It’s ‘Azad’ – ‘Free‘.

Okay? It’s Azad! Free!

This is Pakistan’s official position on ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir!

But ‘free’ of what exactly?

According to the Pakistani state-enforced narrative, we’re free from Indian tyranny. Women aren’t being raped by Indian soldiers, and by ‘Indian’ they mean ‘non-Muslim’ soldiers, without failing to mention there are as many Muslims in India. Youth aren’t being disappeared and we don’t have curfews. So in the minds of our Pakistani brothers and sisters, because the ‘Pakistan’ army saved the Muslims of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir from blood-thirsty despots, we should be grateful, even if we’re not really Pakistani – we’re from “Azad” Kashmir, not Pakistan, India or Indian OCCUPIED Kashmir.

So we should be counting our blessings, right?

So, why then do so many people from the region, particularly in Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad bemoan ‘discrimination’ and the exploitation of their natural and human resources? We have thousands of activists in ‘Azad’ Kashmir – yes, it is in the thousands – who refuse to toe the Pakistani line and say, with risks to their persons and families that Pakistan is exploiting ‘Azad’ Kashmir’s resources giving little in return.

Why do international organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Transparency International agree with them?

Sure, loads of Pakistanis love conspiracy theories but why would NGOs that criticise, for instance, Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, that always speak up for refugees across the world, and vociferously defend minorities everywhere, all of a sudden decide to besmirch Pakistan’s ‘impressive’ reputation?

Just think about that for one moment?

Why would organisations, that criticise dictatorships all across the world, with no connections with India, Pakistan or Kashmir write reports on the political and economic exploitation of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir at the hands of Pakistani Officials if what they’re saying wasn’t true?

The same organisations that criticise Pakistan, also criticise India for its human rights violations in Indian-administered-Kashmir.

Furthermore, these organisations are charities. They have been set up by altruistic people who want to promote human rights, liberties and freedoms whatever an oppressed nation’s background.

These are people of conscience.

The Pakistanis have no credible response to this glaringly obvious fact. ‘Pakistan officialdom’ – I’m not speaking of ordinary Pakistanis – is absolutely abusing its de facto control of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir.

It’s that simple.

If this offends the sensibilities of ordinary British-Pakistanis who know nothing of Pakistan’s reality, we shouldn’t care. Pandering to echo-chambers gets you nowhere. But, don’t be stupid either looking for an ‘identity’ to attack. What is happening to ‘A’JK is happening because the Pakistani State is built on unjust power-dynamics where the rich and powerful own the economy, are guaranteed state jobs, and move in their own circles.

The poor are excluded from this club. And they happen to be the majority in Pakistan. Pakistan is in a bad place not because of the people who happen to live in it but because of the people who run it.

It’s not rocket science. Had ‘British-Paharis’ not left the slither of land they call ‘Azad’ Kashmir to work and live in Britain, they would have been treated terribly in Pakistan, and no one from Pakistan would have cared!

It’s only because they’re ignorant of the sacrifices made by their simpleton parents, grandparents and in some cases, great grandparents, who weren’t very politically astute in the first place that they’re now flying Pakistani flags in Birmingham, Bradford and London on Eid day or on Pakistan’s ‘independence day’ even though they have their own flag, country and constitution.

Imagine that for one moment. Azad Jammu Kashmir has its own flag, own constitution, own parliament, own courts – all the hallmarks of an autonomous State, all the while it is controlled by officials in Islamabad.

The architects of this huge political scam have managed to dupe an entire population into thinking they are Pakistanis when in fact they are not. Even on the Pakistani identity cards of such people, it says in red ink, the “FREE STATE OF JAMMU & KASHMIR“.

Worse still, this free and independent State has its own Independence Day, 24 October 1947. This is the day when ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir was born.

Yes, Absolutely!

You don’t know this history? Okay, let’s backtrack a little for you.

