The following post was updated 30 October 2020
[The 7/7 suicide bombers were incorrectly described as Mirpuris (Azad Kashmiris); they were from Pakistan Punjab Province (Rawalpindi, Faisalabad) and not from Mirpur, ‘Azad’ Kashmir. This is an important distinction at the heart of the present discussion. Madeleine Bunting’s article on “the history of Britain’s Mirpur population’, Guardian Newspaper, 18 July 2005 was factually inaccurate, based on a flawed proposition of mistaken identities influenced by Pakistani inter-minority racism. In the SkyNews clip below, the footage in the video is not from Mirpur, Azad Kashmir but Mirpur Khas, Sindh Province, Pakistan. The Question to ask; what was the actual identity of the native informants telling western journalists about British Azad Kashmiris?]
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There comes a point for members of a community to stand up and be heard. And that time has now come for British Azad Kashmiris, otherwise less popularly known as the Kashmiris, but selectively as the Mirpuris.
For far too long, our absence from the discourse on all things “British-Pakistani”, “British-Muslim”, “British-Asian”, has allowed our supposed fellow Pakistani brothers and sisters, to fill an ever-growing cesspit that exposes our illicit dealings in the UK.
“Cesspit, that’s a little harsh – how dramatic!”
Okay. Perhaps we need to be thick-skinned – not have a persecution syndrome according to our critics complaining about racism in English Cricket. This is the bogus advice being dulled out by self-righteous Pakistanis writing for the Guardian and the BBC, who are not on the receiving end of inter-minority racism common amongst Pakistanis and South Asians. They become inconspicuous and aloof in the UK, grateful that Mirpuris are in the firing line, taking one for the British-Pakistani team, a fraternity that only exists on paper, and in the minds of naive and impressionable Azad Kashmiris who have no appreciation of Pakistani inter-minority racism, inequality and persecution. The direct beneficiaries of Mirpur-bashing effortlessly fade into the background hiding behind the ‘numbers’ argument’. This is the magic pill for Pakistanis feigning fraternity with Azad Kashmiris when it suits them, because of the enormous size of the community and the material benefits it accrues Pakistan. They retort, “the majority commit the majority of crimes and the Mirpuris are the largest group amongst British-Pakistanis! It ain’t rocket science that all the crimes attributed to Pakistanis are of Mirpur origin!”
“Don’t blame us, and don’t call them Pakistanis either, call them Mirpuris!” – This was the heading of a Pakistani Newspaper article.
Pakistanis are thin-skinned. Once it’s pointed out to them that inter-minority racism amongst Pakistanis proves that mainland Pakistanis have never considered Mirpuris part of their nation, they protest with an indignant righteousness! Flushed with red faces, they then claim that Indians and bizarelly, Valley Kashmiris (India’s Kashmir) have it in for Azad Kashmir’s Mirpuris, and that they’ve never once spoken disparagingly about Mirpuris to their friends and associates in the wider British mainstream, which includes the journalists and writers I mention in this post.
Okay, let’s just accept that Pakistanis are telling the truth, that there is no persecution of Ahmedis, Christians, Hindus, the Shia, in Pakistan according to Amnesty International; that there is no Baluch insurrection against the Pakistan State, and that the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement is a figment of people’s imagination, like the shooting of 15 year old Malala Yusuf, or the discovery that Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan courtesy of the Pakistan Military. If that’s the case, how should Azad Kashmiris respond, when they discover to their horror that people with no roots in either Pakistan or ‘Azad’ Kashmir are repeating prejudice that we all used to hear in private, namely, “the problems within the British Pakistani community are essentially the problems of a particular community called the Mirpuris”!?
Take for instance the following excerpt from an article written after the 7/7 bombings,
So, from where, or who, did Shiv Malik get these ideas from? It is at this point we need to start asking the non-Pakistanis some questions about the people filling their heads with such nonsense to appreciate the level of Pakistani complicity?
“James mate, who told you this?”
This is the likely reply,
“Well, my Pakistani work colleagues did. They said the 7/7 suicide bombers weren’t really Pakistanis, they were Mirpuris…!
But, of course, Azad Kashmiris know that they weren’t Mirpuris. Their parents came from Punjab Province, Pakistan, which doesn’t make Punjabis suicide bombers either. We should oppose this kind of unjust prejudice against innocent people, because it is morally bankrupt. Identities don’t pre-determine behavioural traits, outcomes, social status, or racial inferiority. We’re not Nazis. The vast majority of people, whatever their backgrounds or identities are law-abiding citizens. The Pakistanis scapegoating Mirpuris don’t think like this though, and neither does Shiv Malik.
Now, observe the following excerpt from the same Shiv Malik, explaining who Mirpuris are in relation to Punjabis, within the context of the 7/7 suiciding bombings; note how he describes the speech of Pakistani taxi drivers (Mirpuris) and their “stumbling Yorkshire-Pakistani accent”. Note also how he describes Gultasab, a Punjabi, and the 7/7 lead bomber’s brother, who is described with “a gentle Yorkshire lilt” (characteristic of all British-born Punjabis).
The subtext behind these conversations is predictable; I’ll put it in a quote,
“…Pakistanis are always being blamed for the actions of ‘the Mirpuris’, who are essentially village people, this is what my friend Jehan from Lahore told me. He also said that his ancestors weren’t really from Pakistan. I think he said Arabia or was it Central Asia???
A quick observation here for clarity’s sake. Pakistanis descend from North and South Indians, to not discount partition survivors from the Deccan Plateau who ended up in Pakistan and abroad. The forebears of British Mirpuris originate from the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, a disputed and occupied territory located in the Western Himalaya. British-Mirpuris are not ‘villagers’; the majority were born in British cities that would make the Pakistani city equivalence look like sprawling undeveloped areas. I’m not being facetious, I’m stating this as a fact. Urdu speaking Pakistanis defer to North Indian cultural norms, their cultural norms and traditions make them the closest living ethnic cousins to North Indians (Hindustanis). Mirpuris belong to a different mountainous and cultural ecology to the Indo-Gangetic Plains, which is being written out of history.
To return to the quote. “Anyway, he told me that he is from a ‘city’ in Pakistan, he speaks Urdu, the language of Mughals; …he said, ‘citified Pakistanis’ like him are much easier to integrate than ‘illiterates’ from rural Kashmir.”
Another quick observation. The Mughal Court spoke Persian not Urdu. The Mughal ruling household was of Turkic descent, who married into the Hindu-Rajput aristocracy of North India, some of whom became Muslim. Local Indians in North India spoke Hindustani which was later called Urdu, because of colonial origin-myths that were later debunked by linguists and historians. Urdu had no native constituency in today’s Pakistan, it is an import into the region, where language activists of endangered languages are fighting against its continued imposition to preserve their own ethnic cultures.
It is at this point we have the emergence of the ‘village-city’ dichotomy, which is driving the cleavages between Urdu-speaking Pakistanis and Mirpuris – the primordial villagers. It is a false social class persona, mired in a deluded social consciousness – “we’re Middle Class, because our citified Pakistani identity predetermines our social class in the UK; Mirpuris are villagers in the UK – wrongly conflated with actual upward mobility in the UK. Without stating the obvious, Britain’s working class areas are much more prosperous than Pakistan’s most affluent cities. There is nothing in Pakistan’s citified air that makes its residents middle class in Britain. I’m not being deliberately provocative when I say this. Pakistani cities are by far much more impoverished than cities in the developed world, the human development index of these areas is terrible. Comparing Pakistan’s cities to Britain’s cities is like comparing apples to oranges.
By understanding how a citified consciousness emerged amongst Pakistanis in the first place, will reveal with some interesting insights in social terms why Pakistanis describe Mirpuris in negative terms. The ensuing class narrative is false. As I’m trying to debunk bogus identity concepts that dehumanise people within social and political contexts, a universal problem across the world, I should point out that Mirpuris don’t call themselves “Mirpuris”.
The term Mirpuri is an imposition.
Pakistanis began the practise of calling ‘Azad’ Kashmiris – Mirpuris, to understand how unjust Pakistani intergroup relations are in the UK. Pakistanis write the books about Mirpuris and then quote the pages to validate their own insights. It is always through the representations of Pakistanis that Azad Kashmiris are described, almost without exception. If there are exceptions, the writers are probably Indians and a few western writers, basing their prejudice on the Pakistani tropes. The term Mirpuri is a non-analytical label though. Frankly, it offers no insights in the absence of ethnogenesis, (the emergence of an ethnic group), where a label is needed to identify new and distinct “ethnic” or “social” characteristics. Ethnicity is a very fluid thing, and it’s a lot more complicated than the observations of anecdotalists self-affirming themselves through internal differentiation.
To illustrate this point. No one speaks of ‘Brummies’, ‘Mancunians’ or ‘Cockneys’ in the way Pakistanis are speaking of Mirpuris and for good reasons too. Mirpur is the name of a place and not the name of a group-identity; I’ll return to this point later.
Why Pakistanis speak of Mirpuris in the way they do, trying to redeem themselves through a group-identity that they’ve created is revealing of enormous insecurities borne of how they want to see themselves in social class terms in the UK.
It has a lot to do with social aspirations, but also insecurities and dirty politics. It’s complicated. Lots of Pakistanis descend from stigmatised low-caste occupational backgrounds, again I am not saying this to offend them. By becoming an Urdu speaker with a citified connection, they’re escaping old stigmas and prejudices; until the villagers start probing the older backgrounds – “what was the caste identity of your grandfather, and which village did he come from?”
There is a well-defined social psychology to this mindset when pitied against Mirpuris – the primordial villager of the landed backgrounds. Anyone who thenceforth is adjudged a villager within the context of these social relations is disparagingly labelled Mirpuri. The demography of Pakistanis in the UK doesn’t help this new emerging social trend.
Why, you may ask?
Because, nearly every Pakistani in the UK originated from a village, once upon a time, more or less. The citified identity masks this past. Pakistan is one big shanty town, with terrible infrastructure, sprawling urban areas evolving out of rural towns and villages – I’ll return to this point later. Overwhelmingly, Mirpuris originate from a place that’s not even Pakistan ironically, but Azad Jammu & Kashmir, another dispossessed area.
In the strictest sense of an ascriptive territorial identity, where universal naming conventions still mean something, Mirpuris are Azad Kashmiris, and not Pakistanis. This AJK/Pakistan cleavage, an essentially UK innovation creates a new front through which citified Pakistanis can give vent to their social class aspirations against the rural folk of Azad Kashmir, “those uneducated mountain people,” without raising too many suspicions about their own backgrounds.
So, what about these numbers? We need to be clear with the terms before we can appraise the number’s argument.
Upwards of 70 percent of the British-Pakistani population in the 2011 census originates from the contested territory known internationally as Pakistan Administered Kashmir, which forms part of the old Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. It is comprised of two parts, Gilgit Baltistan and “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir.
In English, the formal title of “Azad” Riyasat Jammu Kashmir translates to the “‘Free‘ State of Jammu and Kashmir”. ‘Azad’ means ‘free’ in Urdu and Hindi. According to the United Nations, the European Union, Parliamentarians of genuine Democratic States, Human Rights Activists, international observers and NGOs, and honest people everywhere, ‘Azad’ Kashmir is not ‘Free’, and I will therefore refer to it as so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir to be intellectually honest and in tune with the suffering of its 4.5 million people.
Freedom House, an organisation that promotes human rights and democracy across the world, gave ‘Azad’ Kashmir a score of 28 out of 100; 1 equating to “least free” and 100 equating to “most free”. 28 isn’t exactly a great score. Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organisation, not on the payroll of Indian or Pakistani nationalists for naysayers to try an impugn its integrity. It is run by people of conscience. See also, UN Report on Human Rights in Divided Kashmir, Human Rights Watch on Kashmir
In other words, 70 percent of 1.17 million British people can trace their roots to Kashmir. With natural growth since 2011, we’re talking in excess of 1 million British citizens. British ‘Azad’ Kashmiris overwhelmingly come from Mirpur Division (Dadyal, Kotli, Mirpur, Bhimbar), 1 of 3 geo-administrative Divisions that make up the small polity of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, but there are also members from Poonch Division and Muzaffarabad Division.
Ethnically speaking, this community which extends into the rest of Indian Administered Kashmir, are Paharis ethnically speaking. Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, Uri, Karnah, Kupwara, Nowshera, Rajouri, and lots of areas in Indian Jammu, as far as Doda District belong to this ethnic community. The people speak Pahari, “the dialects of the mountains”, they belong to their own cultural sphere, and they are not extensions to other communities. They exist on their own terms, and they have their own memories and stories.
Mirpuri numbers intersecting with Kashmir politics
Because of the conflict over Kashmir territory, some Pakistanis and Indians want to disconnect this ethnic population from divided Jammu & Kashmir State, by arguing that Azad Kashmiris are not ethnic Paharis from Jammu & Kashmir, but Pothwaris from Punjab Province. The Pothwar is a neighbouring region, where the people speak mutually intelligible dialects to Pahari, but belong to Punjab Province and not Jammu & Kashmir. This dishonest stratagem serves both India and Pakistan, who work together to undermine independence for Jammu & Kashmir. This may come as a shock to lots of Pakistanis offering lip service to Kashmir’s plight, but it is the case that Pakistan’s intelligence services collaborate with India to stop Kashmiris from getting their independent State – a right enshrined in international law.
Through undemocratic norms, Pakistan and India want us all to believe that Mirpuris have no connections with Kashmir. How does the logic work though in practise? It goes something like this, Mirpuris are not indigenous to Jammu Kashmir, having much more in common with Pothwaris, code for Pakistanis. They migrated to the lands of Jammu & Kashmir from the direction of Pakistan! In other words, Mirpuris have no right to speak about their future in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, or seek to create alliances with the natives from within the divided Jammu & Kashmir State, because they’re not even from the State!
“They’re Pothwaris!” (code for Pothwar) “They’re Punjabis” (code for Punjab).
This is a completely dishonest position so bereft of morality, it seriously calls into question the integrity of the people parroting such post-truths. It smells of so much dishonesty, it stinks all the way to high heaven and back. It reminds us of how Nazi propaganda worked against Eastern European Jews, just before the Nazis stripped Jews of their citizenship and then stripped them of their humanity, crucially at the moment when they became “non-people”; former neighbours started to avoid Jews on the streets – the murders began shortly afterwards. The Jews were not the only victims of Nazi race propagandists, who deemed Slavs and other populations racially inferior too. But that’s the point I’m making, the way Mirpuris are being described is so troubling that it beggars belief no one to date as pointed out the striking patterns between the demonisation of Mirpuris and the demonisation of Eastern European Jews.
To reiterate something so fundamental, British Mirpuris are not Pothwaris or Punjabis – that’s just a fact of history and present day circumstance, because they don’t come from the Pothwar or Punjab! When they go visit their ancestral homes, they’re visiting a part of Jammu & Kashmir, not Pakistan-Punjab or Pothwar.
The only people who buy into the claim that Mirpuris are Punjabis and Pothwaris are those seeking confirmation bias for their already biased positions, namely Indians and Pakistanis, contesting the identity of Mirpuris and their corresponding territorial connection to Jammu & Kashmir. How Mirpuris are being described is a lesson in modern-day tyranny. It is an example of an ugly authoritarianism that the West fought against 70 years ago, and it flies in the face of India and Pakistan’s so-called democratic credentials. Why Indians are behaving like this, I leave to their conscience.
Now, to return to my subject matter in earnest, I will be the first person to admit that I don’t have all the answers when trying to contextualise social prejudice and the narratives within the context of the themes I’m discussing here, please re-read the heading of the post. I’ve been researching anti-Mirpur prejudice for a decade now, and it’s been a rocky and lonely journey; it’s become an obsession of mine. The situation is so unjust that it’s something that I’m still having difficulty comprehending. I accept that there are sinister political forces at play, but of course it’s more complicated than that.
I used to think anti-Mirpur stigma was the racism of ordinary British-Pakistanis – from whom I’ve grown increasingly alienated because of their self-righteous pronouncements about Pakistan’s virtues. Imagine for one moment that Pakistanis refuse to accept in 2020 that their Army murdered and raped Bengalis in 1971, an ethnic genocide according to the standards of that discipline. But, “India did it!” No doubt, India caused Covid19 too, if it’s not a conspiracy of America, Israel or Britain! “Did you know Malala Yusuf is a CIA Agent?”
A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “call them Mirpuris”, which you can read on this site. I’ve since discovered that both India (BJP supporters, private actors, Hindu Nationalist type people) and Pakistan (ISI agents – government paid employees; Islamo-fascists as far as I am concerned) are actively writing Mirpruis out of Jammu & Kashmir, amplifying anti-Mirpur online hatred to demoralise the community. This political agenda masquerades as innocent questions around ethnicity, it’s from these trolls we get the constant barrage of doubts around Mirpur’s connections to Kashmir. It’s political disinformation.
The Numbers Argument – the Magic Bullet
I said at the beginning of this piece, that Pakistanis always deploy the ‘numbers argument’. It is something Pakistanis cite when differentiating themselves from Mirpuris, and it is very revealing of the actual impulses. It is not something that can be casually ignored, because Azad Kashmiris do outnumber Pakistanis in the UK. But, its purportedly common sensical truth-value does not lead to accredited facts, but the scapegoating of an invisible group (where representation matters) because of blame shifting. Mirpuris are only visible to British-Pakistanis. They’re invisible to Britons and the institutions of the British State, a terrible situation to be in if one probes how a Mirpuri group identity is being imagined, problematised and disseminated. Ordinary Britons cannot distinguish between ‘Azad’ Kashmiris and Pakistanis, and I would hazard the guess that the majority wouldn’t even know where to place Mirpuris within Britain’s ethnic minority landscape of brown people.
Crucially, whatever Pakistanis are saying about Mirpuris to justify their own sense of upward mobility, has already been said about the “Irish”, “Jews”, “Jamaicans” and “Blacks” – a list that is not intended to be exhaustive. So there is a clear pattern of stigmatisation developing. These group identities were vilified during different periods of history because they became visible within the British mainstream imagination, lessor known ethnic groups were not being vilified. The larger groups were ‘othered’ and vilified, not because of anything inherently wrong with their corresponding ‘racial’ (imagined), ethnic or religious cultures, but because of widespread xenophobia, racism and structural inequalities, social norms that rob people of their dignity and humanity.
Britain has since changed for the better, but no one would dare argue that these problems no longer exist in 2019/ If anyone did, he or she would be accused of intellectual dishonesty. By mentioning Britain’s troubling history of race relations, I’m not trying to redeem the social profile of Mirpuris amongst Pakistanis, and neither am I trying to offer a running commentary on the community’s social virtues or vices. I’m mature enough to understand how rumour mills work, and I accept that people do fall foul of national standards, an expectation that seems to fall hardest on the most dispossessed members of our society.
Trying to identify characteristics that could help define Mirpuris as separate from Pakistanis would however be difficult given how “Mirpuris” identify on paper and how statistics are recorded in the UK. There are no datasets we can interrogate to determine the exact social profile of good Pakistanis (the minority) and bad Mirpuris (the majority). Britain’s institutions do not distinguish between ‘Azad’ Kashmiris and Pakistanis, which is one of the reasons why I would advocate for a separate group label for Mirpuris that is true to their actual lived experiences here in the UK, and from the Western Himalayan lands they came from – the Pahar. There is no whiff of Kashmir politics, the term British-Pahari is a genuine reflection of a heritage that needs documenting for its cultural beneficiaries; Indian and Pakistani nationalists should not be involved in these discussions. The British State should defend its democratic norms around naming practises for its own ethnic minority natives against foreign infiltrators.
The ‘Asian’ Grooming Gang Controversy – what do the experts say?
Mirpuris are being deliberately conflated with grooming gangs online – but who are the people behind this online claim?
As a general rule, the recording of crime outside media or anecdotal representations does not pinpoint where exactly perpetrators come from. The idea that Pakistanis, or any group identity, are exclusively involved in child sexual exploitation (CSE) was debunked by Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children’s Commissioner in a Home Affairs Committee exploring the phenomenon of grooming gangs and “Pakistanis” back in 2013.
Some years earlier, a Journalist by the name of Andrew Norfolk broke a highly controversial story that British Asians were raping white children from working class backgrounds usually in care. He surmised by the names of the alleged perpetrators that they were mostly Muslim, which meant they were Pakistanis given the demography of the areas in which the crimes were being perpetrated. In terms of how group identity labels are deployed and race relations between the BME, some representatives of British Asians, Hindu and Sikh Indians extricated themselves from the charge, counselling journalists reporting on the ensuing prosecutions to mention Pakistani Muslims instead.
Berelowitz was asked by the Committee Chair, Keith Vaz, “(Andrew Norfolk) …feels that you have missed the boat as far as race is concerned as, for example, the statistics point out that people of British-Pakistani origin are more likely to be represented in grooming. But you have been extremely clear on this. You have set your face against saying that race is a factor in respect of the grooming of young girls.”
“The single most important common denominator across all perpetrators is that they are male, which is not the same as saying every man is a perpetrator. Those are very different things. That is the most important and salient single common denominator. …Unfortunately, Police forces and other agencies do not gather very detailed data around the profiles of perpetrators. That is why we have made that recommendation in the report. To give you some figures: in terms of the evidence submitted on perpetrators, in over two-thirds of submissions there was no perpetrator added to the inquiry. There was no perpetrator identification of any kind at all, so our statistics, our percentages, relate to the remainder— just over one-third—on which we did get some kind of data, but even that was incomplete. For example, sometimes we were told about nationalities and not about ethnicity, and those are not the same thing. In fact, it was only in 3% of the one-third that there was complete perpetrator data.”
