So what’s the big deal with these labels – who cares!?
Let’s get a couple of things clear from the outset.
We’re not speaking about how individuals view themselves, but about the underlying realities of identity labels that mean different things to different people. You’re thinking, what the heck is this guy talking about?
Okay, just hear me out.
Just because you think you’re a “Pakistani” or “Kashmiri” or both or neither, doesn’t mean others from these groups agree with you. There’s a reason why the experts say identities are fluid, ambiguous and contested.
So let’s try to make sense of all this.
- In the case of the Pakistani ‘label’, we are speaking about nationality laws as set out and defined by the official institutions of that territory. This is akin to speaking of citizenship and reciprocating rights and duties between a state and its ‘nationals’. You can be born into your citizenship; you can apply for citizenship (i.e, naturalisation); and you can give it up, lose it or have it revoked.
- In the case of the ‘Kashmiri’ label, we are speaking about ‘attitudes’ of ordinary people, their lived experiences within a shared ethnic space and the ‘labels’ they use to express that vis-a-vis “others”; we’re not necessarily speaking of nationality laws or political norms. Similarly, you can be born into your ‘ethnicity’, you can be assimilated into another people’s ethnicity, you can lose it (i.e., hide it, be ashamed of it, deny it) or reject it.
These two dynamics, the one ‘legal’ (political-cum-territorial) and the other ‘ethno-national’ produce different sets of priorities, and if you’re unfamiliar with the background you’d be left with the wrong impression when you encounter individuals saying that they’re one or the other, or both or neither.
How people ‘identify‘ with something – a ‘cause‘, ‘group‘, ‘place‘, ‘territory‘ or ‘nation‘, and we can even mix these identities up, does not mean that the identification in question is unambiguous and beyond scrutiny. Put simply, when you speak of your identity, you are saying, you identify with something – the net-result of the identification in question is anything but straightforward even though you think your version of your identity is cut and dry.
Think of this scenario; a Palestinian born in the territories of Israel to parents who were living in this ‘part of the world‘ when Israel came into existence. Let’s call this person Zainab. Zainab has ‘Israeli’ citizenship which shouldn’t be confused with the concept of nationality, the two overlap but are not the same thing. She also has an Israeli passport, NOTE; passports are not proof of bonafide citizenship, they exist for the purpose of travel, they are thus primarily travel documents. She speaks fluent Hebrew having progressed through the State’s educational system through Hebrew-medium education. She even has Israeli friends of Jewish descent, and for all intents and purposes her appearance and behaviour, hobbies and interests, can’t be separated from other Israelis. From a cultural perspective, she does everything her Jewish Israeli peers do, and we would not be wrong to say that she actually shares an ‘ethnicity’ with her Israeli peers, Jewish or otherwise. Cultural anthropologists and sociologists would say she is thoroughly assimilated in the State’s ‘national’ culture – the culture of the Israeli mainstream.
But there’s one snag, she is a person of conscience.
Moreover, Zainab is prepared to speak her mind, and she is not scared to do so. Lot’s of people are scared to speak out against injustice – this is the story of our modern world.
Zainab rejects her Israeli citizenship on the basis that it is imposed, unjust and unfair. She believes that she is a ‘Palestinian’ and her homeland has been occupied by Israel. She vocally and critically self-affirms as a Palestinian. When the opportunity avails itself, she uses her Israeli passport to travel to the United Nations in America to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As a fluent Hebrew speaker Zainab speaks little to no Arabic given the circumstances of her upbringing, everyone around her speaks Hebrew. And so she gives her speech in fluent Hebrew condemning the occupation of her people.
Thinking of Zainab as an Israeli or Palestinian is no longer straight forward. She has agency and she uses her agency to further the cause of a ‘two-state solution’, an independent and sovereign Palestine free from Israeli occupation, sea and land blockades, border checkpoints, barricades, and most importantly to her, ‘the very public ritual of her people’s humiliation daily’. She is simultaneously celebrated and demonised by her peers, and it’s no longer necessarily straight forward to put her in an identity ‘box’. She may even have Jewish supporters from Israel who are themselves persons of conscience, whilst having detractors from her ‘people’s’ population – Palestinians – because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of what a real Palestinian should be.