When India and Pakistan came into existence because of the two-nation theory, Pakistan for the Muslims, India for the non-Muslims, it was mired in death, carnage and mayhem. Muslim and non-Muslim populations, now on the wrong side of the religious divide, had to find their own way to the other side. Women and children were kidnapped, raped and murdered. The perpetrators of this evil came from both sides of this crazy ‘religious’ divide.

Jammu & Kashmir remained separate, territorially intact and ‘sovereign’.

It was not partitioned like British India. Why? Because it was never part of British India (the Raj). It was part of the British Indian Empire as a Princely State. The Ruler of Kashmir had to decide the fate of his State. All rulers were squarely told by the British, “sign over your State to either India or Pakistan“, on the grounds of how close the State is to India or Pakistan and the religious majority of the people. There was no third option for independence although I would be remiss to not point out that Muhammad Ali Jinnah countenanced the option of independence for Kashmir State.

But the wider point remains. Think about this for one moment, of all the 565 Princely States that had not been part of British India but the British Indian Empire, how many are independent today?

How many of these States have their own “nationalities”?

None.

Independence had never been countenanced by the colonial British or their two successor States – the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

And so on both counts and criteria, Jammu & Kashmir should have become Pakistan. It borders the hills and mountains of Northern Pakistan, in the same place where we’re all from – the Western Himalayas. The culture of Jammu & Kashmir spreads westwards into the hills and mountains of this region, not southwards onto the Indian-Panjab Plains. All the major historical routes into the region, went through the hills and mountains of northern Pakistan.

Likewise, the majority of us were Muslims.

Our Ruler, Mr Hari Singh, at this point an autocratic dictator thinking about his prospects, hesitated.

He wanted an independent State, to be ruled like modern-day Britain. He would be demoted to that of a constitutional monarch all the while he retained for himself and family, his hereditary titles, privileges and wealth.

Kashmir State would become a democracy with its own identity separate from India and Pakistan’s.

Some of us liked this prospect. Others didn’t. The Muslims where we live now in AJK and in Gilgit Baltistan, but also in many other parts of the wider State, said “hell no, we want to join our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, this guy can get lost!” They had experienced tyranny of the worst kind under the brutal rulers of this State and wanted to be ruled by people like themselves – who they thought would have more empathy because they were Muslims.

Fighting broke out between them and the Dogra army. Fortunately for them, and unfortunately for the Dogra Forces, these guys were all ex-military men, veterans of World War II. The Maharaja was cocooned in the Valley. He used to move between the State’s summer and winter capitals, Srinagar and Jammu respectively. His regular troops were outnumbered, outgunned, and didn’t quite have the same spirit of liberation as the natives fighting for a new future.

The rebels were not far from him and they had a lot of old scores to settle.

Under enormous pressure from the British, he signed the accession agreement, signing over his territory to India, who refused “to save his State“, until he signed over every bit of it to India. He was compelled to do this to save his own life I add. Moments later, the Indian army intervened, and he was airlifted to India.

And so legally speaking, whether Pakistan likes it or not, Jammu & Kashmir belongs to India, not Pakistan. Yes, like many Pakistani laws in AJK, this particular colonial-induced law was unjust. From this reading of history, Pakistan invaded, India was merely defending its territory that was acquired legally through an accession document. That’s the colonial law of accession for you. But there’s a twist. Per the same legal norms, once the territory was ceded, the people had the right to ratify or reject the decision. So ultimately, it was for the people to decide.

This never happened.

The peoples of Jammu & Kashmir, an ethnically and religiously diverse place, have never been given this right. And a lot has changed since those early days. People’s attitudes have markedly changed, even in AJK.

India accuses Pakistan of not vacating the territory, which was a precondition for the vote to take place – this is the famous plebiscite all the activists talk about. Pakistan had to leave the territory, because it had invaded the territory as it now belonged to India de jure, by right. It’s usually the occupying force that needs to leave, not the force with the legal right to administer the territory to ensure law and order per the laws of this post-colonial polity. This fact was recognised by the United Nations, Pakistan was told to remove its army from the territory. Only then could the people without fear of intimidation decide their own fate.