Lots of accredited experts in child sexual exploitation were in broad agreement with her observations, and their writings are available for all to read. These evidence-based insights stood in stark contrast to the alarmist claims being drip-fed to the British Public by the right-wing media and their backers.
From the expert and oral testimonies presented in the hearing, it became abundantly clear that the non-Pakistanis looking into the community formed a lot of their views about the Pakistani community on the strength of anecdotal claims relayed to them by a certain coterie of Pakistanis. In the same way, British Asians shifted blame away from themselves to British-Pakistanis, the citified Pakistanis did exactly the same using the ‘numbers argument’, which brings me back to the numbers’ argument.
Anne Cryer, former Member of Parliament for Keighley, was also questioned. She represented a constituency where these crimes had been committed with impunity. We were told that the police and social services had been made aware of children in care being abused by “Asian” men but they did nothing. She surmised that political correctness was the issue, that the institutions of the State were more worried about being labelled racist than prosecuting the perpetrators. She spoke of the ethnic “culture” behind the mindset that reduced white girls to easy meat, and how Pakistani men viewed women in general because of their upbringing.
She offered no insights into the social class sensibilities of the (white) police detectives and social workers looking the other way, who may have behaved differently had the girls not been in care, but came from respectable backgrounds, from the white ‘white middle class’, the sort of people who have the social capital to complain and are involved in the upbringing of their children. This is how middle classes are imagined across the world; in Britain the white working class isn’t sufficiently white enough to enjoy the priviliges of this group identity.
Crucially, she pointed out that the Pakistanis committing these crimes were Mirpuris, a very interesting proposition if my readers can follow the chain of reasoning in this discussion. In her mind, every Pakistani in her constituency was from Mirpur, begging the question, how did she form that opinion?
Was it anecdotal or evidence-based? What was the identity of the native-informants?
Did she go around her constituency with a questionnaire ticking off which “Pakistanis” didn’t come from Mirpur? Not every Pakistani in Keighley is from Mirpur. There is a sizeable community from the rest of Pakistan particularly from the Punjab Province, but elsewhere too. When Andrew Norfolk gave his testimonies, he made a number of startling revelations about how he had formed his views.
He said “I would not say firm conclusions, but I think a number of issues come very much to the fore—and that is not just my opinion; it is from talking to a lot of people within the Pakistani community as well, including some very learned scholars…” Who exactly were these learned scholars?
I would hazard the guess that these ‘learned scholars’ were not Mirpuris, and they belong to the same coterie of Pakistani actors who produced the Quilliam ‘Grooming Gang’ Report. The conclusions of that report were roundly condemned by experts in the world of child sexual exploitation.
Norfolk went on to say, “…I am flabbergasted that one issue that has not been remotely considered is attitudes towards the age of consent. We have come a long way in this country. In 1875, we raised the age of consent from 12 to 13. We were still treating these girls as criminals—as child prostitutes—in the late ’90s. But we have an age of consent of 16.”
“If you come from a rural Mirpuri, Kashmiri community, where, whatever state law says, village tradition and sharia says that puberty is the green light for marriage—as it does—and if you recognise that most girls in this country are hitting puberty at 11 or 12, perhaps one begins to understand why it is not just lone offenders. There has to be something, given that so often this is a normalised group activity—not among a major criminal gang, but among friends, work colleagues and relatives—that does not have the same sense of shame attached to it as would be the case for your typical white offender, who works alone because if he told too many people, somebody would report him.”
I contend that this paragraph in question is a good example of subtle prejudice. For the sake of clarity, it is not the social norm in Mirpur for girls aged 11 to be married off because they have ‘hit’ puberty. The Sharia, a complex and diverse legal system spanning 14 hundreds years and numerous regions across different cultural and social ecologies, has never been the ‘guiding force’ for ordinary people living in Mirpur – the proposition is thus flawed in Norfolk’s reasoning. One can see enormous contradictions in how these negative ideas are being applied to Mirpuris through the false village-city dichotomy at the heart of ‘othering’ Mirpuris.
Because Mirpuris “are backwards – (they must be backwards because they come from villages)”, it must then follow that they adhere to a socially regressive legal code rooted in religion that also produces suicide bombers, a non sequitur. There is a huge leap from being socially backwards and becoming a suicide bomber, a phenomenon that is urban in origin and not rural based. These are bigoted claims, salacious in their indictment of an entire community, because of a mistaken identity, borne of anecdotal wisdom of one group describing another that offers little substantive value to the actual discourse on child sexual exploitation.
In fact, Norfolk – the rightwing journalist my Pakistani friends are always keen to tell me, is not an objective sociologist. He is in no position to verify the truth of the claims he is relaying on the back of native informants, who are merely strengthening his own confirmation bias. After all, it’s the Pakistanis that are telling him about this group of social delinquents. This press wisdom is rarely scrutinised independently. It is always taken for granted because of unjust power dynamics. It enters the mainstream because there is a large number of people who are already predisposed to such ideas, social class sensibilities being one significant impulse, and it feeds into people’s already latent bias and prejudice.
The claim that “Mirpuris” are the actual perpetrators of CSE crimes is thus entirely anecdotal. When I say this I am making a factual statement. The Pakistanis filling in the blanks for their non-Pakistani friends redeeming their group’s reputation, because of how they are being made to feel, would have us all believe in the absence of datasets that they’re just being intuitive when they say, “if Pakistanis are involved in CSE crimes as reported by the British Media, this would imply Mirpuris are the perpetrators ‘not us’ because ‘they’re’ the majority and we’re the minority. This would hold true for honour crimes, forced marriages, congenital diseases because of consanguineous marriages, drug dealing, extremism, and a host of other negatively-perceived acts.”
Where exactly does this face-saving logic stop?
Is this the behaviour of a self-sustaining fraternity that defends its members from callous stereotypes, or a group that doesn’t feel like it belongs to the imposed group label – “we’re urbanites they’re villagers”; we should be classified differently in the UK? This behaviour leads to a skewed representation of an invisible group’s actual problems through the interventions of a host of social commentators unaware of their own social class biases and prejudices. Lots of “enlightened people”, enlightenment being a social value for them, and not a state of mind, do not realise how prejudicial and biased they actually are, their leap into confirmation bias is thus a very small one.
The following YouTube Video is a case in point, (@2minutes 16 seconds – 4minutes 13seconds). The interviewee is a ‘white’ convert to Islam and a District Court Judge. She speaks about British Pakistanis, seemingly in a very authoritative way, despite getting the literacy statistics on Mirpur completely wrong; apparently only 3 percent of Mirpuri women in Azad Kashmir can read. The total for men, 35 percent, is only just better.
Mirpur has one of the the highest literacy rates in Pakistan, and the highest enrolment rate for primary education. The District Court Judge describes Mirpur as a particularly poor region of Pakistan “having personally visited the area”, to quote her actual remarks. Her direct experience of Mirpur flies in the face of the areas demonstrable profile within the context of Pakistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir; how she describes Mirpur is very different to how other western writers describe Mirpur, so why the huge discrepancy in observation?
Well, according to Pakistani government statistics and various studies on human development indices of districts; the experience of ethnographers and researchers, who have visited Pakistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Mirpur is not one of the poorest regions of Pakistan. In fact, Mirpur’s HDI surpasses lots of comparable districts across Pakistan, arguably on the strength of British remittences, and not Pakistani government investment – the actual grievances in the area. Pakistan has been disinvesting Mirpur since 1948.
This begs the question which “Mirpur” did she visit, the “Mirpur Khas” in Sindh, Punjab Province; the “Mirpur” in Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province, or the “Mirpur” in ‘Azad’ Kashmir which attracts professional begging gangs from Punjab?
Who exactly were her official Pakistani “minders” and what was the narrative that was being pushed about honour based crime and the cultural backgrounds of the perpetrators?
How the learned judge contrasts her experience of women in Saudi Arabia with that of Pakistan (@4minutes 55seconds – 6minutes 48 seconds) is also revealing of the subtle prejudices inherent in how Muslim communities are described differently by outsiders. The mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia has long been documented by Saudi activists themselves, but sadly this is what constitutes recycled intuition for lots of observers looking into communities through the intermediary of native informants. The bias in how different peoples are described is obvious even to the most uninitiated of minds in norms of subtle prejudice.
We are looking at expanding the channel – Support us now https://www.patreon.com/islamreward We are looking at expanding the channel – Support us now https://www.patreon.com/islamreward Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Talks To Leading UK Judge Marilyn Mornington and on her story on converting to Islam
Of course, intuition is a lovely thing when it’s redemptive. But, lots of upwardly-mobile Mirpuris, (as Pothwaris, Punjabis and Urdu speakers, but never as genuine Mirpuris, Paharis, or Azad Kashmiris) are beholden to citified Pakistani intuition now, because it has the backing of western social commentators. They repeat verbatim similar claims in solidarity with Pakistanis by self-flagellating cathartically about the community’s “village ways”!
According to this fatalistic logic, if a person comes from a rural place in any underdeveloped country, he or she is inherently a simpleton destined to social and economic dysfunctionality in the complex urban settings of the West. The proponents of this logic do not apply this dehumanising brush to their own parents and grandparents, but to countless others unlike them. To realise that one is speaking unfairly about one’s own forebears leads to mental trauma. So, the people repeating the Pakistani anecdotes develop a conscience perturbed about indicting tens of thousands of ordinary people putting food in their children’s stomachs, working hard to provide for their families, and not committing crimes.
Redemption is thus sought.
Ostensibly, ‘sociological explanations’ to sympathetically explain away the negative social profile being attributed are deployed. But, the actual impulse or feelings behind the observations are never critiqued. Oft quoted lines are repeated, “Mirpuris made a great leap from village life to settling in the UK”. The ‘intuition’ behind how the idea of village and citified Pakistanis emerged in the first place in British literature is never probed. Putting aside substantive indictments, or sociological explanations, just for one moment, Mirpuris should ask the more salient question, who exactly benefits from this flawed city-village narrative. Is it the “village-type” Pakistanis of Bradford, or the “citified” Pakistanis of London, or neither?
Mirpuris never question why they are being conflated with deprived areas in the “North” whilst Pakistanis are being conflated with affluent areas in the “South”?
There are no datasets distinguishing British Pakistanis in this way, so who exactly probed the non-existent statistics and what methodology was used? The idea that Mirpuris live entirely in the North, whilst “citified” Pakistanis live in the South of Britain is another of the fraudulent lines of enquiry being peddled by individuals obsessed with social class myths. There’s no objective way of proving the existence of the social profile except to self-affirm through the background being celebrated, that’s the actual impulse, the real priority.
The Myth of the South/North Divide; Posh Vs Chav
Pakistanis live exclusively in London, and British-Mirpuris (‘Azad’ Kashmiris) live exclusively in Birmingham!
Citified Pakistanis live in the South, in the Greater London Area, this is a badge of social pride apparently. And yet we know that Pakistanis live in some of the most deprived areas of London. One does not hear boasts from gang members operating out of London postcodes that they are a cut above their rivals in the North, because they’re from Waltham Forest, and not Moss Side, Manchester? London’s inner-city is no less deprived than the inner wards of Birmingham or Greater Manchester. Lots of citified Pakistanis live in the North in areas that are not deprived, with higher household incomes than their brethren in the South. We have large Mirpuri communities in the South, Reading is full of Mirpuris, who don’t seem to equate this south identity with being a posh Azad Kashmiri.
But, it doesn’t matter to aspirational Pakistanis if the premise of a south/north divide in social class terms is false. What really matters is the social utility of the observation that makes the claim socially appealing. “Educated”, “well-to-do”, “middle-class”, “progressive”, “open-minded”, “cultured”, “rich” Pakistanis, (this is how the citified Pakistani identity is deployed) apparently live in Britain’s poshest postcodes. Lots of Pakistanis have become receptive to such silly arguments, because of how they want to view their evolving ‘status’ in the UK, and one can see this insecurity in how they speak disparagingly of Britain’s white working class communities – the Chavs. The way they speak of Chavs is akin to how they speak of Freshies, South Asian newcomers to the UK, which is quite insightful of how they think.
They love throwing the word “Chav” around, as if this magic word will redeem them of their “Paki” past (“in quotes”) impervious to the dehumanising racism their parents once encountered. I’m keen to point out that Bigots exist amongst Britain’s ethnic minority communities, even amongst the ‘ethnics’ working for the BBC, the Guardian, Spectator, and they shouldn’t get a free pass because the fashionable ‘racist’ slur is reserved exclusively for ‘white’ people – the Chavs, who are no more socially privileged than ethnic minorities living in the most deprived areas of the country.
Upwardly mobile South Asians, demanding equality for their BME group, don’t realise how biased and prejudicial they sound when they open their mouths and offer their commentaries on Bradford’s Mirpuris. They will celebrate aspects of Bradford’s working class heritage, because it proves in their mind that they’re not bigoted, but they’ll quickly remove themselves from Mirpuris, because “middle class” Pakistanis and Indians are “Punjabis” and “Urdu speakers” – as if there is some universal appeal to these group identities in the UK. There isn’t a critical mass of Mirpuris in British Media or public life, who can offer counter-narratives rooted in actual lived experiences outside imaginary group identities and social class sensibilities.
Sadly, lots of Mirpuris have sold out on their own people, which might account for why people like me are lonely voices of conscience now, being accused of being Indian agents, a terrible slur designed to misguide people about our actual grievances, not that I care! It makes no difference to my ethnic peers, if what is being said about their parents is true or false, simply because they need to reach a utopian heaven in social terms. Mirpur is thus baggage and they want to get rid of it at all costs, which hardly makes them activists worth their salt when speaking against inequality and social injustice on behalf of other groups.
Professional and educated Mirpuris readily buy into arguments of their community’s primordial backwardness. They stand at the front of the queue beckoning others to join them in hating their parents and grandparents ways; telling everyone that “we are Pothwaris and Punjabis, but never Paharis or Azad Kashmiris”, identity labels linked with our actual past. They have no sense of the social and political agendas behind the political narratives. Because they have no emotional investiture in the idea of Mirpur or Jammu & Kashmir, they have no intellectual investiture in the ideas robbing them of their humanity, and denying them their past in a landmass both India and Pakistan want for their own nationalistic projects at the expense of Jammu & Kashmir’s natives. Never will they write on their CVs that they can speak Pahari, or Mirpuri, it’s always Urdu or Punjabi, which should be food for thought.
Worse, for those intent on imposing a Pakistani identity onto young British-Mirpuris, the youngsters do not identify with Pakistan in the way British-Pakistani gatekeepers to this identity would have us all imagine. There is an emerging group of millennials, who are very alienated from a “Pakistani” identity – something very low in the scale of civilisational things for them. The BBC may want to celebrate the British-Pakistani identity for multicultural reasons, contracting the services of production companies, who don’t have any Mirpuris on their editorial teams or payroll, but it shouldn’t get defensive when it is pointed out, it has excluded the bulk of the license-fee payers, who supposedly embody the British-Pakistani group identity when presenting them negatively and always stereotypically.
The British Media’s version of the Pakistani identity is false. All over the UK, the Pahari language of Azad Kashmir can be heard spoken in various “Pakistani neighbourhoods”, but on Coronation Street or Eastenders, the mostly Indian actors playing the Pakistani roles speak Urdu and the ‘integrated‘ Pakistani families are always from Karachi or Lahore, but never “Azad” Kashmir. This version of the Pakistani identity, far from being a genuine group identity, is also alien to the actual lived experiences of young Mirpuris growing up in the UK.
Even the amount of Mirpuris who watch Pakistani satellite TV stations beamed out of Lahore or Karachi is massively diminishing, not least because their nuclear families are becoming increasingly monolingual in English. I will observe that the greater the attachment to Pakistan satellite TV culture, the greater Mirpuri attachment to a hybridised British-Pakistani identity; I concede this identity does exist. Sustained bilingualism through media outlets and cultural events is as critical to maintaining a Pakistani identity in the UK as is having parents and grandparents who speak in the native tongues. These are both on the wane though. And yet whenever Mirpuris watch documentaries produced by the BBC, the actual Pakistani identity being celebrated is one connected to Karachi or Lahore, but never the 1 million Mirpuris with roots in the UK. Whenever Mirpuris are mentioned, they are always problematised, demeaned, degraded, belittled, with serious implications for how the wider group is perceived by its own members positively.
For a younger generation of Mirpuris, Urdu, which is wrongly affixed to a British-Pakistani identity by the Media, is not the gateway into their native ethnic culture increasingly shaped by Britain’s popular culture. Urdu is a language that doesn’t evoke feelings of familiarity or belonging for Mirpuris. Urdu has no social prestige or practical value for Mirpuris in the UK because they are disconnected from Pakistan’s political and social culture that has placed an unhealthy social premium on speaking Urdu, and more so, English.
In terms of how Pakistan emerged from the chaos of partition, and the language-resistance movement of East Pakistan challenging the hegemony of an Urdu-speaking identity ironically bolstered by ethnic Punjabis, the Urdu language has become a problem for the indigenous cultures of Pakistan. This particular history can be accessed from the works of professional historians, some of whom are Pakistanis teaching abroad, but no longer welcome in Pakistan because of the uncomfortable truths they explore. Howsoever we want to interpret this history, there is no appetite for bilingual British-Mirpuris to navigate their ethnic culture (heritage) through Urdu, but Pahari and English. It has everything to do with actual lived experiences and not ideology or social status. The emergence of YouTube influencers producing content in Pahari and English bears this out, but how they identify their language is revealing of unjust power dynamics.
The YouTube influencers have no sense of their actual backgrounds or the territorial conflict over Jammu & Kashmir. They unthinkingly adopt the regional labels of closely-related people in Pakistan and not Jammu & Kashmir because of how the community is being identified in the UK. They’ll describe their language erroneously as “Patwari” unaware of the propagandistic priorities behind the political identification. These are unjust power-dynamics to their community’s disadvantage. A small number of British Pakistanis have a stranglehold over the AJK-based community, and the material they produce undermines a self-sustaining ‘Azad’ Kashmiri (Pahari-Kashmiri) identity.
Be that as it is, the millennials are British, who happen to be of “Pakistani” ethnic descent and not because of conscious erudition. The public ritual of consuming “Pahari” is essentially a way of connecting with an oral culture that is now dying, it has nothing to do with maintaining a Pakistani identity. It’s an authentic act of being true to one’s ethnic background outside the territorial agendas of political ideologues. Speaking Pahari feels natural, it’s as natural as speaking and thinking in English – the native tongue of thousands of British-born Mirpuris, without the social airs detectable in ‘citified’ Pakistanis. Pakistanis like to make a point of speaking Urdu and English to prove their social status. Pahari is about connecting with one’s actual past, and not about making a social or political statement.
Pakistani-born “Anglophiles” think they have a stronger grasp of the English language than youngsters born in the UK, who will forever be tarnished as the children of villagers because they ended up in Bradford or Birmingham “incapable of speaking the Queen’s English!”. The Pakistani Anglophiles convince themselves that they speak proper English destined to live in the South of England where everyone apparently speaks “Grammar English” ironically in heavily accented English that’s neither “proper” (according to the prescriptive rules being worshipped) nor native.
The public ritual of speaking English is a powerful impulse to be acknowledged in social class circles. It is an essential component of upper class sensibilities, it proves that one is educated and from a particular background that values English-medium-education. All across Pakistan, in the homes of the ‘upper class’ – an imitative type culture, English can be heard spoken across the dinner tables, interspersed with Urdu, but never the indigenous languages of Pakistan. Pakistan’s upwardly-mobile middle class, who cannot afford private English-medium-education speak Urdu. Pakistan’s elite prefers to speak in English. In my mind, this unnatural act leads proponents of a citified-identity to berate the indigenous languages of Pakistan as the dribble of unsophisticated villagers, with profound consequences for the indigenous cultures of Pakistan. This is exactly how millions of ordinary people in Pakistan are mocked, who then begin to hate the language of their forebears and everything else about their real past.
Language prejudice exists in a lot of countries, but in Pakistan it is intertwined with social class sensibilities borne of a very recent cleavage. It becomes a major insecurity when the proponents of a Pakistani-Urdu (English) speaking identity interact with British-born ‘Azad’ Kashmiris in the UK, who accord them no respect or value irrespective of how the former creates boundaries around social class. On a hearty note, one can see these dynamics unfold when the same Mirpuris (“Valaytis) barter for goods in Pakistan; in the heart of Islamabad, they confidently and instinctively speak Pahari to Urdu traders, who quickly accommodate the purchasing capacity of their highly valued “patrons”. The Urdu starts to morph into something more familiar to the Pahari speakers, as does the level of ‘hospitality’ extended to the foreign tourists. It is a spectacle to behold, not least because the initial interactions were not natural.
In the UK increasing numbers of young Mirpuris prefer supporting the English cricket team, feeling more at home in their British identity. Norman Tebbit’s cricket test, arguably xenophobic, could reveal some interesting changing insights. Supporting the Pakistan cricket team has lost its emotional appeal for lots of young Mirpuris. Moeen Ali, a cricketer with roots in Mirpur, plays for the English national team, a reality that would be denied to ‘Azad’ Kashmiris keen to showcase their talents for the ‘State’ occupying them. There is also a sizeable number of Mirpuris who don’t normally interact with people beyond their localised groups, and this demography just assumes that everyone in the locality is “Pakistani” like them never having probed what it means to be Pakistani and what the Pakistan State is doing to Azad Kashmir. Their public statements about being ‘Pakistani’ can be misleading if the nuances cohering in such statements are not understood by those observing them.
Outside this inoculation and intellectually sterile environment, they’re the first ones to ditch the Pakistani identity, because of its unappealing aspects (unfairly projected), emphasising their Muslim or British identities. Some of them say they’re “Kashmiris” to distinguish themselves from Pakistan – the State, a country existing on the fringes of respectable and celebrated spaces internationally. By saying they are Kashmiris, they are not making associations with ethnic Kashmiris of the Valley, which is the reason why Pakistanis whip this demon constantly online, feeling demeaned and “othered”. How the tide turns when those policing social boundaries feel ‘othered’ themselves.
