewed by lots of people, because of the antics of corrupt people.
Today, there are more Mirpuris living outside Mirpur than inside it, and this would hold true for a large educated Hindu community domiciled in India. How this has even happened in the first place, is because of the suffering of Mirpur’s peoples throughout the centuries, before and after 1947.
Pakistan, to be candid, has been exploiting Azad Kashmir since 1948. Azad Kashmir exists for the upkeep of Pakistan’s sinecures and corrupt elite. Pakistan is not a genuine democracy, where we look at the centre, and how it interacts with regions on its fringes.
However, I would be an intellectually dishonest person to say India is as bad as Pakistan, because it isn’t. India, is a redemptive country of sorts, that has enormous human and social capital. Anyone who has had some exposure to Indians, and the vibrancy of their democratic traditions, knows there are powerful democratic forces in India, who are fierce opponents of autocratic actors.
Pakistan, on the other hand has reduced its aspiring masses to insecurities and anxieties, on account of hating itself, which for Pakistanis, means hating their ancestors and forebears. It is a country that sits at the bottom of every human development index for reasons I need not explore. The same project that caused partition in 1947, and its own breakup in 1971 amidst a genocide, has been unable to create an inclusive society for the Muslim subjects forced into its deadly clutches. Muslim “Ahmedis” cannot say they are Muslims, by way of Pakistani law, and the Shia are constantly persecuted by Megaphone-totting extremists.
The greed and avarice of its unrepresentative civilian and military elites have become legendary. It is only a matter of time, before the bloodletting begins, and the country implodes. There is a lot of hatred in Pakistan between ethnic and religious groups. Pretending these fault lines do no exist, will come to haunt the eternal optimists, eventually stranded in the midst of the ensuing chaos, with no one to help them.
If one looks at media footage before 1971, Pakistani rulers would gleefully laugh at comments that Pakistan would break up. They made these comments very arrogantly, very boastfully to the world’s cameras. Days later, the world was beaming images of captured Pakistani soldiers, having been treated benignly by their Indian captors – which gives the lie to the idea that India is bereft of humanity, and Pakistan’s rulers always speak truthfully. These are the same charlatans calling the shots in Pakistan today. They would accuse the naysayers of being cretins, and using similarly dehumanising language to silence any kind of redemptive dissent.
British Azad Kashmiris must represent themselves
Azad Kashmir should be widening its intellectual horizons as soon as possible. It only has two credible options now, independence/reunification with JK State (highly unlikely), or reconciliation with a democratic and people-inclusive India (less unlikely). The option of remaining with Pakistan, is more of the same; it is to accept a terrible status quo that reduces Azad Kashmiris to 2nd class citizens in their own homeland. To continue postulating the possibility of a mutually-beneficial relationship between Pakistan and AJK is to maintain AJK’s subordinate status to a bunch of despotic rulers, who have no respect for their own mothers and fathers. Pakistan’s ruling elite have no tradition of fixing the country’s problems – they are quite literally the “Pigs of Animal Farm”.
I entreat my readers to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the appendices, to understand the sentiments I am expressing. Back then, no one wanted to publish his small novel – such was the cowardice of the intellectual class in England, decades later, it became a masterpiece. A lot of what Orwell said about the USSR, was proven true.
India, a land of 1.3 billion people does not oppress Muslims; human rights violations in Kashmir began when Pakistan ISI got involved
Moreover, 150 million Muslims live in India, the number may be possibly higher. Muslims in India are proud secularists, I suspect not out of choice for everyone, but for the majority, secularism is a cornerstone of their faith in the Indian project. Without secularism, Muslim minorities lose their right to coexist; what is good for one minority, is good for all minorities. We should ponder these realities for what they are, to understand the tyranny of majorities, and how people from within a society, the minorities, fight back against authoritarian tendencies. My readers need to understand, authoritarianism can only draw breath on the back of a compliant majority; without exception, minority communities become demonised. The world is replete with examples, if only we bothered learning from accredited sources.
Indian Muslims are very devotional in their practises, they tend to follow a more syncretic faith than the highly politicised Islamists of the Pakistan Project, who have reduced their faith to identity politics. Devotional Muslims, wherever they are in the world, especially of the Sufi persuasion, endear themselves to lots of other Muslims tired of extremism and fundamentalism. Indian Muslims tend to be inclusive and tolerant of one another, their minority status has given them insights that could potentially impact Muslims in Pakistan, if only Pakistanis bothered to take an interest in Indian Muslim affairs.
If a poll was conducted in India about the state of affairs in Pakistan, Indian Muslims would overwhelmingly choose to remain in India. They have no desire to join Pakistan, and use colourful language to describe the horrors of partition, and the Pakistan of 2020 that became its gift. To understand the propagandistic nature of Pakistan’s concerns for “Muslim” Kashmir, where human rights violations have sullied India’s good name, where chaos runs supreme, one only needs to speak to Indian Muslims, who are not being murdered, raped, disappeared or blinded by rubber pellets.
