The Evolution of AJK Public Agency


Citizen’s Opinion + Citizen’s Resources


Citizen’s Control of Public Policy

The most important aspect of modern-day governance is a consensus on public narrative, which is derived from an orderly aggregate of genuine public opinion. As the citizens of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) are the owners and inheritors of the public space in which they reside, it is exclusively their responsibility to ensure that the dominant public narrative is in conformity with public interest.

AJK’s geographic location coupled with its abundant precious resources (increasingly sought after by the regional as well as global economy) has proven to be a hindrance over 70 years of external administration/control/occupation. These characteristics can be converted to clear advantage for the local citizen if the state they identify with, first wins the war of narratives by exercising unhindered freedom of expression.

What was pre-1947 essentially a British sphere of influence south of China and (Soviet) Russia was arguably cut up according to British taste in 1947. Consequently, repercussions for democratic evolution here have been horrific. Entertaining the possibility of easing Pakistan and then India out of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) – subject to ascertaining public opinion of each administrative region – is as much a responsibility of Britain as it is of local civil society (or public agency to coin a more contextual term) in AJK.

In general, our population (in AJK) can be described as a swamp of people wallowing deep in self-pity combined with invariably opting for self-interest at the cost of public interest. Indeed, of opting to escape from this territory rather than confronting the absence of governance. It is in this background that a thirteen years and three months journey of discovery has taken this writer from:

(British) Citizen


A State Subject of J & K via AJK


Self-recognition in status as a disenfranchised local citizen

Before arriving here, I can confidently assert that I was neither a patriot, nor a nationalist or even a democrat. I was a journalist working in various conflict hotspots around the globe (Iraq and Afghanistan), had regular access to the corridors of power in Westminster and Whitehall while visualising a clear path to fame and fortune, despite it being laced with danger and dispute. As a Muslim exploring my faith as much as examining the concerns of a minority Muslim community in Britain; grappling with the spectre of terrorism, I was extremely sceptical about democracy and having any deep affiliation with any piece of land, East or West.

I could be described as all three now though I operate strictly as a democrat fuelled by patriotism but am heavily restricted structurally by a mixture of Indian and Pakistani nationalism.

It was felt that this journey to self-recognition should be reflected in my actions through un-interrupted presence here and utilisation of local resources; in the shape of the natural environment as well as human capital in the shape of my co-citizens residing here or in the diaspora. Thus, social/institutional experimentation took the following route over time:

Forum (namely Civil Society Forum – AJK)


Institution (namely Kashmir-One Secretariat)


Agency (namely AJK Public Agency)

Although a personal quest of family re-union across the Line of Control (LOC) brought me to the region in April 2005, my intentions soon took a public interest dimension upon realising that division of my motherland wasn’t just physical; it was emotional, calculated and essentially political in nature. A contest of ‘Ownership’ between China, India, Pakistan and the inheritors of the erstwhile Dogra State of J & K i.e. the aspiring citizens of the divided state.

After 4 years and 2 months, I was finally able to re-unite my naani (maternal grand-mother) with her siblings across the LOC. A surviving brother and 2 sisters met for the first and last time in 62 years. I felt that I had achieved my life-long ambition and was now ready to return to the UK to pick up my journalism career from where I had left it in 2005. However, the night before booking my return journey I couldn’t sleep. My conscience kept on reminding me that I had stubbornly spent 4 years in a territory to fulfill a personal ambition.

That wasn’t fair.

The research and activism that I had generated shouldn’t be confined to that single experience of catharsis. I had to struggle on for the sake of humanity in this region. Nothing in the world was more worthwhile, appealing or enriching. I had to do whatever I could to try and make a difference for everybody. Indeed, everybody’s naani deserved deliverance from this inhumane system of governance.

This evolution of thought and practice in AJK initially led me to develop the concept of Civil Society Forum – AJK in 2009, which held over 40 public forums from Bhimber in the south (of AJK) to Hunza in the north (of Gilgit Baltistan), involving a diverse range of citizens and covering all relevant topics that the public deemed important.

From arriving in 2005, I had utilised whatever I had in terms of personal resources and when they were exhausted after a few years, I relied on my family – which is of course settled in the UK – to sustain my journey.

This was followed by an attempt to develop an institutional structure through public (co-citizen) support in the shape of Kashmir – One Secretariat. Through this medium, I began issuing an annual public document which provided a summary of activity throughout the year, from 2010 to 2014. The research work hitherto conducted had produced over 2,000 videos, over 2,000 audio files, a similar number of photos and over 200,000 words of text; covering a wide range of publicly significant topics from the region’s history to the current structure of governance.

The Birth of AJK Public Agency: Narratives, Agency, Identity, Ownership and Rights

Understanding that the destiny of the J & K, many in AJK would more commonly describe it as the “Kashmiri”, freedom struggle lay in the hands of the public, it followed that recording public opinion was a powerful and indispensible tool in public interest. Under the previous nomenclatures of ‘forum’ and ‘institution’, my experience suggested that there remained a lack of clarity in understanding my work – as far as the public at large were concerned – while the external agencies that monitor and attempt to control public activity in AJK, continued to imagine that their approach was an exclusive right bestowed on them.

As I reached the climax of my public opinion research work, in the shape of a 10 question survey (divided into 4 sections to encompass the basic pillars of a constitution) randomly put to 10,000 citizens of AJK, who were proportionately divided by population throughout the 32 tehsils (sub-divisions) of AJK, I had recognised the need to move the public narrative beyond the red lines laid by Pakistan’s agencies.

The purpose of this detailed collection of data in public interest was so that the public of AJK can take a decision on their constitutional future, given that the ballot box here – amongst other limitations – does not provide space for expression of political choice. Neither is a plebiscite or referendum forthcoming.


It fills the missing gap in society that political parties in the State of J & K have not been able to penetrate since the power change-over in October 1947. In other words, conducting politics in AJK is almost pointless or ineffective without internal agency. Politicians – conformist to the status quo as well as nationalist – have been unable to meaningfully represent public aspirations. The conformists would surrender public aspirations for personal gain while nationalists would fail to sustain their efforts, as they were suffocated or compromised at every step.

Of course, the whole subject deserves much wider public discourse, which has never seemed forthcoming in AJK.

The genuinely dominant public narrative has yet to be defined here. We still cannot derive consensus on how we should describe ourselves to the outside world. Are we Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri, JKites, AJKites, Azad Kashmiri, Jamwaal, Pahaari, Mirpuri, Poonchi, Muzaffarabadi or could we even be Pir Panjaali or Chenaabi? How do we refine our thoughts and ensure that we are not an extension of any other entity’s identity, or indeed their problems or aspirations? Obtaining acceptance of that dominant public narrative in AJK, is essentially the first task of AJK Public Agency. In due course, it could even take shape constitutionally as the AJK Public Empowerment Order.

Andrew Whitehead, a senior editor at BBC World Service News, historian and expert on the ‘Kashmir conundrum’in many respects, indirectly (as I’ve never met him) put certain fragments of thought previously combusting in my mind for months into place, when he described the Kashmiri nationalist narrative (as opposed to the Indian or Pakistani nationalist narratives on Kashmir) as, “Kashmiris have been deprived of agency over their own political dispensation by two powerful and feuding neighbours.”

Reference: Panel 3 University of Westminster seminar entitled, “Kashmiris: Contested Present, Possible Futures”

In the 1950s, the historian Robert Wirsing described Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir as “calculated ambiguity”. Today, in 2018 nothing has changed. Essentially, as the protectors of Pakistan’s occupation in AJK are its clandestine agencies, their activities can only be countered and civil democratic space restored by creating a civil public agency that generates information in public interest and statistically gathers public opinion in pursuit of self-determination. That by utilising measured and accountable support: in time, effort and resources obtained from the very citizens whose collective problem it is.

Self-Determination and Agency

Indeed the terms ‘self-determination’ and ‘agency’ are synonymous in this context. In a practical sense, self-determination cannot be asserted as a right or politely advanced as a humble aspiration that we wait indefinitely for decades for the ‘International Community’ to oblige us with. That while, India and Pakistan continue to do all the ‘bidding’ or lack of it on our behalf – internally as well as externally. ‘Agency’ is essentially using our own initiative to peacefully create, choreograph and sustain a solution that the world will notice. Nobody likes to help those who fail to help themselves.

The words ‘public’ and ‘agency’ in respect to AJK when used and accepted by the public, already has and will continue to gradually reclaim that denied civil space and lead to a clear, indigenously created political process. Thus, this is not politics but rather creating an appropriate administrative structure to ensure our citizens do not fall back into the ‘political trap’ that has prevented genuine political representation thus far. This endeavour – will in turn assist in solving the constitutional dilemma that AJK has suffered from since 1947.

Having worked on the ground consistently since April 2005, it has become evidently clear that the battleground for rights (and the right of self-determination) is a direct contest between Pakistan’s occupying agencies and local inheritors who cannot mobilise the public in any meaningful collective activity, either as an individual, an ideology or political party.


Each and every dilemma in any part of the world has its own unique history of events, circumstances and solution. In this age of advanced mass communication, nomenclature – or nouns and naming words used – is everything. The word ‘agency’ in the divided State of Jammu & Kashmir carries a burden of baggage. This involves intimidation, economic strangulation, murder and espionage by occupying forces.

The very same word ‘agency’ if propagated in the public domain, by associating it with a constitutional solution could give the citizens a sense of ‘ownership’ that their participation in public transformation – however modest – could make all the difference.

Furthermore, as inheritors of the Dogra State, collectively as citizens; it is our exclusive right to create a mechanism to solve the constitutional dilemma we find ourselves in. The prerogative, burden of responsibility is likewise solely ours and no-one else’s.

Ownership-Building Measures (OBMs)

This is what I wrote in April 2011 as part of an opinion article for ‘Rising Kashmir’ (an English daily in Srinagar which was founded and edited by the recently murdered Shujaat Bukhari), the gist of which was referenced by a notable British academic (Professor Richard Bonney) a month later, in a round-table meeting on Jammu & Kashmir at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom:

“The idea of progressing from CBMs (confidence-building measures) to OBMs (ownership-building measures) is to revert the problem-solving ambit back into the hands of the primary stakeholders viz. The 20 million or so people living across the breadth of the divided State.”

Our society’s general approach to public interest has lacked thought and initiative. Creative thinking is absent and discouraged. We do not understand well enough the need and manner of how to value those who work in public interest.

Answers to all the questions in society are actually there in the society itself. One just has to find them, assemble them into a narrative, which cannot be done without agency.

It should be remembered that the dilemma of public affairs in AJK is rooted in its ambiguous constitutional status. It is neither legally claimed by Pakistan nor positively pursued by India. The international community does not officially communicate with it without the consent of Pakistan, yet AJK describes itself as the ‘free’ part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, unrecognised on any global forum.

Not every citizen is interested in politics and neither is this ‘agency’ venture a political campaign. However, our common dilemma – irrespective of whether we are conscious of it or otherwise – can only be tackled in an administrative manner through creating genuine public agency in AJK.

Three requirements for laying the ground for Internal Political Process

1) Participation

– Which should be horizontal as opposed to vertical in the sense that every citizen – irrespective of their ideology or affiliation – has an equal opportunity to contribute towards. Vertical structures generating a ‘clan’, ‘party’ or a group of individuals hovering above the rest of the public would be anathema to such a conception of agency.

– Identify and utilise capacity of public to give time, resources and effort/intellect.

2) Awareness

– Of outstanding national question, collective inheritance of land in question and civil rights.

3) Managing conflict of interest

– Outside interference/manipulation of prevailing issues, preventing personal benefit from destroying collective interest and maintaining it till resolution.

Hence, AJK Public Agency is an internally created and funded route to ownership of public space in AJK. Whereby, every citizen of AJK is requested to kindly play their part in utilising their private resources as a collective public resource.

Public Agents

To identify ‘public agents’ who can work full-time primarily as researchers (involving data collection, administrative duties and activism) although a gradual need for database programmers will also emerge in due course. Their research would cover public opinion on all matters of public significance, developing a database of citizens locally as well as in the diaspora, measuring the economy of AJK, logging the status of human rights, developing a historical timeline of the region over the past 200 years, identifying and working for creative initiatives in art, craft, culture, heritage and sport.

There is of course no reason to be restricted to the aforementioned, subject to public approval. It should also be emphasised that all aspects of AJK Public Agency are of a voluntary nature and transparency, meritocracy and accountability to the public would be the pillars on which it could sustain its utility.


1) Non-political (in terms of party affiliation and interest beyond desiring the state of AJK to be in control of its public affairs)

This does not mean that they are not entitled to a personal ideology or political preference. However, their duty and activity would operate just like any administration in a modern day democratic governing structure.

2) Business-free (beyond or except subsistence rent or duty)

This means that they should not be part of a business lobby, which at some point may derive benefit at the cost of public interest, through utilizing that public agent. Of course, many people hail from families that have business interests but that should not disqualify any citizen as long as they don’t use their position to further private business interests. It should also not disqualify citizens who run small scale businesses in their spare time. 

3) State Agencies-free (To not be operating as an agent of any sovereign nation-state or similar entity beyond the borders figured at c. 85,000 sq. miles)

There would obviously be a conflict of interest if any citizen were to be working for any other country.


These public agents would be paid a salary directly from public funds generated from the public. Each of them would generate a daily activity log (based on a pre-determined schedule describing the range and scope of their research/admin/activism duties).

Salaries (output) and public funds (input) would have to be regulated so that the integrity of public interest could be protected. For example, there would be a maximum that any individual citizen could donate in a year and all donations would be as individuals; not from any party, organisation, group etc. Furthermore, all donations would be accepted from only citizens of AJK or its diaspora. That also means that citizens of Gilgit Baltistan, the Valley of Kashmir, Ladakh or Jammu would not be able to contribute at this point in time.

There should be a committee overseeing the operation of AJK Public Agency, which should be a representative sample of the population. However, there needs to be further discussion/consultation with the public on its structure and criteria.

Gradually, 5 layers of the administrative structure of AJK Public Agency would emerge:

Layer 1; Division

There are 3 administrative divisions in AJK namely Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur. Initially, 3 public agents corresponding to the 3 divisions should be identified and employed.

Layer 2; District

There are 10 districts in AJK, therefore a further 7 public agents should be identified and employed corresponding to each district of the territory.

Layer 3; Tehsil (Sub-division)

There are 32 tehsils in AJK, therefore a further 22 public agents should be identified and employed corresponding to each tehsil of the territory.

Layer 4;  Union Council

There are currently 194 Union Councils in AJK, therefore a further 162 public agents should be identified and employed corresponding to each Union Council of the territory.

Layer 5; Moza (Village)

There are 1,771 villages in AJK, therefore a further 1,577 public agents should be identified and employed corresponding to each village of the territory.