Pakistan refused to leave the parts it had occupied.

Now let me ask the pro-independence activists a sincere question. If you happen to be a supporter for accession to Pakistan, knowing what you know of this conflict, and how deranged people kill each other, would you want the Pakistan army to leave your areas given how you distrust the other side? Yes, those who fought to liberate themselves were indeed staunch defenders of Pakistan.

In the early days, there was a lot of love for the Pakistan army, not so much for the civilian governments in Pakistan, but the army was seen positively. Even to this day, the AJK regiment is disproportionately represented given the tiny population of AJK when compared to the rest of Pakistan. We shouldn’t rewrite history so it fits our subsequent narratives because of changing attitudes and events.

We should be honest and balanced. We should do the complete opposite of the propagandists, because ultimately their propaganda will unravel.

We should state the facts for what they are as honestly as possible.

The 24 October 1947 became the auspicious date on which the Muslims of what is today ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir formed their own government having rebelled against the Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Rajput Ruler of Kashmir State. The rebels were from mostly Poonch and Mirpur, veterans of World War II, who hadn’t forgotten the inequities that had been committed against the powerless peoples of this Princely State. Everyone was a victim, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jat, Rajput, Kashmiri, Pahari, Balawar, Gujjar, even Kashmiri Pandits, from whichever community you came from, the ruling elite of this State were parasites.

The Pakistan army had intervened covertly of course on behalf of the Muslims with the help of some tribes from the North West Frontier Province. They couldn’t intervene openly, because that would have gone against the letter and spirit of partition. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a lawyer, so he knew this better than anyone else. And so the Pakistani leadership claimed ordinary Muslims aggrieved at what was happening in the State intervened to support their Muslim brethren!

With the ensuing fighting, the State was dismembered, and eventually a cease-fire line was agreed – what we today call the “LOC”, “Line of Control”. It wasn’t plain sailing though. Some of the tribal rebels when they got to Uri, Muzaffarabad District, now in India, committed crimes against the locals, kidnapping women, some of whom were Muslims, raping nuns in a church, stealing property, terrorising people, which got a lot of people thinking, “is life really going to be different in Pakistan?

Others put it down to moral failings on the part of some rebels.

The AJK flag was duly created for the territory, an imposition from the Pakistanis as our activist brothers tell us; Pakistani Officialdom designed the flag, and it supposed to symbolise the identity of this ‘liberated‘ part of the old Kashmir State. For many of us this flag, whatever its dubious origin, is incredibly symbolic not least because our own grandparents, “the ex-military men”, were involved in the rebellion against the oppressive rulers of this State.

But, you don’t see our youth flying this particular flag in the UK.

Why is that then?

Because there is a huge disconnect between AJK and its one million strong UK Diaspora.

Some of these youngsters don’t feel British because of racism, and you won’t see them flying the Union Jack. Ironically, having accrued no tangible benefits from Pakistan, all the while they have accrued real material benefits from Britain, they still feel the urge to fly the Pakistani flag.

And despite this, the leaders of Pakistan tell the whole world that ‘Azad’ Kashmir is separate from Pakistan. And not because the people of ‘Azad’ Kashmir want to be separate from Pakistan – if they did, why would so many of their children be flying Pakistani flags in British cities, as so many in AJK are now switching to the AJK flag? It’s because Pakistan insists that ‘Azad’ Kashmir is a separate territory from its own, and on the day Pakistan finally liberates the Valley of Kashmir – and cows start flying – it will then give the peoples of this diverse State a vote.

The awaited UN Plebiscite! – Click on link to read UN Directive!

The liberated ‘Kashmiris’ – and by this they mean every national of the territory, will then choose, either India or Pakistan, freely and without compulsion. After all, Jammu & Kashmir State belongs to her indigenous peoples. And in spite of this good will – Pakistani intentions are always noble apparently according to their mass-produced social media profiles – Pakistan’s rulers demand that everyone in ‘Azad’ Kashmir support the secession of the territory to Pakistan.

