Growing up in the UK, and living in an “ethnic minority” community – whatever that means, I too came to the realisation that I didn’t really ‘belong’ ‘anywhere’. Many people from my background would have a sense of this ‘absence’. They might not be familiar with the terminology or how to describe the ‘absence’ but they know the feelings and emotions that I’m speaking of. Much has been written on the phenomenon of belonging and its sense of absence which can create profound turmoil in individuals and larger collectives. We know that belonging is intimately tied with a sense of well-being, and its absence can create a dysfunctional person who has no sense of responsibility to his peers or environment.

Or at least that’s the theory we’re told whenever we try to understand the behaviour of crazed ‘lunatics’ motivated by violent ideologies. It’s almost a given that they are ‘presented’ as ‘belonging’ to a dispossessed fringe of a minority culture at odds with the dominant mainstream.

But, it’s one thing to say you’re ‘English’, ‘Pakistani’, ‘South Asian, ‘Muslim’, ‘Catholic’ – the list can be exhaustive – and it’s another thing to feel ‘it’. And if you have people who always want to remind you, for instance, that you’re not really what you claim you to be, its pointless to emotionally invest in the ‘identity’.

I’m speaking of group-identities.

In our modern age of reason, individuals are not doormats, to be given the privilege of belonging, so that some of their peers feel more empowered whilst others feel fortunate to be connected to them. In this power-relationship, the one claims an authenticity of identity – and it’s simply taken for granted – whilst the other’s ‘claim’ is seen as almost ‘counterfeit’ depended on the acknowledgement of the former.

What kind of identity is that?

Why would anyone in their right mind want to belong to such a trade-off?

What you should know is that the idea of identity isn’t cracked up to be what most people think it is. You’ll hear people say, “don’t attack my identity”, taking deep umbrage at what others say about their ‘group’ as if ‘they’ – the individuals – are being personally attacked. And yet if you asked them to tell you something about their ‘identities’, other than the obvious things we take for granted, they probably couldn’t tell you anything of substance. They would confuse their ‘imagined’ identity with their ‘past’, personal memories and projected roots. And they probably know far less about the history and actual ‘ideas’ behind concepts of identity.

Identities are ambiguous.

Writers and experts, who daily walk this terrain are not sure about what exactly constitutes an identity, and even those who are pioneers in the field almost ritually confess their inability to offer definitive answers. But, they still try to give definitions. At its most basic core, or root, is the idea that identities are about ‘identification’; the subtle distinction is by no means slight. Identities are about ‘identifying’ with something, and that ‘thing’ says something about you. It doesn’t mean that the thing in question is ‘real’ – or, in the manner you ‘imagine’ it – but that you feel it, as do others, and you get something from it – you can call this ‘well-being’ if you like. How any of us, would expand on this insight, is again open to incredible debate and discussion and is fraught with all sorts of conceptual and analytical difficulties.

In the olden days, one kind of relationship made sense – from which we extract the seeds of our modern ‘nation-state’ identities – and that was the patronage networks.

In western Europe – and there are parallels elsewhere – the feudal lord, owed his graces and noble airs because of the wealth he acquired through his connection with the King – the ‘top dog’ from a power-dynamic perspective. The king was the personal embodiment of the power structure, and the territory he ruled was ‘imagined’ and ‘described’ through the accoutrements of symbols associated with his person and family traditions. A lot of the flags of many European and non-European countries take us back to this past. To say that you ‘belonged’ to this network, made sense, because you had the proof of connection. There was also reciprocation. You fought on behalf of the King because you got something back in return. The King ennobled you with land and titles because you had his back. In other words, you were identifying with a political order in which you had your stake and ‘status’. Astute and shrewd Kings knew that ‘power’ could never be absolute and they would tread carefully. The more power-hungry Kings, usually narcissistic ones, frequently lost their heads and jeopardised the succession of their rule. But, the trade-off for both parties was worth it, even when a feudatory felt humiliated or slighted by his ‘Superior’. He got over it and moved on.