By this stage, we will have an administrative structure of governance that could compete with the most advanced countries in the world. Indeed, we would have progressed beyond Switzerland which is currently considered to be the most advanced democracy in the world!

It should be re-iterated that there is much further discussion to be had with the public on this proposed structure. Although much thought and practice has gone into devising it but it can by no means be considered as concrete and final, without being interrogated by the public at large for its practical implications. However, as it is a sequential procedure there will always be opportunity to refine and re-assess the objectives and performance of the whole exercise.

Day to Day Activity and Monitoring by the Public

Until public activity doesn’t convert to such a format, it won’t gain momentum for institutionalising a movement to take it to its logical end.

A Summary of the Purpose of AJK Public Agency

To actively promote public interest – in and via AJK – through an indigenously created and funded institutional framework. This would lay the foundations, identify capacity and ultimately provide the appropriate tools for developing a consensus on governance and public policy in AJK.

AJK Public Agency is a culmination of a decade long pain-staking socio-political research process that eventually identified a gaping void in the practicalities of the Ownership-Building Mechanism (Measures) see OBM ref. 2011:of AJK in particular and the erstwhile Dogra State of J & K as a whole.

The people of J & K, whilst constantly straining for recognition as exclusive arbiters of their distinct abode and uncertain future – as subjects under autocracy cum citizens under democracy – have attempted to exercise their ‘right’ through various political party orientations, local/regional/global legal and diplomatic activism, education, social work, philanthropy to outright adventures of plane hijackings, kidnappings, guerrila warfare and a prolonged armed struggle (also described as a proxy war in another context). However, different challenges surfaced throughout the decades since October 1947; including perhaps most significantly, close monitoring and manipulation by external state agencies belonging to the neighbouring countries, forever vying for control of public opinion and consolidation of captured territory, at any cost.

Difference between a conventional nation-state agency and AJK Public Agency

Conventional Agency                                                                              AJK Public Agency

Clandestine / Opaque Transparent / Accountable
Use of force / Torture/ Kidnapping Voluntary / Consensual / Persuasion
Security Concerns – Protection Data Collection for governance – Advocacy
Limiting – Disempowering Expanding – Empowering
Surveillance – Monitoring Research – Discussion
Dogmatic – Closed Creative – Open

Both types of agencies claim to be operating in ‘national interest’, are funded by the public (the former directly through taxes and the latter by voluntary public funding) and have the best interests of their ‘people’ at heart. It should also be pointed that we are not vilifying any particular country’s security structure but rather explaining the context of AJK in light of our experiences. Our intention is to resolve our collective dilemma that affects us all as co-citizens in a given territory, namely AJK.

The request to the British Government at some stage would be to officially recognise that an internal narrative exists in AJK, which may not be clear or refined as yet but there is clear evidence that it differs from both the Indian and Pakistani nationalist narratives. This could be achieved by lobbying the 650 elected MPs in the UK Parliament.

As for the AJK diaspora – in the UK in particular (for their sheer number as well as British colonial legacy) and the rest of the ‘developed’ world in general – we would suggest that access to:

  1. Economic Opportunity
  2. Protection of life, wealth and honour
  3. Access to justice on an equal footing

Are all facilities that you enjoy which are precisely absent here in AJK. They didn’t emerge where you live without struggle and sacrifice. Likewise, we can’t achieve these objectives of governance here without contributing our fair share of effort, time and resources.

The terms pro-life and counter-terrorism strategy should become synonymous in our journey towards fulfillment of agency, autonomy and transformation in AJK.

Finally, I’ll end with an example of how public interest in AJK is regularly quashed for the sake of protecting Pakistan’s ‘national interest’:

In February this year, the Pakistani Foreign Office in Islamabad – through its clandestine agencies -intimated to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Kotli to warn of ‘harsh action’ if a persistent #WhiteFlag and #SignatureForPeace campaign in Nikyaal, conducted by victims of cross LOC firing (who were being killed or maimed regularly by Indian and Pakistani cross-fire) and other co-citizens were not abandoned.

“Pakistan’s reputation in the ‘international order’ is at stake”, was the reasoning given for this warning.

This means that we – the persistent victims – are not allowed to create agency for resolving the very tragedy imposed on us. This is akin to being prevented from mourning our dead. DC Kotli was of course only doing his duty as a pliable messenger.

Picture of author with Sardar Shamim Khan, the gentleman who threw his shoes at former Pakistani President Zardari in Birmingham, 2010 and who is widely esteemed on account of this individual act of protest. In the backdrop are clouds of Neza Spania,  between the borders of Rawalakot and Abbaspur.

“A person is a person through other persons. My humanity is inseparably bound up in your humanity. I can’t be all that I can be, until you are all that you can be.”

Desmond Tutu

Documenting Life In Azad Jammu Kashmir

Matiyaal Mehra near Rawalakot; pre-1947 chashma (spring) and the holes have been naturally carved out of the stone by the water.

Remembering a life-long public rights activist Sardar Aftab Khan of Thorar in Ali Sojal, Rawalakot.

Devi Gali near Hajeera in District Poonch.

Picture of author descending from one of the hillocks in Ali Sojal, Rawalakot

Two employees of the Department of Electricity in Dadyaal. Their work involves maintaining and fixing a cobweb of potentially life-threatening cables on a pole without having been provided safety equipment; an apt metaphor for the state of Azad Kashmir.

Life goes on, and re-emerges, as these children play on the very land where Sikhs used to congregate at the Gurdwara pre-1947 which can be seen behind the children. This is at Chappa ni Taar, Rawalakot.

Old and young alike in aspiring mode in a conflict zone amidst a white flag of peace, in the clouds at Neza Spania, between the borders of Rawalakot and Abbaspur. 

This is Pura, a rounded abode, pre 1947, in stone; I couldn’t establish whether the gigantic stone structure jutting out of the mountain was carved by humans or by nature. It has the River Poonch surrounding it on 3 sides near Gulpur. There are remains of a building here and it has fantastic views of many hillocks around it. A tantalising view from atop. You can see a comprehensive video of it here, click here.

A tractor, normally used for farming purposes, is carrying waste in an open carrier where a lot of it falls onto the road and wayside, on its way to being dumped in some undisclosed site. Most refuse vehicles, in the developed world, transport waste in secure containers according to waste-management systems. Here it is just dumped, out of sight, out of mind.

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Born in Sehnsa, Kotli, Azad Jammu Kashmir, but taken to the United Kingdom in 1976 at the age of 4. Returned indefinitely at the age of 33, though had originally only come for a month! I’m most interested in assisting my co-citizens (of AJK in particular and Jammu Kashmir in general) transition from meek but thoughtful ‘subjects’ of the former Dogra Empire to confident and competitive ‘citizens’ in a globally inter-connected world. Most of my time here is spent in researching public opinion, measuring our economy, logging human rights’ cases and developing a 200 year historical timeline for Jammu & Kashmir, while actively working to develop civil society via public agency, in collaboration with my co-citizens wherever they may reside.

“A solution to Jammu & Kashmir’s unresolved status can only be executed if the citizens of the territory create that solution without external interference”

Tanveer Ahmed.

Okay, now the official bit… My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship and neither does it endorse my opinions; if you disagree with any of us and you’re from our background, write your own opinion piece and we’ll publish it –


  1. Tanveer Ahmed’s scientific journey is a painful discovery beyond words. Any civilized society would have rewarded his work but he was unsuccessfuly obstructed by the enemies of the Truth. I hope his successful journey in his homeland has healed his physical and mental torture as his work will vibrate and speak beyond the continent. I wish him good luck.

    • Many thanks for your comment Raja Sb. Let’s just hope that our civilised society residing in the ‘democratic diaspora’ can take the necessary initiatives to ease AJK out of the ‘black hole’ that it finds itself in. As an eternal optimist confronting reality on a daily basis, I notice that our diaspora (especially the youth free of the parochial baggage of the elders) is emitting the right sentiments – on the basis of going through this portal – and I am confident that they will back up their words with actions and deeds that will have an impact on their homeland.

  2. Tanveer,

    You’ve asked all those reading this post, and the accompanying VIDEO SEGMENT, to offer comments so that you can assess the “emotional and intellectual affiliation with our Homeland environment.” I’ve quoted this request verbatim via your WhatsApp message and would advice you to also create a WhatsApp group to include a critical core of stakeholders of Jammu & Kashmir State to partake in this conversation, not just those belonging to constituted parties or groups, but ordinary people with different viewpoints. This will bring you closer to the objective stated; whether you learn anything substantive from the comments, or whether people come forward, is another proposition that can also be discussed later on.

    It is becoming painfully obvious to me, that there is huge disconnect not just between AJK and its diaspora but the rest of Jammu & Kashmir State, which in itself, is an answer of sorts, to your question about feelings/affiliation towards “homeland”.

    Those of you who have taken up the mantle of defending AJK’s interests, if indeed you are prepared to be involved in this conversation initiated by Tanveer in good conscience, should ask yourselves, why your own struggles have not transcended your own circles to much bigger audiences? Implicit in that statement is the claim that you have failed to prosecute your “fightback” against Pakistan Officialdom, you can use your own terms – I am talking about the dysfunctional nature of AJK, not just raising slogans on Kashmir; this is clearly a controversial point, but one, I am making as a stakeholder of AJK living in the UK, not affiliated with any party or group, but as a person of conscience. As someone who owns land in AJK, whose family have been remitting money to AJK over the decades, whose members visit AJK from time to time, more recently because of endless land disputes – we are thus acutely aware of the dysfunctional nature of the AJK-legal system, as is every other AJK person in the UK – why this is not raised by activists as a “rallying cry” is beyond me! We also contribute money to AJK charities as we do to many Muslim charities; I have an emotional attachment to my “homeland”, not just intellectually, but because I root my identity in the AJK experience.

    For me PERSONALLY, this was never at odds with Pakistan (I maintain I am a democrat, not a nationalist); I used to feel I could accommodate my identity within a wider British-Pakistani identity, but through learning about Jammu & Kashmir and its separate status to India and Pakistan, I am also realising there is no shared fraternity between Pakistanis and AJK-people in the UK; we are being “maligned”, “slurred”, “devalued” on account of our connections to AJK. This is not a mere accident of history, it is completely tied in with the contested nature of Jammu & Kashmir State – there are political actors exploiting the ambiguities that come by way of this conflict.

    Despite the huge contributions of our AJK-based community in the UK – the “Mirpuris” being the largest exemplar, certain elements within the British-Pakistani community have succeeded in tarnishing our reputation as the “bad immigrants”, even as they blame us for their own differentiation with “Mirpuris”. Whenever the Pakistani identity is celebrated in the UK, we are excluded because of our fringe status to Pakistan, despite being the largest “Pakistani” community, on paper officially, in the UK.

    In the UK, the AJK-based community is never celebrated, even when it comes to the wider discourse of British Asians. Pakistanis have become gatekeepers to our community, as they exclude us from their own circles. We are being vilified on account of our RURAL ROOTS to AJK.

    It may be AJK activists are not interested in this particular conversation, possibly because of this platform, or because you want control over your own platforms, or you’ve not come across this platform, all reasonable justifications for not participating in this conversation, but here you have a real opportunity to influence the debate around identity in the UK. You can potentially connect with the diaspora in ways unimaginable before. Also, isn’t it in the interest of people fighting political injustice to make themselves known to an internationally large audience as wide as possible, especially its own diaspora, rather than expecting people to come to their aid?

    Perhaps, you feel you can take on your occupiers by yourselves, fair enough, but then what’s the point of creating alliances outside your own limited circles? And how do you intend to be inclusive, if you’re not aware of the opinions that exist within your community, within the contested territory, and outside?

    Tanveer you said,

    “We still cannot derive consensus on how we should describe ourselves to the outside world. Are we Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri, JKites, AJKites, Azad Kashmiri, Jamwaal, Pahaari, Mirpuri, Poonchi, Muzaffarabadi or could we even be Pir Panjaali or Chenaabi? How do we refine our thoughts and ensure that we are not an extension of any other entity’s identity, or indeed their problems or aspirations?”

    I put it to you, this is a major hindrance to the struggle of democratic enfranchisement for the people of AJK, as it carries immense consequences for the AJK diaspora particularly in the UK; I shall explain the first point in relation to the idea of external interference.

    Thus, I would RE-frame the question – what exactly is this “homeland?”

    In order to be intellectually honest without the fear of offending people, or taking an anodyne position, we need to express our insights as truthfully as possible, without self-censoring, ALWAYS open to the possibility that we could be wrong. Our approach, although on the surface anecdotal (because we are speaking of experiences), must be backed up by evidence-basedresearch and fortunately for us, there is a whole body of knowledge that exists on “Kashmir” and this conflict. Unfortunately, not much work has been done on Azad Jammu Kashmir, which reflects the status of this territory in the minds of all those people who speak about the Kashmir Conflict.

    This is a major hindrance to the long-term prospects of AJK as a territory that can self-sustain itself without the need for Pakistan, solely on the back of its own indigenous population, diaspora and natural resources – demanding recognition from the international community for its separate status to Pakistan.

    Tanveer, in your post you speak of external interference, the sort that suffocates and compromises the efforts of the “nationalists”?

    Perhaps, this is the reason why the AJK activists have failed to get their message out to the wider world. But what of their comrades in the diaspora, especially its largest demography in the UK? I accept the role of the security agencies has not helped. In fact they are very calculated in what they do, they are ten steps ahead of the activists; they have modern technology, free reign of the territory – militarily, politically and legally, funds, abundance of collaborators from the native population, to ensure their edge over AJK. They have deliberately closed off this area to well-wishers from Pakistan, and the international community – human rights campaigners, because of their fictitious “security concerns”. I say this because there appears to be a consensus in the works of writers, from all perspectives and positions, that resistance to Indian occupation comes from the direction of Pakistan; there is no resistance of occupation from the direction of India; aside from claims that India is involved in the Baluchistan insurgency which has some bearing on AJK. However, this shows that Pakistan is causing needless suffering in Jammu Kashmir; lot’s of Kashmiris are fed up with Pakistan’s low-cost, high-intensity “war game” designed by strategists who care little for the social repercussions for ordinary people.

    The Pakistanis have no moral superiority when they speak of human rights violations in the Valley.

    It is universally accepted in international circles that Pakistani security agencies are facilitating, funding and orchestrating the armed conflict in Indian Kashmir, courtesy of AJK territory; this has serious implications for those of you living in AJK, as your “homeland”, has become a “proxy” in Pakistan’s foreign policy goals. You could potentially expose the Pakistanis, this has serious implications for Pakistan’s complicity in human rights violations in the Valley of Kashmir, making you a credible voice for the international community. AJK’s “indigenous” voice, if indeed you represent it Tanveer given your extensive survey, is thus being muffled, and your wider concerns are being silenced. Sadly, the reality of this unjust conflict – the biggest losers are the people of AJK themselves – has yet to stamp itself on the conscience of the international community. If the AJK diaspora is unaware of what is happening in AJK, 1 million strong “Mirpuris” in the UK who could potentially bring huge leverage, to be deployed by the activists, on behalf of fellow citizens, how on earth do you expect to prosecute the “fightback” through protest-marches, and gatherings via loud speakers?