Personally, I find such identification with “Kashmir” reprehensible, because they offer the disempowered populations of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir nothing substantive of group solidarity, parasitically self-affirming on a background that they’ve never bothered exploring. What is more revealing is how they are received, and the visceral responses their choice of ‘Kashmiri’ identity label elicits. It is at this juncture the politics of a contested territory enter the social fray, muddying further internal fault-lines on account of social class sensibilities and how those social boundaries are policed politically.
The Identity Police from India; policing territories and group identities linked with them
Out from the creaks like clockwork, a coterie of Indians emerges telling self-affirming ‘Azad’ Kashmiris in Britain that “they’re not really Kashmiris but confused Mirpuris from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir!” I’m speaking of highly politicised Indians with a skewed intellectual investiture in the idea of “Kashmir”, who’ve probably never set foot in the disputed territory, originating from a bewildering number of ethnic groups, who are all “Indian” because of a shared territorial label. If ironies were poetic, this one would top the list, not least because the protagonists don’t realise how ignorant they sound to people with an intellectual investiture in the ideas of identities and group myths.
They’re not prepared to bestow the same identity fiction on 17 million people because apparently 1.3 billion Indians own Kashmir now, her memories, peoples and identity labels. According to these pseudo-democrats; democracy is an enduring value, not a projected identity for opponents of genuine enfranchisement; self-determination is one such aspect’, Kashmir is India’s integral part until the end of time “because it was signed over to India by its outgoing Ruler in 1947”.
I call this the ‘convenient accession argument’.
It is an argument with legal weight, but it is also a convenient stratagem that’s undemocratic in nature. Unjust norms can be legal, apartheid was legal as was Jim Crow America, but which genuine democrat would defend Apartheid through deference to colonial laws contrary to the wishes of Black Africans? This is exactly what the Indians are doing when they claim Kashmir for their country, and the world will eventually decry India’s supposedly democratic credentials.
Hari Singh Bahadur, Kashmir’s Ruler incidentally came from Jammu Province and didn’t speak a word of Kashmiri natively. This seeming contradiction to deny non-ethnic Kashmiris legitimacy in their pro-independence mantras, by telling them that “they’re not ethnic Kashmiris”, whilst ostensibly allowing it for the “real” ethnic-Kashmiris who don’t support independence (Hindu Pandits with nativist claims to Kashmir), seems lost on political actors motivated by territorial outcomes and not ethnic arguments.
To reword this incoherence, “the autocratic Ruler of Kashmir, (1 person) can be a non-ethnic Kashmiri (Hindu) to decide its territorial fate for the benefit of Indians (1.3 billion people), but his ethnically and religiously diverse state subjects (a legal status enshrined in Indian law; 17 million people) must be ethnic Kashmiris (5 million people) to even speak of their plight. The rest, the overwhelming majority of territorial Kashmiris, (12 million people) should just shut up and put up with India’s solution for the conflict!”
On Indian maps of Kashmir, the entire undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir is showcased, even areas where Mirpuris continue to live, another bewildering contradiction for the Indians unaware of how cynical they sound when they try and write-out 4.5 million ‘Azad’ Kashmiris from the Kashmir Conflict fearing the ‘independence menace’. Rather than engaging with this population, they want to ignore it, and lie about how the Kashmiri identity emerged for a multiethnic State. In the official writings of the Jammu & Kashmir State, the Rulers spoke of the “Kashmir Mulki”, the inhabitant of Kashmir country; this is what it means to be a Kashmiri outside the stupid ethnic gymnastics of Indian and Pakistani nationalists policing the independence discourse on Kashmir. The world is not stupid to the racial Nazism that is unfolding, and eventually India will lose all credibility to speak with integrity on issues of identity.
Why nationalistic Indians, and not secular minded liberals, become entangled in these incoherent discussions, claiming to be genuine democrats, is revealing of a set of underlying anxieties to control the discourse on the Kashmir Conflict. They’re more aware than most that when individuals affirm a Kashmiri identity, they’re making a political statement that directly challenges the writ of the Indian Republic. To speak of Occupied Kashmir, ipso facto means to speak of “Occupied Peoples”. According to the logic of India’s narrative that Pakistan has militarily occupied parts of Jammu & Kashmir illegally (a valid legal argument I must concede out of intellectual integrity), this would mean that the inhabitants of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, by definition, are Occupied Indians in the legislative sense of the identity. The Pakistanis, who speak of Indian-Occupied-Kashmir can’t make this argument, because they have no legal standing in the Kashmir Conflict according to the legal norms that created Pakistan and India. Pakistan invaded Kashmir citing the people’s national aspirations to be part of Pakistan – a democratic argument, not a legal argument, which rings hollow in Azad Kashmir, the bit Pakistan has disinvested.
However, rarely do propagandistic claims mask what is really happening. Kashmiris making public their stake in the divided territory of Jammu & Kashmir are saying they want independence from both Pakistan and India. This position is supported by legal norms and democratic aspirations – a very powerful argument. Kashmiris are nationals of the territory, a legal status that has found its way in both India and Pakistan’s constitutional frameworks. The majority of theses 17 million natives, within and outside the State, want independence.
By publicly affirming a Kashmiri identity, those embodying this identity are saying that they are not Indians nor Pakistanis. This is not ethnolinguistics, but politics. All across the world, the Kashmir Conflict is understood in independence terms and not merely as a territorial fight between two countries over landmass. For the majority of Mirpuris in the UK, who do, from time to time, mention that their grandparents originate from “Kashmir” mindlessly without any background in the conflict, they are unaware of the pro-independence narrative in so-called ‘A’JK that rejects Pakistan as an Occupier; India is not occupying ‘Azad’ Kashmir, which puts them on a collision course with nationalistic Indians, who otherwise have no reason to ‘beef’ with them except to oppose independence for Kashmir.
If Pakistan’s Kashmir becomes independent, this will weaken India’s resolve to stop its Kashmir from becoming independent; thus, the priority of differentiating ‘Azad’ Kashmiris ostensibly from ‘Indian’ Kashmiris to atomise the pro-independence movement. It is a sinister ploy not worthy of people claiming to be genuine democrats. this is why I am calling such Indian ‘nativists’ pseudo-democrats. I have no respect for these individuals, because they are destroying the coherence of India, which was thousands of years in the making.
India claims to be a democracy? Genuine democracies, by definition, can accommodate a multiplicity of identities within the culture of the State. Authoritarian regimes, by definition, impose unitary identities on subjects, fearing the multiplicity of identities, because they cannot accommodate such diversity within the culture of their state. They fear divergent identities. When Indians try to police the ethnic identities of Kashmiri “separatists”, (a deliberate slur imposed upon pro-independence actors), it exposes India’s autocratic dealings on the Kashmir Conflict putting it on par with Pakistan, which is an authoritarian State without question.
However, as I have mentioned in my other writings, it would be intellectual dishonesty on my part to compare Pakistan with India which is a democracy in name and practise. One way of knowing if a country is a genuine democracy, is to observe how genuine democracies around the world identify that country. The Free World considers India the largest of all true democracies. Britain, America, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Tunisia, Brazil, Israel (a democracy that does not work in the ‘Occupied Territories’), South Africa, and all the others, do not consider Pakistan a democracy, because it is a Military State that has overthrown democratically elected governments in numerous military coups.
India could win the democratic argument against Pakistan very easily if only it behaved democratically with Kashmiris from both sides of the LOC in light of its stated claims of accommodating genuine autonomy for disputed Kashmir, within its own territorial coherence. Democracies negotiate political settlements with their citizens, they do not impose such settlements through military power or punitive laws. Instead, India is actively denying democracy to 17 million Kashmiris. The country that created India and Pakistan, gave Scotland an independence Referendum to decide its future. Canada gave the same democratic right to the Province of Quebec. Australia gave its own citizens the right to decide whether they want to be a Constitutional Monarchy or a Republic. These polities are genuine democracies, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but democracies in name and practise. They are more virtuous in their democratic dealings with their own nationals than either India and Pakistan is, and yet Indians and Pakistanis have the audacity to lecture the world about Britain’s colonial ways! How dare Indians and Pakistanis engage in such dishonest characterisations, when they behave so outrageously in Kashmir, imprisoning and intimidating anyone who decides to speak for Kashmir’s independence.
When Indians claim that “Azad” Kashmiris are not ethnic Kashmiris, they’re behaving without any integrity because of a biased political agenda of rightwing nationalist organisations that don’t have a democratic born in their bodies. Their claims are essentially nativistic and not democratic; they are using the language of western ethno-fascists for political propaganda, and not the language of eastern sages, who gave India its multiethnic Civilisation.
These dirty tactics are lost on pro-independence Kashmiris in the Vale, who never come to the defence of 4.5 million Azad Kashmiris being flagellated as fake Kashmiris, which further supports the Indian argument that “Azad” Kashmiris are not really Kashmiris. Crucially, it should get the activists of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir thinking hard about what kind of independence they are fighting for when their Kashmiri brothers and sisters on the opposite side of the LOC are silent about their plight in Pakistan. This is a kind of fake fraternity, akin to the fake Pakistani fraternity in the UK, where Mirpuris are thrown under the bus to redeem a flawed citified Pakistani group identity that doesn’t even exist in practise. These are all dangerous myths.
For Indian nationalists, any mention of Kashmir in ‘non-ethnic’ ‘territorial’ terms sends them into a tailspin. It further aggravates a particular group of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, one of many stakeholders in the conflict, who lay claim to Kashmir because of origin myths (nativism) that they’ve been spreading in India. I’m speaking of a tiny demography of 400 thousand people (when compared to 17 million people), but even this figure is frequently inflated to 700, 800 thousand people. Hindu Pandits are unrepresentative of ethnic Muslim Kashmiris, who couldn’t care an iota for “Brahman” myth-making that they are the original Kashmiris, capitalising on a group label politically speaking. Isreali Jews make similar claims about Palestine, writing Palestinians out of their homeland’s history. There is nothing in the DNA of Pandits that makes this group more ‘native’ than any other group; identity labels are fluid and evolving, they are not biological facts, or divine truths that can be conflated with centuries of unjust power dynamics. The overwhelming majority of international observers find such claims sinister and unbecoming of true democrats.
Territorial Kashmir has never been ethnicity – a fact of history!
The conceptualisation of a territorial Kashmir, over and above notions of an ethnic Kashmir (reduced in area), collides with Hindu Pandit attempts to ethnicise Kashmiris as the linear descendants of Brahman sages who speak a particular ethnic language, with a particular group memory and corresponding identity that they can monopolise despite such claims being fabricated. This version of Kashmir’s history is ideological. It’s no different to the nativism of numerous nationalistic projects being debunked across the world. Some ethnic Muslim Kashmiris who want independence fall into this trap self-affirmingly, reducing Kashmir to a form of ethnic exclusivism that makes independence less desirable for other ethnic communities, who have roots in the same territory. The “real” Kashmiris make exaggerated statements about their importance to the State, a purported superiority complex that is then flogged by those trying to undermine independence, arguing that independence is not deliverable because Kashmiris are a distinct ethnic group unlike neighbouring groups.
Whatever the nature of ethnic chauvinism; lots of people across the world think they are uniquely distinct, the recorded history of Kashmir, its archaeological sites and connections to neighbouring regions makes such primordial ethnic claims non-intelligible. Ironically, although Kashmir’s mythic history is adopted by Hindu Indians through Kashmiri Pandits, it weakens the Indian Republic’s pan-Indian non-nativist claims to Kashmir outside ethnic exclusivism. Narratives of ethnic exclusivism are dangerous, they undermine multiethnic (multi-religious) States from naturally cohering and can lead to deadly violence and ethnic cleansing. But they can also operate like a double-edged sword. They have the power to undermine multiethnic territories agitating for independence status (Sovereignity) to also naturally cohere, which might explain the Indian priorities of playing the Hindu Pandit narrative against pro-independence Muslim Kashmiris and non-ethnic Kashmiris. For secular Indians, Kashmir’s false ethnic exclusivism is a balancing act with clear dividends.
These sorts of priorities create anomalies. The same Kashmiri Pandits monopolising Kashmir for themselves seeking bedfellows from Hindu Nationalists, love distinguishing themselves from the bulk of ‘dark-skinned’ Indians, racially ‘less pure’ than them because in their mind they descend from the original Aryans, who entered India around 1750 BC from Central Asia. According to this colonial narrative, which empowered the British to justify their occupation of India (because they were the original Aryans unlike the mongrelised Aryans of India), the Aryans conquered India from inferior aboriginal populations, the Dravidians. No one in India takes such claims seriously anymore fully aware of the biased colonial agenda behind the claims; the Dravidian identity had always been a linguistic identity not a racial one. It may be the case that certain ‘political’ elements are assuming Hindu Pandit identities to sow discord amongst ethnic and non-ethnic Kashmiris, but it is also the case that some Kashmiri Pandits do feel superior to Hindu lower-castes. Ethnic Muslim Kashmiris buying into these crass origin myths are unaware of how outlandish they sound to outsiders having difficulties distinguishing Hindu Pandits from an array of Indian ethnic groupings. There is nothing racially distinct about ethnic Kashmiris that would instantly distinguish them from an array of 1.5 billion people in India or Pakistan, not just in the North of the country but also in the South. The internet is however a depository of some bizarre racial ideas, and one comes across Kashmiris proudly speaking of themselves in 19th century “Aryan Nordic” terms. They speak of chiselled features, fair skin and other non-biological concepts conflated with flawed ideas of race.
We live in the age of modern technology and communication. Kashmir is only an hour away from New Delhi by plane. Gone are the days, when peoples were shrouded in mystery and exoticism. Photoshopping images, or worshipping the God of “fair and lovely” (skin-whitening creams) will not change this reality. Whatever the physiognomy of regional groups because of climate, it doesn’t render them different or unique; there is more diversity within ethnic groups than between ethnic groups, and this reality had been observed by American biologists researching race during the early 1900s.
Outside the ethnic primordialism of political claims, the Kashmiri Pandit claim is fundamentally a stratagem to disconnect Muslim Kashmiris of the pro-independence quest from non-ethnic Kashmiri Muslims across the divided territory. Like I said, this narrative is co-opted by fellow Indians, who do not necessarily agree with Kashmiri origin myths, but the claims are effective enough to deny Muslim claims to “Hindu territory”. To date, these claims have been successfully deployed, with little push-back from activists pursuing the pro-independence quest.
Illustratively, the above tweet is a case in point. Major Arya speaks of “PoK” (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) disingenuously, knowing full well that ‘Azad’ Kashmir has never been part of an ethnic Kashmiri-speaking space despite being connected with Kashmir historically. Kashmir’s territorial history predates notions of ethnicity by millennia; those who wrote Kashmir’s earliest history, wrote in Sanskrit, a North Indian Plains language and the writers were writing about legendary Kings, and not native peoples. Lots of the Rulers were not natives to Kashmir, having come from all over the place including India. The tweet on the other hand is a good example of political propaganda. Major Arya refers to ‘Azad’ Kashmir as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir ignoring how ascriptive identities work across the world, relational norms we otherwise take for granted. He doesn’t seem to understand the inconsistencies in his reasoning, and why should he, if he is committed to extolling political mistruths like typical fascists across the world?
Canadians are Canadians because they originate from Canada; Brazilians come from Brazil; Indians come from India; Britons come from Britain (shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland); Chinese come from China; Kashmiris come from Kashmir etc. The ascriptive identities comprise huge internal ethnic diversity and no one would think to argue otherwise except to contest the identities politically. The impulse in question is never ethnic, linguistic or religious whatever the veneer of the statements.
In India’s “Kashmir”, the Province of Jammu comprises of ethnic Paharis, Dogras and ethnic Kashmiris. The Province is said to be the ethnic homeland of Dogras and is alternatively referred to as Duggardesh, (the land of Dogras). This holds true for countless diverse communities living across the full width and breadth of the divided State. The idea that ethnic Kashmiris have been ethnically cleansed and replaced by Pak ex-servicemen in Azad Kashmir is an outright slander against the Pakistan Military, a military that murdered Bengalis in 1971. A slur is a slur, and Mr Arya is slandering Azad Kashmiris who did not murder Kashmiri natives of ‘A’JK, In another of his YouTube Videos (@9 minutes2seconds), he states that ethnic Kashmiri speakers are not the only people living in the Indian State! Again, this is not an ethnic claim but a political one, to undermine the separatists laying territorial claims to the much larger territory, whilst seeking fraternity with ‘Azad’ Kashmiris. Ultimately, it exposes behaviour unbecoming of a genuinely democratic State. The video is entitled “Major Gaurav Arya exposes 5 Myths about Kashmir perpetrated by Pakistan”.
Answering to Myths about Indian Army and Kashmir to the questions which were raised by Pakistani Delegates at Oxford University, British Parliament and King’s College London.
“Kashmiriyat” was a national project; not the exclusive property of ethnic Kashmiris or Hindu Pandits
Be that as it is, the Kashmiri identity (‘Kashmiriyat’), when it first emerged as a national consciousness against the abuses of state tyranny, emerged during the early 1900s particularly in the 1930s. By definition, it included everyone native to the State (Kashmir Mulki) and not just those in Kashmir Vale. Lots of those who were imprisoned, or executed under sedition charges becoming martyrs for ‘Kashmiriyat’ hailed from Mirpur. Some of those leading this campaign for Kashmiri enfranchisement included Hindus, Sikhs and prominent members of the Kashmiri Pandit community, which just goes to show the fluid nature of identity politics. Back then, the Kashmiri Pandits were shouting “Kashmir for the Kashmiris” and by this they meant jobs for the state subjects of Kashmir to the exclusion of Indians (Hindustanis, Punjabis, Bengalis, Biharis) from the territories of British India. In practise, this meant securing government jobs for themselves, because they were literate in the new language of the State, Urdu. It used to be Persian until the late 1880s. The majority of people in Kashmir State were illiterate. The patron of those jobs was the Dogra Ruler of Jammu and his ruling class (Dogra Rajput), who were increasingly growing tired of patronising Kashmiri Pandits to the disadvantage of others within the State. Inevitably, this led to recruiting educated Urdu-speakers from outside the state because the State failed to recruit enough Urdu-speakers from within its own borders, leading to the actual impulses behind the misleading nationalistic slogan – “Kashmir for Kashmiris”. Hindu Pandits were basically protecting their groups economic interests.
Politics is a dirty business and ethnic politics is a swamp.
The Kashmiris who publicly identify as Indians or Pakistanis today, are never vilified on account of their ethnic identities, which is telling of what is really going on. These are the compliant Kashmiris that Indians and Pakistanis love courting. They do not support the idea of independence, “…because they are wise and loyal”! They come from both parts of the divided State. Statistically, a number of observations can be made. Non-Muslims oppose independence; the overwhelming majority of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists want to remain with India and for obvious reasons too. The largest constituency for Kashmiri independence anywhere in the divided Jammu & Kashmir State is the ethnic Kashmiri Muslim population of the Vale and this demography is secular not religious. They are followed suit by the majority of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir’s population, whose activist population is more secular than religious. The inhabitants follow a Sufi (Sunni) kind of Islam that has not been politicised yet. They would find the tenants of political Islam (‘Islamism’) unintelligible. This authoritarian form of Islam has been co-opted by Pakistan’s Military Complex to further some self-destructive priorities. Kashmiri Muslim organisations advocating independence from India but merger with Pakistan are essentially religious and receive funding from Pakistan; they are proxies for the Pakistan Military and exist to undermine independence for Muslim Kashmiris. ‘Azad’ Kashmiris in the UK are almost exclusively of Muslim origin (of a Sufi and not Islamist bent), which is the trigger for Indian anxieties that question the Kashmiri identity of Mirpuris. Had Mirpuris identified publicly as Pakistani, without explicitly mentioning Kashmir, there would have been no reason for the Indians to interject in their conversations trying to impugn their ethnic credentials because of politics and not ethnolinguistics. They always message their rebuffs against Mirpuris on spurious ethnic lines which is telling of the actual political priorities. What is more revealing is the orchestrated way in which they target online content dealing with ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, which has the hallmarks of planning and is not the rantings of individual trolls. The claim that Mirpuris are ethnic Punjabis settled in “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir by Pakistan’s military to change the original demography on the ground post 1947 is repeated with fervour.
Lots of Pakistanis repeat these nativist claims conveniently, even those claiming to have genuine Kashmiri heritage who are themselves non-Kashmiri speaking ethnic-Punjabis. They do not reject a Punjabi identity for themselves, but oddly they reject the Kashmiri identity for the ‘Punjabi settlers’ in Kashmir, an ahistorical claim nonetheless! The incoherence of their reasoning is beyond their intellectual wits. How occupational castes migrating from Kashmir became Kashmiris is an interesting historical fact that many self-styled Kashmiris beefing with ‘Azad’ Kashmiris have never explored.
Punjabi Caste Kashmiris have miraculously become Ethnic Kashmiris!