So, you should understand that ‘identities’ have never been straightforward. They are fluid, complex and contested. They work for some people, but they don’t work for others. Identity labels mean different things to different people. Some individuals celebrate their identities because of ‘herd-mentality’ whilst others think about their identities through their own independent streak. They are not afraid to upset, offend or confront the herd.
Identities have never been ‘fixed’; they change because people have the agency to change them.
This has been happening throughout the ages. It happens everywhere, and not just in our part of the world.
You’ll even hear people challenging the right of others to use labels that they think they own ‘exclusively’, and yet you’ve probably never thought twice about the group ‘label’ you use. You shouldn’t get distracted by the individual claims either, but rather turn your attention to the underlying priorities, and ask yourself, why would anyone care that another person is identifying with a group ‘label’ used by so many people that it is impossible for all of them to know what the others are thinking?
The obvious question here is if someone does not know everyone in his group, who gave him the right to be the group’s spokesperson? Worse, what right does he have to tell others of the imposters amongst them? This is one of more curious aspects of nation-state identities, that the vast majority of people who feel strongly about their country’s identity will never ever meet. Imagine, you probably don’t know more than a 150 people from your country, and yet you feel so connected to them that you’re prepared to fight for your people, your nation, your country! There is an element of manipulation here that many of us are unfamiliar with; we often get manipulated to think that our national identity is somehow conterminous with us as individuals collectively.
If you’re smart, you’d have realised that the situation is a lot more complex than the simple ownership of ‘labels, and there’s a lot more going on than just competition over ‘identity labels’. Identities are not mere abstractions in our head either, the sort of fuzzy emotions that keep us warm during a cold night as we sit in front of a warm fire. Identities have material consequences that are not necessarily fair or benign. They have ‘special interest groups’ who claim to speak for the ‘nation’ when in fact they are only concerned about the priorities of their group and special interests. But, this can also lead to a reaction. Sometimes, this reaction can become visceral, leading opponents to undermine the ensuing claims through personal attacks, conveniently I add. However, from the midst of the dispossessed can come a people who challenge their forced identification with the ‘status quo’. In most instances, the status quo helps prop up privileged groups; it is a means of self-perpetuating an imbalance in society whilst protecting the vital interests of a tiny group who couldn’t care an iota for the welfare of the majority.
Challenging the status quo can oftentimes prove perilous, but for some people, even if they were to lose everything, get locked up in some dingy prison, they believe strongly that an ‘identity’ has been imposed upon them. They are railroading against unfair material circumstances, inequality and state-sanctioned discrimination. The imposed identity in this respect becomes a symbol of something rotten. Think of an African-‘American’ living in ‘Jim Crow’ America being told he must fight for his country in Vietnam, because this is how patriots of America should behave. And he retorts that he would first have to be treated like an ‘equal’ for him to be willing to give up his life for his fellow Americans!
These are people of conscience.
Sadly, they are fast dwindling.
Northern Pakistan & ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir
So what of ‘Pakistanis’ from ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir and their diaspora of 1 million people in the UK? By framing the question in this way I am speaking specifically of ethnic Paharis from the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir. I am speaking about a particular group, of a much larger nation, who’ve been shrouded in mystery and confusion. “Azad Kashmiris” are almost always presented through the lens of outsiders, as extensions to other ‘people’.
Let’s clear this up.
You’ll discover when most people discuss these issues with you, or even argue with you, they won’t even know what definitions they’re using and what definitions you’re using.
We need to be clear with our own terms.