Today, as political territories have given way to nation states built on the flimsy idea of ‘nationhood’, the older sense of belonging as given way to all manner of perverse ideas. Even those who feel they ‘belong’, have nothing to show for it – their ‘well-being’ merely being illusory.

I would put it like this to use an illustration readily familiar to us because of our experiences in the UK.

You have someone who says he’s ‘English’ because he was born in England. Now, on account of being born in England, he thinks he has a clear stake in his ‘identity’ not least because he lives and breathes that identity whatever its related ambiguities. He visibly partakes in the culture. He may even become a parody of himself, behaving unnaturally to show his peers that he’s really one of them. But another of his contemporaries retorts, “but you’re not really English – used interchangeably with British – because your parents weren’t from Britain!”

So the belonging in question is based on the acceptance of the group, expressed on this occasion by someone totally invested in his own credentials. An impressionable person would think it’s really about deep ancestry, ‘blood and bones’, ‘sons of the soil’ sort of thing – these are claims made by individuals who don’t understand the illusory nature of their claims. Think of it like this. If the German-descended British Royal Family are not ‘English’, symbolically intertwined with the image of Britain, – “God save the Queen”, “fight for your King, fight for your country” and all that, then no one in England is English. This would hold true for entire swathes of England, from Irish-descended Englishman to French-fleeing Huguenots and a host of other french-speaking ‘Normans’ or Viking-descendant communities. Some of the most celebrated Englishman have traceable roots outside these Isles.

But there is another point here. If the person claiming this sort of authenticity of identity has nothing to show for his genuine British-credentials, you would be forced to ask, what exactly is he ‘proud of’, ‘defending’ or ‘protecting’? The accomplishments, achievements and ‘well-being’ of his native peers who live separately from him? These are ‘people’ who wouldn’t even spare a thought for him – class is a still a big problem in many parts of the world. In my mind, this is a deluded person, who merely makes a claim stripped of any corresponding reality.

Now just imagine if the Briton with claims of authenticity offers nothing to the group that embodies such an ‘identity’?

Yes, people imagine identities through the obvious – the outward symbols – and we mere mortals impact how others see and imagine us. Identities are ‘us’. ‘We’ are the identities – or at least that’s how group identities are first confronted. So this ‘Englishman’ – the true ‘Briton’ – offers literally nothing to his identity. He lives off the state – i.e., taxpayers, many of whom are foreign-born – doesn’t contribute anything to his native-born peers or foreign-born counterparts. In the extreme case, he’s a lout, and an inconsiderate one too, dropping litter everywhere he goes.

And let’s say the other ‘Englishman’ – the ‘lessor-Briton’ if you like – the one being accused of ‘fakery’ is, say, a surgeon, performing life-saving operations daily, paying huge taxes and actually contributing to our understanding of say, diseases and their cures. But yet he’s not English or British ‘enough’ because his ‘brown’ or ‘black’ or ‘eastern European’ – to use a frame of reference we instantly recognise.

What kind of ‘identity’ is that? Why would you want to ‘belong’ to such an identity?

The trade-off would be an unfair one, except we can recognise certain benefits.

Genuine group identities offer wellbeing and reciprocation to their members

So it’s not that simple any more – choosing sides with whichever group accepts you isn’t a sufficiently good answer when they don’t do anything for you; their ‘authentic’ members concerned more about themselves. Group identities are a lot more complex than simply feeling the need to belong to a ‘group’, ‘nation’ or ‘territory’.

Most of us still feel ‘British’. In the ‘British’ ‘South-Asian’ community – note, we need to be careful with these terms – we tend never to use the term ‘English’ but ‘British’ despite overwhelmingly having been born in England whilst having little or no ties with the other constituent countries of the UK. There are certain racial undertones to the idea of being English that don’t necessarily correspond with the British equivalence which I need not get into here. But the point nonetheless remains.

But why do we still feel ‘British’ if we don’t say we’re ‘English?