New norms of occupation – policing identities
Caste-Kashmiris are Kashmiris because of how they were identified on the Plains of North India by the colonial powers-be, and not because they were primordial Kashmiris. Like numerous group identities across the world, it has everything to do with power to label people externally, and not because the identities in question are self-sustaining. Presently, this broad group has no stake in the Kashmir Conflict, because its members don’t live in Kashmir and are not ethnic Kashmiris outside it (which would apply to the other indigenous groups of Kashmir outside its borders). Overwhelmingly, they did not come from ethnic Kashmir. I say self-styled, because there’s nothing Kashmiri substantively about them outside the powerful impulse to identify as Kashmiris because of its social appeal in Pakistan. They don’t speak the ethnic Kashur language (a low-variety in terms of diglossia), their parents did not speak this language either; they do not partake in the cultural traditions of Kashur, and yet, members of this community are creating online profiles to write themselves into the suffering of ethnic Kashmiris, who want an independent State from both India and Pakistan that includes Azad Kashmir! If ever deceit and dishonesty took the name of a struggle, it would be Punjabi Caste Kashmiris poisoning relations between Azad Kashmiris and Ethnic Kashmiris to do Pakistan’s bidding – a country that does not support independence, but occupation of Azad Kashmir. They speak so movingly about the plight of Valley Kashmiris, whilst silent about the treatment of Azad Kashmiris by Pakistan’s ISI, and this in the face of the fact that their ethnic forebears overwhelmingly came from outside the ethnic sphere of Kashur.
Identities evolve and change, so why are occupational caste-Kashmiris still holding onto a Kashmiri identity? Because of the unhealthy importance Pakistan places on Kashmir. Kashmir’s people have been reified in the minds of Pakistanis undeservingly; my grandparents originate from the territory in dispute, so I hope my readers can appreciate the actual point I’m making. I’m not trying to belittle my own people, and I consider caste-Kashmiris part of the heritage that’s being savaged because of dirty politics, both the Indians and Pakistanis are involved in these antics. Successive Pakistani governments have made outlandish statements about the importance of Kashmiris to Pakistan’s territorial coherence. It doesn’t matter to such ideologues that they lost Bangladesh in 1971, because the Pakistan Project fell apart amidst immense inequality, dehumanising violence, murder and rape.
Pakistan wants land, it doesn’t care for Kashmiris – Ethnic Kashmiris, Azad Kashmiris or Punjabi Caste Kashmiris.
Just one year after independence, West Pakistanis started to “other” East Pakistanis. Throughout their short stint as bona fide Pakistanis they complained of mistreatment and denigration. It all started with the prohibition on the Bengali language in administrative capacities. To appreciate the backlash, the Bengali language had been used by the British as part of their statecraft. Calcutta was the capital of British India before it was changed to New Delhi; from the educated Bengali community emerged India’s intellectual class and many of them were involved in the Indian nationalist movement. Rabindranath Tagore, for instance, was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature in 1913. He wrote in Bengali and his writings were translated into numerous western languages. The Bengali language had a much older pedigree than Urdu and an even more extensive literature. Overnight, the Bengali language was banned in its own homeland, and the rationale given was to protect Pakistan from fragmenting into separate linguistic and ethnic communities. Jinnah delivered this edict in East Pakistan in English incapable of speaking Urdu himself being a native Sindhi speaker. The irony of this policy was lost on him. Unlike the language policy pursued in India where dozens of official languages were empowered over night, Pakistan’s ruling class imposed a unitary language policy that privileged Urdu and by definition, Urdu speakers. Empowered through a discriminatory law, West Pakistanis, both native speakers and those who had elected to speak the language, perceived Urdu to be superior to Bengali. This language prejudice didn’t stop there. They racialised the Bengalis according to the same colonial race-science that had once robbed pre-partition Indians of their humanity and dignity. The protagonists would describe the Bengalis as an enfeebled race unlike the martial races positively recruited into the Pakistan Army. East Pakistanis comprised 54 percent of the population, but only 2 percent of Army jobs were allocated to them. They were considered low-caste Hindu converts to Islam, unlike the West Pakistanis who were increasingly reimagining their past as the scions of a much older Muslim identity.
Gradually, the West Pakistanis began to exploit the East Pakistanis in all sectors of the society. The Bengalis in response mobilised around their grievances and won the national elections fairly, but the West Pakistan Military intervened and imprisoned their leaders. Democracy, not for the first or last time, became a casualty of the Pakistan Military. What then followed can only be described as the depravity of narcissistic sinecures refusing to relinquish power to the detriment of millions of ordinary Pakistanis. The Army decided to eradicate the Bengali intellectual class spearheading the resistance. They butchered them to death; dead squads were sent to universities to execute them. Ordinary Bengalis then reluctantly took up arms to fight their oppressors and a bitter war of liberation was fought that resulted in the Pakistan Army being totally routed by Indian troops, who intervened to stop East Pakistanis fleeing into India. This humiliation for the Pakistan Army is still celebrated as a victory in Pakistan; the footage of captured soldiers treated benignly by their Indian captors has no impact on Pakistanis wanting to re-imagine these events. The rapists and murderers of the Pakistan Army, who committed crimes against humanity have never been bought to justice in Pakistan, some of whom belonged to Islamic movements. Lots of them were awarded medals for their bravery.
In Pakistan, there is no adequate appreciation of the crimes that were committed and the prelude to this violence. One still hears Pakistani patriots reducing the Bengali genocide to Indian conspiracies. Their entire staple is the anecdotal prejudice circulating within their own circles about the treachery of East Pakistanis and the machinations of Indian co-conspirators. They are not in the habit of reading history books, but prefer the confirmation bias of nationalistic anchors blaming India for Pakistan’s spiralling problems. Prejudice is, of course, decades in the making, before it leads to discrimination, persecution and ‘reactions’. It’s a powder-keg, once it explodes, there’s no going back.
‘Azad’ Kashmir seems to be on the same trajectory as East Pakistan, seemingly lacking of an intellectual class. Like Bangladesh, ‘A’JK is important because of natural resources but not genuine fraternity. It is important because of its rivers, strategic location and resources. The small Azad Kashmiri community in the UK is punching well above its weight in terms of the actual wealth it has bestowed on mainland Pakistan. It sends more money to AJK annually than ‘Azad’ Kashmir’s tiny government budget; this money is then spent servicing Pakistan’s commercial sectors. Pakistan’s Rulers do not care for the wellbeing of ordinary ‘Azad’ Kashmiris, a fact lost on caste-Kashmiris who think they are somehow being celebrated when the Pakistan State worships the idea of Kashmir and Kashmiris. The only reason why the Pakistani State as co-opted them symbolically at least, is because they live in Pakistan and are thus naturally predisposed to Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. They are thus being deliberately pitied against the bone fide nationals, i.e., state subjects of so-called Azad Kashmir, who are increasingly turning pro-independence. Without Azad Kashmiris, Pakistan has no stake in any part of Kashmir, it is quite literally an intruder and interloper in the Kashmir Conflict because it has an Army. This is why the Pakistani State positions itself internationally as the protector of Muslims against Hindu barbarity. It speaks in defence of Palestinians but is silent about the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China, fully aware of China’s terrible human rights record against Muslims and Buddhists. Geopolitics have always trumped romantic notions of shared fraternity and the Muslim World is an arena of duplicitous bedfellows stabbing each other in the back.
For the Mirpuris encountering highly provocative slurs that they are not Kashmiris, they do not understand that they are being othered, not because they’re not from a space called Kashmir historically, which they evidently are, but because of dirty politics, and not an overarching commitment to ethnic truths. The protagonists making these claims are disingenuous when they lay claim to 84000 – 86000 square miles of territory.
The ripple effect of Pakistanis and Indians repeating these claims, enormous bandwagons disseminating political claims, feels like an onslaught against ‘Azad’ Kashmiris whose pro-independence leaders and activists have failed them. The net result of being bombarded with this disinformation is to shy away from identifying with the Kashmiri label, thinking it is some other group’s label, as if group identities come with title-deeds to historical memories! In my mind, it proves conclusively that the non-political actors involved in such diatribes are wholly prejudicial and racist. I make no bones of accusing such people of racism, they are racists. Some western writers fall into the same sewer commenting on a whole range of issues because of prejudice they’ve adopted from their Indian and Pakistani peers. Although not necessarily racist and well-intentioned, it is clear to me that they’ve been influenced by subtle prejudice.
Kashmir, since the inception of the dispute in 1947 has been territorial. No one with a slither of intellectual integrity would ever argue otherwise. The actual ‘Kashmir’ split between India and Pakistan, proudly showcased on their maps respectively, is a self-cohering ethnic space that belongs to ethnic Paharis and not ethnic-Kashmiris. We are speaking about people’s lived experiences, and not the identity labels imposed upon them. The LOC runs through ethnic Pahari lands, separating a self-cohering people into two separate territories. Mirpuris belong to this historical space. This is their ethnic homeland, and it is being written out of history all the while they have no sense of the political onslaught against them
So, on what basis do foreign commentators, Indians, Pakistanis, feel they have the right to lecture a particular group about it usage of an identity label intimately connected with its past; a history older than the modern Republic of India and Pakistan? 70 years ago, there was no Pakistan! Before the British came, there was no Indian ‘national’ identity either. Sri Lanka also fell within the orbit of an Indian civilisational space, but Indians have no problem with Sri Lankans identifying with their own territorial label. Why?
Pakistanis and Indians, who have a problem with Mirpuris identifying through the Kashmiri territorial shorthand, one that has historical precedence I would like to remind them, happily self-affirm as ‘British’, ‘French’, ‘Canadian’, ‘Australians’! Conveniently, the nationalism of these countries becomes civic and not perennial ethnically speaking. How they feel belittled, denigrated, disparaged, humiliated, alienated, when their much-cherished western identities are denied because of nativism and white supremacy. In the UK, their faces turn like tomatoes when racists joke, “there’s no black in the Union Jack!” “Pakis can’t be British!” They play the race card as aggrieved victims of racism, showing solidarity with “white” “Europeans” being told to go home by the same racists!
Ironically, only a couple of years ago, convinced of their British identity, (the Eastern Europeans were being savaged at the time; Nigel Farage wasn’t hating on Germans or French Europeans), some Indians and Pakistanis voted for Brexit, because they were aggrieved that “the country was full of “immigrants” and (British-born) Priti couldn’t get an appointment at the GP’s surgery to see her (immigrant) Doctor!” “(British-born) Sajjid was frustrated with not being able to bring his newly married Fiancee from Lahore because immigrants from Eastern Europe were being privileged over commonwealth nationals!” Wherever racism rears its ugly head, it sounds and smells the same. Social class bigotry tends to camouflage racism, and the brown and black racists are never forced to reevaluate their own prejudices.
Could Myra MacDonald, (cited in the above tweet illustratively) use the same logic whilst arguing that the “Gibraltarians” are not British because the label isn’t terribly accurate? Gibraltar is not on the British Isles but located at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, and the people are not entirely of British extraction. Lots of Gibraltarians belong to Mediterranean backgrounds, but no one would dare argue that they are not British, despite Spain claiming the entire region territorially. If Britain returned the Falkland Islands to Argentina, what would be the identity of the Islanders? These two illustrations can be used for numerous ethnic regions, territories and identity labels across the world. In the case of Mirpuris and incessant debates about their actual ethnic or territorial identities, prejudice is the overriding priority to deny them any connections with Kashmir, and we shouldn’t be afraid to state this fact for what it is. Myra MacDonald’s language is itself insightful; what exactly does ‘dominate’ mean within the context of Mr Galloway, someone on the fringe of mainstream politics? Her remarks are prejudicial of Mirpuris mindful of the tweet she responded to. How does she know that the person using racist language against Jews is Mirpuri simply on the strength of Bradford connections? Once again, this is the magic numbers pill that Pakistanis love throwing around.
Group identities are complicated things and I’ve since been exploring the fissures and cleavages that accrue from them, vastly expanding my own intellectual horizons on the matter. I’m not a primordial nationalist to fall for the charms of ahistorical narratives that pity people against one other. In principle I’m not opposed to India or Pakistan; I’m not a Kashmiri nationalist or ‘separatist’, the latter term is a slur in many ways. If India and Pakistan work, they will work for the betterment of their nationals, their wellbeing being the operative word and not because the patriots think their linear forebears came from Jupiter!
Speaking truth to unjust power; Pakistan is corruption and deceit
States must exist for the welfare of people, they shouldn’t become arenas for the personal enterprises of elites, which is what Pakistan has become, thus my reservations about “Pakistan”. The Pakistani State is a huge liability for ordinary Pakistanis, forget about ‘Azad’ Kashmiris. Who in their right mind would dare argue that Pakistan’s Establishment cares for tens of millions of poor Pakistanis? The Establishment has grown richer, ordinary Pakistanis have grown poorer. Pakistan’s Middle Class is being squeezed into conforming, entry into this class means denying one’s actual past, of refusing to speak one’s ancestral languages in the homeland of their birth, of adopting ‘social airs’ that are false and deeply degrading to those who remain true to themselves. Worse, having cut themselves off from their past deliberately, the material prospects for this group are reducing in an international order that looks unfavourably on Pakistanis. No such concerns for the Generals and their officers, all of whom are sinecures of the State. They behave like the Mafia under the cover of social respectability and adherence to Islam.
The Pakistani State through its intelligence agencies is involved in the mass production of propaganda against its own peoples. This is the very definition of an authoritarian State. States that demonise their ethnic populations, muffling dissent, terrorising and disappearing people for simply stating their truth have no right to exist. The Baluch, the Pashtun, ethnic communities whose people have memories much older than Pakistan are being demonised because of their ‘separatist leanings’. Pakistan’s “Pathans”, from the Punjab, are quickly pitted against ethnic Pashtun as if they are the genuine representatives of Pashtun national aspirations in Pakistan. Ahmedis, Liberals, Feminists, Shia, members of the LGBT community, are targeted because they publicly speak truth to power. The same ‘Islamic’ arguments are deployed against them cynically, “they’re atheists”, “they’re immoral”, “they’re heretics”, “they’re agents of India”, “they’re agents of Shia Iran”, “they’re agents of the West” – even the word “liberal” is being used pejoratively!
Entire group-identities are being savaged, and the identical patterning behind the slurs points to a common source and agenda. Democratic States do not behave like this because they don’t fear individuals whatever the group identities behind dissent, they co-opt the dissent into the very fabric of the State. This helps strengthen the institutions of the State. Authoritarian States are paranoid of dissent, they always attack the backgrounds of the people making the political arguments, assassinating people’s characters, without addressing the finer points of the criticism. Authoritarian States celebrate unitary identities; democracies celebrate multifaceted identities.
If an independent Kashmir was permitted to exist and this was what the people wanted, in principle, I would not be opposed to this exercise in democracy (self-determination) as long as it is genuinely democratic, inclusive and not the pet-project of Kashmiri nationalists. I’m a democrat not an intolerant despot who wants to impose his will on people. In this respect, I candidly say that the activist movements in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, whether operating in the UK, or elsewhere, have no genuine commitment to democracy, human rights or the rule of law. Even the activists from these movements come from particular Biraadaris, (social clan and caste networks). They are mostly men enamoured by the idea of a mythic Kashmir because of their lifelong commitments to the “political cause” with little to show for their efforts. They move in closeted circles, and their followers are friends and family members who repeat the same mantras to themselves. If they had been genuinely people-centric, Mirpuris in the UK would not be identifying as Pakistanis today. These activists are out of touch with tens of thousands of young people and women growing up in Britain, “English-speaking ‘Kashmiris'” (I prefer the term British-Paharis), who have never heard narratives other than the Pakistani ones. They could energise movements for popular enfranchisement if only they were co-opted into the struggles of people who understand how the international order works.
Independence movements require mass appeal, and not the speeches or small gatherings of activists repeating the old mantras.
Free thinking activists not aligned with the larger political movements for independence, have deep reservations about parties permitted to advocate for independence; these are political parties headquartered in Pakistan, and their dignitaries frequently move between India and Pakistan respectively with ease. The same activists berating India and Pakistan for occupying Kashmir and terrorising its people are happily re-locating to India and Pakistan for opportunities, better life experiences and upward mobility. If indeed these observations are true, it just shows the level of manipulation being exerted against 17 million people who have no genuine agency in their affairs. They’re being offered an insular vision for their society, which their ‘pro-independence’ leaders have bypassed for material benefits. If it is okay for them to live and work in India and Pakistan, travel and enjoy life in both arenas, why cant the nationals of Kashmir also be afforded the same opportunities as fellow Indians and fellow Pakistanis?
Understanding how group identities emerge; the illusory nature of ethnic and linguistic identities; the bogus construct of biological races; the history of European colonialism and nation states; unjust relations between dominant and fringe groups within a society, could radically change how groups view one another and the shared spaces they occupy. This fascinating area of study could allow them to appreciate the level of undue manipulation being exerted on them by political actors feigning solidarity with them, some of whom are morally bankrupt and outright liars, hardly the stuff of nation-building. They behave no differently to the propagandists fighting against them.
Dirty Politics and Mirpuri Vilification; the elephant in the room
I know from experience and can say with absolute conviction that Mirpuri vilification is real because of the skewed ‘identity politics’ of contested territoriality. It is the direct result of the factors that I have just discussed. It has become one of the defining fibres of inter-Pakistani relations in the UK undermining the coherence of a British-Pakistani identity because of a Pakistan/Kashmir fault line that has not been resolved. There may be a British-Pakistani group identity that can accommodate various mainland Pakistani groupings, but there is no corresponding fraternity that includes ‘Azad’ Kashmiris on an equal footing, Mirpuris being the most visible of all ‘Azad’ Kashmiri groupings in the UK to Pakistanis. It is wrongly assumed that group identities on ‘official’ paper lead to a self-sustaining fraternity and reciprocating relations. Mirpuri Vilification within the context of contested territoriality, if only as a case-study, could explain why such ideas are false.
Outside the realms of academic enquiry and objective analysis, people are humans and they have feelings. They don’t sit around analysing why things are the way they are. I know how I personally feel whenever I read about “British-Pakistanis” or watch something on TV about the problems facing this particular community. It’s always negative. I’m left with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that the representations in question are stereotypically-contrived and biased. Unsuspecting people will inevitably end up ingesting slurs about the misdemeanours of my community, a loose group of people who has no sense of its vilification, through the subtle messaging of Pakistanis who themselves are being savaged. British Pakistanis are looking for convenient scapegoats to blame, because of how they’re being made to feel, which I concede is awful and unfair to them; this media hate can be traced back to the Satanic Verses incident when British-Pakistanis became visible. This is how Bradfordistan entered the British imagination. Today, on the fringes of the actual media discussions, in the comment sections of articles, twitter, Facebook, YouTube comments, “real Pakistanis” emerge to point out that the people being publicly flogged by the British media are actually Mirpuris not Pakistanis. It comes across like a cyclical type of hate, until you do a little more probing and realise that there’s a lot more to this vilification.
How imaginary group fraternities are quickly blamed for the actions of individuals is revealing of unjust power dynamics and unequal social relations. They are never isolated events but a gradual process that typically starts with scapegoating and then ends with blame-shifting. The Holocaust, a seminal event in human history, was preceded by centuries of antisemitism, its antecedents can be seen operating in many social arenas across the world. Understanding antisemitism will allow us to understand how prejudice leads to social stigma, discrimination, persecution and genocide. This history is decades and centuries in the making, but ultimately unsuspecting people are manipulated to fear the ‘other’ to the point of being desensitised to punitive actions taken against them. The vilified community is always problematised. Political propagandists amplify this hate through recourse to the extant stereotypes and caricatures. The Nazis were expert propagandists.
The same Pakistanis aggrieved at how they’re being described by the Media – widespread Islamophobia has not helped – go brain-dead when they dish out the same prejudice against Mirpuris, a group fiction that they’re spreading! Ironies are seldom this poetic. This is not a mere instance of cognitive dissonance, it is an example of a stifling tribalism, of an imposed group identity that wrongly conflates itself with respectable fraternities. Pakistanis love describing Mirpuris in social class terms to differentiate themselves unaware of their own prejudice. It is a sinister form of othering that monopolises the much wider group identity in its own image, empowering the worst sorts of people to speak on behalf of imaginary fraternities running in the hundreds of thousands and millions of people.
Members of my community seem to be unaware of these impulses, happily existing on the fringe of non-reciprocating fraternities as an amorphous extension because of group identities they’ve never explored. They have no sense of their own group distinctions, and how they are being imagined by outsiders. So much is made of the “Mirpuri” background that apparently distinguishes Mirpuris from ordinary Pakistanis, or at least those who own the group label. But what exactly is this background?
The Mirpur of History; a unit of territory and not the locus of a group identity
[Note; please do not go to Wikipedia, Quora to learn about Kashmir; you’ll be fed lies; these are arenas for disinformation]
“Mirpur” is the unassuming name of a tribal settlement originally settled in the 1650s by a small band of tribesmen. The small principality in question formed part of a much larger region that had been connected with the Kashmir of antiquity, an old expansive geographical space. It expanded and contracted throughout the ages. Greek historians mentioned this region in their own literature, but the actual lands they were familiar with (Abisares), were south of the present day Kashmir Vale, in areas conterminous with today’s Pahari-cultural-sphere. A lot of the Indo-Greek colonies that were founded after Alexander’s conquest of “India” (which didn’t include many areas in Pakistan or North India), were founded in areas where Mirpuris continue to live; there was no Indo-Greek Principality in the Vale of Kashmir. And yet Greek and Persian writers mentioned Kashmir when they spoke of the lands eastwards of the River Indus, despite the modern-day ethnic projections of ideologues trying to claim Kashmir’s historical legacy for themselves. Put simply, ancient and medieval Kashmir had never been an ethnolinguistic arena of competing interests.