    You must change tact.

    This brings me to questions of homeland?

    Is there a divide between the communities of AJK? Let us have an honest conversation here and try to resolve these issues amongst ourselves – we close the doors to our occupiers, we are not interested in their “mediation”.

    If there isn’t a divide, then the AJK activists should be speaking directly to the diaspora in Pahari (our occupiers don’t speak our language; right?), from all regions, to show the culture of our people before we left our homeland to become a settled community in the diaspora. From my understanding of this region, AJK is OVERWHELMINGLY ethnically homogenous, from Bhimbar to Neelum, this represents one distinct cultural-sphere that transcends the borders of Jammu & Kashmir, in the direction of Indian-administered-Kashmir and Pakistan, the Pothohar Uplands, Hazara Hills. We are concerned about the cultural-sphere that is located in AJK, thus, this is our stake in our homeland by way of the Jammu & Kashmir conflict, thus our homeland extends to all the areas in Indian-administered-Kashmir. In AJK, we are ethnically and religiously homogenous though.

    The caste-system, tribalism, regionalism, is based on illusory differences, these differences should be challenged by the activists (This is a priority that seems to be overlooked), because these “illusions” can be exploited with ease by the occupier to keep people in separate enclaves. They don’t need to physically divide you, if they can control your minds by telling you, “who you are, and who you’re not”.

    There is no secret to these tactics, historians can tell you a lot about how occupiers have patronised one group of a territory to the exclusion of others, thereby festering resentment in the local population. From this patronage ensues illusory identity labels – you’ve no doubt come across the phenomenon of identity-politics? The Pakistanis will exploit even the slightest of difference to ensure the cultural homogeneity that exists in AJK – a disguised blessing of sorts – to stop the population from coming together. It appears the Pakistanis are aware of this as their social media operatives, run by the intelligence services, constantly decry the supposed differences between “Mirpuris”, apparently “Punjabis”, not even Jammuwal (i.e., Dogras) and the Muzaffarabadis; the Poonchies seem to be ambiguous, which are identified according to different priorities but the Jammu Province status seems to be overriding consideration here. These propagandists think they are experts in history, geography, cartography, linguistics, ethnography, but at best, they are dilettantes, they are unaccomplished even in the claims they make – they are motivated purely by politics. However, ignorant their remarks, they are being recycled by the stakeholders of AJK, their divisive claims have major implications for naive and impressionable people from your diaspora, as they are unaware of the underlying political priorities behind such “ethnic” or “linguistic” claims. The idea that “Mirpuris” are “Punjabis” as an ethnic group, and by this they mean the entire Pahar-Pothwari area, as they cleverly pity communities against the other by saying, “you’re Kashmiri, they’re not”, is a subtle way of controlling the discourse on Kashmir.

    The fact that India and Pakistan are fighting over territory, a strategic location, water resources, ideology, and not ethnic regions or peoples, should not be lost on those of us whose personal and intellectual integrity has not been compromised yet. For this reason, propaganda is very easy to debunk, so long as you have grounding in the claims being made; it seems to me that ethnic Kashmiris are also unaware of the propaganda that exists on the actual importance of “Kashmir”, as they confuse historiography with the legends and origin myths promoted by their own Kashmiri-pandits. AJK people need to free themselves of this valley-centric curse also. Powerful people, significant and important on account of their culture, are very rarely oppressed; people flock to these regions for a reason, it is these historically important regions that the Alexanders’, the Darius’, Cyrus’ of the world, the Kushans, Hephtalites, Turks, Mughals, the British are attracted to, not some remote idyllic valley, one amongst many valleys, singularly popularised by Mughals given their love for gardens. It seems to me, there are more “Kashmiris” in India and Pakistan than in the Valley who speak a North Indian Plains language for a reason, so let us re-initiate ourselves in our history for the right reasons, and not the wrong reasons. This romanticism of Kashmir is a curse for our people, not least because they are being demeaned by fellow “state subjects” who similarly lack claims of “greatness” even as they re-imagine their past through constructed history.

    As for the present, perhaps you can advise us of what is really happening in AJK? There does however seem to be dissatisfaction in Mirpur with Poonch/Muzaffarabad, this is being exploited as a “Jatt” Vs “Sudhan” dichotomy; although on account of Mirpur’s increased prosperity, it appears the disparity between the old ruling coalitions is fading. You’ve spoken about empowering the communities through the allocation of civic duties and power within a form of regionalism that takes into account local realities; but how do you ensure that power is centralised in the hands of the people who are all stakeholders in the territory of AJK without running the risk of creating further cleavages through new regional elites. If it appears one region is more prosperous than another, you will have growing resentment, as we want to equalise power across AJK and not prop up regional elites.

    I have shared my insights with you, having read your post and responding to your WhatsApp message, and I encourage others here to read, and re-read your post and to share their own insights. I have done so as a democrat completely unhappy with how Pakistan is treating AJK, but I am not a nationalist, I am keen to emphasise this – for this is the extent of my intellectual investiture in this struggle. I have no personal ill-will against ordinary Pakistanis or Indians, I dislike what Pakistan Officialdom stands for, and the corrupt elite that owns this country to the exclusion of her indigenous peoples. If the Pakistanis can get their act together, this shouldn’t stop us in “AJK” working with the genuine democrats in Pakistan. Ultimately, this is about democracy and if the people of AJK want independence because they are sick and tired of Pakistan Officialdom, or even join India – why should this option be off the table – that’s their right.

    It’s called self-determination for a reason, and we don’t need to listen to the tripe of Pakistani state-enforced propagandists who created the idea of the “Hindu Demon”, who conveniently label everyone they oppose “Indian agents”, “Kuffaar”, “traitors”, simply because we had the nerve to tell them the truth of their own deluded positions. History will adjudge them the occupiers, the unjust, the cruel, and not the activists who genuinely fought for the betterment of their people – if indeed, as you’ve said, their actions were not motivated by personal gain.

    In closing I like to quote a verse of the Qur’an, and I say this as a secularist who can easily reconcile my Sufi Islam with my politics; this really means closing the door to political actors manipulating impressionable people through religion, “is there any comparison with truth and falsehood?”

    I leave this to the conscience of our Pakistani detractors who say Azad Jammu Kashmir is “Azad”.

    • Reiss, thanks very much for the extensive response which covers a lot of the ground that we’ve discussed hitherto. I will try and respond (rather confirm in most cases) to what you’ve written:

      A Whatsapp group has been created and initially it will include writers/thinkers/activists of AJK (and its diaspora), to create a consensus on what needs to be done – or what can be done – to improve the emotional cum intellectual connection between activists on the ground in AJK and concerned citizens in the diaspora. It can then be extended to other parts of J & K once we are clear in our collective objectives. As you’ve noticed, it is not easy to get our citizens to engage seriously on matters at hand. Some suffer from a lack of confidence amongst other issues. This is despite living for decades in the diaspora after growing up here in AJK. Slow and sure is the way I think, much like how I’ve had to work here for the past 13 years.

      It is difficult getting our people out of a short-cut mindset which strives to create ‘shocks’ to jolt our people into collective action. Then gets frustrated or loses interest for lack of sustained impact. We’ve wasted 71 years already trying to tackle the ‘occupier’ through ad-hoc and almost impulsive movements. Our efforts need to be broken up into tiny bits of meaningful and sustainable activity, backed up by thorough research on our conditions. I’ve used the analogy of an elaborate computer programme put together by tiny mini/micro programmes, that eventually synchronise with a much larger programme. Our activists have hitherto (and to date) concentrated on building the larger programme at once, without due consideration or thought to the essential components needed.

      One of the major failings of this approach has meant that a disconnect would be there between the diaspora of AJK and their local co-citizens in AJK, as well as the rest of J & K. A democratic approach has arguably never really existed and we’ve always been trapped in a nationalism that was always drowned by direct Pakistani nationalism and indirect Indian nationalism. The governance structure on both sides of the divide has always rewarded compliance to either country’s nationalist narrative. In fact, it could be said that promoting a Pakistani nationalist narrative in Indian controlled territory or even promoting an Indian nationalist narrative in Pakistani controlled territory has been rewarding too. This has made operating or promoting an indigenous narrative financially suffocating, further exacerbated by the failure of our co-citizens to identify and sustain the efforts of those sincerely working in public interest. Only to eulogise them after they died.

      Thus, in the context of AJK, we haven’t been able to take the fight to Pakistan. We have continued running in small circles and preaching to the converted. Our research efforts have been so lame that when student unions were banned in 1987 (as they were reasonably effective in nurturing political leadership and formed a reasonably effective resistance to the draconian system) our activists didn’t even realise that there was no legal basis to this ban. No legislation was conducted and we’ve spent the next 3 decades trying to agitate against a verbal order, without seeking legal recourse!

      On the whole, a key posture for our diaspora would be to root their identity in the AJK experience. Furthermore, graduates in whatever disciplines they study, should try and relate their academic pursuits in their chosen field to the ground situation in AJK. For example, an aspiring linguist should study the linguistic composition of AJK while an aspiring geologist should try and do their project/case study on the geological composition of AJK. We all have to use our particular experience/expertise in our chosen fields to improve the ‘civilisational’ status of AJK. Indeed, this is what motivated me to stretch a one month’s visit to an indefinite stay here.

      One very intelligent and wise man in Hunza (Gilgit Baltistan) advised me in 2010, to try and identify and then motivate 11 other professionals from different fields (in the AJK diaspora), to come and settle in AJK and study the region from their professional viewpoint – be it economic, legal, health-related etc. – and then work on reforming the territory in their specific field and capacity. Alas, I haven’t been able to identify, let alone motivate anybody to do likewise. However, our professionals should do whatever is possible and indeed some have begun visiting AJK on a regular basis to pursue this line of engagement.

      Obviously, political actors (imposing gatekeepers to our community) will exploit ambiguities on account of the imposed conflict on us and they will try and exploit ambiguities even where they don’t exist. The difference between Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur divisions is one such non-existent ambiguity. A red-herring if there ever was one. The notion of a Jatt-Sudhan conflict is downright hilarious! The closest we got to some sort of a conflict between the 3 administrative divisions was when there was a tussle during the PPP era (2011 – 2016) over who should get a government medical college. Eventually, all 3 divisions were given a government medical college simultaneously. Problem solved!

      In your comment you mentioned, “Also, isn’t it in the interest of people fighting political injustice to make themselves known to an internationally large audience as wide as possible, especially its own diaspora, rather than expecting people to come to their aid?”

      Yes, that sentence further exposes the deficient mental approach of our co-citizens. Not only are we insufficiently democratic but we also pay scant attention to the importance of English as the global lingua franca of this age (and perhaps many ages to come). Not being creative or using our initiative to improve our ‘public interest performance capacity’ has only added to our collective misery. In simple terms, our collective approach has been lazy and perhaps not much different from how the ‘natives’ took to the onset of European colonialism in their respective territories. Total submission to forces you deem mightier than you. Furthermore, revolving our struggles around individual leaders and expecting them to outwit the oppressor/occupier with their magical skills (supposedly lacking in other co-citizens or aspiring leaders) is still the norm today. “If only we had a leader”, still echoes in the bazaars of AJK today.

      This particular stance is not only lazy but hypocritical too, as they’ve always been individuals of high calibre, passionate, resistant to injustice, un-selfish, visionary and accommodating of other ideas in every era. K. H. Khursheed was one such example. However, in his lifetime his commitment was not sufficiently valued and he privately became quite despondent. True to form, he has been celebrated in death much more than he was during his life. In another example, Khaliq Ansari was demeaned for supposedly hailing from a lower caste (occupation). He was derided for being a kaswi (weaver). After all, how could the noble elite clans be led by a weaver. The list of such quality individuals is almost endless and we continue to make the same mistakes today. We do introspect but only to the extent of words (gup-shup), not action (amal).

      You also mentioned, “They have deliberately closed off this area to well-wishers from Pakistan, and the international community – human rights campaigners, because of their fictitious “security concerns”.”

      This is perhaps an aspect of our existence that the diaspora needs to zero in on and sensitise/mobilise our respective MPs on. While there are many aspects of our behaviour towards our plight that are self-inflicted, this classification that we are a ‘disputed territory’ is one that Pakistan has used carte blanche to diminish our very existence, except as consumers of Pakistani goods and services. In other words, we only exist to benefit them. This is despite Pakistan not having a legal claim to this territory. The hypocrisy is obnoxious as they claim to be doing nothing but supporting the ‘Azad’ territory – morally and diplomatically – to reclaim the remainder of Jammu & Kashmir. They say that theirs is a principled stand, only to avoid pondering the necessity of having principles in order to have a principled stand.

      I would also ask our diaspora to be attentive to the following sentences too:

      “However, this shows that Pakistan is causing needless suffering in Jammu Kashmir; lot’s of Kashmiris are fed up with Pakistan’s low-cost, high-intensity “war game” designed by strategists who care little for the social repercussions for ordinary people.”

      “You could potentially expose the Pakistanis, this has serious implications for Pakistan’s complicity in human rights violations in the Valley of Kashmir, making you a credible voice for the international community. AJK’s “indigenous” voice, if indeed you represent it Tanveer given your extensive survey, is thus being muffled, and your wider concerns are being silenced.”

      Well, I wouldn’t claim myself to be a representative as such (rather that we are trying to prepare the ground for effective political representation which would necessarily be conducted by other citizens un-connected to this research endeavour), but my contention would be that the survey was as representative of the population as humanely possible. Yes, the external gatekeepers did try hard to prevent me from conducting the survey (kidnapping me twice and indirectly detaining me on numerous other occasions), they closed down the newspaper that took the initiative of publishing the results of the survey and continue trying to strike fear into the hearts of my co-citizens. I’ve even heard the term ‘black-listed’ being used to describe me (through sources), as if I could be persona non grata in my own homeland where my family has lived for over 700 years! At times, their antics have been beyond ridiculous and I would need a whole book to elaborate on the world’s most ‘intelligent’ intelligence agency.

      This following sentence should act as a wake up call to the way our co-citizens have – to date – engaged in activism:

      “If the AJK diaspora is unaware of what is happening in AJK, 1 million strong “Mirpuris” in the UK who could potentially bring huge leverage, to be deployed by the activists, on behalf of fellow citizens, how on earth do you expect to prosecute the “fightback” through protest-marches, and gatherings via loud speakers?

      You must change tact.”

      Indeed, that is what I’ve strived to learn and understand. In other words, where have we gone wrong? Having said that, I encounter (polite) opposition from some quarters of our society who I feel are – unwittingly – trying to drag me into the same old procedures that we’ve obviously failed to achieve anything out of. For example, some of my co-citizens insist that I join a political party, that I not work as an individual etc. etc. The need to change tact is something that our co-citizens have paid insufficient attention to.