Because we get something in return. Generally-speaking, and for the most part, Britain is a wonderful place to live whatever the presence of noticeable racists and those pandering to them as a means of mobilising votes or getting ‘noticed’. ‘Shitty’ people live everywhere. Some of them use incendery and inflammatory language to express their hatred of the ‘imposters’ and the ‘newcomers’; polite society looks away, disgusted but perhaps not necessarily that offended. Then there are those who present more positively, coming across more reasonable – the sophisticated social commentators, or experts that fret about impending doom, and they get airtime and column spaces. A lot of what they say is based on subtle prejudice and bias, and they may not be even aware of their own anxieties – it’s usually people who are insecure in their ‘cherished’ identities that want to challenge others that pose as the ‘new danger’ to ‘their’ country’s national identity and heritage.

This happens everywhere.

But there seems to be a lot less of these ‘characters’ in the UK than elsewhere. It’s like eastern Europeans complaining about Britain becoming less-welcoming of them – the new ‘European’ foreigners if you like. If you were a ‘brown’ guy, do you think people would treat you better in, say, ’EU’ Hungary with all its fanfare about keeping Europe ‘Christian’ and protecting the EU’s borders? We’ve seen how the Roma get treated in these countries. How many of us can forget that image of the camerawoman tripping a helpless, defenceless, little refugee boy whose family were merely transiting through Hungary on their way to Germany!? Which Refugee in his right mind, having plucked up the courage to flee his native land having sold all his prized possessions or fled with none, opt for a country like ‘Hungary’, when you see images of adults spiting the fortunes of little children because they belong to the wrong identity? But some of these ‘European’ nationalities think because their ‘white’, ‘European’ and ‘Christian’, they should have preferential treatment over us ‘lessor Britons’. For some of these individuals ‘freedom of movement’ means ‘Europeans’ like them moving across borders, and they don’t necessarily include ‘us’ in that definition. Mr James White, from Bolton is welcome in Hungary, but I doubt Ranjeet Singh from Southall would get the same reception. Of course, not all Hungarians are racist or xenophobic. Most of them would probably feed you if you knocked on their door dying from the pangs of hunger and thirst. But there’s a lot more ‘visible’ racists in Hungary than there are in Britain not least because of Britain’s colonial heritage and global reach.

You should now understand the wider point. Feeling that you don’t ‘belong’ somewhere is not the same thing as not accruing benefits – a mutual exchange. And if you accrue real, tangible benefits like civic rights and economic opportunities, you’re less likely to speak of your sense of ‘absence’ whatever the antagonisms of racists and insecure patriots that trigger your anxieties. I’ve also tried to show the delusions that come by way of thinking you’re part of something ‘great’ and worth ‘preserving’ whilst having nothing to show for it.

Azad “Kashmir” – the Ambiguous Polity

And this is exactly what is happening to my peers from ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir otherwise known as ‘Pakistan-administered-Kashmir‘. In the UK, a professional class are increasingly self-affirming as British-Paharis. There are others who still continue to identify as British-Pakistanis as they make the fatal mistake of thinking they have a stake in the ‘Pakistani’ identity. They confuse the prejudices of ordinary Pakistanis against their ‘Mirpuri’ community with that of ordinary Britons (usually a tiny minority of far-right extremists), not realising that they are in fact from a separate ‘polity’. And they don’t realise that the ‘state subjects’ of ‘Azad Kashmir have never accrued any tangible benefits by rebelling against the ‘Hindu’ rulers of the Dogra State (Jammu & Kashmir) and handing a slither of it over to ‘Muslim’ Pakistan.

So we are no longer talking about the ordinary prejudices of British-Pakistanis – a small but vocal minority who gave life to the idea of the ‘Mirpuri’ villain. We’re speaking about structural discrimination that doesn’t care about your ‘identity’.

I’ve lost count of the time I’ve heard ‘bigots’ tell me, or read somewhere, that ‘Mirpuris’ aren’t really Pakistanis but ‘Kashmiris’. I say ‘bigots’ because it’s usually dimwits with no intellectual investiture in the idea of ‘Pakistani nationality’ or what Pakistan actually ‘is’, who parrot such claims thinking they’ve something ‘profound’ to say. But, it’s true that ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir is a separate polity to Pakistan with its own border, flag, parliament and courts. Apparently, we’re told it has its own constitution.