You are forced to profess your love for Pakistan by oath!

You can’t even stand for elections in ‘Azad’ Kashmir if you don’t support the pro-Pakistan narrative.

You can’t even get government jobs. These are poorly-paid subordinate jobs to Pakistanis flown in from the Panjab if you toe the Pakistani line – most ordinary Panjabis are similarly disenfranchised in Pakistan, so let’s not get caught up on that old chestnut, “it’s the Panjabis who control Pakistan!” Pakistani Panjabis are also victims of the unjust power-structure. If they were living it large in the Panjab, they wouldn’t be living in the diaspora as oversees Pakistanis, proudly flying Pakistani flags, unaware of how hard life is for ordinary Pakistanis.

As for state patronage in AJK, all government jobs are paid for by the natural resources of AJK State – for instance, the amount of money Mangla Dam generates alone, is much more than the total budget of the AJK government. But, there’s one problem, the royalties of the Dam, in the billions of dollars, is not paid to the government of AJK.

Why?

Because AJK is not a Province of Pakistan. It is a separate territory. Yes, it is “Azad” – Free. So the sophistry involved means there is no process to transfer this money to the legitimate representatives of this State.

This is how exploitation begins and ends in Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

Who is this Pakistani elite kidding?

And yet to the entire world, Pakistani Officials say ‘Azad’ Kashmir is ‘free’!

For obvious reasons these guys aren’t very creative when they create their ‘fictions’.

And their “agents” in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, the few ‘dignitaries’ from the region with little or no power but official-sounding titles, from the old clan-backgrounds (their clan members are now aggrieved), are more than happy to rent out their persons to promote this outrageous lie. This description might be a little harsh, but this is how they’re seen by the people of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, from every corner, from Bhimbar all the way to Neelum.

There’s a reason why Pakistan is laughed at internationally. I’m not being facetious. I’m being serious. It pains me to say this. Pakistan’s position on the Jammu & Kashmir conflict – claiming to be a neutral supporter of ‘Muslims’ – they tend to forget that East Pakistan ceded away in 1971 amidst allegations of rape and murder – is seen for what it is – hogwash. Ordinary Pakistanis might be deluded who have never once questioned what Pakistan Officialdom teaches them. The world that watches this farce is anything but deluded.

Pakistan’s political elite do not care one iota for the lies they spread in Pakistan about the Kashmir Conflict to what honest, sincere and ‘intellectual’ Pakistanis describe as a ‘dumbed-down’ population that has some of the worst life opportunities of any nation.

The elite is squarely to blame.

The vast majority of Valley Kashmiris want independence for the entire State. The youth of the Valley are much more politically astute than their counterparts in AJK. They view AJK as being exploited by Pakistan.

Are they wrong about the political and economic exploitation of AJK?

They do not want to join Pakistan, or India. Speak to them and they will say, “are you having a laugh!”. The Muslim Paharis of Indian Jammu; the Shias of Kargil; the Buddhists of Ladakh all want to remain in India. If they don’t, they probably want independence, but you can bet your last pound, they wouldn’t even countenance the idea of becoming part of what looks like a failed State. They have no stomach for a merger with Pakistan terrified that they will accrue ‘no benefits’ whatsoever from joining Pakistan, a country affected by sectarian violence and huge political inequalities, where middle-men control everything. And compared to India, Pakistan is a lot poorer whatever the Chinese and Japanese sponsored investment of recent years.

India seems to be going in the right direction, as it stamps out corruption, opens up the economy for foreign investment, as ordinary people hit the streets demanding their rights, speaking up for victims. India is far from perfect, but it understands that the peoples of India own India. Pakistan seems to be going in the opposite direction, as bloggers are disappeared and dissent is ruthlessly crushed.

And yet many people in AJK, dwindling in size, have continued to show loyalty to Pakistan, as their politically-astute children now ask their parents what have they gained in return?

There’s an irony here.