“Kashmir” in ancient Indian literature was connected to two of the sixteen Aryan Tribal Confederacies (“Aryavarta”), Gandhara and Kamboja. Ashoka Raja, Ruler of the Mauryan Empire is said to have founded Srinagar and he was based in Gandhara. It was Ashoka Raja who introduced Buddhism into the wider region including Kashmir. The capital for Gandhara on the eve of its destruction by the White Huns around the 5th century CE was located in modern-day Taxila, (Pothohar Plateau) but previously it had been in the Peshawar Basin, now in Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province, Pakistan. Kamboja’s capital was said to be Rajapura, the old pronunciation for modern-day Rajouri. The White Huns and the various confederacies that evolved out of Central Asian nomadic migrations into India, later settled the Gujarat-Rajasthan region, where they coalesced into the emerging formations that played a significant role in North Indian history; I mention the White Huns to make the point that this history was connected with lots of regions in India; lots of North Indian ethnic and tribal groups, (Agnikul Rajput, Jat, Gujjar etc; Gujaratis, Rajasthanis, Punjabis etc) are the inheritors of this legacy and dare I say, that most coveted of Pakistani ideological commodities, “Central and West Asian DNA”.
Kashmir was thus landmass, settled and ruled by an array of ethnic groups and tribes who came from all over the place. It entered the Indian imagination as a mountainous region nestled within the Western Himalaya. Its evolving borders were reconfigured when the Mughals conquered it in the 1500s, reintroducing ‘Kashmir’ (the Persian rendition) into the Indian imagination because of their love of gardens. The colonial Brits reconfigured it again, when they purchased Kashmir (the territory, not the ethnic space) from the vanquished Sikhs. The Dogra Rajput (mid 1800s CE), direct beneficiaries of Sikh losses, combined the tribal principalities of Mirpur into a tax-collecting unit, vastly expanding it, adding it geo-administratively to Jammu Province, a much larger unit of territory. Jammu Province, like Kashmir Province is a political construct and not the locus of an ethnic identity. Strictly speaking, Mirpur is a unit of territory, whose inhabitants are being deliberately restricted to a small section of an ethnolinguistic people, who have never once in their entire lifetimes, gone about their business self-affirming through the name of the District or the larger Jammu Province (Jammuwal)! For obvious reasons, the district has never been the locus of a group identity in any shape, size or form to make unintelligible ideas of a Mirpuri background.
The concept of a Mirpuri background is a British-Pakistani innovation that has entered British literature because of the interactions between Pakistanis and British writers. The idea of a Mirpuri group identity is complete bonkers and counter-intuitive. It would be akin to deliberately distinguishing “Brummies”, “Londoners” and “Mancunians” in dishonest ethnic terms, fuelled by hatred to “other” and “single-out” tens of thousands of ordinary people thorough whatever pseudo-knowledge is at one’s disposal, hiding the actual impulses. No one would ever speak of these three communities as if they were separate to the “English” or the “British”.
Even the borders of ‘Mirpur’ have changed impacting notions of Mirpuri attribution. Before the 1970s, Mirpur included Kotli and Bhimbar, two sub-districts that were subsequently given their own district status. In fact, Mirpur used to be a sub-district of Bhimbar which included Rajouri, which ended up on the Indian side of Jammu & Kashmir after 1947. In the centuries predating the emergence of Jammu & Kashmir, this entire area used to be called Chibhan (Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimbar and Rajouri), on account of the dominant tribe that had traditionally ruled the area.
The exact borders of tribal principalities had never been demarcated in the way we look at maps today and this held true for Chibhan (Chibhal, Jhibhal). Cartography is a branch of knowledge which allows us to make maps with precision; the old Rulers to these regions were not cartographers for obvious reasons. Incidentally, it was British cartography and the impressive railway system they introduced to British India that inadvertently gave its successor State, the Dominion, and later, Republic of India its eventual coherence, for us to appreciate how ancient and medieval peoples imagined themselves outside the modern maps we take for granted. India, and Pakistan, didn’t exist in the minds of our forebears in the way we think these identities to be sacred gospel truths that cannot be challenged. Before the emergence of nation states, the inhabitants of various regions never once viewed their identities on the basis of nation state maps and borders. They didn’t fly flags, sing anthems and fight for the glory of their nations. These are all modern-day innovations, myths and fictions.
In the olden days, natural features, like rivers, mountain ranges, valleys, would be frequently used to demarcate territories and regions. In the region under discussion, the River Jhelum acted as an important natural border for various tribal polities and territorial formations for thousands of years. Chibhan thus extended from the River Jhelum as far as the Pir Panjal Mountain Range terminating at the River Chenab, from which point Jammu proper began, otherwise known as Duggardesh, the land of the Dogras. Old settlements are different to modern settlements, and overtime populations move to occupy less-resource rich lands because of famines, conflicts, natural disasters and population expansions. Conversely, modern technologies can also improve the fertility of otherwise barren lands, and new population centres can emerge as a result, this happened in the canal colonies of Western Punjab, courtesy of colonial technological innovations. Peoples have thus been moving across regions since time immemorial and their identity labels change and evolve.
When we look at the geo-administrative map of Jammu & Kashmir mindful of this history, we’re looking at a particular legacy; Bhimbar and Kotli had been part of Mirpur for more than a hundred years. The evolving District of Mirpur, with its sub-districts, were subsumed within Jammu for taxation purposes without discounting the much older ‘Kashmir’ region to which the landmass of Mirpur had traditionally been associated. The natives of this expansive region were intimately connected with various principalities that emerged and disappeared in the course of time; they are essentially the same ethnic people stretching beyond the demarcations of geo-administrative boundaries. The inhabitants of Poonch and Muzaffarabad are of the same ethnic stock as those living in Mirpur. They are the same people!
Such is the nature of anti-Mirpuri vilification in the UK, one now hears naive ‘Azad’ Kashmiris with roots in Kotli and Bhimbar rattled by anti-Mirpuri prejudice, protesting, “we’re not Mirpuris, we’re from Bhimbar; we’re from Kotli” unaware of how desperate they sound to flee the negative stereotypes reserved for Mirpuris. Unlike Poonch and Muzaffarabad, these districts continue to be part of the larger Mirpur Division, a reality not lost on the people who continue to live there. This would be akin to hearing someone saying, “I’m not from Tower Hamlets, I’m from London!” The fact that bona fide Mirpuris are differentiating themselves from the “real Mirpuris” is ample proof of the stigma Pakistanis have been generating against Mirpuris within their own demography.
The scale of the problem is huge. This is not hyperbole on the part of someone over-stating his case. Fundamentally, it calls into question the coherence of the British-Pakistani fraternity that exists on paper for the benefit of a group that operates like an interest group, or lobby, feeling entitled to represent British-Pakistanis because of an official label on paper. In reality this means availing itself of tax payer money or benefiting from unofficial quotas in political parties to become representatives of the “Pakistanis” voting for them. It is these same individuals who secure jobs with the BBC and other media outlets as part of diversity campaigns of the latter to be genuinely representative of their audiences.
How are these organisations representative of the majority of British Pakistanis, 70 percent of whom have no stake in the ethnic programming that ironically problematise them as dysfunctional communities, apparently “distinct” from Pakistanis from Lahore or Karachi? Revealingly, what is the identity of the Pakistanis who produce this content, who offer their ‘insider’ knowledge for the sake of accuracy? I am within my rights to say that this coterie of Pakistanis is creating opportunities for itself, and then protecting these interests for the betterment of its members. They callously use ‘Azad’ Kashmiri numbers to shore-up their own importance whilst actively distancing themselves from 1 million people.
Professional and educated British Paharis or Kashmiris (if that’s how they prefer to identify; identity labels are fluid) could potentially represent the community more honestly and competently if they simply mobilised around their own interests and social problems. They must root themselves in their own lived experiences outside the ideological project of Pakistan. In the absence of a group-consciousness, they are being “othered” by the very people they’ve wrongly considered their own fraternity. By continuing to defer to an overarching Pakistani identity, they are disempowering their own ‘A’JK-based community with serious consequences for their children and grandchildren if the Pakistani stigma is allowed to spread unchallenged.
This proposition can be easily demonstrated. The same Brit-Pakistanis who love speaking of Mirpuris pejoratively, never speak of “Abbottobadis”, “Islamabadis“, “Gujjar Khanis“, “Lahoris“, “Multanis”, “Karachees”, all Pakistani communities, in the way they speak of Mirpuris. Are these communities all perfect communities? Are they model communities who have contributed to science, literature, the arts, contributing to human accomplishments and achievements, leading the way forward for humanity so others can emulate them? Do these areas boast of internationally acclaimed universities, galleries, research centres of excellence? Malala Yusuf won the noble-prize for her humanitarian efforts; she was shot in the head by the Taliban in Swat at age 12; she had to be flown to Birmingham because Pakistan did not have any hospitals that could carry out the necessary surgical procedures. Lots of Pakistanis from the areas I mentioned had serious reservations about how she dressed; these are Pakistanis who come from cities and thus have access to Twitter and Facebook unlike the villager-type Pakistanis. They accused her father of staging the shooting so Malala could flee Pakistan and move to Britain; they seem envious of the fact that she ended up in the UK, ‘privileged’ (blessed more like) to study at a Private Girls School ending up at Oxford University. Unlike the haters hating on Malala Yusuf, she didn’t come from a city in Pakistan, she came from a rural area in Swat from a Pashtun background.
No one is imagining the hate that exists in Pakistan for various minority communities. And I am not imagining the conspiracy theories Pakistanis tell themselves whether in Pakistan or the diaspora; 7/7, 9/11, the neutralisation of Bin Laden in Pakistan are all conspiracies. But, why are Pakistanis with roots to these areas never problematised in the way Pakistanis describe Mirpuris, connecting them to the Mirpur Region because the Mirpuris of Bradford wear tracksuit bottoms and say “innit, innit”, all the time whilst selling drugs? How else can they afford expensive cars!?
Pakistanis in Britain band together to speak negatively of Mirpuris, accruing a sense of solidarity borne of a fraternity denied to Mirpuris,
which is further proof that the British-Pakistani identity does not work for more than 70 percent of the population classified as Pakistanis. All over social media, British Pakistanis proudly declare to the world, that their community refuses to marry Mirpuris. Even British-Pakistani journalists proudly declare these facts citing SingleMuslims.com as evidence.
The logic of the above claim runs as follows, “there’s something inherently wrong with being identified as Mirpuri, that’s why Mirpuris prefer to call themselves ‘Azad Kashmiris’. It doesn’t occur to the commentators, a little removed from their own prejudice, that Mirpur is in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir! The Mirpuris have every right to call themselves Azad Kashmiris because that is the name of the territory they come from, outside British-Pakistani stereotypical representations. Because Pakistanis are fighting for the Kashmir in India’s backyard, the jugular vein of Pakistan, romanticising Kashmiris in their minds, they find it hard to connect the Mirpuris they problematise with the land they so cherish. The above comment is a powerful admission of the lack of fraternity within the British-Pakistani community that Mirpuris need to urgently get their heads around. This hatred absolutely exists and it is one-sided.
Mirpuris are not going around telling sub-communities of Pakistan Punjab (Siraikhis, Hindkowan, Patwaris) that they have no right to identify as Punjabis, because “this provincial identity doesn’t really apply to them”. Mirpuris are not going around telling Pakistanis that “they are really Indians pretending to be Pakistanis, their identity is made-up, younger than some of their own living grandparents.” Mirpuris are not going around telling Urdu-speaking “Punjabis”, who feel a profound sense of insecurity when speaking Punjabi, the language of “taxi-drivers” according to their parents, that “they shouldn’t call themselves Punjabis because this is not their ‘real’ identity!” Mirpuris are not beefing with Pakistanis, belittling them, that “they’ve merely adopted fraudulently a North Indian Plain’s language because they’re ashamed of their own indigenous ethnic backgrounds reimagining the history of Hindustani which they’re now calling Urdu“. Mirpuris are not going around telling non-Pashto speaking Pathans that “they’re not really Pathans but Hindko or Punjabi speakers pretending to be Pashtuns with no roots in Afghanistan!” Mirpuris are not beefing with Pakistanis self-affirming through a city-identity (Shehri), telling them that “they are descendants of landless villagers from humble backgrounds who re-invented their past lives, decades later, to become the children of Mugal and Zamindar (landed) aristocrats! Jabbir the Market Gardner’s children have become Jabbir the Sayyid’s children, the scion of a Khorason elite who came to Pakistan from the direction of India!”
These horrible, demeaning, disgusting and dehumanising slurs exist. There is no question in my mind that these claims are racist. They are being repeated by Pakistanis and Indians fighting with each other all over the internet, but Mirpuris are not involved in such diatribes. And yet the idea of a distinct “Mirpuri” group identity, almost always pejoratively deployed by Pakistanis, is one-sided. Mirpuris are not involved in anti-Pakistan or anti-Indian diatribes. Mirpuri vilification is thus the product of unjust power dynamics between two groups, the one actively othering the other unaware of how it is being identified whilst being removed from Jammu & Kashmir.
The ensuing Pakistani fiction is the opening of Pandora’s Box and there will be a reaction with far-reaching consequences. In the meantime, it has lead some Pakistanis to speak of the Mirpuri Diaspora, another similarly absurd idea. It is being slowly introduced through Wikipedia and other interactive sites through a sinister coterie of political actors, influenced by the politics of contested territories.
British-Paharis belong to the “Kashmiri Diaspora”; Kashmir is older than Pakistan
The actual diaspora of which Mirpuris form a large segment, originates from the Pahari-cultural-sphere. I’m talking of thousands of squares miles of territory in Jammu & Kashmir that span both sides of the Indo-Pak ‘Line of Control’, the de facto border that splits Kashmir into two halves. In geopolitical terms, we call this diaspora the Kashmiri Diaspora, in the same way writers speak of the ethnically diverse diasporas of India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Britain etc. The Republic of India comprises of Bengalis, Rajasthanis, Punjabis, Tamil, Biharis, Gujaratis, etc. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan comprises of Punjabis, Pashtun, Hindkowan, Pothwaris, Sindhis, Muhajjir etc. Kashmir, territorial shorthand for divided Jammu & Kashmir State similarly comprises of Balawar, Kashiris, Paharis, Dogras, Ladakhis, Gujjar Bakarwal etc.
In the literature that deals with the Kashmir Conflict and her indigenous peoples, just under 17 million people, all these ethnic groups are identified as Kashmiris for the same reasons ‘Britons’ are said to be ‘Welsh’, ‘English’, ‘Northern Irish’ and ‘Scottish’, including the ethnic minorities now subsumed within the wider national identities. The Northern Irish are a good point in case. Some of them migrated to Ireland from Scotland because of colonial policies, but nonetheless coalesced with the locals who descend from Celtic speakers, some of whom can still speak the Irish or Gaelic languages, live on the Island of Ireland, which is not part of the British Isles, and who are not ethnically English, Scottish or Welsh, but are still “British” in the legislative sense of the identity. This is how identities have emerged historically. It has nothing to do with the Wikipedia posts of idiots claiming ethnic or nation state identities for themselves because they have the opportunity to write whatever they want about their bloodlines and 5000 years of primordial history. All across the world identities are hybridised because that’s just the nature of the spaces ordinary people occupy, they are multifaceted until “othering” happens, and people shy away from the identity impositions they had taken for granted, which might explain why I am writing this article in the first place.
To contextualise this history for British Pakistanis (not ‘Azad’ Kashmiris; Azad Kashmir is a separate territory to Pakistan), they used to be Indians in living memory. They were identified as Indians universally before partition. The leaders of the Pakistan Movement, which was an accident in history according to some notable Pakistani historians, sought to distance Indian Muslims from Indian Hindus because of origin myths that distinguished Muslims from non-Muslims. The Hindu nationalists of India have their own origin myths which should stop us berating Pakistanis for creating their own identity fictions. I would, however, be intellectually dishonest to compare Pakistani origin-myths with Indian origin-myths. Indians can turn to a rich Civilisation when narrating their national history; Pakistanis can only turn to the ‘two-nation theory’ (ideology) that has been debunked in our own lifetimes, so what history can Pakistanis narrate, when they reject their own pre-Islamic heritage because of commonalities with Indians?
The Egyptians, Persians, Turks, not only claim their pre-Islamic (pagan) heritage, but they preserve it as national pride. They profit from it commercially, generating huge income streams through tourism in the tens of billions of dollars. Pakistan’s pre-Islamic sites, no less celebratory than Iran’s or Egypt’s, sit in ruin, denying ordinary Pakistanis jobs and opportunities. It may be the case that those who created Pakistan, had no genuine emotional attachment with the lands that became Pakistan because they came from the direction of what is today, India. Although their children are Pakistanis, territorially and ideologically, they do not feel ‘indigenous’ to the actual ethnic homelands that comprise Pakistan today. Of course, no people are strictly indigenous to any lands, human societies are the product of migrations and not origin myths.
The architects of Pakistan did however come from a particular demography in North India, outside the very lands that became East and West Pakistan. They were afraid of being dominated by a large Hindu demography, becoming second class citizens in their own regions of North India, motivated by economics and politics and not religion. They advocated for a separate Muslim homeland within the context of social and economic priorities that didn’t really extend to other Indian Muslims. India’s British overlords, to pursue their geopolitical priorities of remaining relevant to India after their departure, made Pakistan a reality; without the blessing of the British and its contrivance, there would have been no Pakistan – a fact of history lost on ideological Pakistanis hating British colonialism. If there was no Pakistan, there would have been no Kashmir Conflict, to understand the trajectory of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir’s actual problems.
The ideological advocates of Pakistan were secular-minded, but this history is being falsified by Pakistan’s Military Complex, that prides itself as the Islamic defender of Muslim Pakistan. The Founder of Pakistan, Mr Jinnah, was a pork eating, alcohol drinking Anglofile, whose life was a million light years away from the modern-day Mullahs of Pakistan. Some of them make the public spectacle of reciting Fatihah (Islamic prayer) at his grave, doubtful that he was even Muslim. No one knows for sure, but he wasn’t a devout Muslim and he may have been an atheist. There are historical reports that members of the Congress Party had to advise him to take off his shoes when entering a Mosque, to fully appreciate how removed Mr Jinnah was from an Islamic lived experience. He converted from a heterodox sect of Islam to Twelver Shiism to stop his critics from attacking his background and upbringing; the fact that he had to say he belonged to a mainstream Muslim sect whilst lacking any devotional attachment to Islam, should be food for thought for Pakistani patriots not accustomed to reading history books. During his own lifetime, some of his fiercest critics were religious groups, who looked on the Muslim League (Jinnah’s party) suspiciously. The Afghan and Pakistan Taliban openly call the Father of Pakistan a “Kaafir” (disbeliever) and they are not perturbed by Pakistan’s military propaganda.
My intention is not to impugn Mr Jinnah’s character. I do not want to take sides with protagonists worshipping or bashing Mr Jinnah. I refer to him as Mister Jinnah, because this is how he liked to be addressed; he once reprimanded a party assistant for addressing him as Maulvi Jinnah. May his soul rest in peace and I mean that genuinely. I am in no doubt that he thought, in his mind, he was protecting his “community” from majoritarian domination, the sort that plagued Pakistan after its creation and eventual breakup. I am pointing out how ideologues re-imagine their past, going as far as reconstructing it to fit skewed priorities. The fact that Jinnah had to convert to Shi’ism, just shows the level of manipulation exerted on him during his lifetime. Had he not converted, his opponents would have assassinated his character and demonised him through the same antics Pakistan’s intelligence services use to demonise their opponents. This is how propaganda works and it has far reaching effects. Ordinary people get manipulated by propagandists to either react or become indifferent to a people’s genuine suffering.
Jammu & Kashmir was not British India and Jinnah was not the representative or “the sole spokesman” for the Muslims of Kashmir to borrow a phrase used by the historian, Aisha Jalal. It was a separate region like Baluchistan and other frontier regions to Pakistan where ethnic Pashtun continue to live as second class citizens in their own homeland.
Today, FATA is the most underdeveloped, poverty stricken, and unstable area of Pakistan. Until this year, the tribal Pashtuns did not have any political influence, access to media outlets or self-determination since they were under the British-era laws.
Kashmir had its own Ruler and separate identity. British India was seen as a separate region to Kashmir. No one in Kashmir before partition called their lands, “India” or “Hindustan”; Punjab was very much seen as belonging to Hindustan, but Kashmir was viewed separately. Kashmir’s Ruler wanted his territories to remain independent of India and Pakistan. But events overtook him, and Kashmir was partitioned forcibly as a result of the partition plan recklessly and hurriedly put into action by the out-going British. Ever since the British left, Kashmir’s status has never been resolved.
It is thus contested territory under international law, whose ethnically and religiously diverse people have never been given their democratic right to decide their fate – a right enshrined in international law to choose India, Pakistan or independence. For all intents and purposes, Kashmiris are stateless, irrespective of having Indian or Pakistani passports, whether they are Muslims, Hindus or something else. The majority of the 17 million people across the State, especially Muslims, want independence and not merger with Pakistan, which is the reason why there is so much targeted propaganda against them. Those involved in this targeted propaganda are trying to manipulate how people view the lands of Jammu & Kashmir and their stake in it. They have largely succeeded when it comes to British ‘Mirpuris’.
The dissemination of widespread disinformation and propaganda; the battle for minds through lies
Unfortunately British-Paharis do not understand that a lot of what their parents had been spoon-fed about Kashmir was just outright lies; there’s no nice way of saying this because they too, like the Pakistani nationalists, want to reimagine their past. A people not grounded in historical facts, become the most staunch defenders of myths, legends and anecdotes. They become easy targets for manipulation, and this might explain why some of them are flying Pakistani flags during cricket matches in the UK to the chagrin of “proper” Pakistanis.