The discursive context; Paharis, Patwaris & Hindkowan
When I use the term ‘Pahari’, I’m speaking about an ethnic people who come from the western Himalaya. Lots of unrelated communities can be described as ‘Paharis’ – Pahari simply means from hills and mountains – and the Himalayan Mountain system spreads over 1500 miles right across the north of the subcontinent separating the Indian Planes from the Tibetan Plateau. In Indo-Aryan languages, from which we derive the word Pahari, there is no distinction between hills and mountains. The hill/mountain distinction is actually a European concept; even the criterion to distinguish hills from mountains is subject to variance. In Indo-Aryan languages, the actual distinction is between lowlands and uplands or highlands, between flat plains and undulating countryside. Hills and mountains constitute a distinct landscape of upland terrain at variance with lowland terrain within the Indo-Aryan imagination. The respective peoples of these diametrically opposed landscapes are thus imagined accordingly.
The Paharis of the western Himalaya live in the various valleys sandwiched within this mountain system, and use all manner of identity labels to describe themselves, whilst generally accepting loosely that they’re also ‘Paharis’. Within this context and in its primary nuance, the ‘Pahari’ descriptive label is intended to be ‘non-ethnic’.
The ‘Paharis’ I’m speaking of come from a region split between India and Pakistan with ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir being sandwiched between the two and so when you try to locate it on a modern map, the area transcends geo-admininistrative and territorial borders. Some of the connected areas fall in the Hazara Hills, in what Pakistan Officialdom calls the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa. In the olden days, the colonial Brits used to call this region the ‘North West Frontier Province’ precisely because it was home to ethnically-diverse communities. For a time, it was merged with the expanding British Indian Province of Punjab.
Other Pahari areas, much more expansive fall within the Pothohar Plateau (‘Patwar’), again configured as the ‘upland region north of the Panjab Plains’, and which falls within the Pakistan Province of Punjab. The Panjab region, a Mughal metaphor for a particular landmass interspersed with rivers, is frequently confused with later territorial developments of people posturing through a Panjabi ethno-linguistic identity; and so the British Punjab Province is presented as the ethnic homeland of all Panjabis, erroneously I add. The modern capital of Pakistan, Islamabad is smack bang in the middle of the Pahari-Patwari-Hindko linguistic sphere, a particularly distinct cultural area, although the recent Urdu-speakers are not part of the area’s indigenous fabric. They have migrated here from other places, from all over Pakistan and India post-1947, and they’re quite keen to point out that they are not ‘Patwaris’ which is quite insightful of how ‘Patwaris’ are perceived by Urdu speakers in their own homeland. You also have ‘non-native’ speakers of Urdu from the area who have made the conscious effort of adopting Urdu. They have increasingly shied away from speaking the language of their ethnic forbears and ancestors.
It is these people who typically dismiss the claims of Paharis from Azad Kashmir advocating for an independent Jammu & Kashmir State, insisting that Azad Kashmiris are not Kashmiris but “Patwaris” or “Hindkowan” and thus “Panjabis”, like them, even though Azad Jammu Kashmir (territory) has never been part of the Punjab Province (geo-administrative unit).
This is not an incidental point, it is a fact of history that gets lost in irrelevant debates about the ethnic character of peoples in a dispute that involves territory and not ethnic identities.
The modern territory of Azad Jammu & Kashmir had never been part of the British Punjab Province – a geo-political unit. Before the British, these areas were ruled by the Sikh Confederacy, a federation of tribes that emerged out of the vortex of chaos following the implosion of the Mughals, Persian speaking Rulers of Turkic origin. Throughout this timeline, the Punjab Province did not exist. The conception of the Punjab Province is essentially a British invention.
The British Punjab Province is thus being conflated with the Lahore Province – another geo-administrative unit, this time of Mughal proportions. The Mughals used to apply the term Punjab as a loose and ambiguous metaphor for the Lahore Province, a separate region from the Multan Province, which the British included in their greatly expanded Province of “Punjab”. The borders of the “Punjab”, in the historical sense of trying to map a self-sustaining unit on the basis of region/geography, language and ethnicity, have always been subject to immense controversy. It is thus a statement of fact to say that notions of a Punjabi language and notions of a Punjabi people did not emerge until after the British introduced, inadvertently the concept of the Punjab “Province”.