Pakistan spilt from ‘Hindu’ India, on purportedly religious grounds, to have a homeland where India’s ‘Muslims’ were free from “Hindu” persecution and inequality. We are still looking for these Hindu demons, as Muslims commit equally egregious crimes against other Muslims?

Years later, the elite decided to become strong allies of Communist ‘Godless’ China, ceding and selling bits of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir to curry favour with their new ‘atheist’ friends. They got these lands for free so they didn’t lose sleep from giving them away. Of course, Pakistanis want to defend Muslims everywhere, in particular the ‘Palestinians’, but they seem to be unfamiliar with how ethnic ‘turkic’ Muslims are persecuted in Xinjiang Province suffering at the hands of communist China. Many Pakistanis profess their love for the Turkish Turks, but they seem to have less love for the Muslim Turkic Uyghurs being oppressed by their Chinese allies.

Not even a peep about this maltreatment!

Now that’s an interesting proposition when we conflate ‘Islam’ with ‘Pakistan’ don’t you think?

Atheist or not, it is not for us to decide what people believe, each to his own, courtesy of the values we’ve learnt in the West. But we shouldn’t be remiss to not point out the inconsistencies in political propaganda masquerading as “Islamic” empathy.

People everywhere are tired of state-enforced propaganda. People everywhere want to throw off the shackles of political oppression. The Free World should support them, and not support the dictators against their own peoples because of trade deals.

In discussing identities and wellbeing and the benefits we accrue from our group identities, I hope to have shown from the examples given, that it is the case that British-Paharis of so-called Azad Jammu Kashmir are a dispossessed people. For our youngsters to not even know, that our ancestral regions in Jammu & Kashmir are not part of Pakistan, but worse, exploited by Pakistani officials only proves the extent of our dire dispossession. Moreover, they know nothing about their past, which makes them targets for the cocky jokes that they’re all somehow confused and deluded in the UK. And yet some of our own vocal peers insist on a Pakistani identity that subordinates their British identity all the while indifferent to the many benefits that accrue from living in Britain otherwise denied to them in ‘Pakistan-administered-Kashmir’.

Britain has been a true friend to the people of AJK. In many ways, Britain has been a much better friend to all diaspora Pakistanis from whichever part of Pakistan they come from. Just because you have safety and opportunities courtesy of your adopted homeland, does not mean you should forget about all the poor people in Pakistan and AJK.

The truth of that claim needs no advocate.

Sadly, Pakistan Officialdom continues to exploit the powerless, and has shown no compunction either.

It has been noted by many observers that Mirpur, an historical backwater in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir, has benefited Pakistan immeasurably. It’s the only place in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir that has the semblance of affluence courtesy of its diaspora in the UK. And this in the near absence of any government infrastructure projects. The activists tell us, the Pakistan government is disinvesting Mirpur which might explain why the service sector is completely reliant on UK remittences. Lot’s of oversees Mirpuris have bought properties in Islamabad to be close to amenities they take for granted in the UK.

Whether this is true or not, it is a credit to British Paharis from Mirpur that they never forgot about their relatives, and extended families, whatever the strains of being separated in two different worlds. The area is much wealthier than the capital, Muzaffarabad – in which other country is this the norm, not least in the absence of government investment projects?

Pakistani newspapers find it funny that the beggars of Mirpur, some of whom come from the Punjab, demand their donations in British pounds! Hilarious. Where is the respect for ordinary human beings wherever they are from? See Pakistani article.

It’s a joke!

One can just cite the Mangla Dam that produces huge amounts of electricity for Pakistan. This is a Dam that belongs to the residents of Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, having made more than a 110 thousand Mirpuris homeless when it was first created. Not only do the elected representatives of ‘Azad’ Kashmir not benefit from the Dam and the royalties it accrues – more than the entire AJK budget, but the people of the area have actually been disadvantaged by the Dam. They were promised free electricity in the wake of the huge sacrifices borne by them, one amongst many promises that never came to fruition, including the anticipated airport in Dadyaal. Mirpuris have realised Pakistani promises are false.