      Yes, in AJK, we are ethnically and religiously homogenous but that is also an imposed condition. Not so much ethnically but certainly religiously. For example, the Hindus and Sikhs of this territory were either killed, forced to flee or become Muslims. This is something that we will need to address. On my part, I have tried to locate all the remains of such buildings that belonged to these minority communities. This has generated a lot of positive interest on the other side of the LOC and it is something the diaspora can also contribute to in a meaningful way.

      As far as tribalism (or bradari-ism) is concerned, it is a scourge in many respects and exists here, partly as a divider and partly as a protection mechanism to ensure one obtains their rights, in a society where institutionally rights do not exist. I think as long as one doesn’t use it to overpower other tribes (impacting equality) or where it kills meritocracy, it can be used to introduce one self, as has been the norm for thousands of years. In some cases, it could even be used to positively discriminate whereby citizens considered as coming from the lower tribes (as traditionally perceived) could be given extra space to become prominent in the mainstream. Overall, I understand the notion that much of this is illusory and we are not actually much different from each other ethnically. Indeed, this should be taught in our educational curriculum and further academic discourse on this topic should be pursued.

      As already indicated, the Pakistani State will use any means to divide us – imaginery or otherwise – connecting the Jatt of Bhimber with the Jatt of Gujerat or connecting the Gakhar Rajput of Dadyaal with the Gakhar Rajput of Kallar Syedan or even the Mughal of Muzaffarabad with the Mughal of Mansehra etc etc. These efforts have been made but having travelled extensively throughout the 32 tehsils of AJK, I feel that despite linguistic and cultural similarities with the areas of Pakistan adjoining AJK, the citizens of this territory feel a need to connect eastwards (across the LOC) much more than what’s already available proverbially across the Jhelum (westwards). Indeed, the Sudhans and Maldiyals of Poonch division (both make up the majority population in this division) have no tribal affiliation with adjoining areas in Pakistan but have much such affiliation in adjoining areas across the LOC.

      There is a group consciousness here in AJK, which I didn’t realise until I conducted the AJK-wide public opinion survey. However, it is still very loose and certainly not institutionalised. Having said that, the protection and co-operation that I’ve received from every part of AJK – whereby Pakistan’s clandestine agencies have always failed to counter my research work – indicates that in some aspects we may even be under-estimating ourselves.

      The following subjects that you cited viz. history, geography, cartography, linguistics and ethnography are all disciplines that our citizens need to become competent in and themes emanating thus should be interwoven into what should emerge as a genuine dominant public narrative.

      “This romanticism of Kashmir is a curse for our people” as you’ve suggested has evolved differently here as compared to the diaspora. Suffice to say at this stage that it needs a whole article in its own right and will be discussed in my extensive academic report on the public opinion survey conducted throughout AJK.

      The danger of regionalism and the possibility of one area prospering more than others is always a difficult balancing act in any given territory. Having said that, there is much we can do and potentially have to do to minimise such dangers. For example, our efforts are sequential in terms of the layers of structure involved, the distribution of duty is proportional to the population and the natural resources throughout our territory are quite abundant otherwise there wouldn’t be external armies patrolling this region. Furthermore, every region may develop a competitive advantage in some field or other over time while some advantages would be difficult to equalise, such as the sheer number (and length of time) of people from the Mirpur division who are in the ‘developed’ world.

      Finally, in support of your overall analysis I didn’t think there would be such a conversation – as we are having on this portal – for at least another decade. Adhering to democratic norms and understanding the term ‘self-determination’ is an immediate concern that we should all pay attention to. This will minimise errors as we continue this journey that is at least 4 generations old now.

  3. I read Tanveer’s article. I understand that he wants to assist AJK. However he seems to be getting little feedback or response. I would consider the reason for this to be that those that are interested in issues affecting our mirpuri community tend to be well versed and aware of the issues. There are shortcomings in Pakistan but AJK is also not a golden land for us. Reiss I think you explained it when you said:

    In AJK, we are ethnically and religiously homogenous though.
    The caste-system, tribalism, regionalism, is based on illusory differences, these differences should be challenged by the activists (This is a priority that seems to be overlooked), because these “illusions” can be exploited with ease by the occupier to keep people in separate enclaves. They don’t need to physically divide you, if they can control your minds by telling you, “who you are, and who you’re not”
    As for the present, perhaps you can advise us of what is really happening in AJK? There does however seem to be dissatisfaction in Mirpur with Poonch/Muzaffarabad, this is being exploited as a “Jatt” Vs “Sudhan” dichotomy; although on account of Mirpur’s increased prosperity, it appears the disparity between the old ruling coalitions is fading.
    I would say that they are not illusory differences as they have a real meaning to those that believe in them. Even Islam can be illusory to those that do not believe in it, but I bet you cannot convince any of your friends in Birmingham, that Islam is an illusion, so similarly you will have a uphill struggle convincing anyone that caste, tribalism, regionalism, is based on a illusion. In fact in Poonch nearly all the people believe that they are different from us.
    The reality is that we have never had any positive or meaningful relationships with the people of Poonch or MZD. Poonch is our neighbouring Zila and despite this my experience has been that those in the UK claim that Rawalakot pahari is distinct and different from Mirpur/kotli and that we are different people. As regards Sudhan they all now claim to be Saduzai Afghans who came with the conquering army of Ahmed Shah Abdali. I understand that you may want to make common cause with them, but they themselves do not want to make any common cause with you as a Mirpuri and always insist that they are racially, tribally, linguistically and culturally different to you, but at the same time the Saduzai ( ex sudhans) feel a kinship with Pathans and Afghans but not you.
    As regards the Poonch people actually in Poonch many are pleasant for economic reasons and so maybe Tanveer cannot even get the information he wants. Poor starving people of Poonch probably tell him what they think he wants to hear, but I doubt they believe it. I am basing this view on my experience of these people in the UK and also the well off ones in AJK. I have farm labourers in AJK from Poonch and I know they tell us we are the same and brothers etc.. but how much of that is based on economic compulsions.
    The better off families are not so pleasant and I personally find them disagreeable. So that begs the question that why should I assist them.
    As regards Pakistan’s role, let me say that Mirpur was liberated ONLY by Mirpuris and no non Mirpuri ever came to Mirpur to liberate Mirpur. This is fake news from Pakistan. The MZD people and Poonch people were invaded by Pathans from FATA. We opted for Pakistan and that to me must also be highlighted and clarified. Pakistan knew full well that Poonch and MZD was illegally annexed and that is why they started all this nonsense with so called Awal Mujahid, Mr Abdul Qayyum Abbassi aka known as Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, he was a simple cook in the Army prior to Pakistan promoting him. Thereafter to curry favour with the people of MZD and Poonch the Pakistan Government always promoted them at our expense and always funded them at our expense. This resulted in a incorrect mentality developing in the previously poorest and most undeveloped areas of AJK namely Poonch. They began to think that they are of some importance but Pakistan knew full well that they are the least powerful people and can be reigned in any time, they get too big for their boots. Mirpuris on the otherhand were the ones who defeated the Maharaja and were always the real rebels and so Pakistan was reluctant for them to have any say in the future of AJK.
    So where does that leave us. The answer for me is that it leave us saddened and disillusioned with Pakistan and at loggerheads with AJK people. In such a situation maybe disengagement is the best option until we can decide what we should do. I therefore reiterate what I said all along, lets just develop our own community Mirpur division both in the UK and back in Mirpur division. Lets just help our own people as they are the only ones who recognise us as their own.

    • “Faisals lets just help people from Mirpur division in AJK or outside AJK. We owe no one else anything.”

      Thanks Jatt for your response and for expanding upon what you were saying. Jatt, if it were possible to help just one part of AJK and not the rest, wouldn’t that be counterproductive? All the Poonch, MZD people who have a superiority complex and allegiance to “their own”, will just flood into Mirpur due to its prosperity.

      Wouldn’t a better solution be for Mirpuris to help the other two divisions so the people there realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances that they have with people who they currently consider “their own”?

      • Thank you Faisal for your comment, although I suppose you are responding to Jatt’s comment rather than the article on this occasion.

        As intimated in earlier replies, I don’t think there is such a superiority complex between the 3 divisions. We all exist under the same despicable governing structure and thus our problems as well as aspirations are quite similar. Indeed, if you speak to an average citizen in let’s say Barnaala (the southern most tehsil in AJK and part of district Bhimber) and then compare their commentary on public affairs to an average citizen in Sharda (the northern most tehsil in AJK and part of district Neelam), you will discover that their respective discourse will more likely be similar than not.

        It appears that Pakistan’s clandestine agencies are working overtime in the UK – via social media networks and other means – to create differences which don’t exist on the ground.

    • Dear Jatt Punyal

      Thank you for your comment. I always find your input interesting and worth contesting in some shape or form. I don’t mean that in a confrontational sense but in the meaningful sense that everybody has a different way of interpreting or analysing something. We all have different experiences and ultimately these should improve our shared understanding of our collective inheritance and public space. I’ll try and respond to some points you made:

      I probably am not getting much feedback and response as in many respects, we have entered un-chartered territory. Our community as a whole has a lot of weaknesses – some of which have been cited in responses above – and one of them is academic research. Even those in the Mirpuri community who may be well versed and aware of issues affecting AJK, are shy of contributing to a meaningful discussion, with a view to resolve our collective issues in a recognisable institutional format.

      This article is an attempt and exercise in that direction.

      Indeed, AJK is not yet a golden land for us and that does not acquit Pakistan for its share of the blame. After all, it is in control of AJK and control entails responsibility. Not much different from a parent vis a vis a child, although given the contested nature of the territory I wish I could use a less suggestive analogy. So, the challenge I suppose is: how can we all contribute to making AJK a ‘golden land’? It can be argued, that it has far more natural resources than the UK has and is being occupied (or manned) by an army which – in a proportionate sense – is far larger than any army that ever invaded (or entered) the UK.

      I agree with you that illusions can be powerful – sometimes too powerful to overcome rationally – and the concept of tribalism as intimated in my response to Reiss, needs to be treated with nuance and care. People of various tribes/clans/biradaris do get a bit emotional or even possessive about this aspect of their identity. However, I don’t agree with you that the people of Poonch believe that they are different from us. At least, not in the sense that we don’t exist in a similar dilemma or that we can’t co-exist.

      I would add that there have been plenty of meaningful relationships between the people of Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Mirpur. They have conducted activism together, lived together, studied together, have even died together for a common public interest cause on numerous occasions. For example, 2 activists: Raja Behzad of Muzaffarabad and Sardar Amjad of Poonch, both belonged to the NSF – National Students Federation and here’s a video of their fourth death anniversary whereby an activist from Kotli (Mirpur division) is mourning their loss:

      I can give hundreds and possibly thousands of further examples where there has been co-operation between citizens of all 3 divisions.

      In terms of language, their Pahaari simply has a different accent with pretty much the same vocabulary. I would argue that it is less discernible than the difference between the Birmingham and East London accent of English or even the Geordie accent for that matter.

      In terms of their link to Afghans or Pathans in general, yes some do make this association but I suppose all of us can make similar links to other parts of the region – or even the rest of the world – if we go back far enough. Having said that, this thinking is not that common. The Rawalakotis (or Poonchis in general) describe themselves as ‘Kashmiris’ (and of course we can argue over that, I will be writing a dedicated article on this subject in due course). An example of their lack of affiliation with Pathans is a series of events in Rawalakot in the late 1990’s: Many Pathans were evicted from Rawalakot city (and consequently from AJK) by the locals after a series of business conflicts emerged. Even to this day, Pathans who work or operate in Poonch are closely monitored and kept in check by locals given this previous history. I wouldn’t personally condone everything that the locals do: indeed, we should be as welcoming and accommodating as possible towards ‘outsiders’ who come here to make an honest living. After all, our citizens are spread out throughout the world for this very purpose.

      I understand your point about people being polite due to economic compulsions but that is a universal truth and not restricted to any particular community. I am able to get the information I want because I live very much like the average person here. In fact, I would argue that anybody with a steady income – irrespective of how modest it might be – is actually better off than me in many respects. The people here look after me out of public interest, they certainly have no economic compulsions to be nice to me. They probably understand my cause better than many people in Mirpur or Muzaffarabad. If people here starve, so do I and I say that without an iota of exaggeration.

      This is not to say that I doubt your experiences. I’m sure you’ve been through them otherwise there is no compulsion for you to say so. Of course, it is entirely your prerogative as to whether you decide to assist them or not.

      The ‘war’ in Mirpur took place throughout November and into December 1947 (after much of what is AJK today was already ‘conquered’ in late October – early November). It was quite a drawn out affair there compared to other regions of AJK. The Dogra Army had a size-able army still fighting to protect it and the Indian army was providing air support too. I think it would be slightly disingenuous to suggest that Mirpur was ‘liberated’ by only Mirpuris. The Pathan tribals spent a lot of time fighting there – indeed many of them were stopped at places like Deena and Gujer Khan etc. on their return for carrying more than their ‘fair share’ of war booty (in the shape of abducted Hindu and Sikh women along with other removable assets).

      The tussle over Mangla Fort was particularly enduring and there were no locals fighting there, only Pathans. The Sudhan ‘Khan of Mong’ was specifically sent to Mirpur along with other fighters of his clan to bolster the offensive there. The Pakistani army was also there on every front throughout AJK. Either fighting in plain clothes or waiting in the background for clearance. After all, they were going to militarily settle in all those regions cleared of the Dogra Army. Weapons belonging to local Muslims in Mirpur had already been confiscated some months back so it would be difficult to imagine them fighting the fully equipped Dogra army and avoiding Indian bombardment, all on their own steam.

      When you say we opted for Pakistan, it wasn’t as if there was any kind of referendum at the time. War and conflict can never be a sober time to make such consequential decisions. Mirpur was a relatively affluent city and war booty in the shape of evacuated property and other precious items left by fleeing Hindus and Sikhs would have been motivation enough, Pakistan or no Pakistan. This is a horrible part of our history and we shouldn’t try to avoid confronting the truth about it. There’s nothing brave about looting your neighbours in their hour of distress and then handing your territory on a plate to your nascent Muslim neighbour, only for that country to exploit you and your emotions in a much more sustainable manner than any non-Muslim could probably dream of.

      However, you make some salient points about Qayoom Khan and about Pakistan’s strategy of reigning the Poonch region in.

      In conclusion, I think your idea of helping Mirpur division only, is at least one step better than not helping at all. After all, that is where you originate from and there is no harm in you making that your priority.