By 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population of any country on earth. My readers should ponder that thought for one moment? These Muslims are Sufi-inclined, of both the Sunni and Shia persuasions. Even the Ahl-e-Hadis, or the Salafi movement in India is tolerant of diversity and dissent. Collectively, they have become victims of Islamist violence, the kind Pakistan promotes in sponsoring terrorist networks to cause havoc in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s involvement in every neighbouring conflict since 1947 is destroying the country’s social fabric and future prospects; there are large numbers of minorities in Pakistan. With social equilibrium in Pakistan, the military wont get paid, it needs fault lines to exploit in order to remain relevant to the domestic affairs of ordinary people. Pakistan’s Army is a mercenary state, it isn’t a state within a state, but it is the State. It thus grows bloated on never-ending fault lines.
Azad Kashmiris can become Indian Muslims, because that is a political dispensation open to them by way of India’s claim to “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”, if indeed Indians are themselves sincere about their successive governments’ rhetoric on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Whether highly politicised Hindu nationalists, accept “Muslims” on equal terms, is a proposition I leave to their conscience, but again, I have grown very distrustful of Pakistanis speaking about Hindutva Nationalists. What comes to my mind is the memorable childish rhyme, “liar, liar, bums on fire”!
For Azad Kashmir, whether India makes a military bid for the territory, shouldn’t stop them thinking about their future prospects. They cannot remain occupied by a nation that has grown so arrogant, it now faces contempt from every corner of the world. Reconciliation with India is thus a very good option, amongst the other option – independence.
This proposition should, at least, begin the process of talking to Indians directly in the UK, without Pakistan’s chaperons. A lot of what we are being told about India is simply untrue. The Pakistanis I am afraid – I speak of their rulers, not ordinary people, have become pathological liars, when they demean and degrade Indians, even insulting their physical appearances – a rather curious move, given lots of “Urdu-speaking” Pakistanis are practically indistinguishable from Indians! When you tell Pakistanis this self-evident truth, their souls combust, to understand the level of venom that has been spread against their own forefathers.
There is no nice way of exposing the racist antics of Pakistanis, when they berate the evils of India against ordinary Muslims. One must speak to Indian Muslims outside Kashmir to appreciate the lies being spread on WhatsApp and Social Media about millions of Muslims dying in Indian concentration camps – that’s the type of imagery being spread by Pakistan’s ISI. This Nazi-like propaganda is very dangerous in the UK, where social cohesion should be the norm. Pakistan is neither a friend of the UK, nor any democratic country that promotes social cohesion. The 7/7 terrorists who detonated bombs in the UK, I would like to remind my British countrymen, received their training in Pakistan. The ISI have turned Pakistan into a sponsor of terrorism.
I believe in the politics of conciliation and diversity, within the context of functioning liberal democracies. In the absence of a just democratic settlement, which is the case for Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir polity, the natives of a territory must be free to chart their own course, and it is at this critical juncture that independence narratives become alluring, when all the other options fail.
Independence for Kashmir is a noble quest, but it’s not deliverable
Independence for Kashmir is a just and moral cause, which is being problematised by denying Kashmir its separate history to India-Pakistan. Highly divisive voices have forcibly taken ownership of Jammu & Kashmir, her lands, resources, identity-labels and ancestral memories, undermining the indigenous and native voices of 17 million beneficiaries of those traditions. They are playing the nationals of Jammu & Kashmir against each other.
This is simply unacceptable. If any of us dares feign a moral and intellectual connection to the noble ideas of a liberal democratic worldview, we should speak out now. Now is the time to speak out; our emerging middle class from AJK especially in the UK must take the reins of that liberating consciousness. They should stop being mealy-mouthed, speaking in double-talk through their social media accounts, whilst speaking hypocritically to their Pakistani friends in private. Kashmir should not be an opportunity, or a career move; they should speak with conviction, and not hypocrisy. They should not be scared of offending Pakistanis, many of whom, we consider family for all the right reasons. Lots of marriages and family relationships transcend national borders, and this doesn’t simply apply to AJK and Pakistan.
Living in the West, I am correct in saying that genuine liberal democracies have proven themselves, time after time, that they can reform their institutions and laws, accommodating diverse peoples and social classes, within their dominant mainstreams, if not imperfectly. Our lives have immeasurably improved on account of our forebears migrating here; this should be a powerful reason to advocate on behalf of a secular tolerant Kashmir. If we can live in a secular democracy in the West and prosper, why cant Muslims live in a secular democracy in India?