The Pakistani State is not only in the business of falsifying its history, but it is falsifying Kashmir’s history. I concede that the majority of people in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir were reconciled with the idea of Pakistan in 1947 because of the communal violence that engulfed the State. The pro-independence Kashmiris of ‘A’JK argue otherwise. They are beholden to a different truth, walking in the path of the Indian and Pakistani nationalists, they too want to re-imagine Kashmir’s post-colonial history ‘filtered’ through their political aspirations listening to their own confirmation bias. They are disconnected with the lived experiences of ordinary people who have an emotional attachment to Pakistan. Mirpur’s ex-military men, (it wasn’t just Poonch) were involved in the ‘resistance’ against the Dogra Raj, not because the Maharaja wanted to join India but because they absolutely loathed the Rulers and their local Muslim agents, autocratic despots that had reduced them to servitude and humiliation. Kashmir was a prison, a horrible dehumanising experience for millions of ordinary people, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Atheist. Muslims were, by far, the worst victims. They were illiterate and poor. The non-Muslim elite with its Muslim clients, benefited immeasurably; the people did not.
It is the case that our forebears wrongly thought that life would be more fulfilling amongst Muslims who wouldn’t exploit them like the Dogra Raj, the outgoing Rulers of Kashmir State. They thought Pakistanis were their brothers and sisters in the same way Bengalis in East Pakistan thought they were part of West Pakistan. Islam, as is the case today, remains a strong component in the identity of the people of the region and it should never be denied because of Pakistani political propaganda against Secular India, or the flaws of political Islamism. Lots of prominent secular-minded Hindus from Mirpur were opposed to the tyranny of the State, but because of the communal hatred they ended up in Indian Jammu. Mirpur lost a lot of its best minds because of partition. These Hindus, Sikhs and Atheists continue to extend the hand of fraternity and friendship to their brethren in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir.
As the years and decades passed, attitudes notably changed in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir because of how the people were being treated by Pakistani Despotism. Pakistan Officialdom has assumed the role of Pharaoh in the region, officials from Pakistan think they can maltreat the elected representatives of the people without consequence. And they’re not wrong. There’s no opposition to them particularly in the diaspora where an enfeebled bunch of Pakistani patriots live, keen to show their love for the Pakistan Military. The Pakistani officials insult the natives, calling them “mountain sheep”, creating all manner of bureaucratic hurdles to keep the people in a perpetual state of servitude, so they don’t become autonomous and start challenging the unjust writ of an oppressive State. The overwhelming majority of people in the territory want independence now and there’s no going back. There are only two viable options for the people of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, independence or merger with India; the option of remaining with Pakistan is a non-option. It is the existing status quo and more of the same. It is manipulation, deceit, chicanery and legerdemain.
Whatever the ethnic or religious identities of the people on either side of the de facto Indo-Pak border in divided Kashmir, the overwhelming majority of people want to live in a functioning democratic State, not at war with neighbours, where people’s rights are protected by the rule of law. If independence is off the table, which seems to be the most likely case, this would render Pakistan even more undesirable for the peoples of divided Kashmir given the nature of Pakistani politics and the role of the Army. According to a large body of knowledge, Pakistan is a dysfunctional State controlled by a Military Complex that is untouchable. Army Generals have more power than elected Parliamentarians whose reputations they have been actively destroying to remain top-dog; the military guarantees the longevity of this political order. The military benefits from chaos and conflict in Pakistan, it ensures it has a role in Pakistani politics beyond its actual usefulness. Pakistan’s military is not the strong institution imagined by lots of Pakistanis. It is for this reason, the Kashmir Conflict is essential to the Military’s ongoing exploitation of the Pakistani State, its assets and resources.
Corruption and “badmashi” (gangsterism), this is the term locals use, have become so rife in Pakistan that it feels like an open prison for people with no social or political connections. If they belong to occupational castes, minority religions or sects, ethnic minorities, are part of the non-landed groups, orphans, single-mother families, part of the LGBT community, independent thinkers, they’re literally screwed. Their only hope for upward mobility and a decent quality of life is to flee Pakistan either as economic migrants or as asylum seekers. The only other option is to join the Military, which rewards its members lucratively, especially those occupying the upper tiers of the echelons. The majority however pick up their belongings and leave.
This is exactly what the people of so-called ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir did more than a century ago. They left everything familiar behind because they had no future in the Princely State of Kashmir or the small territory that became so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir. Britain is home to more than a million nationals of divided Jammu & Kashmir. This dysfunctional polity exists on the fringe of Pakistan’s unequal political and social order. It is controlled by Pakistan military officers and bureaucrats. It doesn’t benefit from Pakistan, but Pakistan exploits its natural and human resources, enriching itself at the cost of 4.5 million people who have no backers from either their own diaspora in the West and Middle East, or the international community. This unjust power dynamic is creating an enormous backlash in areas that do not benefit from Western European, North American or Middle Eastern remittances. The Pakistan Army is fully aware of simmering discontent and so they want to control the ‘news’ coming out of the region. They want to give the impression that everyone in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir is loyal to Pakistan and the images coming out of the territory are thus contrived. They want to give the impression that the activists of ‘Azad’ Kashmir and other political dissidents do not carry the sentiments of the people, that they are merely agitators with no grass-roots following.
All over social media, the Pakistan intelligence services are mass-producing social media accounts praising Pakistan to drown out the voices of dissenters in Pakistan. They even assume the identities of the Kashmiri activists, undermining the message of Kashmiri pro-independence from within. They manipulate Twitter and Facebook algorithms to spread fake-news about how much ordinary Pakistanis love the Military Complex whilst hating corrupt politicians. Not every politician in Pakistan is corrupt and I would put the former Cricketing legend and philanthropist Imran Khan in that camp whatever his overtures to the Generals because of real politick. There are countless other virtuous souls. But the Army is in the business of promoting hatred against elected politicians to ensure its own control over the people, a move that weakens civilian governance to the detriment of all Pakistanis. Lots of prominent politicians want an inclusive social and political order that needs peaceful relations with India, an economic giant that could not only enrich Pakistan but help Pakistan come to terms with its ‘Indian’ past. Progressive politicians and civilian leaders are thus very anxious about Pakistan’s future.
To reiterate, the Pakistan Army needs conflict with India to remain relevant to Pakistan’s domestic politics. Kashmir is thus a cash-cow for the Army. This is how the Army treats ordinary Pakistanis contemptibly, who do not understand how obsequious they sound when praising the Pakistan Army, removed from the private wealth of this corrupt and exploitative institution. See “Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy by Ayesha Siddiqa”
February 1, 2008 A talk by Ayesha Siddiqa, Islamabad-based independent political and defence analyst and author. Pakistan has emerged as a strategic ally of the US in the ‘war on terror’. It is the third largest receiver of US aid in the world, but it also serves as a breeding ground for fundamentalist groups.
Pakistan’s intelligence services, most notably the propaganda wing of the ISI, has since been trying to play the regions of Azad Kashmir against one another, adopting the colonial practise of “divide and rule”. All over social media, Poonchees, Muzaffarabadis and Mirpuris are being pitied against one another as false accounts are created to spew hatred between regional communities, a preemptive strike to stop people from mobilising around shared grievances if ever able leaders emerge to mobilise the masses. The targeted audience are those living outside ‘Azad’ Kashmir; in ‘Azad’ Kashmir talk of separate communities ethnically or regionally sounds unintelligible. But, according to the propagandists, ethnic Kashmiris are a different ‘race’ to the ‘Punjabis’ of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, who originate from the direction of Pakistan and India. They constantly repeat the propagandistic line that “real Kashmiris only exist in Neelum!” Neelum continues to be a predominately Pahari-Hindko speaking area. Pahari speakers live side by side with Kashmiri speakers. They are part of the same fraternity and nation. Everyone in so-called ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, from Sahamani to Sharda, is reconciled with their Kashmiri identity, one identity amongst others, old territorial and regional identities that stretch back into the annals of time.
The level of crude disinformation being spread against the interests of a self-sustaining Kashmir space is enormous. It swims in the swamps of pseudo race science, churning out purported historical claims about migrations into the region that are frankly gibberish. The enforcers have more money and power than the private dissidents challenging their lies, and this is enough as an emotional inducement for those predisposed to Pakistan’s narratives on Kashmir. Lots of Azad Kashmiris fall prey to these lies. Others go further, draped in the Pakistani flag from head to toe, insulting their peers just for speaking truth to power seeking compradore with Pakistanis demeaning them in private and behind their backs.
If my readers want to learn about ‘Azad’ Kashmir from social media and the favourite outlets of paid propagandists like Wikipedia or Quora (terrible places to learn attested facts), they’ll end up ingesting some ridiculous claims purported to be ethnic and linguistic facts. This is the sad reality of Occupier Politics that seeks to deliberately conflate the territoriality of a contested region with irrelevant facts if not outright lies. Those challenging these lies are engaged in Resistance Politics.
But why the infatuation with Mirpuris in the UK, a people who seemingly seem reconciled with Pakistan? All over the internet, British “Azad” Kashmiris have Pakistani flags flying from their online profiles, or at least this is the image being propagated. So, why the constant obsession to propagate the false idea that Mirpur is part of Pakistan not Kashmir, that Mirpuris are Pakistanis and not Kashmiris?
The Mangla Dam is located in Mirpur and it is vital to Pakistan’s energy needs. Millions of homes and businesses in Northern Pakistan are reliant on this national asset of Jammu & Kashmir, whose annual royalties (from the collection of utilities paid) are in excess of Azad Kashmir’s total budget, which are not payed to that “authority” but deposited into the coffers of Pakistan’s military and its civilian backers. It has become a private investment fund for some shady characters. According to the rules of the federal framework, the royalties of Dams go to the Provinces of Pakistan which are then invested in the Provinces. Because ‘Azad’ Kashmir is not part of Pakistan, the royalties do not go to the ‘Azad’ Kashmir government but just disappear. One way of describing this situation would be to draw a parallel between South America’s cocaine cartels and the Pakistan Military. The Pakistan military operates like the water mafia in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, profiting from the waters of Kashmir that have become a curse for millions or ordinary people. The same profiteers have now turned their sights onto the River Neelum in Muzaffarabad Division.
Muzaffarabad (PoK), Oct 02: Anger against the local government and Islamabad has snowballed into a simmering outrage in Muzaffarabad city of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The locals, who are now deprived of the even basic need of water, are compelled to take to the streets against the mounting discrimination.
The ‘Azad’ Kashmiri community in the UK has been remitting billions of dollars worth of remittences to Pakistan annually, which has been propping up enormous service sectors in the Pothohar Plateau and Islamabad since the 1950s to the disadvantage of the patrons of this largess. Pakistan Officialdom has refused to build an airport in Mirpur because it does not want to lose the lucrative trade patronised by Azad Kashmiri expatriates to the detriment of commercial interests in AJK. Pakistani businesses satellite off the British pound as thousands of British nationals visit ‘Azad’ Kashmir every month, travelling to and from the airports in Pakistan. Passenger numbers are waning but the policies in question had always been Pakistan-centric. They benefit the economy of Pakistan, and not the economy of so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, which is only slightly bigger than the remittences being sent to the region. Building materials for projects in Azad Kashmir are sourced from Pakistan not Azad Kashmir. Lots of businesses are forced to source sub-standard products and wares from Pakistan because the border with Indian-administered-Kashmir has been closed.
The absence of a self-sustaining commercial and industrial sector in AJK; the terrible transport infrastructure that is periodically repaired with a sticking plaster to appease locals, has lead many AJK expatriates to purchase properties in Islamabad becoming bona fide Pakistanis. Outages of electricity in Islamabad are in no way on par with the constant load shedding in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, 18 to 20 hours a day. The Dam that irrigates the farms of Punjab and provides electricity doesn’t offer its own nationals the same utility. Amenities on offer in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, even in the largest cities, pale into insignificance when compared to Lahore or Islamabad that also benefit from the large savings dwindling in value in Pakistani banks because of the currency’s weak exchange rate. Mirpuris since the 1950s have been depositing some of their savings in Pakistani banks which are then diverted to investment and development projects in Lahore and Karachi. Western writers have mentioned this boon for Pakistan, oddly, it doesn’t benefit Azad Kashmir, they say. These are not the wild conspiracies of propagandists, unlike the propaganda being spread by Pakistan’s intelligence services, it is the sad reality of ‘Azad’ Kashmir.
Citizens Protest In Mirpur Azad Kashmir | UK 44
It is thus in Pakistan’s interests to make Mirpuris feel more Pakistani than Kashmiri by forcing upon them associations with people in Northern Pakistan, who historically have identified as Punjabis, oftentimes demeaned by the Punjabis of the Plains as rural folk (“gawn logg”). In colonial literature, the Punjab of the Plains was identified as Proper Punjab to distinguish it from the larger Province of the same name. This has created enormous language and regional prejudice against Patwaris who are seen as occupying an outlier region to the real Punjab. Pothwaris have followed suit in the footsteps of Punjabis trying to rid themselves of a group identity rooted in language; Punjabi and Patwari are seen as lessor languages to Urdu. Pakistanis are ditching their native tongues and no longer identify with their region’s indigenous languages; Urdu speakers from the urbanised areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, both of which are located within the Pothohar Plateau, refer to the inhabitants of villages as “Patwaris”. They do not refer to themselves as Pothwaris which is very revealing of how Patwaris are viewed.
These ‘regional’ prejudices are then co-opted by propagandists to atomise the nascent but emerging Pahari identity movement in Azad Kashmir and the UK that wants to be true to its own past and not Pakistan’s nationalistic ideology. This is a powerful rights-based movement that connects an international rules-based system with people’s actual lived experiences locally. It is a vital bridge between democracy, human rights and cultural-linguistic heritage. To counteract its political effects of connecting native speakers of Pahari with a wider Jammu & Kashmir space, the propagandists argue that Mirpuris are not bona fide Paharis but Patwaris and Punjabis “…pretending to be Paharis”, “…pretending to be Kashmiris”, which should be profound food for thought for educated British Mirpuris who can think for themselves.
In decades earlier, it was precisely because Mirpuris were being identified as Paharis, that they were being demeaned on account of social stigma reserved for people living on hills and mountains (“Pahriye”). In Pakistan’s social and political order, social stigma reserved for village people also extends to those living in the remote areas of mountains; Baluch leaders, for instance, have complained about how their people are perceived as ‘mountain people’ pejoratively when they enter the urban spaces of Pakistan. This prejudice affects the Pashtun, Sindhis and others, peoples indigenous to the lands of modern-day Pakistan. See, BBC Clip below @1minute50seconds.
Social stigma is no laughing matter and neither is it an irrelevant footnote in history books, it is profoundly damaging to the coherence of a society. True democrats understand this point, authoritarians do not. Pahari-speakers used to traditionally change their habits of speaking and dressing to assimilate into the dominant cultures of the day, which in the wider region has meant North Indian Plains’ Culture. This is the culture celebrated in India’s Bollywood industry that has moulded Pakistan’s Lollywood which takes its ‘cultural’ cues from the former; Urdu and Hindi are thus important components in that identity. Lots of ‘Azad’ Kashmiris became alienated from their actual past in Jammu & Kashmir seeking fraternity with people west of the River Jhelum, who’ve never reciprocated genuine fraternity because of their own lack of rootedness and insecurities.
बलूचिस्तान के रहने वाले मज़दाक दिलशाद बलोच जब क्वेटा से अफ़ग़ानिस्तान भागे तो उनका इरादा वहां बस जाने का था. लेकिन अफ़ग़ानिस्तान में भी उनके परिवार को चैन नसीब नहीं हुआ. पढ़िए मज़दाक की दास्ताँ, जिनसे बात की नितिन श्रीवास्तव.
It is one of the saddest aspects of this discussion that the Pakistani propagandists will stop at nothing to pursue ‘divide and rule’ tactics even if it means lying in the name of false group identities. Rather than becoming self-introspective and finding democratic ways of bringing people together, making Pakistan appealing to the so-called “Free” Kashmiris of Pakistan’s Occupied Kashmir region (including Gilgit Baltistan), they continue to press the self-destruct button. They have become narcissists unaware of how toxic they are to millions of ordinary Pakistanis. The patterns behind political propaganda have always remained the same wherever in the world, narcissists are always involved. The substantive ‘ethnic and linguistic’ claims will change with the ‘group identities’ being rubbished, but the political impulse to dominate is constant. The intended ‘territorial outcome’ is the end goal; to stop independence for a particular group whatever the implications for national coherence, however bad the fringe group’s mistreatment. Narcissism and authoritarianism are two sides of the same coin; most autocratic dictators are narcissists.
Debunking the lies; political propaganda masquerading as “regional”, “ethnic” and “linguistic” facts
Decades earlier, it was the same propagandists who used to say, “Azad Kashmiris are not Kashmiris but Paharis”.
Traditionally, the Pahari Ilaqah (hill-mountain region) extended eastwards of the River Jhelum. The Patwar (Pothohar Plateau) extended westwards of the River Jhelum to the River Indus. This is what is meant by the term Pahari-Patwari Ilaqah (region not landmass) as it transcended the River Jhelum in easterly and westerly directions; on this cultural definition, it’s westerly border was the River Indus, whilst its easterly border was the Pir Panjal Mountain Range. To the south lay the Salt Range Tract that separated the Punjab Plains from the Pothohar Plateau, whilst to its North lay the Marghalla Hills, from which point the Hazara Hills began, situated in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province. This definition of the Pothohar Plateau is geological and geographical and not linguistic (dialects/languages), cultural (ethnicity), provincial (geo-administrative) or territorial (sovereignty). It is also a regional definition because the Patwar is a region in its own right. The Hazara Hills comprises of a separate landmass to the Pothohar Plateau although it is part of the wider cultural and linguistic ‘region’; some parts of Hazara Hills and Peshawar actually fall within the Pothohar Plateau, which sheds light on the historical fact that the wider region used to be part of the same cultural space before Pashtuns entered the region after the advent of Babur.
No part of Azad Kashmir falls within the Pothohar Plateau, although it was part of a much larger cultural space historically. This is the norm across territories and nation states. Territorially, the centre of gravity in Mirpur was not connected to historical polities located westwards of the River Jhelum but eastwards. Traditionally, this area was connected to Kashmir, which under the Karkota Dynasty (625 – 885 CE) included the Pothohar Plateau. It was from the hills and mountains surrounding the Vale of Kashmir that numerous non-ethnic dynastic Rulers recruited their mercenaries, many of whom were described as Turushka (Turkic) but no doubt had migrated to the region from Central Asia belonging to a myriad of ethnic and tribal backgrounds. In fact during the incursions of the Ummayad Dynasty into its version of “Hind” (India) during the 7th century, Arab writers were aware of a region and territory called “Kashmir”. Punjab, as an idea did not even exist during this time to give some perspective to this history. Kashmir’s borders, we learn, extended to the Salt Range Tract, separating the Indo-Gangetic Plains from the Western Himalaya. Historically, Kashmir had always captured the idea of a mountainous region on the edge of India, something very distinct from the idea of an ethnic space. Greek historians had mentioned something similar.
Whenever writers and commentators mentioned the Pahari-Patwari Ilaqah in colonial literature, they were speaking of cultural commonalities that transcended the River Jhelum; from their writings readers can see that they were not conflating the two regions politically or territorially. The one was British India and the other was Kashmir State. But, political propagandists are motivated entirely by politics, not history, region, language, culture or DNA. Their regional or ethnic claims are disingenuous because their agenda is political, not anthropological, linguistic, regional or whatever else. They launch tirades into irrelevant discussions about hills and mountains in the attempt to disconnect the “hills” of Mirpur from the “mountains” to the north in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, thereby conflating in their minds, Mirpur with the Pothohar Plateau. The intention is to separate Mirpur from Kashmir by making the people adopt a Patwari identity that doesn’t even work for Pothwaris. Mirpuris, who are indeed connected with their past, know instinctively that their forebears had never identified as Pothwaris or Punjabis. This was never their regional or territorial identity.
In the language and history of the Pahar (and other Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian languages), there are no distinctions between hills and mountains! The distinction is between dissected uplands and lowland Plains, between flat lands and undulating countryside. The distinction between hills and mountains doesn’t even exist in the discipline of geology, which is a scientific body of knowledge dedicated to expanding our intellectual horizons on the physical features of the world. For obvious reasons, political propagandists are not geologists, just as they are not linguists, cultural anthropologists, historians of empires, territorial polities, nation states or race relations. Their Hill/mountain distinctions are in fact arbitrary and not scientific.
Ironically for the Pakistani propagandists, unaware of where their distinctions come from, namely the Anglo-sphere, elevations above 1000 ft above seal level are mountains whilst those less than this are considered hills. The lowest elevations in Mirpur average around 1500 ft above seal level, so even according to their hill/mountain definitions, we are still speaking of a mountainous region. The overwhelming majority of Mirpuris come from the terrain of hills and mountains well above 1500 ft which is an incidental point. Historically, they were perceived as hillmen even in the Pothohar Plateau. Plains Punjabis, for their part, used to perceive Pothwaris as hillmen, who would try and correct them by saying those further north in the hills were actually hillmen especially those in Jammu & Kashmir.
Insights rooted in history are lost on propagandists who populate the pages of Wikipedia, Quora and Social Media with claims that Mirpur was historically part of the Patwar region before it became part of Kashmir State, a totally disingenuous claim that is so untrue that it beggars belief that no Wikipedia Contributor, to date, has challenged this lie. Mirpuris, for their part, repeat the claim themselves including activists fighting for pro-independence unaware of how they are being manipulated. It seems Jimmy Wales’s noble intention of creating an inclusive and free online platform (wikipedia) for people to share knowledge has been hijacked by propagandists on the payroll of authoritarian regimes. Not even philanthropy is spared the clutches of authoritarian regimes.
To reiterate, Mirpur is not situated in the Pothohar Plateau for geographical and geological reasons not worth elaborating. This is a statement of fact. It is situated in the Pahari Ilaqah, a region that extends as far as the Pir Panjal Mountain Region and stops around the River Chenab. Pakistani geologists, who have written about the ecology of the Pothohar Plateau – the Patwar – have never included Mirpur in their conceptualisation. There are no border restrictions on geologists visiting Mirpur unlike the restrictions deliberately placed on ‘Azad’ Kashmiris, who are being stopped from visiting fellow Paharis and Kashmiris in Indian-administered-Kashmir, the ethnic brothers and sisters of all ‘Azad’ Kashmiris.