      • Dear Tanveer Ahmed,
        This site was named Portmir, so that the people of Mirpur could finally have a say about who they are and what their experiences were. What their history, culture, background and worldview was and is.
        I think that Mirpur division which has a population of around 2 million and has another 1.2 million émigrés was dissatisfied with being told who they are and what their history is from the Pakistani, Kashmiri and AJK perspectives. Whenever Pakistanis, Kashmiris and now AJKites talk of Mirpuris they always state what they believe to be reality. It is the same reality that makes Sudhans, Saduzai Afghans from Kandahar, the Maldyals, Mongolians and the various clans of Bagh into Saudi Arabian relatives of Mohammed. These people may well believe what they say to be reality, but from my perspective as a Mirpuri I am more sceptical.
        I know that objectivity does not exist in Pakistan, Kashmir or Poonch. They are the ones telling their stories and until there has been a full analysis we will never know what the reality actually is. In the UK we are faced with Pakistanis vilifying Mirpuris as an illiterate and uneducated group of people who are incapable of being more than cab drivers and who have a high propensity to crime, this narrative is then fed into the mainstream. In AJK Mirpuris are also posited as daft and erstwhile peasants as opposed to the supposed brave Poonchi Sardar, in fact the HRW report posted here by someone implied that Jatts ie Mirpuris are mere upstarts and were previously of no consequences. This was quoted on the authority of
        Alexander Evans, “Kashmir: A tale of Two Valleys,” Asian Affairs, vol. XXXVI, no. I, March 2005.
        The said evidence for Mr Evans was provided by the usual suspects the Suduzai Afghans of Kandahar and their arab and Mongolian neighbours.
        Tanveer, I am not willing to be told my history by those who quite frankly do not even know their own. I know that Mirpur was and is the richest and most educated, skilled and strategic area of AJK and of primary importance even in J&K. I know that our ancestors were not lower than others as is being implied by AJK and Kashmiri people. I therefore repeat that we need further academic research before we buy into the disingenuous history emanating from AJK people of Poonch.
        Also Tanveer I know that the Rawalakot people attacked the Afghan shopkeepers but I also know that in 1999 the same Rawalakot people attacked Kashmiri refugees. I was in AJK when they attacked the Kashmiri camp and so all that proves is that they are able to attack vulnerable people. It also proves that they are probably not going to be as generous of spirit as Mirpuris and nothing else, it does not detract that their real fraternity lies elsewhere. Also in J&K I am not aware of any sizeable community in Indian Poonch of either Saduzai or Mughals or Abbassis. In Indian Poonch most are Sudhan ( a large number are sikh and Hindu sudhan and unlike Rawalakotis they do not change their ancestors) others are Gujjar and Rajputs. I doubt that AJK people of Poonch will have much in common with them. I also believe that a part of the reason we are looking for commonality with Poonch people is because we feel disheartened with Pakistan, this is surely not a good reason and I think we will irreparably damage our position by jumping from one group of nasties to another. We know who we are, from Mirpur whether Jatts, Rajputs, Gujjars or Butts or others. We do not need validation from anyone. We are extremely educated, skilled and wealthy, and so I reiterate lets focus on ourselves and lets do academic research on our society, geography and history for our coming generations.
        Lets secure a future for our Mirpuri people and coming generations of Mirpuri children.

        • Many thanks Jatt for your response once again.

          Taking into account all you’ve said, I would re-iterate that there really is no palpable conflict between Poonch and Mirpur divisions. The British diplomat Alexander Evans can quote whatever he wants but it doesn’t change the ground reality here. Of course, I am not suggesting that no Mirpuri has ever had any conflict with any Poonchi or vice versa but there is nothing systemic or widespread to cause alarm.

          You are absolutely correct that there is a lack (even absence) of objectivity in this region but that doesn’t prevent me or you from trying to be as objective as possible. State (re) formation is a delicate task and in this day and age, we can avoid a lot (if not all) of the propaganda or ‘imagination’ used to bolster the raison d’etre of most nation states. In the context of J & K, we should – in particular – avoid using the same tactics that both India and Pakistan use to wed us to their statist objectives. We don’t have to be Islamic like the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or secular like the secular republic of India. Our negotiation with Islam and secularism can and should be refreshingly different.

          Of course, every region will write their history on their own terms and there is no absolutely no looming danger of anybody from Poonch writing Mirpur’s history. The importance of Mirpur is historic as well as contemporary. Having said that, we are abysmally deficient in utilising our economic leverage over the Pakistani State. We are unnecessarily anxious about Poonchis who – even if they wanted to – could not extract any leverage from us, yet the entity that is exploiting us to the hilt, continuously gets away scot free. I can almost hear the laughter of our Pakistani occupiers when they see us needlessly embroiling ourselves in non-existent disagreement with Poonch while they take full advantage of both of us.

          As far as academic research is concerned, it would only be proper for each region/division to conduct their own research. In a confederation such as the one we propose for AJK as well as the whole State of Jammu & Kashmir, each region would be totally autonomous on most matters and there would be little scope for hegemony of one region over another.

          For some elaboration, please read my piece on a neutral Kashmir, written in 2010 for the Srinagar based English daily ‘Rising Kashmir’:

          You say that in 1999, the Rawalakot people attacked Kashmiri refugees. Well, I have tried to confirm evidence of this and found that there is no such instance of such in the whole Poonch region. Indeed, there were no such refugee camps set up here (unlike in Muzaffarabad division). Yes, there were some scuffles in Rawalpindi during that era of militancy (between various regions) but they were quickly dealt with amicably. I would be keen to learn more of any such incident/s that you describe, with more specific details, if possible.

          For the citizens of Poonch, I would again re-emphasise that their real fraternity does not lie elsewhere. Some play the Sudozai card to further their interests with the Pakistani occupiers but so do other tribes whenever they get the opportunity. I’ve seen such tactics at close range. In 2011 for example, I went to meet Sardar Yaqoob (the former President of AJK) at his home in Ali Sojal – Rawalakot, when he put up his daughter Farzana as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly in a bye – election (a seat which he himself had to vacate on account of becoming President).

          While I was talking to him, a Pakistani soldier walked in and who in his introduction mentioned that he was from Dera Ismail Khan. Sardar Yaqoob promptly described his ancestry to be from the same region and jovially talked about the Sudozai link. I could sense the sudden change in his outlook compared to how he was talking to me. With me, he was concerned about AJK, with the army guy he was lyrical about Pakistan. Now, if you were to investigate how many Sudozais in Poonch maintain family relations with their so-called cousins in KP or Afghanistan, you would struggle to find a single example.

          Yes, that link with Sudhans (be they Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims) across the LOC is one which the Sudhans here yearn for and when they re-unite, you will find that they will quickly cement those links via marriage and business etc. Indeed, you might not be aware of how ecstatic both sides of Poonch were when the trade route at Tithrinote opened in 2008.

          I am certain that we are disheartened with Pakistan, for a variety of concrete reasons which have multiplied over the decades. Searching for commonality with Poonch and Muzaffarabad is inevitable and as appropriate for them as much as us. After all, we are repeatedly bitten in the same way. However, there is absolutely no analogy involved in replacing Pakistan with Poonch as we are talking of two totally different entities. By asking Pakistan to vacate this territory for their unwarranted hegemony does not mean that Poonch will become the new hegemon over Mirpur. Rather, that both Poonch and Mirpur would be able to control their own respective destinies and take responsibility for their regions. That is a common cause that Pakistan is trying very hard to splinter.

          I sense that you may possibly have had some very harsh experiences with people of Poonch and as someone who sees himself as a stakeholder in both divisions, I would like to apologise to you on behalf of the whole Poonch region for anything that any Poonchi may have said or done to you. If I’m wrong in any way, please correct me.

  4. I was going to express my viewpoint on this post, and I was going to say the same thing about focusing on our lives in the UK similar to what Punyal said, but always true to form, Punyal, u need to be corrected about your extreme views.

    If a white English British person was racist towards you, would you blame the person’s ENTIRE group? We live in Britain, for lots of us, our grandparents came here as immigrants, but I’ve noticed we’re loads more secure in our British identity than our parents generation that were born here. As long as I recall, I’ve never experienced any racism in Britain but my dad has, and I have loads of white, black and INDIAN Friends, who feel much more connected to the UK than some other “homeland”. Even my dad says life in Britain is much better than Pakistan, to which I would say, he means AJK. My dad said you cant even buy land in Pakistan without getting into a dispute with your own family, is that the fault of the government? But AJK is still our homeland, someone has to fix it? If this is Tanveer Ahmed’s request, it makes sense to me because it’s the right thing to do.

    To your very extreme point Punyal, am I going to hate every Briton because some of them are racists? This is the same with your Poonch argument. How do you know if everyone in Poonch is racist towards Mirpuris? A Poonch person may have been prejudicial towards you, but what about a Mirpuri person being prejudicial towards Poonchees? Does that give Poonchees the right to hate me using your logic?

    This is the whole Jatt thing again with you. Mirpur isn’t Jatt territory, Poonch is NOT Suddhan territory, Mirpur like Poonch like Muzaffarabad are AJK, and AJK belongs to the people of this area ALL OF THEM. If the Jatt, Suddhans insist on their identities as separate castes, they are the ones to blame for AJK’s problems. My dad said it’s these groups that are always in charge of AJK, what about everyone else? Now the Jatts have entered politics, shouldn’t we blame all the Jatts in Mirpur also – that Barrister Chaudhry person for Tehreek-e-Insaaf, is he any different to corrupt Poonchees? Why do Gujjars follow the same tribal politics? Blame castes/tribalism, not blame Poonchees only.

    Why do we always get fixated with illusory caste identities, no one cares about the caste-system in the UK? Isn’t that weird and we’re so much better off here in the UK without it? Why are Jatts marrying into different castes now, no one even gives a crap about this in the UK? So why do you keep obsessing about Jatts? R u still a farmer? Do u walk around with a sickle in your hand? Do u have a tractor in ur garden?

    No YOU ARE NOT A FARMER, you are a British national with links to AJK. If Pakistan was fair and equal, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but we are. This is why we r now referring to AJK as our homeland because the Pakistanis have proven to be very unjust in their dealings with “our” people in AJK which includes Jatts, Suddans AND EVERYONE ELSE.

    Now to my original viewpoint, where I agree with Punyal about disengagement. I’ve been back to AJK so many times, but Britain is my home, and if I be honest, we don’t go there anymore. Lot’s of us prefer to go to Europe, Dubai, America etc. It’s much easier to have a holiday in Turkey or Spain WITHOUT HAVING TO DEAL WITH CORRUPT PEOPLE IN PAKISTAN. It is less complicated. Holidays r supposed to be happy occasions, holidays to “Pakistan” are stressful. The corruption in Pakistan AND AJK is a big turn off, everyone wants to rip u off, okay I get it, this is how they make money, but they think we are stupid when they charge us double, triple as if we left our brains in the UK.

    I was having a discussion with my friend Nadia about the Pakistani flag. We don’t fly flags but we were discussing those who do hypothetically. I told her we should fly the AJK flag because we’re from AJK not Pakistan. She said, she’s not from AJK, or Pakistan, she’s from Britain, her grandparents were ORIGINALLY from AJK, and if AJK was so important for our parents/grandparents, why didn’t they go back to retire over there during their twilight years? They didn’t, did they, because, after all is said and done about Pakistanis showing respect to elders, and UK having elderly homes, our parents know life for old people, disabled people, mentally unwell, is much better in the UK! We are much more HUMANE in the UK than in PAKISTAN/AJK. My friend said she gets the whole, we’re British Paharis not Pakistanis but this identity should be for us in the UK. On this same site, the writers said Britain has been a better friend to Mirpuris than Pakistan has, we can add AJK to that according to Punyal’s logic. So if we’re going to talk about flags, shouldn’t we fly the Union Jack?

    My point being, I was very upset about what I read about AJK and Pakistan but after discussing the issue with some other friends and I thought more about this topic, do we – British Paharis have a future in so-called Azad Jammu Kashmir? Reiss, Punyal, Tanveer Ahmed, be honest, do we ? NO WE DONT. This is the case for British-Pakistanis who want to make fun of us because we come from AJK, they dont even have a future in Pakistan either. Let them talk about Pakistan, we will talk about AJK – we can cry together as we tell them they’re morons for insulting us in the UK IN THEIR FAKE URDU ACCENTS.

    To Reiss’ point about AJK independence activists not reaching out to diaspora, why should they? Most of them come from AJK and tehy don’t really feel any connections with us, they are all middle-aged, ageing men, have the same worldview as men in AJK, THEY ALWAYS SPEAK IN URDU, ONLY SOME OF THEM SPEAK IN PAHARI, hardly ever in English. I watched a couple of their shows, no women anywhere to be seen. Very boring stuff, nothing is inspiring about what they say, you don’t learn anything except what we already know – Pakistan is occupying Kashmir! WOW. THANK YOU! THEY DON’T REPRESENT THE MILLIONS OF POOR PEOPLE IN AJK – THEY REPRESENT THEIR OWN POLITICAL GROUPS, THEY’RE NOT DEMOCRATS AT ALL, AND I DON’T THINK THEY PRETEND TO BE EITHER.

    My family have been pro-independence Kashmiris for years, but like my dad said recently when discussing the comments here, it’s just been wasted opportunities as the people who talk about independence don’t include us in their Kashmir, we’re just good for donations when needed but even that’s going to dry up. When the remittences stop, what then for AJK? Where did JKLF get its money from when it was first set up in Birmingham all those decades ago? My dad said the same thing Punyal said, apparently the people PATRONISED BY PAKISTAN come from the POONCH-SUDDHAN area, why are all these Suddhan “SARDARS” always in charge? Is that true Tanveer Ahmed? Unlike Punyal, I don’t blame all Poonchees, or all Suddhans, or Rajputs or whatever.

    Also why is Reiss kidding himself. the “activists” are a private members clubs for themselves. No one knows about the struggles of AJK people, it’s been so many decades, and we’re still having to convince people AJK is NOT PAKISTAN. We should focus on the UK, focusing on our own culture WHICH INCLUDES ALL OF AJK not just Punyal’s Mirpur area but the focus should be the UK. The truth of the matter is AJK is just as corrupt as Pakistan, and the people behave EXACTLY THE SAME, and there is no space for us in that narrative. We need to focus on building our community in the UK where we can do something practical, where we will see outcomes, like challenging Mirpuri vilification in the UK. We can offer some moral support for AJK but that’s about it, we should focus on the UK. There is no space for us in AJK, we belong to a different fraternity with new roots in the UK.

    That’s my opinion at least. LOOK AT THE LEVEL OF ENVY AND JEALOUSY and INSECURITY – calling us “Begairat”; do we remember Faruq’s comments? They are telling us to look at our parent’s “auqaat”? What does that mean. Look how rude this self-affirming “Pakistani” is towards “British women”

    Reiss, is this the fraternity we need to connect with in AJK? He’s even deliberately “Punjbifying” his language? Is this how they view us in AJK? This guy keeps mentioning “Pakistan”, where is the idea of AJK?, And he’s repeating all the tropes that have been repeated against us – claiming to be a “Mirpuri” from “Pakistan” – no mention of “AJK” only once when he says I’m a Mirpuri Pakistani Kashmiri?;

    Punyal, what about this Mirpuri guy? How is he different to the Poonchees you complain about?