For the naysayers in our midst, who love undermining our liberal democratic traditions in the UK for an illusory “Islamic” Pakistani identity, I am always curious to understand why they haven’t found better pastures in the despotic regimes they so admire? If Pakistan had any connections with Islam – I believe it is blasphemy to equate Pakistan with the Prophet of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), it would have offered an apology to East Bengal’s Muslims and Hindus, whose daughters its soldiers raped and murdered, designating them “comfort women”. We’re talking about 300 thousand to 3 million people butchered and brutalised by Pakistani Army guns – ordinary Pakistanis have no stomach for these damning truths! If Pakistan had been so great to Azad Kashmir, why are there more than a million Azad Kashmiris in the UK?
Pakistan’s elite are ripping off Pakistan
I would also like to ask the intellectually honest patriots for world peace in Pakistan, why do their autocratic Generals own properties in Britain, America, Canada etc, where their children eventually settle? Lots of Pakistanis can barely get visas to visit these countries. Why does Pakistan’s Army spread so much hatred about the West, in whose lands the Generals and Army Officers eventually retire? Pakistan’s children, according to the UN, are malnourished, even their heights are now stunted; how far Pakistan has come from Britain’s bogus colonial race myths around martial races. Why must the poor learn Urdu in Pakistan – denied their ethnic languages, whilst the rich are educated through English-medium-education? Pakistan is a two-tiered society, one that exists for the upkeep of the rich, and the other for the downtrodden masses.
Be that as it is, South Asia, the land of our forebears and their ancestral memories, remains in the hands of unenlightened rulers, who offer native peoples far from the centres of power, nothing but servitude. Kashmir has thus become their poisoned chalice, regrettably.
It is high-time that we initiate ourselves in our own history, and form our own fraternity in the UK. We must separate ourselves from British-Pakistanis for the purposes of official representation, advocating on the basis of our own priorities in the UK.
We should elect our own officials to represent 1 million British Azad Kashmiris (who belong to Jammu & Kashmir), or any persons, of whatever backgrounds, committed to the values of liberalism and the uplifting of ordinary people. Elements within the Pakistani intelligentsia have slandered our community as a criminal under-class; they’ve been able to do this, because they have assumed the role of gatekeeper, all the while they’ve been protective of their own reputations. By throwing members of the AJK community under the bus, they’ve managed to redeem themselves, whilst destroying the fabric of a wider British Pakistani identity. They began the process of othering and internal differentiation, we are merely concluding the process they began.
Pakistan’s Rulers, for their part, having availed enormous advantages through Mirpuri remittences from the UK, and an enormous dam that displaced lots of our people, have never once addressed the vilification of the community, or even offered an apology for the behaviour of their bonafide nationals. Azad Kashmiris are not nationals of Pakistan, they are the divided state subjects of Jammu & Kashmir.
Are Mirpuris this bereft of honour and dignity, when Pakistanis casually say, “we don’t marry Mirpuris”? Is this the fraternity they want to be part of? They should be happy that Mirpuris have not turned hostile to their antics? Pakistanis cant redeem one inch of Pakistan, because it is a Failed Project, the masses love deferring to autocratic Rulers, who are a special breed of narcissism.
My rejoinder to this dishonest relationship in the UK is not about hating ordinary Pakistanis, but about loving ourselves. We should never lose sight of our own sense of forgiveness, none of us is perfect; but if the Pakistanis want to mend this relationship, which is based on Islam – something that they constantly tell themselves, they should find contrition in their hearts and right the wrongs of previous decades with the utmost of importance.
They should stop oppressing the Shia and Ahmedis, and blaming Saudi “Wahhabis” for their own antics – Saudi Arabia has been a lifeline for Pakistan’s poor, who have been remitting billions of dollars every year. They should not become spiteful either, but take stock of the limited goodwill that still remains for Pakistan – vastly diminishing. They should free the British national Tanveer Ahmed, a native son of Azad Kashmir [click here], who they arrested contrary to their own sham laws for simply daring to replace the Pakistan flag in a supposedly free Azad Kashmir polity, ironically, with the Azad Kashmir flag. There is no crime in law, to replace a foreign flag in a supposedly autonomous and independent region called Azad Kashmir, which has its own constitution, anthem, flag, laws, courts and legislative assembly. Tanveer was making the point that Azad Kashmir is not Free, and succeeded in changing a lot of people’s opinions about the pathological lies Pakistan tells itself. These are the actual conversations people are having in the UK.
40 years on, Pakistan should also apologise to Bangladesh for the genocide it committed. Pakistanis should lead by example. However, I have my doubts. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” An English proverb. India is a much better option, no amount of lies against Indians will change the true face of Pakistan.
This post was amended in light of the arrest of Tanveer Ahmed in August, 2020.