These 3 components of the Punjabi identity which lots of people take for granted – region, language and ethnicity – are not complimentary. Nothing definitive can be said about any of these three components to pre-suppose, either an ascribed identity externally, or an identity self-professed by millions of people living in different cultural and physical ecologies speaking mutually-unintelligible dialects of a “Punjabi” language that linguists have difficulty defining.
The Panjabi identity, in its earliest manifestation, is thus an imposition of geo-political proportions that evolved haphazardly into a linguistic and then ethnic identity quite late in the day courtesy of colonial practices. This history is amply attested in the writings of specialists on Punjab Studies whose journal pieces and books are plentifully available.
This rendition of the past – “history” – sits uncomfortably with the anecdotes being enumerated on Wikipedia and Social Media platforms as ‘history’. Our social media contributors are not experts on the Punjab though. When they speak of Azad Kashmir’s Punjabi identity – a completely flawed proposition, they are protagonists for a political cause that wants to retain Azad Kashmir for Pakistan under the fraudulent claim that Azad Kashmir constituted the Punjab historically and not Kashmir.
At this juncture various actors converge with similar claims. Take for instance, the Pothwaris who make similar claims self-affirming through a Punjabi-Patwari background, (there is no way of knowing if they are Pothwaris), they maintain that Azad Kashmir’s “Paharis” are not Kashmiris but Punjabis, “just like them”. Ironically, they regurgitate claims of a uniform Punjabi background whilst shying away from a Patwari identity on account of speaking Urdu – a more refined language they would argue.
The arena of these discussions for the purpose of our discursive context is the UK where lots of uninformed British-Pakistanis join “ethnic” or “race” debates about Mirpuris and Azad Kashmiris, as if the two identities are at stark odds with each other. They are not. Mirpuris, by definition, are Azad Kashmiris. To re-word this, every Mirpuri is an Azad Kashmiri, a state subject of Jammu & Kashmir State, but not every state subject of Jammu & Kashmir is Mirpuri. The fact that people are engaged in debates about whether Mirpuris are Kashmiris or not, exposes how far removed they are from Jammu & Kashmir’s actual history and the priorities of the modern-day conflict.
I will talk about these attitudes in different posts.
Ethnic Paharis of Jammu & Kashmir & their Ethnic Kinsmen (differentiation)
Thus, British-Paharis originate from the divided State of Jammu & Kashmir, controlled and administered by three countries, China, India and Pakistan. The people that are currently separated between the Indian-Pakistani LOC (‘Line of Control’) and that’s the de facto border between India and Pakistan come from this area. Whenever you hear international commentators and observers speak about the helpless ‘Kashmiris’ divided between India and Pakistan, they are highlighting the plight of ‘Paharis’ from this cultural sphere.
For this community, and from the priorities of our experiences in Jammu & Kashmir and Britain, I am using the ‘Pahari’ label ethno-linguistically. This means that ‘Paharis’ for the purposes of this discussion are an ethnic group in Jammu & Kashmir State which belongs to a wider cultural-sphere that transcends the borders of the State. To reiterate a fundamental observation that will be a running theme in this discussion, Paharis are not Punjabis. To maintain that they are Punjabis is to act paternalistically towards a people who are not bereft of their own cultural memories. There is no shared Punjabi fraternity that extends to Azad Jammu & Kashmir; writers who recycle the Punjabi claim have an inadequate understanding of identity formation in general whilst being completely unfamiliar with the historical emergence of the ‘Punjab’ geographical construct and the corresponding Punjabi identity in particular.