    • He’s speaking the dialect of the Kharri plains I’m guessing which is closer to modern Pindi, Jhelumi Patwari. People assume this is how most Mirpuris speak hence the confusion about Mirpuris being Punjabi or Patwari.

      Myra, our number one priority should be to “create a space” for ourselves here in Britain and I’m adamant about this. Whether we raise Pakistani, British, Indian, or AJK flags is irrelevant. We are all British Pahari. The best way to help the folks in AJK is to build and fund educational institutions and let them sort out their own destiny by standing on their own two feet. They’ll know better their experiences and how to deal with their own problems once they get educated.

      We need to challenge Mirpuri vilification by engaging with the Mirpuri haters and seeing what they have to say. We’ll only be able to counteract this hate of theirs once we learn their strongest arguments and assess honestly how and why they feel the way they do.

      It needs to be made easily accessible information to the wider Pahari community why it’s in our best interest to identify as British Pahari rather than British Pakistani, which as has been discussed, is a major liability for our community. Once the pride has returned to our community about their own roots, then only then can we expect to see a renaissance of Pahari culture and language in the UK.

      • I agree with the idea about creating a space in the UK Faisal but in reference to funding educational institutions here in AJK, I think the approach of the AJK diaspora needs to be a bit more all-encompassing. Although the steps that need to be taken must be small and incremental but the approach must take account of the system as a whole. Concentrating on one aspect will leave other aspects vulnerable. Our occupiers are quite adept in that respect. Hence, my proposition as detailed in the article.

    • Myra,

      I don’t think Jatt mentioned the clan/tribal/caste identity of Mirpuris when making his point about Poonch/Muzaffarabad – not everyone in Mirpur is “Jat” as you know. He was speaking about regionalism and power-dynamics; in effect he was really speaking about the patronage network that now exists in Azad Jammu Kashmir; this is how “power” is deployed and exercised within this State. The only true beneficiaries of this order are the Pakistanis not the hereditary state subjects of Azad Jammu Kashmir. Pakistan’s Officers sit at the top of this patronage hierarchy and they see “Sudhans” and the “others” who do their bidding as their “subjects”. The vast majority of ordinary Sudhans have not benefited from these unequal power dynamics, this is why we should be careful of illusory group identities.

      There is a reason why AJK is a dysfunctional State, and if you look to this patronage network, you’ll understand why.

      You also made an inference on the basis of Jatt mentioning the Suddhan tribe and their origin myths to the Sudhozai – even this term is a recent innovation. For you Jatt is influenced by his caste identity, not by any altruism for the state subjects of this place, except those living in Mirpur Division who happen to come from his “Jatt” clans. This is a separate discussion in its own right, and Jatt can explain himself, although I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss his insights on how AJK operates – the Mirpur-Muzaffarad cleavage I think exists, these are the sorts of anxieties that are festering in both regions. Anyone who knows anything about AJK, will mention this cleavage because it exists – I did ask Tanveer to explain the actual extent of this cleavage from his direct exposure to both regions?

      Let’s face this reality head on. Pakistan Officialdom has empowered certain elements within AJK, and it is because of this patronage that their members have achieved clout through a network that exists to the disadvantage of everyone else. Without this patronage network, what would happen to the incumbents of these tribes? Poonch has continued to be an impoverished area of AJK, so how have the ordinary people of Poonch benefited from the Sudhans being empowered by the Pakistanis? How have ordinary Sudhans been empowered by the empowerment of certain elements within their tribe? Even before 1947, for the greater part of the Princely State’s history, Poonch was heavily taxed given its status as a private “Jagir” of the relatives of the then Dogra Maharajas – ordinary Poonchees have suffered immeasurably because of this history. For a long time, they weren’t even considered “state subjects” of the Jammu based Dogra Raj, so we need perspective on this history, when we fast-forward to our modern age.

      Mirpuris – not intended as a group identity – have been empowered through their diaspora network and reliance on remittences from the UK. I think this is clear for everyone to see – please, anyone who disagrees, explain to me why I’m wrong? Thus, Mirpuris owe Britain a huge debt of gratitude, I appreciate the hypothetical scenario of flying the Union Jack. Pakistan has done nothing for the people of Mirpur (and I mean the entire Division); it flooded our lands and created turmoil in the region. Our connections to Britain, pre-dated the creation of Pakistan in 1947, we harnessed those links because life was hard for our people in Jammu & Kashmir, so our forebears left, and we’re living in the UK, not because of Pakistan but because of that older history.

      If anything, Pakistan Officialdom, historically hindered us from leaving post-1947, given how it controlled access to passports, and how its informal networks operated as middle-men when passports, tickets were procured. Speak to the surviving elders of this migration, and they will tell you about how they were exploited on their onward journeys to the UK. It is a credit to their generosity of spirit that they’ve never once blamed Pakistan, or pointed the finger at ordinary Pakistanis – something that is lost on our supposed brethren who insult Mirpuris for our nefarious activities in the UK. With the imposition of the Dam in 1960 – 67, another inconvenient irony that benefited Pakistan, onerous restrictions on obtaining passports were relaxed (CONVENIENTLY), and by this “act of generosity” the Pakistanis feel that they bestowed a favour on the Mirpuris – this is the reason why I have no time for Pakistani propaganda on AJK. They’re just insulting us when it comes to actually narrating this history. Point being, even the AJK-Setup given the increased prosperity of Mirpuris, has failed to accommodate their justifiable interests as it entrenched the interests of Muzaffarabad Division via the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs.

      Jatt is wagging his finger at those presently located in Muzaffarabad Division – and how AJK’s tiny funds have been traditionally allocated within AJK leaves a lot to be desired for. Imagine this for one moment, over the past decades, the Mirpuri community used to remit more funds to Mirpur than AJK’s total allocated budget from Islamabad!? These numbers have now reduced, and I don’t see our future generations pursuing the same priorities. The grievance remains, how did AJK State backed by its Pakistani-patrons and AJK-clients, improve the welfare of ordinary Mirpuris?

      Of course, the AJK State hasn’t improved the welfare of any of the other regions either because of its dispossession and external interference.

      But, what is this obsession about claiming “backgrounds” not rooted in history, but people’s imagination? How many times must we go over this. Some random person writes something in the past, and all of a sudden, decades later, people are relying on such accounts as proof of their community’s origin, and history? We have become the butt of jokes for this reason, as we defer, one example, to Kashmiri SCHOLARSHIP, written by Kashmiri Pandits bolstering their own community’s profile – is this not the height of ignorance? The Sudhans are not Afghans. There is nothing “Afghan” about their cultural traditions, they are from “AJK”, from our shared region, they belong to the same breeding population as everyone else. If you took a random sample of a Sudhan person’s DNA, he will be more closely related to our Jatt Punyal brother here than someone in Afghanistan, this is how DNA works. This has been proven in almost every study done to date on numerous “groups” – “group identities” are illusory; geography is the best indicator of a people’s shared admixtures, not the language they speak, or the clan background they belong to… no matter how far you go back into the past, we are all related. The idea that Jatts of Mirpur are more closely related to the Jatts of East Punjab than say, ordinary Poonchies is a fraud being perpetrated against unsuspecting people, there is no shared “JATT” fraternity anywhere.

      In fact, if I was to turn people’s attentions back to our colonial ethnologists who created these illusory identities; it was they who started writing about Jatts, and Rajputs and Brahmans – not so much Kashmiri Pandits who followed the British lead to write about their own importance. Before any of this happened, there were no narratives on the emergence of our Scythian Jats or Hun Rajputs, or Aryans. These are illusory identities, there is nothing “real” about Jats, or Sudhans, or caste-Kashmiris of AJK, except the differences we create in our minds. To this add, the Mochis, Musallis, Mistrys, and all the other illusory occupational groups etc etc.

      These illusory identities wont help us solve social and economic problems, they just entrench us in out-dated race science, which can then be used against people from uniting against a common “problem”. Regionalism is much the same thing when we start to pity one “group” against another, when in fact, we should be looking to the outside forces that make such divisions possible in the first place. Regional elites should not be conflated with the regions they patronise, in AJK’s case, the Sudhans have not been able to do this either.

      To reiterate, the “tribal identity” of “Sudhans” had been exaggerated by colonial officers, this is exactly what they did with the “Jatt” “clans” or “castes” who they viewed differently to the Sudhans, more positively I would say, given their own inbuilt bias to their own race theories which I rather not go into here. Suffice to say, it had something to do with their race fictions around “Aryans”; they even sought to delineate true Jatts from false ones, it was argued West Punjab was home to ambiguous groups wrongly assuming the identities of those to the East – they weren’t particularly enamoured by the Hills of our region either, something lost on our ethnic Kashmiris, who don’t seem to understand the actual priorities behind the myths that romanticised Kashmir – “geography” NOT PEOPLE. It was because of the “caste-identities” that connected us with the Plains, that they saw our people as an extension to the Plains; if you weren’t from the Plains, they more or less looked down at you. It was the British who were in charge, and so their “racist” and “demeaning” attitudes rubbed off on us. This is something lost on those seeking to claim new beginnings from the direction of Afghanistan.

      Today’s few writers on AJK like Christopher Sneddon, when taking his cues from the Sudhans he interrogates to form his opinions about the tribal incursions of 47, has similarly been influenced by this bias. If you hang out with one group of stakeholders, you will inevitably have a skewed view of a people’s actual importance to a wider region, and this is exactly what is happening when Poonchies are re-written into history as major players. Mirpuris were involved in the 1947 struggle, were involved massively in the anti-Maharaja agitations of the 1930s, a lot of those who fought on the Pakistan side were actually from “Mirpur” not just Poonch.

      Mirpur historically was much more important than Poonch or Muzaffarabad within the context of the Princely State – it was the 3rd largest town after Srinagar and Jammu. Even today, if Pakistan had to give up its AJK territory but had a choice of retaining one area, Mirpur, Poonch or Muzaffarabad, which do you you think it will keep? This is not a competition between regions, but about having perspective on which areas accrue significance to a wider state, and that same area’s lack of adequate representation for its own inhabitants.

      We need to wean ourselves off these illusory group identities though. What have we gained from these “false” identities, these false hierarchies, when people insult us for being “Paharis”? Yes, Mirpuris historically were identified as being “Paharis” not Mirpuris; our people were identified akin to “hillbillies”. For those of us from Dadyal who think we’re “Pothwaris” now, for crying out loud, the Pothwaris used to call us “Paharis”? How are we going to run away from this claim given Mirpuris of the Kharri Plains used to call us “Pahriye” too? Poonch, Muzaffarabad, historically was a “poor-man’s” extension of this region, not an extension of any other region – if the inhabitants here think they are true Afghans, true ethnic Kashmiris, or something else, it is they who are ignorant, not us. As I have explained in previous posts, dilettantes are conflating geo-administrative spaces with cultural-spaces; whatever the recent identity labels, historically these “creations” did not create shared fraternities; it’s like the ignorant claim that Mirpur was in the Pothwar = thus the eternal Punjab Region; if only people had the humility to learn why this claim for the purposes of politics and ethnicity is so stupid!

      We are British Paharis from Azad Jammu Kashmir. We know who we are, because we understand our history, we don’t dwell in la la land.

      There are definitely issues in how the people of AJK imagine AJK in their own minds. Do we want to be part of this, as we live in the UK and create a space for our own people? Possibly not, I guess we need to be focusing on the UK where we are a “fraternity” separate from the Pakistanis who conveniently include us when it suits them, and exclude us, when it suits them. With the BBC’s Great Asian Summer, they are going to present Mirpuris as the problem community, whilst every other Asian community is going to be celebrated. 12th of August 2018, there’s going to be a documentary on Lost Boys, please watch this to understand the scale of the problem that confronts us and the bias of mainstream media against our community thanks to the gatekeepers in the British Pakistani community.

      As for AJK, if the Activists there don’t need our help or want it, or are even prepared to have discussions amongst themselves about what AJK implies to different people, not least the diaspora, there’s nothing we can do for them, except to help educational charities to improve the lot of the ordinary person. I agree with Faisal on this point.

      The fact that 70 years have elapsed and the AJK-based activists here in the UK have failed to even make the case that AJK is not Pakistan to their own people just shows you the actual extent of their influence.

      • Although you’re responding to Myra, I think there are a few areas where I can add my thoughts Reiss.

        As indicated in earlier responses to you and others, I don’t actually think there is much of a cleavage between Mirpur and Muzaffarabad. I would be keen to know how you’ve come about this conclusion. I would have to strain very hard to find anything remotely resembling a cleavage between the two divisions. If we go back a few decades to the early life of AJK as an entity, people from Poonch as well as Mirpur used to have a hard time gettting administrative work done. Many ex soldiers would have to travel all the way to Muzaffarabad to sort out their pensions. Others who travelled for other government related work would have problems communicating their needs without greasing the palms of local government officials. However, over time the population within Muzaffarabad tehsil has gradually become the most diverse – on account of it being the capital and the decision for it to be so was purely a Pakistani decision primarily because it was on their cherished route to Srinagar – there are government servants there from all over AJK, albeit the locals have more of a quota. Having said that, many families that migrated from Indian controlled areas in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and the 1980s/1990s have also settled here and can be considered as locals for all intents and purposes.

        The Poonch Jagir didn’t integrate into the State of Jammu & Kashmir till 1936. In that sense, it was the last piece of the jigsaw as well as the very place where instability was first created in 1947 through external interference. Taxes under the Jagir were relatively higher than when the region was integrated into J & K. In the current scenario, it could be argued with evidence, that it also happens to be the division most keen on separation from Pakistan and re-unification with the rest of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir.

        I think it would be quite right to fly the Union Jack in the UK, as of course you are citizens of that Kingdom and it would make much more sense to hoist that compared to the Pakistani flag. As for AJK, in my personal opinion I would use a pure white flag, to indicate how fed-up we are with being embroiled in an un-necessary conflict imposed on us; as much as an indication that we want to choreograph our future on our own terms, whereby a clear canvass would enable us to take opinion – without any pre-conceived assumptions – from all quarters of our territory to decide what should be on it.

        The Pakistanis have not particularly favoured Muzaffarabad division, they’ve favoured all those who’ve promoted their narrative at the expense of disowning a genuine indigenous narrative. Of course, they’ve always ensured that no particular individual, party or organisation becomes too popular as to pose a threat to their hegemony.

        I’ll second your quote, “It was the British who were in charge, and so their “racist” and “demeaning” attitudes rubbed off on us.” without any reservations.

        Of course, the AJK activists need the help of the diaspora. Otherwise, they would simply drown into insignificance in the black hole that AJK essentially is.