Pakistani writers have never included Mirpur in their writings on the Patwar, because the areas that make-up Mirpur are not part of that landmass; a plateau “is an extensive area of flat upland usually bounded by an escarpment (i.e., steep slope) on all sides but sometimes enclosed by mountains. The essential criteria for plateaus are low relative relief and some altitude. Although plateaus stand at higher elevation than surrounding terrain, they differ from mountain ranges in that they are remarkably flat.”
Mirpur is comprised of hills and mountains, elevations in all directions, it is not flat and neither is it a fairly level piece of uplands.
The people who introduced the discipline of geology to the Indian Subcontinent, researched their territorial holdings in-depth and similarly demarcated the borders of the Pothohar Plateau, which terminates at the River Jhelum to the east. Colonial officers were fully aware of the demarcations they made according to the natural features of the terrains they mapped and governed, and this included rivers and mountain passes. None of them included the lands that became ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ in their definitions of either the Patwar or the Punjab. And yet all over over social media and wikipedia, Pakistani propagandists are propagating the lie that Mirpur used to be part of the Patwar and Punjab before it was added to Kashmir in 1846. It is a lie, because those spreading the claim, know it is a lie. It has become a factoid that has polluted the minds of ordinary ‘Azad’ Kashmiris unaware of how they are being manipulated.
The terms “Punjab” & “Punjabi” have more than one meaning
The “Punjab” can either mean the Punjab Plains or the Punjab Province; the first definition is a geological and geographical term; the second is a geo-administrative and political term. The Pothohar Uplands, for instance is not located on the Punjab Plains, because it is a plateau not a lowland alluvial plain, it has been subsumed within the Province because of politics not ethnicity or language. It was the British who created the Punjab Province, adding Rawalpindi Division (Jhelum, Attock, Rawalpindi) to their new Province, a geo-administrative unit of territory. On this count, Patwaris are Punjabis because they originate from the Province but not because of any connections with ethnic Punjabis living on the Plains. The Punjab Plains is essentially a floodplain. Mirpur is not situated within either the Pothohar Uplands, or the Punjab Plains, so on what basis are Mirpuris being told that they are Patwaris or Punjabis but not Kashmiris? The pertinent question to ask is, “why are the regional and provincial labels of a particular people being imposed upon another regional and territorial people not connected with that region or province?”
“What is the underlying motive?
What is the real agenda?
Geology, geography, linguistics or politics of contested territories?”
Having already mentioned this point, whenever we speak of the Pahari-Patwari Ilaqah (which includes the Hindko-speaking belt), we are speaking of linguistic and ethnic commonalities that span the River Jhelum, eastwards and westwards; we are speaking of regional peoples with separate identities, much older than Pakistan’s creation in 1947. The claim that Mirpuris are Patwaris and not Paharis is essentially a false ethnic-linguistic ruse to disconnect unsuspecting people from the politics of contested territories by forcing upon them illusory ethnic and regional associations that do not exist in reality.
The Divide and Rule Brigade know exactly what they are doing when they constantly repeat biased remarks for the purpose of propaganda. Such is their desperation, they’ll even racialize Mirpuris because of how they imagine Punjabis and Patwaris (wrongly but negatively in their own minds) to make the ethnic and linguistic associations stick; these are ‘intelligence service’ run accounts, and they’re having conversations amongst themselves to spread disinformation. The ensuing ethnic and racial narratives and the racial imagery behind the selective footage they generate become comical, to say the least. Online bandwagons predisposed to India or Pakistan’s territorial claims to Kashmir, end up spreading these claims unaware of the priorities behind the messaging, its intended audience and the anxieties behind the unscientific ‘race’ claims. The level of ignorance being demonstrated exposes the actual knowledge-base of those falling for pseudo-race science. No one today would believe that the earth is flat, but this analogy works well for what people are being told about Jammu & Kashmir’s history, peoples and cultures. The Pakistani propagandists are completely oblivious to how cringeworthy they appear to outsiders looking at their messaging.
Note the claim in the excerpt, “Mirpuris claim to be Kashmiri” and “they’re too dark to be from the mountains in the north“; “Indic-looking”; these remarks are an instant give-away to the actual anxieties behind the messaging, which is politically motivated, and not ethnic or racial, howsoever irrational the observations appear. The same propagandists who speak of Nordic Kashmiris are the same people who speak of “Indic-looking” Indians. These are Pakistani run accounts that have been mass produced. There are hundreds of these accounts in operation on any given day. The pictures and imagery being deployed instantly give away the real identities behind the accounts. Lots of unsuspecting Pakistanis, with copy-cat accounts, recycle the messaging creating a powerful bandwagon.
This is the nature of Occupier Politics sadly and what constitutes knowledge in Pakistan. Authoritarian regimes across the world cannot merely control people through armies, intimidation and financial inducements, (they have paid clients from the occupied people). They need to police thought and implant in people’s minds false ideas; freedom of expression is essentially unbridled freedom to think the unthinkable without censure. The freedom to hold assemblies loses its effectiveness if people’s thoughts are being policed, manipulated and controlled. To retain power, authoritarian regimes need to dominate the narratives, even if this means lying through their back teeth about people’s group identities. For such authoritarian regimes, group identities equate to fraternities and loyalties, connecting and disconnecting people with territories and ideas. The Mirpuri label for a section-specific of a wider population in Jammu & Kashmir is mired in that priority.
In the excerpts above and below, the Pakistani twitter accounts are seeking fraternity with Sikhs, not on account of shared ethnicity or religion but divisive politics. The targeted audience is the pro-independence Sikh Khalistan Movement that’s advocating for an independent Sikh homeland in Indian (not Pakistan) Punjab. Lots of Jat Sikh have historical grievances against the founders of the Dogra Rajput State of Jammu & Kashmir, accusing them of wilful complicity in the destruction of the Sikh State. According to Dogra Rajput origin myths, they believe their ancestors migrated to Jammu from Rajasthan via Old Delhi. With the advent of Muslim Rule in North India during the 11th century CE, they were displaced eventually ending up in Jammu. The comments of “Khanage52” are thus premeditated to sow discord and are not just ‘spiteful’ of people who supposedly “wear vests and turbans”, an inane but prejudicial remark.
“Azad” Kashmiris have yet to familiarise themselves with how they are being identified because of the priorities of territorial politics that seek to deny them roots within their homeland; all over social media, the response from young British Mirpuris to Pakistani disinformation is one of silence. Some of them have fallen for Pakistani propaganda and repeat the claims of the propagandists intent on controlling their minds. I am genuinely dumbfounded by the apathy, lack of self-respect and dignity when they are so publicly vilified and maligned by their ‘fellow Pakistanis’.
Despite this, they proudly declare to the world that they are British-Pakistanis, a little unsure about the bandwagons from their own community. They are routinely pounced on by Pakistani “Punjabis”, “Patwaris”, and bizarrely Punjabi caste-Kashmiris, a group I’ve already mentioned, and who seem to be abysmally unaware of 1) how they are being manipulated to argue with ‘Azad’ Kashmiris over an historical identity label, and 2) how the caste-Kashmiri identity emerged for landless occupational castes fleeing terrible famines from Jammu & Kashmir. The majority did not originate from an ethnic Kashmiri space. Census takers in both the Punjab Province and Kashmir State would routinely point this out whenever mentioning this ambiguous demography in their censuses.
We learn that caste-Kashmiris originated from Chibhan, Jammu, Poonch, Muzaffarabad. The actual regions they settled on the Punjab Plains, Pothohar Uplands and the Hazara Hills, were a good determiner of where they came from in neighbouring “Kashmir”. This is the reason why lots of Sialkot’s “Kashmiris” have roots in Jammu; those in the Pothohar Plateau and Hazara Hills came from the direction of today’s so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir region. Some of the ‘Kashmiris’ returned in the Punjab censuses were women, who had been married into families transcending the borders of Kashmir State, and who for obvious reasons belonged to the same cultural sphere.
Ethnic Kashmiris, and by this term I’m strictly speaking of Kashmiris who spoke Kashmiri, formed weaver colonies in eastern Punjab, encouraged by the British to relocate from the Vale of Kashmir to their territories because of the extortionate taxes they had to pay the Kashmir Darbar (government). Belonging to non-landed backgrounds, they were identified primarily through their occupational caste-backgrounds.
Kashmiri landed groups (‘Zamindar’) were similarly oppressed, but the exorbitant taxes levied on the sale of their lands discouraged them from migrating in huge numbers like the occupational castes. So, they availed themselves of whatever opportunities came their way. Colonial officers had described them as martial races on account of their clan backgrounds (a form of ‘divide and rule’), so lots of them became willing soldiers of the British Indian Army, a prospect that opened up avenues for outward migrations. Some found work on merchant ships, others on the British Indian railways. They ended up in different parts of British India and even further afield in East Africa and the New World.
Mirpur, because of were it was located at the confluence of the Rivers Jhelum and Poonch, contributed massively to these numbers; some of the single men who went out in search of work to initially supplement incomes from land holdings, never returned home and took wives in the new homelands they settled. Today, every Mirpuri still connected with the past of his or her forebears knows of people who left the homeland, more than a century ago, who never returned home. There is an irony here, a profound irony. Those insulting Mirpuris for not being real Kashmiris, unaware of the manipulation being exerted against them, don’t know that their forebears may have originated from Mirpur.
As the decades and centuries progressed, the occupational castes in the Punjab began to adopt ‘Hindu Pandit’ caste surnames (Butt, Dar, etc) and other surnames that had traditionally been used by landed Muslim Rajputs and Mughals etc, (Mir) to disconnect themselves from the social stigma of belonging to occupational backgrounds in the Punjab. They did this because they had an acute memory of their forebears’ actual struggles, having fled famines and wars from a diverse landmass of people that everyone spoke of as Kashmir. Lots of caste-Kashmiris wrongly think that the caste-names their forebears adopted were the exclusive purview of ethnic Kashmiris from the Vale, unaware of their actual history of dispossession.
Some of them speak of ‘Kashmiri blood’ in primordial terms, others speak of Punjabi surnames or castes that prove in their mind that someone is or isn’t Kashmiri unaware of how ignorant they sound. I would have expected this demography to have shown solidarity with the ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir community because of its shared past and struggles if indeed their forebears came from Jammu & Kashmir. Of course, they may not originate from Kashmir. Lots of people in search of livelihood, having moved to cities and traditionally of humble backgrounds adopted new backgrounds connecting themselves with groups with which they share no ancestral connections. This has happened all over the world. It also happened in the Vale of Kashmir during the late 1800s, where ethnic Kashmiris live today. Upwardly mobile members of the occupational castes would frequently aggregate the caste-surnames of the landed groups irritating the latter, who would protest that they hadn’t done the same when they were accused of being imposters to the same caste identities. Stein in his seminal work on the Kashmir Vale mentions these insightful exchanges. It stands to reason that not everyone in Punjab claiming to be of Kashmiri heritage comes from that background; apparently no caste-Kashmiri descends from any of the traditionally low-caste groups still extant in the Vale. It is as if the only Kashmiris to have fled the Vale for North India were all Brahmins including Pandit Nehru and Allamah Iqbal. Iqbal was born in Sialkot to a Kashmiri father; we learn that his father was a tailor by occupational caste lacking formal education. The conflict over Kashmir has reified the Kashmiri identity in Pakistan and India for all the wrong reasons.
Today, the descendants of famine survivors outside Kashmir, centuries removed from those earliest of struggles, are beefing with Mirpuris in the UK. They have no sense of the actual political priorities I’ve been discussing in this article. Impressionable youngsters from these communities will pounce on ‘Azad’ Kashmiris because of widespread Pakistani stigma, telling Mirpuris with historical roots in Kashmir that they’re not really Kashmiris! Punjabi caste-Kashmiris from others parts of the Kashmiri Diaspora in North America, Europe and elsewhere have not fallen in this trap yet. How far this disinformation will spread is anyone’s guess.
The ‘Azad’ Kashmiris on the receiving end of these ridiculous slurs never question what they are being told. Instead, they deflect their attentions and energies elsewhere. Rather than standing firm to fight the slurs, learning historical facts to debunk what’s being said, they go into flight mode. They become cheerleaders for victims of racism and Islamophobia in the UK, “liking” tweets to join popular social media bandwagons, circulating Facebook posts about “Torie” austerity cuts; “those dodgy tories have ruined everything,” they say. Some of them have joined political movements on the Left, demanding justice for dispossessed communities, outraged at the inhumanity by which “rich and privileged” people treat the most “vulnerable” members of society. They fly Palestinian flags and occasionally travel to Palestine and Syria to help the Muslim charities, vlogging the entire trips. They shed tears for the Niqab Ban in France, unaware of similar Hijab bans in Turkey or Tunisia. Outraged by the Bosnian genocide, they have no understanding of the Bengali Genocide at the hands of the Pakistan Army. They are callously silent about China’s forced indoctrination of 1 million turkic Muslims in their own homeland. They’ve no time to think about ‘Azad’ Kashmir’s or Pakistan’s mothers and children in the tens of millions, dispossessed broken souls who have no one advocating for them.
Speaking for Azad Kashmir’s and Pakistan’s downtrodden is an unfashionable cause sadly. It owes a lot to how we imagine people in our own minds. There are not enough popular bandwagons for these causes. My ‘Azad’ Kashmiri brothers and sisters become incensed by the bedroom tax! And when it comes to Mirpur-bashing, there’s no comparable disquiet. They run away and hide behind the very rocks they lobby against racists and the far-right. They mention President Donald Trump’s insults against congresswomen for being ‘immigrants’, and they are suitably outraged, infuriated by the gaul of this ‘racist’. But when Pakistani politicians call ‘Azad’ Kashmiri politicians “mountain sheep” (Pahari Bakreh) on Pakistani news stations, not even a sigh of discomfort.
Fiaz ul Hasan Chuhan. insulted the people of Azad Kashmir in 2 Part
There are notable exceptions, and it is heartening to say, most of these lone actors are young professional women, which is quite insightful of the personalities needed to push against political tyranny, patriarchy and social injustice. It may be the case that it will be the women of the community who will redeem the men. It’s also mostly women from the mainstream Pakistani community who defend Mirpuris from the slurs of fellow Pakistanis. They are similarly perturbed by how ordinary Pakistanis and minorities get treated in Pakistan by the Establishment and the dominant groups. This kind of genuine fraternity has the possibility of redeeming Pakistanis everywhere, whatever the ethnic or religious backgrounds, against the misuse of State power.
Be that as it is, the Mirpuri label is an imposition of “outsiders” deliberately forcing upon an ethnic people with ties to Jammu & Kashmir a much narrower definition of who they are and the ‘territorial’ possibilities open to them. One distinctly advantageous economic option is so-called ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir’s merger with India, a democratic country whose democratic system is not working in Jammu & Kashmir because of armed conflict with Pakistan. The Pakistan Army has made life difficult for the people of Kashmir by infiltrating extremists across the LOC, pitying young Kashmiri boys against India’s security agencies. Kashmiris are now lobbying stones at India’s security services, whilst shouting “Azaadi” (independence) slogans. In retribution, the armed security personnel retaliate with violence unbecoming of a genuinely democratic State. They end up terrorising unarmed civilians protesting their humiliation and violating their human rights.
Howsoever we feel about human rights violations in the Valley and the pitiable reality of a dysfunctional ‘A’JK territory, merger with India should be considered by the people who are sick and tired of conflict, occupation and exploitation if only to be rejected by the majority (outside the manipulation of Pakistan). This is how genuine democratic cultures work, they are people inclusive and all viable options are discussed. India has continued to claim the divided State because of accession rights, validated by the out-going British who created Pakistan through an Act of the British Parliament and not an Act of God. This is where “Occupier-Politics” coincides with the attitudes of ordinary Pakistanis; divergent impulses that beget mutually-convenient outcomes that rob Mirpuris of their humanity.
The term Mirpuri is thus intended to be derogatory in its application and demeaning of the people being “differentiated”. It is not so much a badge of neutral identification as it is the product of deliberate malice. For western writers to be employing the term “Mirpuri” in this way, unaware of fraught inter-Pakistani relations in the UK, is to endorse political propaganda and popular prejudices against Mirpuris without realising the Pakistani impulses behind the actual label. British writers from the mainstream seem oblivious to what is really going on.
From the outset of this discussion I cited an article from the guardian about Mirpuris and suicide bombings. The author of that piece, Madeleine Bunting, on the basis of anecdotal information from Pakistanis wrote that the 7/7 bombers were “in all likelihood Mirpuris”. The expression, “in all likelihood” is revealing of the absence of solid datasets distinguishing Mirpuris from other Pakistanis. She was however fundamentally wrong in her observation. The parents of the 7/7 bombers migrated to the UK from Punjab Province, Pakistan and not Mirpur, Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Ethnolinguistically, they would have self-affirmed as Patwaris or Punjabis, but not as Paharis or Mirpuris. Lots of journalists recycled Bunting’s anecdotal claim as a fact including Pakistanis.
These ‘inconvenient’ technicalities matter, especially when the people degrading Mirpuris are Pakistani Punjabis, who oddly love pointing out how different “Punjabis are to Mirpuris”, whilst also pointing out that “Mirpuris are not ethnically Kashmiris but ethnically Punjabis”. The incoherence of such claims exposes the real agenda at hand, the denigration of a particular demography through othering.
The “Punjabi” ethno-linguistic claim on the face of it is politically motivated. As I’ve already mentioned, it is a sinister attempt to disconnect Mirpur from Kashmir. Moreover, ‘A’JK is not a Province (Subah) of Pakistan but a separate territory (Riyaasat) controlled by Pakistan which Pakistan Officialdom claims is autonomous and “free” (‘Azad’), thus the corresponding phrase ‘Azad’ State (Riyaasat) of Jammu & Kashmir abbreviated to ‘Azad’ Kashmir. Pakistan calls the Jammu & Kashmir in India, “Maqbuza” Kashmir (“Occupied” Kashmir).
To reiterate, Kashmir is contested territory under international law, and according to both India and Pakistan, is part of a disputed landmass that both countries claim. So how are Mirpuris “Pakistanis”, according to Pakistan’s much celebrated logic that its Kashmir is “Azad” free and not part of Pakistan territory unlike India’s ‘occupied’ Kashmir? The following YouTube video is an example of the incoherence of Pakistani propagandistic claims; the Pakistani state has created an anthem for so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, not failing to mention Azad Kashmir’s eventual accession to Pakistan in the same anthem! This is a blatant contradiction.
Watan Hamara Azad (Free) Kashmir or The Hymn of Kashmir is the official state anthem for the whole disputed Kashmir region. With english subtitles.
See Excerpt 1 (Azad Kashmir National Anthem (English subtitles), Excerpt 2 (footage of Azad Kashmir and Pakistan National Flags), Excerpt 3 (young girl singing Azad Kashmir National Anthem in Mirpur), Excerpt 4 (Azad Kashmir National Anthem sung by Muhammad Zohaib). Excerpt 5 (cricket match between Mirpur Cricket Team and Pakistan National Cricket Team at Mirpur Cricket Stadium, Azad Kashmir, Excerpt 6 (Pakistan’s Anthem with English subtitles) Excerpt 7 (Pakistan National Anthem at Cricket Match between India and Pakistan) Excerpt 8, (India’s National Anthem, Sanskrit with English subtitles), Excerpt 9 India’s National Anthem (celebrating women)
Have the Pakistanis forgotten their claims when they chastise the Indians for incorporating Kashmir into India contrary to UN resolutions? For the civilian Pakistani brigades who love mentioning that Mirpuris came to Britain on Pakistani passports and got here via Pakistani airports, as if there was some largess to giving people travel documents, they should really consider what they are saying before their incoherence is made plain to them.
The bequeathing of Pakistani Nationality on ‘Azad’ Kashmiris is an international obligation to ensure that the people of the occupied territory are not rendered stateless; this is the only reason why ‘Azad’ Kashmiris have Pakistani passports. This doesn’t make Azad Kashmiris genuine Pakistanis, not least because they can’t vote in Pakistani elections, or even play in Pakistan’s national cricket team – although I’m sure these rules can be arbitrarily relaxed. No one from Pakistan can settle or buy property/land in so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir because Pakistan’s Kashmir is not Pakistan; international laws stop occupying countries from changing the demography of the countries they occupy. This is what an authoritarian regime like China has done in Eastern Turkistan, making the Turkic Muslim Uighurs a minority in their own homeland; there is no similar outcry for these Muslims, despite Pakistanis feigning brotherhood with the Turks of Turkey. Han Chinese have been settled in the supposedly Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in large numbers. The Chinese have even changed the name of the Province from Turkistan to Xinjiang, which should be food for thought in light of how identities are conveniently imposed upon people, and the actual priorities of doing this.
From time to time, political propagandists need reminding of the lies they tell the world; they end up believing their own lies to the chagrin of people laughing behind their backs. They will eventually lose credibility amongst their subject populations and lessor citizens; of course, nation-building was never their real intention, the acquisition of territory and resources was the real agenda. If people can’t be cleared from their lands, murdered or induced, then they are merely written out of the conflict as if they never existed. One way of doing this is to impose a false identity on them and then say to them, “you’re not from Kashmir, you’re really from Punjab”, and this is what Pakistan is doing with ‘Mirpuris’.