The colonial practise of subsuming diverse populations into artificially constructed labels has not helped, and we can see from colonial writings and census material the arbitrary process behind the identity labels deployed. It was colonial officers who categorised ambiguous groups according to their own “impressions” as they went about the colonial task of recording the number of “Indian subjects”, delineating them further into “races”, “castes or “tribe/clans”, “languages”, “regional identities” and “occupations”. The “Indians” were described through the agency of outsiders, and this was a defining feature of British colonialism that has been critiqued and criticised for the novel group identities, inadvertently, created on account of how people were classified arbitrarily.
The people of this vast “ethnic” area are diverse and the labels they use highlight their own regional priorities. They use different labels to identify their regional stake in the wider cultural space for political mobilisation. Yet, we are still speaking about the same people, language and culture broadly-speaking.
You will come across the terms, ‘Hindkowan’, ‘Hazarawal’, ‘Patwari’, ‘Chachi’, ‘Pothohari’, ‘Pahari’ and the very recent ‘Mirpuri’ ‘ascription‘ which – as far as I can gather – dates to the early years of migration to the UK. You may even come across the term ‘Dogra’, a broad term used for neighbouring people in Indian Jammu with whom Paharis share a lot of commonalities but also differences. But we shouldn’t confuse cultural-spheres with ethnic groups however similar. The Dogra-cultural-sphere is different to the Pahari-cultural-sphere in the same way the Kashmiri-cultural-sphere is different to the Panjabi-cultural-sphere or the Sindhi-cultural-sphere. Whatever the commonalities, we are still speaking of different ethnic groups; for instance, Dogras have their own cultural memories and folk taxonomies.
Over time, because of how the Pahari-cultural-sphere was administered, governed and mapped, its people started to imagine themselves through the ‘new’ labels. This wasn’t a conscious move on their part like how some people of modest backgrounds consciously adopt Urdu or change their ‘caste-titles’ or ‘family surnames’ to imagine ahistorical backgrounds. It happened because their cultural areas were lumped into new geo-administrative entities, what we would otherwise think of as ‘Districts’, ‘Provinces’, ‘sub-Provinces’. The colonial administrators ‘fixed’ the ethnic categories of the people living in these areas on the basis of how they mapped the region geo-administratively. In a sense by fixing the identities according to their own schema, they inadvertently constructed new identities.
Before the ‘British’ came, the situation was fluid and people didn’t care for such labels. They just never thought of themselves in this way.
Pothwaris (“Punjabis” by provincial association – The Punjab Province)
To add some meat to the Punjabi skeleton of the past, it was British colonial practises that rendered Patwaris “Punjabis”. Patwaris imagine themselves to be ethnic ‘Panjabis’ because the areas they come from – categorised by the British as the ‘Rawalpindi Division’, (note; a colonial construct) – was added to the British Punjab Province – a geo-political unit for the purpose of governance and taxation. There’s an older legacy of governance here that predates the British by centuries, and although these areas were configured to form part of the older ‘Lahore Subah’, the actual forebears of modern-day Patwaris never considered themselves to be ethnic Punjabis in the way this identity has been imposed upon their descendants today.
There are some Patwaris today, who think that because they originate from a particular Pakistani Province, this is proof of commonalities with the “ethnic” natives of Lahore or Amritsar, over and above any cultural connections with the natives of the Hazara Hills, KP Province, or the Pahari areas of Jammu & Kashmir State.
There are others in Britain, who feel profound ties with their ethnic kin from Mirpur because of family or kinship connections. This is an intimate bond that connects the two communities through language and culture. It’s a historical bond. The people now straddling the A’JK-Pak border have traditionally married into shared clan networks across the region, creating extensions of the old tribal principalities wherever they settled previously unoccupied lands. This has not stopped British ‘Patwaris’ from shying away from the erroneous ‘Mirpuri’ connection, which they in part have popularised through anxieties and insecurities about themselves.
You will frequently hear Patwaris of Pakistan speaking disparagingly of “Mirpuris” of Azad Jammu Kashmir, slating the latter’s “backward culture” unperturbed by the ironies confronting them. They are degrading the culture, language and persons of their own forebears including their parents and grandparents.