        Our people have learned to build houses, plazas and multi-national businesses on their own steam. They’ve also excelled in various disciplines. How difficult is it for them to understand that our governing structure needs to be built from scratch. In one sense, it’s merely progressing from thinking as an individual to thinking as a group.

        • Tanveer,

          In response to the “Mirpur/Muzaffarabad” cleavage point, I actually misspoke. I would like to retract that point by qualifying what I was trying to say in terms of a perceived “othering” of AJK communities to somehow give the impression that there is no uniformity in AJK. I was asking you about something different, about perceived inequalities between regions, and I shouldn’t have used the term cleavage.

          But, I want to take this time to explain something I think is missing from the current narrative on AJK.

          However we understand these “othering” tactics, i.e., “these people are separate from those people for “x”,”y” and “z” reasons”, these are underhanded tactics, and the activists should be made acutely aware of what’s happening outside AJK’s borders. Because, we don’t live in AJK, neither do our propagandists, it behooves the activists to set the record straight by showing the Diaspora what life is really like outside narratives of people who’ve everything to gain by creating false cleavages amongst us.

          At grassroots level, there are people who believe “Mirpur” is a separate space to “Poonch” which is another separate space to “Muzaffarabad”. These sorts of anecdotal claims have been doing the rounds for sometime now, and they’ve gone unnoticed and unaddressed, for around about the same amount of time. I believe they are part of an older concerted campaign to separate the peoples of Jammu & Kashmir into separate “ethnic”, “regional” and “religious” enclaves. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is what the paid propagandists are doing; AJK’s homogenous population has become collateral damage.

          Think of it like this, why on earth would anyone say that the Tehsils of Mirpur, Dadyal, Chakswari are separate, (culturally, linguistically, ethnically, typographically etc) from the Tehsils that make up Kotli post-1970s? We have people coming onto this platform and other platforms, saying that “Paharis of Kotli” feel different to the “Pothwaris” of Dadyal, deliberately trying to implant false ideas into people’s minds. If you’ve had no direct exposure to such realities, how would you react? Subtle conditioning operates like this, you begin to think of people through illusory identity labels – Dadyalis are no more “Pothwari” than they are any less “Pahari”. The comparison is thus false. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are involved in propaganda – this may seem far-fetched for some, but this is what they are doing.

          Here is an experiment we can all do. Check out various social media accounts, some of which apparently are based in AJK, praising “Pakistan, the army, and Islam”. Look at the material they are spreading and how it is interspersed with subtle messaging about “true and false Kashmiris”, “Punjabis/Pothwaris/Paharis”, “Jats/Rajputs/Gujjars”, “GB is different to AJK”, spread by accounts that literally spread the “same message” day and night. The same tweets are re-tweeted by the same accounts all praising the army, the saviour of Pakistan, condemning corrupt politicians, love for Imran Khan, quoting verses of the Qur’an.

          Even though I’m secular in my politics, I feel Islam is being done a huge injustice. Islam is being manipulated by political actors who probably haven’t even prayed a cycle of prayer in their lives! And they want to call those opposing them “Kuffaar”. Can anything be more perverse? There is a reason why good people despise propagandists.

          Propaganda is part of warfare. This propaganda has now moved online where lots of our young diaspora seem to be spending most of their time learning about the world they live in. I think our activist brothers seem to be unaware of how problematic this is, as they, ironically, repeat some of the ideas that have been spread about Jammu being separate from Kashmir. We know why we say Jammu is separate from Kashmir, geo-administratively it is, but why are our “occupiers” saying, “Jammu is separate from Kashmir!?

          Isn’t this a little odd?

          As a result, these “othering” claims have become apocryphal. Because the activists of AJK have never occupied these informal spaces, and because they have not challenged such disinformation, people are now going around saying that “Mirpuris are Punjabis…”, “Muzaffarabadis were originally Kashmiris but they now speak Pahari…”, “none of these groups are “real Kashmiris…”; spectators unaware of what is really going on, join in, sharing their own two-pence worth of insights; “…yes, Mirpuris are not Kashmiris, they are Jat, unlike us true “ethnic” Kashmiris from Lahore living in the UK who are Khawajas!” Of course, they are as Kashmiri as I am a martian whose father originally came from the planet Pluto! No offence Myra, but you should get the point.

          The internet has become a major boon for propagandists. Read any number of posts on Kashmir to realise what is going on. Disinformation is being actively spread, and it serves a real purpose. Have you not seen how Punjab is always conflated with AJK, with Jammu? What has Punjab got to do with AJK, a piece of territory ripped out of of Jammu & Kashmir State – a Princely State (“Riyaasat”), legally signed over by an autocratic dictator to India that was illegally invaded by Pakistan with the help of some ‘native state subjects’ (“Riyaasatis”)?

          When has the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan – 17 million indigenous stakeholders excluded I add – ever been about “Punjabi” or “Kashmiri identity”?

          Is this conflict about “identity” or about “territory”?

          These vacuous, nonsensical ideas have crept into publications on “Kashmir”. In other words, writers looking into AJK as outsiders have similarly been influenced by the illusory nature of such claims even as they add nothing, not one iota to understanding the Kashmir Conflict. I say illusory, because there is no substantive reality to such claims either, other than how they are imagined by outsiders – the idea that the Sudhans of AJK are different to the Jats of AJK, for me, is so absurd that it’s nonsensical, and I say this has someone who has been trying to understand ‘identities’ within the context of conflict for a very long time.

          There are people on this platform who think the people of Poonch, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur are somehow separate people.

          Who benefits the most by thinking like this? Why is it in the interest of certain elements to continue to pursue this line of argument? There are clear dividends to such claims, I emphasise.

          You’ve no doubt gathered from other posts here and a running theme in my own thought, that I have tried my utmost best to point out to Jatt Punyal and others, the illusory nature of identities being imposed upon “us” by people who have an agenda. These agents of “fitna” (because they use the language of Islam), that’s exactly what they are, couldn’t care one iota about our “Jat”, “Rajput”, “Punjabi”, “Pahari”, “Kashmiri” identities. Rather, they care more about us wrangling endlessly amongst ourselves, so we feel we are extensions of other peoples, with no “ROOTS” in the “territory” they covert for their own material benefits.

          They want to distract “us” from the problem at hand – “them”, and their imposed nationalistic narratives!

          To say that someone is, or isn’t a “Kashmiri” within the context of Jammu & Kashmir has absolutely nothing to do with ethnology. Kashmir is not at the source of some ethnographic dispute centuries old. It has everything to do with politics and controlling the corresponding discourse. This line of argument is perverse. It is wrong. It is propaganda. It is disinformation. It is intended to distract the stakeholders of this territory to engage in nonsensical debates about their identities, even as the occupiers care little for the “identities” they now want to talk about; they care more about our region’s natural resources, strategic value to themselves, and subordinating us to their priorities.

          To reiterate, I do not believe that there is ‘any’ “cleavage” between the regions of AJK, and neither do I believe in the “illusory identities” that supposedly embody such cleavages or splits.

          Sadly, our diaspora is unaware of the bigger picture, as many are already disconnected from AJK, and so it behooves all of us to set the record straight. Where there are issues between communities, we must be honest enough to say, yup, these problems do exist, but not in the way they are being presented by “outsiders”. We should say, “AJK people are one people, your people, so if you’re going to shed tears for oppressed people, start with your own homeland.”

          As for AJK activists, I was actually referring to the ones based in the UK; but, there seems to be a disconnect between them and even those in AJK? I was trying to get across the point, how on earth do you expect to create a movement with mass-appeal if discussions are not underway between the stakeholders of AJK, here or there? Grievances, failures need to be discussed. We will never agree on everything, so we manage our disagreements in such a way that everyone is accommodated within a culture of openness and tolerance – something that will make us different to the Pakistanis. We are all democrats I hope, committed to the emancipation and empowerment of our people in AJK. We don’t like it when the Pakistanis use religion to manipulate people, “the Hindu” is not our enemy, and we seek rapprochement with all those who were forced to leave their lands. These are our brethren in Indian-administered-Kashmir, we will make the inroads for you through our UK connections. Pakistan’s security agencies seek to thwart all this in AJK, but they need to ask themselves, why they are stopping people from getting on with their lives outside hatred and ideology?

          AJK needs to start reaching out first to its diaspora and then, collectively to the international community, even as we reach out to the Indians. AJK can speak for itself, it doesn’t need Pakistan’s mediation, and the diaspora should be ready to make the links for you; only those living in AJK can decide their future, we are all adamant on this; our job in the diaspora is to help you, not decide your future. As time progresses and we achieve our outcomes, Allah willing, the people of AJK, all her children, will have a future, they will be able to stand on their own two feet. And when those of us in the diaspora return to our homeland, they will be returning to a place of safety and security, a home from home where the rule of law reigns supreme.

          We live in a genuinely democratic society in the UK, these aims are not at odds with the British State as we demand the normalisation of relations with the Indians for the benefit of all the stakeholders of this State especially those in AJK – our homeland. Britain has become a cheerleader for this form of democracy, so there is no reason why it can’t be a mediator in our affairs?

          What is your view on the normalisation of relations with the Indians via an AJK-specific agenda?

          To start this process we need to achieve some consensus with the activists, there and here in the UK, as we create our own cultural space for our own people in the UK.

          I will address some of the issues you’ve raised in subsequent posts as I’m short for time right now.

          • Thanks for clarifying that point Reiss about perceived cleavages between the 3 divisions of AJK. I almost got worried at some stage, in the sense that I began thinking that I might be oblivious of some aspect of my society. Yes, the point about the external influences ‘othering’ us is incessant and I am keen to reach out to the diaspora to help us ‘un-other’ what is needed to create consensus in AJK.

            In essence, we are constantly trying to repair the damage that Pakistan’s agencies constantly inflict us with. These are the 2 opposites of agency. They are doing it as a matter of compulsion for the sake of maintaining their illegal control over our territory. We are trying to voluntarily institutionalise our group consciousness to rid ourselves of this external hegemony that extracts whatever it can from and via our territory but avoids any kind of responsibility or accountability for doing so. “Your corrupt politicians are responsible for not effectively representing you. Don’t point the finger at us”, they unashamedly insist.
            Their use of Islam to legitimise their greed is not just about fooling us but trying to fool the Almighty too. I think this is the major reason why this neighbouring country of ours has not prospered and remains the butt of jokes globally. ‘Magnificent Delusions’ is how Husain Haqqani coined this mindset. I could think of descriptions much more sinister.

            The activists here in AJK simply do not have the resources or even the opportunity to counter these tactics. They are burdened with legitimate tasks such as delivering food to their family every evening or trying to deal with injustices more closer to home. Those who feel compelled to join Pakistani political parties that operate in AJK are fed these tropes that you describe non-stop, almost to the extent that they start believing them too!

            This conflict is about territory and the resources within by using identity as a tool to disassociate you from your co-citizens. In much the same way as they’ve deliberately made travel between the 3 divisions cumbersome (poor quality road connectivity) yet have made travel to Pakistan’s capital as smooth as possible from each division.

            In terms of the challenges at hand, identifying the ‘division of duty’ between citizens in AJK and those in the diaspora is the most difficult task. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of our people?

            Locally, we have time, contextual knowledge and direct incentive to change our conditions. In the diaspora, you have resources, technology combined with academic rigour and potential lobbying power.

            Yes, there is a disconnect between activists in AJK and those in the diaspora. To date, activists here have been used like a remote control to further the individual popularity (or personal aspirations) of certain members of the diaspora. Occasionally, sending £20 to £50 to a journalist here to write about them is an example. We have neither been democratic, meritocratic or in any way constructive in our approach thus far. The faults in our approach are very clearly visible but the ‘silver lining’ could be that this was and is an approach exercised by older generations. We can change that totally by concentrating on the young emerging professional middle class.

            We should develop a voluntary citizen’s database that connects with at least one person from each wider extended family, to get us out of this rut where everything has been concentrated on a few individuals, operating in small circles while imagining that they can benignly prescribe solutions for the rest of us. Nothing practical has emerged from this approach.

            In the UK, some of you should make it a point of reaching out to non-Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir (there are not that many compared to the rest of us I know) and discuss practical ways of how you can lobby for their return to AJK, so that they can at least rebuild their places of worship. As for engaging with India, in principle we do not want Pakistan to engage (or disengage) on our behalf. We want to establish relations with the whole world on our own terms (or rather terms that are mutually favourable) without any intermediaries. However, in order to do that we have to decrease Pakistan’s overwhelming control here first. There is an unspoken monopoly between both countries (this requires a lot more elaboration which I intend to do in due course) and we need to break that before engaging with the Indians. Otherwise, the Indians will just try and use us like the Pakistanis do. Suffice to say at this stage, that both countries collude on much more (vis a vis J & K) than they disagree on and I say this from practical experience.

            Of course, democratically as well as constitutionally speaking (Indian Independence Act 1947 confirmed in British parliament) the United Kingdom has a key role to play. Perhaps not mediation but assistance of some kind which again needs much further elaboration, not least because the UK tries to pardon itself from any responsibility for what emerged post 1947. It has been a cheerleader for democracy at times but its approach has been highly selective to date. However, as it is a mature democracy where the bulk of our diaspora resides, I am confident that organised and sustained lobbying can help to change this ‘status quo’. To paraphrase its stance, which continues expecting India and Pakistan to fulfil the responsibility to change the fortune of the people of Jammu and Kashmir according to the latter’s will, is unrealistic given how both covet the region.

        • Tanveer,

          The white flag? Let’s develop this theme and get some flags professionally made – I think there should be some symbolism on the flag of our forced dispossession, of AJK’s status as an OCCUPIED TERRITORY. We need to start vocalising this narrative – we are an occupied people. Not only has the Pakistani State and its clients occupied parts of Jammu & Kashmir, but they have occupied the minds of our people, they have deluded us into thinking we have fraternity with 200 million people, when in fact we exist on the fringe of “no-man’s land”.

          In the meantime, what are the things we should be thinking about, as we seek gradual sustainable progress.- real outcomes, as we transition from individuals/tribes/castes/illusory groups into a “nation”…? Seeking a plan of action.

          • I think that would be a fantastic idea at some stage and of course the white flag is by no means a permanent feature. With such an overwhelming presence of troops in our region, we are trying to give them the message to back-off and stop trying to build an empire on our suffering. It would be a good creative exercise to start thinking what should be on that canvass. Indeed, a competition should emerge to determine the most appropriate flag that symbolises our aspirations while providing a ‘snapshot’ of who we are, to the rest of the world.

            In terms of a plan of action, let me give an analogy of any major project that one undergoes during the course of their life. Let’s say a wedding: Those who take responsibility (parents, relations, bride, groom etc.) are fully aware of what their responsibilities are and they participate accordingly. They all understand the significance of the event (its implications and life-changing attributes) and voluntarily do what they can in their capacity to make it a success. However, before any significant steps are taken, a lot of consultation is done with all relevant individuals concerned.