We’re still waiting for this airport, decades on. Numerous projects have been completed in mainland Pakistan with the help of the Chinese. And how much electricity does Azad Jammu Kashmir get – go ask the locals and they’ll tell you in very colourful language!

When one ponders the amount of money being spent by British-Paharis in Pakistan, in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi and neighbouring areas – our ethnic homeland – the remittances they have been sending since the early 50s, we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars just from the UK! And what about the thousands of Mirpuris that travel PIA yearly to visit their hill hamlets, and have done so since the 1950s, it is a shame, this aspect of their ‘generosity’ is never celebrated.

These numbers are now dwindling, but the grievances still remain.

They have been no reciprocal benefits for this ‘largess’, no kind words, not even an acknowledgement.

Instead some British-Pakistanis want to slur the community by accusing its members of all sorts of illicit activities. And when British-Paharis point out the huge imbalance in the ‘A’JK-Pakistan ‘partnership’ – a master-client relationship – they are accused of being ‘Indian’ agents even as the community waves Pakistani flags.

Ironies are seldom this poetic.

Pakistan Officialdom is in denial about the reality on the ground in AJK. They pretend to their domestic audiences that everything is great in Pakistan’s “Kashmir“.

Ordinary Pakistanis not from AJK are absolved of these attitudes, as some of them think it is “patriotism” on their part to deny AJK its grievances. This is herd-mentality, nothing more. These sorts of patriots can’t change anything for their own communities in Pakistan, so we shouldn’t be too concerned about the slurs they throw at us.

I did say identities are complex things though. And in many ways, we are victims of our identities, even as we identify with people who have no desire to return the fraternal love. The difference, however, is that most victims know the identities of those oppressing them.

Sadly, my people don’t.

Here’s another irony for you, Shaheed Bhat is considered a hero all over Jammu & Kashmir State. India views him as a terrorist. In all areas of the divided State, in ‘A’JK, the Valley of Kashmir, you will see his murals on walls and buildings. Pakistan Officialdom seeks to honour his memory as a freedom fighter, as numerous organisations in Pakistan that purportedly seek justice for the peoples of the State, particularly against human rights violations in Indian-administered-Kashmir deploy his picture. He was imprisoned and then subsequently executed in India for terrorism related charges. He is thus a hero for the Pakistanis. He was also the founding member of the Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front, and a key figure in the “Kashmir” pro-independence movement.

And yet the writings of Shaheed Maqbool Bhat are banned in Pakistan – see page 35 of Human Rights Watch Report. Maqbool Bhat was similarly imprisoned and tortured in Pakistani prisons for his pro-independence leanings.

How’s that for an irony?

He was very clear about the duplicitous nature of Pakistan Officialdom in its dealings on the Kashmir Issue. It seems his words have yet to sketch themselves on the conscience of all those who seek to speak in his name whilst unashamedly profiting from his memory. This type of cynicism is the ugliest form of political propaganda. See, ExectuedToday.com – 1984.

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Editor at Portmir Foundation; liberal by values, opposed to tribalism in all its guises; love languages and cultures – want to study as many as I can; proficient in some; opposed to social and political injustice wherever it rears its ugly head even from within my own British-Pahari community (a little unsure about the juxtaposition. The term ‘Pahari’ can mean different things to different people – stay posted. Grandparents from the Himalayan mountains of Jammu, presently split between India and Pakistan – get the impression no one cares about the people stuck between the LOC – currently researching the ‘Pahari-cultural-heritage’ outside political and territorial paradigms and the narratives of the political ‘mainstream’. Ultimately, hoping to create a space for members of the British-Pahari community to discover their own wonderful heritage. I believe – ‘life’ is a wok in progress so nothing is fixed even our thoughts! If you’re from the region, feel free to contact me – always prepared to widen my intellectual horizons and stand corrected – don’t insult me though. Be grown up and tell me why you think I’m wrong. If you make sense, I’ll change my views.

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship; if you disagree with any us, and you’re from our background, write your own opinion piece and we’ll publish it. You can contact us at info@portmir.org.uk.

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