It’s ‘Azad’ – ‘Free‘.

This is Pakistan’s official position for crying out loud!

But ‘free’ of what exactly?

According to the Pakistani state-enforced narrative, we’re free from Indian tyranny. Women aren’t being raped by Indian soldiers, and by ‘Indian’ they mean ‘non-Muslim’ soldiers. Youth aren’t being disappeared, and we don’t have curfews. So in the minds of Pakistani detractors, because the ‘Pakistan’ army saved the Muslims of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir from blood-thirsty despots, we should be grateful, even if we’re not really Pakistani.

So we should be counting our blessings, right?

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

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

Sure, loads of Pakistanis love conspiracies but why would NGOs that criticise, for instance, Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, that always speak up for refugees across the world, and vociferously defend minorities everywhere, all of a sudden decide to besmirch Pakistan’s ‘impressive’ reputation? Why would they write reports on the political and economic exploitation of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir at the hands of Pakistani officials if what they’re saying wasn’t true?

The Pakistanis have no credible response to this glaringly obvious fact. ‘Pakistan officialdom’ – I’m not speaking of ordinary Pakistanis – is absolutely abusing its de facto control of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir. It’s that simple. If this offends the sensibilities of ordinary British-Pakistanis who know nothing of Pakistan’s reality, we shouldn’t care. Pandering to echo-chambers gets you nowhere. But, don’t be stupid either looking for an ‘identity’ to attack; what is happening to ‘A’JK is happening because the Pakistani State is built on corruption. For crying out loud, ordinary Pakistanis are exploited daily by a pampered elite who couldn’t give a toss about what their doing to their fellow countrymen. It’s not rocket science. Had ‘British-Paharis’ not left the slither of land they call ‘Azad’ Kashmir to work and live in Britain, they would have been shafted in Pakistan, and no one from Pakistan would have cared. It’s only because they’re ignorant of the sacrifices made by their simpleton parents who weren’t very politically astute in the first place that they’re now flying Pakistani flags in Bradford or Birmingham on Eid day or on Pakistan’s ‘independence day’ even though they have their own flag, country and constitution.

Worse still, they have their own independence day, the day when ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir came into creation! But, you don’t see the youth flying this particular flag.

Why is that then?

And yet, not feeling very British, but still accruing benefits from Britain, they feel very Pakistani accruing no benefits whatsoever from Pakistan. And despite this, ‘Azad’ Kashmir is separate from Pakistan. And not because the people of ‘Azad’ Kashmir want to be separate – if they did, why would so many of their children be flying Pakistani flags in British cities? It’s because Pakistan insists that ‘Azad’ Kashmir is a separate territory from its own, and on the day Pakistan finally liberates the Valley of Kashmir – and cows start flying – it will then give the peoples of this diverse State a vote.

The liberated ‘Kashmiris’ will then choose, either India or Pakistan. And in spite of this good will – Pakistani intentions are always noble – Pakistan’s political and military elite demand that everyone in ‘Azad’ Kashmir support the secession of the territory to Pakistan. You are forced to profess your love for Pakistan by oath! You can’t even stand for elections in ‘Azad’ Kashmir if you don’t support the Pakistan narrative. You can’t even get government jobs, these are subordinate jobs to Pakistanis flown in from the Panjab if you don’t toe the Pakistani line.

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

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

And their puppets in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, the few ‘dignitaries’ from the region with little or no power but official-sounding titles, from selected clan-backgrounds, are more than happy to pimp their persons to promote this outrageous lie. This description might be a little harsh, but this is how they’re seen by the people of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, from ever corner.

There’s a reason why Pakistan is laughed at internationally. I’m not being facetious. I’m being serious. Pakistan’s position on the Jammu & Kashmir conflict – claiming to be a neutral supporter of ‘Muslims’ – they tend to forget that East Pakistan ceded away in 1971 amidst allegations of rape and murder – is seen for what it is – hogwash. Ordinary Pakistanis might be deluded. The world that watches this farce are anything but deluded.