            From family to nation

            As our project potentially (and ideally) involves each and every citizen (and stakeholder) of the territory in question viz. AJK and as this transition is by its very nature sequential (to be expanded according to successful completion of each stage and according to available capacity to make it practical and sustainable), a lot of consultation is needed with as many stakeholders as practically possible.

            While we continue with this consultation process, we can in the meantime build that database, put forward the main outline proposed with reasoning and ensure that it gets to every household (or rather, at least one member of each household). So, the duties needed at this stage are rather bureaucratic and any organisation/institution/agency without a working bureaucratic backbone cannot be sustainable. Information (and the correct information) is the most critically valuable resource in this digital age.

            Big Data

            If I were to further contextualise what I’m trying to say, if for argument’s sake there were 1 million people in the UK who originate from AJK and if each family had an average of 5 people, then we would be looking to identify 200,000 people (i.e. 1 person from each family). However, as we want to start with 1 person from each wider extended family that could reasonably be assumed to be 1 in 20 people. When you account for more than 2 or 3 generations in one family the figure could be even more than one in 20. Indeed, some families have even more than 100 members existing at one point in time. However, for the sake of simplicity if we identify 1 in 20 people of the diaspora that would be 50,000 people. Thus, developing a database of 50,000 people in the UK diaspora (which potentially connects us with the rest) doesn’t seem too hard a target.

            The database that I’ve developed so far in AJK already has over 25,000 people. Consider that many people have over 1,000 contacts just in their smartphones. To put it into further perspective, social platforms like facebook, google, twitter etc. have more valuable information on our people than the governments of AJK and Pakistan combined.

            The benefits of such an exercise would be far reaching and we would have countered much of the narrow purview un-fruitfully adopted by our previous generations. Our people would become much better informed on matters of public interest, they would have the opportunity to take part in consultation and the concept of group consciousness would also become more tangible.

    • Thank you Myra for your comment.

      Let me try and add to some of the points you made.

      I appreciate that you still consider AJK to be your homeland despite all the bad experiences involved in visiting this region. Of course, not everything is the fault of the government but its structure doesn’t exactly encourage good behaviour on the part of the citizen either. You mentioned land disputes and although the dispute usually begins at home or in the neighbourhood, the governing structure feasts on the dispute in every sense.

      I’m sorry to hear that you probably won’t visit AJK anymore and like many in the diaspora prefer to holiday elsewhere. The economy here is of course artificially restricted, routes only direct you towards Pakistan and nowhere else. We pick up the habits of Pakistan and exist only for them. Those who are not fortunate enough to obtain government service (quite similar to the dole in the UK, except more lucrative in most cases i.e. no work except to sustain and protect Pakistan’s control of the territory), feel that they have no option but to venture anywhere abroad. The state of affairs here can only be addressed by those who are immune from such a scenario and have some emotional attachment to the plight of this region. I think the least one can do in the diaspora is empathise with the situation here and practically help those who are sincerely trying to resist this inhumane structure. Sustained and focussed efforts will eventually bring change here. Owning rather than dis-owning the problem will make a difference.

      I think you are more humane in the UK because you have a system which encourages or nurtures it. Put the same group of people for a prolonged period of time in an inhumane environment like AJK and they will probably act similar to the people here. Changing society’s behaviour is perhaps the hardest job of all. Some have to devote themselves to it. The majority will reap the rewards if the correct and appropriate cure for that society is discovered. It is no doubt a complex process and needs patience as much as perseverance.

      Of course, there is a future here if the diaspora connect meaningfully with activism on the ground in AJK and vice versa. Everything in the world is hopeless if appropriate attention and action is not devoted to it.

      You are broadly correct about AJK activists in the UK in reference to their age, language, lack of democratic practice and absence of women. That is why the steering should move away from them and transfer to a younger, confident and more worldly wise generation, that doesn’t suffer from the anxieties and insecurities of older generations.

      Yes, people have contributed in the past, possibly with raw impulsive emotion – especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s – when there was an attempt to wrestle the Valley of Kashmir away from India under the supervision of Pakistan’s military. What I have failed to understand till recently was why and how did our taxi drivers, factory workers and shopkeepers in the UK regularly contribute to a military adventure, where many of our co-citizens got killed as ill-prepared fighters against a professional army, while very few are willing to contribute to the development of civil society here. The AJK diaspora contributed eagerly for war but balk at the idea of investing in peace. Its the same ‘short-cut’ thinking that I referred to in my response to Reiss.

      The Sudhan ‘Sardars’ are just one type of Sardar in AJK. Yes, they’ve enjoyed some of the ‘nominal’ power in AJK but certainly not exclusively so. The Maldiyals describe themselves as Mughals and also use the title ‘Sardar’. They are the second most populous tribe in Poonch and have a few representatives in AJK’s Assembly. Sardar Abdul Qayoom was an Abbasi from Dheerkot in Poonch (not a Sudhan), Sardar Sikander Hayat is a Rajput (Dhamaal or Thakyaal) from tehsil Nikyaal in district Kotli. There are Jatts, Gujjars, Syeds and Khwajas in or around the corridors of power at all times.

      As for AJK’s plight, I think we’re all responsible in some shape or form. It would be incorrect to blame it all on any one particular tribe or administrative division.

      Well, it does make sense for you to concentrate most of your energies on the AJK diaspora in the UK but you shouldn’t forsake your homeland if you can help it. Developing a society that can utilise its resources, take advantage of all the routes that come in or out of the territory, create its own constitution, airport etc without external influence requires more than moral support.

      Finally, thanks for those video links. They were hilarious and disturbing in equal measure. That would be a reflection of at least some of the youth here.

  5. Faisal you said
    All the Poonch, MZD people who have a superiority complex and allegiance to “their own”, will just flood into Mirpur due to its prosperity.

    Wouldn’t a better solution be for Mirpuris to help the other two divisions so the people there realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances that they have with people who they currently consider “their own”?

    Mirpuris spent tens of millions of Pounds helping Muslim Ummah and Jumping up and down on rallies for Palestine, Iraq, Syria and others and do they now realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances.

    Mirpuris spent tens of millions in Pakistan and sent billions in remittance and shouted India murdabad and Pakistan Zindabad so do they realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances

    Mirpuris ran up and down and around the Indian High commission in London for the last 30 years on Black day for Kashmir, funded Kashmiri projects, bored the hell out of their MPs in the UK for Kashmir, spoiled their relationship with their indian neighbours for Kashmiris so do they realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances.

    Bechara Mirpuris are now crying for AJK where we have always suffered from maltreatment due to AJK people although they will always blame the centre and now you think they will realise that their real brothers are Mirpuris and not the false tribal, racial, caste, regional allegiances.

    Good luck Faisal brother but lets see in the next 5 years what happens. I can assure you these Poonch guys will be worse than the Punjab people, wait and see.

    I will just repeat one thing which I have said from the outset, stop looking desperately like lawaris. We know who we are and that is all we need to know. Just work for our 800K community in the UK and help out the people in Mirpur if you can. That is it. Our people in the UK need us, and for the last 60 years we are wasting our time with ummah, Pak, Kashmir and now this new AJK and pahari stuff. Lets help our own people in the UK and Mirpur.

    Lastly Faisal even if Poonch guys flood into Mirpur, what is the problem they will only enter as the help and nothing more.

    • Jatt.

      No I totally see what you are saying and the priority should be Mirpuris in the UK. I think if we are going to make an effort to “help” those in AJK, then remitting money to that region is something we have already been doing and like you said, it’s ineffective. I think most of the problems we see in AJK can be solved with better education that’s why I submit, we should be funding education rather than giving money to ungrateful relatives. That’s only for those who feel we should be making an effort for those back home, but I can see why most of you are despondent.

  6. The diaspora of AJK(especially in the UK) does not see “AJK” as its homeland but ‘Pakistan’ as whole including AJK. Not many people are prepared to make an effort to “improve the lot” of the people when they feel like it will be like a drop in the ocean of 207 million people. It’s a waste of energy and resources when it’s easier to find a saviour figure like “Imran khan” and cheer him on hoping he can improve the lives of the people as a whole.

    The disconnect between AJK and it’s diaspora is more on a fundamental level. In order to resolve this disconnect it requires an effort to be made to change the mindsets of the people in the UK as a first priority. Mirpuris are currently an extension of the British Pakistani community and therefore the hopes and aspirations for what they consider their “homeland” are basically the same as those from the provinces of Pakistan.

    The thinking of the AJK diaspora needs to be realigned with the interests of those in AJK and this can only be done once they “create a space” for themselves separate from Pakistanis. Only then will they see it as more worthwhile endeavour to help those in their homeland.

    Therefore Reiss is right when he says the activists of AJK have definitely missed a trick when it comes to engaging with the concerns of the wider AJK diaspora in the UK.

    • Faisal,

      I entirely agree with that, and this is why we need to encourage the activists from AJK to actively reach out to the diaspora wherever we are in the world. They need to produce content for the consumption of the diaspora; this platform is available, and I’m sure many other platforms will become available to them should they take up our offer. Pakistan is not our homeland – we’ve had 70 years of an ambiguous identity that has forced us onto the fringe of a Pakistani identity that doesn’t even work for lots of bono fide Pakistanis – the Baluch being a good example. Before them, the Pakhtoon, agitated against Pakistan, some have now taken up a new mantle in FATA unhappy with how they are being treated. And of course, we shouldn’t forget 1971 and the Bengali movement for independence which ironically started out as an attempt to preserve the Bengali language. The Sindhis are upset, Punjabis, forming the largest ethnic group in the country are being made to feel ashamed of their own mother-tongue, as their upwardly mobile Pakistanis ditch their own heritage for an Urdu-speaking one. I think the traditional incumbents of the Pakistan Establishment have no care in the world for these sorts of grievances, and if we look at the hatred we have been subjected to in the UK, by our fellow countryman constantly decrying our nefarious activities, I can’t see how Imran Khan is going to fix this level of self-hatred. As an optimist I hope him well, I genuinely do, but as a realist we turn to our own homeland, and do everything we can to resolve the problems that exist within it, even as we in the diaspora prioritise our social issues in the UK. We have an entire generation of youth we want to redeem. As we do this, the doors are open for the Pakistanis to mend bridges between us, as we raise the consciousness of our own people and tell them exactly how backwards AJK is courtesy of occupation – this is the language we should be using. We have been excluded from any meaningful fraternity with British-Pakistanis because we are hereditary state subjects of so-called Azad Jammu Kashmir. We have our own fraternity, and we will celebrate our people’s life stories in the UK as we are not ashamed of our past, not one aspect of our identity are we ashamed, not even our roots in the subcontinent of India, our little stake being our own ‘homeland’ in erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir.

      In the UK, we seek official recognition for our own identity that links us to AJK and not Pakistan. This is the first step in our journey to becoming “visible” amongst Britain’s ethnic minority communities. We have our own BME community, and it’s not linked with British-Pakistanis.

      This is the way forward, and so I encourage everyone from the British Pahari community to start vocalising our own interests.

      PS Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong With Asian Men? is on Sunday at 10pm on BBC TWO

  7. Tanveer,

    Have you been following the recent news in Indian Kashmir? A video entitled “Dogras are in danger if Article 35A abolished” popped up in my video suggestions. It seems many people from Jammu are not happy with the attempts of the Indian government to try and scrap this article. Could this be a turning point for many pro-India elements in Indian Kashmir?

    Here’s the video: The video came out last week and already has 200K views but only 300 dislikes which is to be expected as many mainland Indians will also be watching the video.

    • Faisal,

      Indeed, I do follow the news on the other side. It remains to be seen if this is truly a turning point for many pro-India elements there but this Article 35A issue has certainly touched a raw nerve in the Dogra heartland. In the video Devinder Singh Rana sounds very similar to an AJK politician when he warns of repercussions if this article is abolished and then quickly reminds viewers that he’s totally committed to the Indian state. AJK politicians often use such a strategy to express their disgust at certain issues for which the Pakistani State is responsible but then never forget to praise Pakistan like a blind devotee.

      Our politicians on either side operate in camouflage (repressing their real emotions as citizens of a conflict ridden and divided state, where they have no real legislative power) but never forget to use the ‘insurance policy’ to protect their personal interests, just in case their commitment (to India and Pakistan respectively) is called into question. Going to jail (or at least being marginalised forever from mainstream politics) cannot compete with the luxury to engage in as much corruption as possible, with the blessings of the occupying power.

      It should be remembered that discussion over Article 35A (and Article 370) have come up for debate from time to time over the decades but I don’t think any Indian government has the nerve or guts to disturb this ‘special status’, as it will immediately bring the ‘accession’ into question. Not just by ‘separatists’ (as India describes them) but from all quarters including mainstream politicians. Notice how Rana was praising Hari Singh repeatedly, India could never deal with that emotion if it flared up in a region traditionally sympathetic to India.

      It should also be remembered that Pakistan’s role in preserving the ‘state subject rule’ isn’t saintly either. It encouraged the migrated Kashmiris of the Valley in Muzaffarabad to protest India’s attempt at abolishing Article 35A but has been active in changing the demography of Gilgit Baltistan gradually since 1947.

      Ultimately, the state subject rule (SSR) of 1927 is the glue that could re-unite the whole territory of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir while simultaneously being the tinder that could drive out both occupiers if they tried to abolish it.

      Meanwhile, we – the citizens – remain in limbo.

  8. Faisal,

    First of all, apologies for the delay in responding. I am not sure what programming language/software will be used as I’m still trying to identify the right person/s to carry out these tasks.

    Yes, alternative methods to reach out to our diaspora should also be exercised.

    • Myra

      Thanks for your response once again and ditto with apologies in refererence to the delay in responding to you.

      We can do it but…

      It requires full time dedicated work by at least one citizen of the diaspora in the UK, to start with…

    • Faisal

      Thanks for that probing comment and apologies for the delay in responding to you too.

      This reminds me of my childhood in the UK when at some point every year, we used to get a letter by sea mail purportedy from the Dargah of Khwaja Nizaamudeen Chisti in Ajmer, Rajasthan – India. This letter would reach almost every South Asian Muslim-sounding named family home in the UK, annually without fail. Even in the 1970s and 1980s, the organisers of this ‘fund-raising’ or ‘spiritual travel marketing’ venture were very pro-active and ingenious in reaching their target market.

      They most likely would have had ‘agents’ in the UK who must have interrogated every public library there for population related info. They might even have used residential telephone directories etc.

      I’m not saying we have to do the same in this day and age. There must be a more consensual means of finding our actual citizens and adding them to a database on a tailor-made communication application. Other social media applications provide a communication tool for those in their ‘global digital community’, we nee to do the same but restricted to citizens of AJK and those in its diaspora.

      A programming/networking expert of AJK origin is sought……

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