Social class sensibilities; the false village-city dichotomy and the actual anxieties; a failing Pakistani State
In the introductory paragraphs of this article I said that Mirpuri vilification operates on the proposition that the majority commit the majority of crimes and Mirpuris are the majority Pakistani community in the UK. This claim can only work when it is reinforced by imposing upon the ‘majority community’ a less-desirable social profile. For a very long time now, Pakistanis have been propagating the claim that Mirpuris are predisposed to low educational attainment levels, low economic activity, welfare reliance and criminality because they originate from villages as opposed to cities. Had they originated from urban areas, they would have had significant social and human capital to make the leap from an agrarian economy to an advanced market economy, inoculating them from the misdeeds now being attributed to the community.
They would have become model citizens just like the citified-Pakistanis from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad!
Without datasets, one cannot disentangle individuals from either the British-Pahari or British-Pakistani communities to validate the proposition that, for instance, the majority of criminals belong to one community and not the other. However, the deliberate contortion of village/urban profiles to predispose certain social outcomes in the UK is itself misleading. It is essentially a red hearing not borne of distinguishing social profiles but insecurities and anxieties. We are not dealing with sociological facts but a psychological state of mind.
The majority of “Mirpuris” born in the UK as of 2019 were born and raised in urban areas, the by-product of a timeline that predates Pakistan’s creation in 1947. On the eve of its founding, only 7 percent of Pakistan was urban, and the areas now being celebrated for their urban virtues were not urban, this holds particularly true for much of Lahore and Karachi. Islamabad was actually built in the 1960s and has been gradually expanding to include neighbouring rural areas; this whole area had been indigenous to the ethnic kinsmen of today’s British-Paharis. In other words, lots of migrants who left Pakistan after its creation, were migrating from rural areas that became urbanised at a much later date.
The presence of British Paharis in the UK goes back to the days of the British Empire, an imperial enterprise that needed “immigrants” from the colonies to fight in its wars and work in its factories when it couldn’t recruit enough workers from the White Commonwealth. British-Paharis are the descendants of those first transnational migrants from Jammu & Kashmir, whose forebears also fought for the British Indian Army in both world wars. Pakistanis always fail to mention the preponderance of soldiers in the pioneer generation when narrating the history of Mirpuris in the UK, keen to connect Britain’s Mirpuris with stokers on merchant ships or affectees of the Mangla Dam – another exaggerated pull-factor to the UK.
The first immigrant pioneers from Kashmir, going back to the 1880s, settled in the UK decades before Pakistan emerged from the embers of partition. Their native-born British descendants are growing up in areas that would make the Pakistani ‘urban’ equivalence pale into insignificance. The British-Pakistanis perched on their online Pakistani flags calling Mirpuris “northern monkeys” would do well to realise that even Bradford’s economy is bigger than Islamabad’s. Birmingham, Britain’s second city, is much more affluent than Lahore or Karachi, and I’m being polite. The UK spends more money on its transport infrastructure needs in the north of the country than Pakistan spends on its entire country. The Pakistanis that make outlandish urban-village comparisons on account of where Mirpuris live in the North of England, as if they were predestined to live in London or the South of England because their parents happened to originate from Lahore or Karachi, are suffering from a rare kind of neurosis; their words reveal profound anxieties about how they want to project themselves onto Mirpuris.
Personally, I think the people who make the city-village contrasts are themselves very insecure about being ‘citizens’ of Pakistan, a country with a terrible global reputation. They are over-compensating to despise people who have moved on to greener pastures without necessarily thinking anything of it. Pakistanis don’t even fare in the Mirpuri imagination, a group consciousness that needs to develop as a matter of urgency. And yet British-Pakistanis love thinking about Mirpuris to demean them, which is revealing of the one-sided hate-relationship. Aside from the politics of contested territories, the vilification of Mirpuris from the perspective of ordinary Pakistanis seems visceral, and not merely rational. It is borne of a cleavage, purportedly class-based that doesn’t really apply to the people making class distinctions in the UK. There is no “Pakistani middle-class” that could sit in judgement over British-Mirpuris in elitist terms because of how it perceives itself and how it represents the latter.
Put simply, the self-affirming “middle-class’ Pakistanis are not part of any elite in the UK, and they’re not really middle-class either. They are upwardly mobile, reaching the upper tiers of a working-class and lower middle-class background. As a hybridised identity that seeks to connect its changing social class in the UK with primordial notions of nobility in Pakistan, I think most people would concede the point that Pakistan fares badly in human development terms. It has been languishing at the bottom of human development indices since its inception in 1947, which should give my readers a powerful insight into what is really triggering Pakistanis bad-mouthing Mirpuris, who managed to leave “Pakistan Administered Kashmir” in droves because of their own sponsorship networks. If the truth be told, Pakistan has been a liability for so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir since its founding and this claim needs no advocate. Pakistan received a boon for its economy from the very ‘people’, its bona fide nationals in the UK are now demeaning.
In the decades to come, there will be more native-born British-Paharis of Mirpuri descent living outside so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir than inside it, these nationals of the UK are increasingly feeling more British than Pakistani. There seems to be an irrational amount of envy against them, and the “city-village” claims – outlandish as they are – reveal deep seated resentment against this ‘unworthy’ population on account of how “villagers” (“pindoos; dhiati-logg”) are imagined in Pakistan. This racism has never been challenged in Pakistan.
Some western writers have explicitly mentioned in their writings, “the active feelings of envy” on the part of Pakistan’s urban class elicited by the antics of Mirpuris importing large screen television sets to villages without electricity. I would encourage members of the British-Pahari community to read these writings to understand some of the impulses behind Mirpuri vilification.
To capture the psychology behind the prejudice, reflect on the following scenarios.
Middle classes everywhere, according to the definitions at our disposal, have access to surplus wealth. Some of them like to travel. Aside from Pakistan’s weak currency in exchange rate terms (the spending power of Pakistanis is reduced outside Pakistan because of the weak rupee), its middle class cannot simply turn up at the airport, catch a flight and visit any number of destinations across the world. Much of the world is off-limits to Pakistan. Pakistani citizens need to apply for visas before they can travel into other countries even Muslim ones. Their applications are frequently rejected because they are considered an ‘immigration’ or ‘security’ risk. Pakistan has one of the worst passports of any comparable nation because of how the country is perceived and not because of the millions of dispossessed people who happen to live in it; people with sincere concerns and affection for ordinary Pakistanis should be holding the Pakistan Establishment to account. The Pakistan Establishment, dominated by the Military Complex is denying millions of ordinary people genuine prospects of better opportunities; the children of Pakistan’s poor are malnourished and their development is stunted. Pakistan is a horrible place for women, especially from the poorer backgrounds.
I am genuinely curious to learn why the Pakistani Diaspora in the West is silent about the suffering of ordinary Pakistanis whilst shedding rivers of tears for Palestinians? Are they even in tune with the suffering of ordinary Pakistanis, or do they want to join popular bandwagons because it’s the cool thing to do? The Muslim solidarity in question seems contrived at the expense of one’s own ‘ethnic’ peoples; but who should we blame for this? Should we blame the naïve Pakistanis hating everything about themselves, or the political ideologues telling them that they’re not the descendants of dark-skinned Indians (another prejudicial race myth) but the descendants of Central Asian warlords and Arab traders and Sufi saints? It’s become a joke in Pakistan that the country boasts of groups all claiming to have originated from Syria, Alexander’s Greek Army, and even one of the lost tribes of Israel! Our own fellow Kashmiris are now pointing to their own noses as proof of Semitic origins; (Nazi race propaganda had capitalised on how Jews had been ‘racially’ imagined in Europe negatively; the Jewish ‘large’ ‘misshapen’ nose was one such horrible racial slur; the idea was false). This is self-hatred borne of a ‘Pakistani’ political project that is weakening the resolve of people to be true to their own heritage, connecting their past with their present. 70 years ago, mainland Pakistanis were Indians, and they shouldn’t forget where they came from, to be able to move forward.
How can one not feel sorry for such deluded people?
In any case, even qualifications from Pakistani universities are not worth the paper they are written on. Bribery is so widespread that rich students can buy first class degrees, which hampers the reputational integrity of hardworking students who didn’t buy their degrees. Lots of prominent politicians have been accused of this vice. Aside from these habitual practises, Pakistan’s most prestigious universities do not fare anywhere in the world’s University League Tables. According to Professor Hoodboy of Karachi University, a Phd can be awarded to a doctorial candidate researching “Jinn”, spiritual beings, who seem to be trespassing into the world of physics! Again, I am not being hyperbolic about what constitutes knowledge in Pakistan; the Military is in the business of writing Pakistan’s national history. Yup, these unimaginative historians have reduced Pakistan’s ancient and medieval history to a warped form of political Islamism and there is no mention of the great Indus Valley Civilisation, which ironically first put the Indian subcontinent on the global map, thousands of years ago. Pakistan’s arch-rival on the other hand claims the Indus Valley Civilisation in its entirety, and has teams of passionate archaeologists, who would love to excavate sites in Pakistan if only they could get the visas. India is climbing international university rankings because it is investing in its own educational system, taking millions of people out of poverty, showing the divergence in reputational standing between the two countries.
Pakistan’s Military for Hire; the Price of a Weak State
The Pakistan Military has been accused of creating a terrorist haven in Pakistan to pursue its geopolitical interests in neighbouring countries. Having become a willing client of America during the Cold War, (India remained neutral during the Cold War), it received lucrative funds from the Saudis to fight Russian ‘atheist’ communists in neighbouring Afghanistan. This money was intended for the fighters on the ground. It was embezzled according to the Afghan ‘Mujahideen’ (holy warriors) by the Pakistanis, but ever since those fateful days, Pakistan has grown ever the more dependent on these financial outlays. America has been providing military aid to Pakistan in the tens of billions of dollars. Pakistan’s economy is too small to maintain its own bloated military complex that’s not even fit for war. Ironically, the wars Pakistan has prosecuted against India, it has lost, but in Pakistan, these defeats are marketed as victories.
The Generals and their coteries own most of the country; the bulk of the foot-soldiers receive a fraction of what the top brass receives. They mostly come from rural areas in the Pothohar Uplands, Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Attock, and they seem malnourished, unlike the Generals, who cut fine figures in their neatly pressed army fatigues. It is the sons of the poor who will inevitably die in Pakistan’s wars with India, and not the Generals and the senior officers, who are used to receiving gallantry medals for the false priorities they’ve forced upon the people. The ordinary soldier receives substandard equipment, eats like a pauper, and is accommodated in poor lodgings, whilst the Generals are driven around in armoured convoys, chauffeur-driven. The soldiers of the poor are instructed to kill fellow Muslims in the name of nationalism; in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistan Army has committed war crimes against people who are not cowed into silence, but the Pakistan Diaspora is silent and sings the praises of the Army. How many Bangladeshes must there be, before the Pakistanis rise up against military abuse of power, and say enough is enough, “go back to your barracks!”
The sons and daughters of Pakistan’s Generals and their coteries have no problem traveling the world, studying in western universities and permanently settling abroad. The wealth disparity between the officer corps and the foot soldiers is astronomical but this is lost on the mass of unthinking Pakistanis in the UK praising the “Pak Fauj” (army). Some of these patriots come from the Pothohar Uplands, but they’ve never once advocated for the betterment of their people, they have no concern for the welfare of ordinary Potwaris.
When the Americans left Afghanistan, the Russians having been defeated, the Pakistan Army decided to embark on a suicidal war of attrition against India over Kashmir by making good use of the now disbanded Mujahideen. In years bygone, domestic terrorists across the World, having been forced out of their ‘native’ countries by despotic Arab governments, were encouraged to head in the direction of the Jihad franchises popping up in areas of conflict. Some of them had their airfares paid for by the States kicking them out, hoping they would become martyrs (Shaheed) in someone else’s backyard. This is how lots of Muslim fighters ended up in Afghanistan. These hardened war-veterans were then pushed into the direction of India’s Kashmir to infiltrate a localised movement seeking genuine democratic enfranchisement against the Indian Republic. In Kashmir, they turned on the Muslims for being too ‘pagan’, destroying Sufi shrines and intimidating people.
Pakistan’s military policy of deliberately stoking conflict in India has backfired for ordinary Kashmiris and Pakistanis; the religious lunatics empowered by the military are now undermining the social order in Pakistan. The Military has always sought to rationalise these policies for domestic audiences in the name of Islam whilst locking up the Mullahs who become too autonomous. The followers of the militant Mullahs have retorted that the Pakistan Army is a sinister manipulator of Islam, and they are not wrong, without endorsing radical interpretations of Islam. People motivated by conviction, however misguided, are much better than those manipulating people through sinister manipulation and deceit. One can try and reason with one’s fellow peers through shared values, but how does one reason with expert manipulators?
Muslim theologians of conscience should be condemning the sinister use of religion as blasphemy from the pulpit; but the Ummah Syndrome that lots of Muslims suffer from inoculates them from understanding this manipulation. Pakistanis are angered into action to protest the Burka-Ban in France, having never once uttered disquiet at similar Hijab-Bans in Tunisia and Turkey. The fact of the matter is, it’s safe protesting against the unjust policies of democratic regimes, but it is unsafe and unpopular protesting against the policies of authoritarian regimes. Genuine democratic regimes are celebrated because of the widespread freedoms enjoyed by the people. They even ensure the health and safety of protestors challenging the writ of the State, some of whom lobby insults at their Rulers and the odd item of footwear. No harm will come to them because they are exercising their right to protest. If they collapse because of exhaustion, they are taken away on stretchers to nearby hospitals, treated with dignity and respect. Authoritarian regimes, on the other hand, shoot bullets at protestors and their secret police operatives take photos of the “agitators” to intimidate them and their families, who become guilty by association. Authoritarian regimes, by definition, are paranoid of any kind of dissent; they flourish by spreading widespread fear. None of the Diaspora Pakistanis joining freedom movements across the world, would ever dare criticise Pakistan’s authoritarian Military Complex, which makes a sham of their solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world. Others are simply unaware of how Muslims are being manipulated by sinister authoritarian powers who couldn’t care an iota for genuine Muslim suffering across the world.
Amazingly, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, Pakistan’s land and sea neighbours, all Muslim countries, have better relations with India, Pakistan’s Hindu Archenemy than Pakistan, which is kind of ironic if one thinks about the Ummah Syndrome.
This should highlight Pakistan’s geopolitical importance to its Muslim neighbours, an increasing security threat, which is also a source for cheap migrant labour in the Arabian Peninsula. This is how its nationals are indirectly perceived. Because Pakistan is a poor country, it cannot survive without foreign aid, assistance and remittances; this is what Pakistani journalists tell us, usually belonging to the liberal class, courageously exposing the antics of their Rulers on behalf of millions of forgotten people living desperate lives in both rural and urban areas. The Army’s classic reaction is to smear them as “Indian Agents”. If this doesn’t work, they’re smeared as “liberal secularists” or “atheists”. If this doesn’t work, they are intimidated and attacked. Bloggers have disappeared and prominent journalists have been murdered. The Pakistani diaspora in the form of its self-affirming middle-class remains silent. Like I said, on social media they love displaying Pakistani flags, such is the extent of their solidarity with Pakistan’s forgotten peoples.
Contextualising the scenarios above within the priorities of social class rivalries in the UK, as one group tries to redeem its reputation from the antics of “imposters”, exposes an enormous gulf between Pakistan’s actual reality and the middle-class sensibilities of British Pakistanis.
For British-Mirpuris, Pakistan is occupying ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, their actual ancestral homeland. Implicit in the Pakistani narrative is the explicit claim that ‘Azad’ Kashmir is not Pakistan but a separate territory that needs to be protected until the people can decide their future. The propogandists who spread this lie tend to forget about 1971 and the rape and murder of hundreds of thousands of Bengali men, women and intellectuals by the Pakistan Army and its religious outfits. Millions of Bengalis had to flee into India, which then intervened on behalf of East Pakistan to liberate it from butchery and banditry. Human rights organisations condemned these acts as a war crime. It is not Indian propaganda to say Pakistan committed war crimes in Bangladesh; is Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch really biased against Pakistan? The following YouTube video reports the Bengali genocide through prominent Pakistani eyes.
In 1971 there was a place called ‘East Pakistan.’ By the time the year ended, about three million people were massacred in a genocide by the West Pakistan Army that was sent there to thwart the taking of office by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman as the country’s elected prime minister.
See also, BBC Documentary 1971 (as the conflict was originally reported in March 1971) The status of ‘Azad’ Kashmir is a bit like Bangladesh. It has created mental separation for Pakistanis in the UK, who think Mirpuris are not really part of their group, a little insecure of the large Mirpuri numbers swamping their communities. Had Mirpuris been a minority in the UK, I believe the behaviour of Pakistanis against them would have been overtly racist and threatening. And that said, Bangladesh became independent in 1971, and its prospects have been improving ever since. It has overtaken Pakistan on numerous human development indicators.
So, reflect again on this proposition, one last time.
There would have been no reason for Pakistanis to speak negatively of Mirpuris in false identity terms had it not been for an overarching priority to lay claim to ‘Azad’ Kashmir and the wider ‘Kashmir’ territory to the exclusion of the very people who come from the region. In the UK, bona fide Pakistanis feign brotherhood and sisterhood with the ‘Azad’ Kashmiris, the generic territorial group Mirpuris fall under, whilst actively “othering” Mirpuris.
This smacks of a crude kind of incoherence.
Statements in Pakistani newspapers like “don’t call them Pakistanis, call them Mirpuris” is powerful evidence of the impulse in question. Anyone from ‘Azad’ Kashmir, living in the UK, with a slight modicum of self-respect and dignity would be offended by this accusatory characterisation because they would be intelligent enough to know that they are being scapegoated by Pakistanis, the majority of whom, I am arguing to be insecure about their own Pakistani identities. Apparently no Pakistani even looks like a Pakistani! Am I alone in hearing this recurring statement?
The overwhelming majority of ‘Azad’ Kashmiris in the UK come from Mirpur, which should explain the priorities behind Mirpuri vilification and its actual direction of travel. If “Poonchees”, or “Muzaffarabadis”, ethnic Paharis from other districts of ‘Azad’ Kashmir had ended up in the UK in the large numbers Mirpuris did, the regional labels would have been different, but the underlying prejudice would have remained the same. Pakistanis would have been degrading Poonchees and Muzzaffarabadis in equal measure.
I would go further, if other regional peoples of Kashmir had ended up with Pakistan, and the Indo-Pak conflict continued to reign supreme, the people of those “Azad” regions would have been similarly degraded and scapegoated in the UK. The Pakistanis would have been degrading the Baltis, the Dogras, the Kashiris, the majority of whom, incidentally, come from rural areas and not urban spaces. Unjust power dynamics between dominant and fringe groups always lead to inequality and social stigma, and this is what we are witnessing in the UK.
I guess in stating my views on the matter I’ve finally had enough of the hypocrisy and delusions of the Pakistan fraternity on offer. It is hubris on our part to think we can redeem the British-Pakistani identity. There is no will on the part of Pakistanis to have honest conversations about their own insecurities and anxieties. Their group identity has the hallmarks of a disjointed Muslim narrative obsessed with ideas of social class and internal differentiation. One need only speak to Ahmedis, a group of self-professed Muslims prohibited by Pakistani law from identifying as Muslims. Pakistan’s Rulers, both civilian and military, frequently don the robes and turbans of the Muslim Mullah to pass judgement on the pseudo-Muslims! They do this to curry favour with extremist organisations across the country, whose mobs they need to intimidate ordinary Pakistanis into conformity. Christians, gays and members of the transgender community are similarly oppressed in Pakistan and they have very little support from Pakistan’s diaspora. I am speaking of a diaspora that has been afforded every opportunity to improve its own lot in life, living amongst non-Muslims, protected by secular liberal laws and the rule of law; Christians, atheists, the LGBT community always mobilise to defend them from racism and Islamophobia. And yet they are silent about the mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan.
Suffice to say, there is no British-Pakistani fraternity worth salvaging when “Mirpuris” are abused and degraded by people whom they wrongly assume to be their peers, a lot of this hatred is being generated behind their backs and never in front of their faces. There will be serious consequences for their children if they let some disgruntled Pakistanis stigmatise them like this. We learn of such anxieties through 3rd parties; one need only speak to British Indians to understand the level of Pakistani disquiet. No one is imagining these conversations, they are happening as I write these words. The defenders of Pakistani ‘national’ unity are quick to pass judgments on Mirpuris and their connections with Kashmir, unaware of the identity myths generated in defence of their own country. Whatever is motivating them, I have given my explanation, they are not doing any favours to Pakistan.
This irony is particularly stinging if one thinks of the delusions of Mirpuri youth flying Pakistani flags in British cricket stadiums. So many of them are unaware of how self-affirming middle-class Pakistanis describe them, insulting their hairstyles, how they speak regional English dialects, even their physical appearances! Pakistani online cricket forums are a depository to this prejudice.
There comes a point in any community’s timeline, to stand up and say, “enough is enough! We have our own group identity, and we will preserve it for the betterment of our people and those who include us in their national projects. We believe in democracy, human rights and equality and diversity for all. We will advocate for these humanistic principles because they redeem our humanity. We are not beholden to the blind delusions of nationalists who can’t deliver equality to their people, worshipping the false symbols on their flags.”
“Fraternity belongs to those who can reciprocate it, not those whose every word, is to insult, demean and dehumanise the “outsiders”. Racists, bigots and despots are not our brethren, whether in identity terms, or humanity”.
“We are British-Paharis. Britain redeemed our forebears; whatever the cruelties of colonialism, Britons of conscience fought for social and political justice against their own rulers, and they are our brethren, more so than those in far-away lands. Whether we call ourselves, British-Paharis or something else, our forebears came from divided Jammu & Kashmir not Pakistan. We do not believe in the concept of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, because it is a manifest fraud, an abomination of the worst kind in the name of Islam. This is our truth, whether the Pakistani propagandists and their military backers like it or not.”