Pakistan’s political elite do not care one iota for the lies they spread in Pakistan about the Kashmir Conflict to what many Pakistanis describe as a ‘dumbed-down’ population that has some of the worst life opportunities of any nation. The elite is squarely to blame. The vast majority of Valley Kashmiris want independence. They do not want to join Pakistan – speak to them and they will say, “are you having a laugh!”. The Muslim Paharis of Jammu; the Shias of Kargil; the Buddhists of Ladakh all want to remain in India. If they don’t, they probably want independence, but you can bet your last pound, they wouldn’t even countenance the idea of becoming part of what looks like a failed State. They have no stomach for a merger with Pakistan terrified that they will accrue ‘no benefits’ whatsoever from joining Pakistan, a country affected by sectarian violence and huge political inequalities. And compared to India, Pakistan is a lot poorer whatever the Chinese and Japanese sponsored investment of recent years.

There’s an irony here.

Pakistan spilt from ‘Hindu’ India, on purportedly religious grounds, to have a homeland where India’s ‘Muslims’ were free from persecution and inequality. Years later, the elite decided to become strong allies of Communist ‘Godless’ China, ceding and selling bits of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir to curry favour with their new ‘atheist’ friends. They got these lands for free so they didn’t lose sleep giving them away. Of course Pakistanis want to defend Muslims everywhere, in particular the ‘Palestinians’, but they couldn’t care less about the ethnic ‘turkic’ Muslims in Xinjiang Province suffering at the hands of communist China. Many Pakistanis profess their love for the Turkish Turks, but they seem to have less love for the ethnic ones being oppressed by their Chinese allies.

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

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

It has been noted by many observers that Mirpur, an historical backwater in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir, has benefited Pakistan immeasurably. It’s the only place in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir that has the semblance of any affluence all thanks to its diaspora in the UK. The area is much wealthier than the capital, Muzaffarabad – in which other country is this the norm, not least in the absence of government investment projects?

It’s a joke!

One can just cite the Mangla Dam that produces huge amounts of electricity for Pakistan. This is a Dam that belongs to the residents of Mirpur, that made more than a 100 thousand of them homeless when it was first created. Not only does the government of ‘Azad’ Kashmir not benefit from the Dam and the money it produces, but the people of the area have actually been disadvantaged by the Dam. They were promised free electricity in the wake of the huge sacrifices borne by them, a promise that never came to fruition, like many other promises including the anticipated airport in Dadyaal, Mirpur. We’re still waiting for this airport, as numerous airports are being built in mainland Pakistan with the help of the Chinese. And how much electricity does Mirpur get – go ask the locals and they’ll tell you in very colourful language!

When one ponders the amount of money being spent by British-Paharis in Pakistan, in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi and neighbouring areas, the remittences they send annually, we’re talking about over a billion dollars a year just from the UK, the tens of thousands that travel PIA yearly to visit their hill hamlets, it is a shame, this aspect of their ‘generosity’ is never celebrated.

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

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

Ironies are seldom this poetic.

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

Sadly, my people don’t.

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Associate Editor and researcher at the Portmir Foundation. Born and raised in England. Parents from Pakistan-administered-Jammu, from Mirpur which is not part of Kashmir Province or the Valley – these are themselves separate places; Mirpur is part of the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir “STATE”.

Love literature, poetry, film, art, music, sufism, Islam, travel, free thought, liberalism, and lots of other things. Have a particularly strong desire to learn about Indian history, the place my forbears are from, and I have no qualms identifying with India – partition made us ‘Pakistanis’ – not necessarily those of ‘us’ from ‘Azad’ Kashmir. I think partition was a bad idea, but I’m not averse to Pakistan either. I’m happy to have multiple identities and love the Pakistan of the ordinary person – the real Pakistan of the ordinary man, woman and children.

Okay, the official bit…

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

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