Quite a few have adopted Urdu, so in their minds they are no longer Patwaris.
They like to make a public spectacle of speaking Urdu and one can see these anxieties for what they really are – a form of self-hatred owing to a false consciousness rooted in the imperative of speaking Urdu – Pakistan’s “qaumi” or national language. Lots of Mirpuri “put downs” that are circulating within the British mainland-Pakistani community, originate from this demography.
Some of the linguistic insights recycled by Pothwaris and their Urdu-speaking fraternity about the ‘barbaric nature’ of “Mirpuri” (“Pothwari” in their own minds; Mirpuris refer to their dialect as Pahari and have no such anxieties speaking it) are outright racist. It shows how disconnected the protagonists of an Urdu-speaking Pakistani identity have become, (supposedly enlightened and cultured people with no practical accomplishments to cite), who, in their own minds, stand aloof from the native speakers of the Punjab Province. Crucially, their linguistic foibles and eccentricities fall foul of modern linguistic and sociolinguistic insights – it is they who are woefully backwards, not the peoples they insult. They do not understand that language prejudice is rooted in bigotry and unjust power dynamics. It does not stem from the supposed inadequacy of a primitive language – all languages and dialects are complex systems of thought and communication. How some languages were patronised and standardised is beyond their imagination.
Hindkowan of Hazara Hills (“Pathan” by provincial association)
In the same way the British Punjab Province emerged, the North West Frontier Province emerged in gradual stages. The configuration in question is entirely colonial, even the actual name (NWFP) bears the hallmark of that process; the Pakistani authorities changed the name in recent decades to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A supposed uniform provincial identity thus masks internal ethnic diversity. Hazara is an old region within the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the people here, the ‘Hazarawal’ continue to speak ‘Hindko’, a mutually-intelligible dialect with Patwari of Punjab Province and the Pahari of Azad Jammu & Kashmir.
Patwari, Pahari, Hindko, there are other terms, are all imprecise “labels” for different dialects of a shared language, borne of a shared heritage and culture with deep roots in the region. Similar to attitudes in the Patwar, some Hindkowan think they have more commonalities with the ethnic ‘Pashtun’ speakers of their Province, Khyber Pakhtunkwa than the ‘Panjabi’ Patwaris of the Punjab Province. For the Hindkowan, these claims are further muddied with notions of ancestry to tribes haling from Afghanistan. A lot of these protagonists (I say protagonists because of the ahistorical race-claims they make) are unfamiliar with Afghanistan’s recorded history, an ambiguous frontier that has straddled two distinct Civilisations, namely that of Persia and India. The areas around Kabul had been connected with ‘India’s’ history for millennia whatever the demographic changes of recent centuries. The ancient tribes that lived in this part of the world were connected to the populations that lived in today’s ‘Pakistan’, centuries before the arrival of Persian-speaking Turkic tribes, Uzbeks and others. This area was known as Gandhara, its influence spread far and wide. Historically the people were Buddhists and Hindus, not Zoroastrians, before they converted to Islam in enormous numbers, which is a good indication of the civilisational orbits the ancient peoples belonged to.
There is a reason why many Afghans watch Bollywood Movies and Pakistanis and Indians eat Peshaawari Naan. The fact that modern DNA studies demonstrate that the Pashtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely related to “Jat” groupings (a diverse group itself) and other populations in Pakistan and North India, shouldn’t be lost on any of us.
The Pakistan Project has degraded the reality of these connections for ideological reasons; it has been observed by many Pakistani commentators that lots of Pakistanis are ashamed of their actual backgrounds ironically connecting their forebears to celebrated regions in Pakistan and North India. A lot of race fictions are also deployed. These modern day projections, entirely false, skew Pakistan’s actual history, undermining the country to stand on its own two feet, because of illusory priorities of denying a past that does not seem ‘fashionable’ courtesy of the Pakistan Movement.
The emergence of social climbers in Pakistan’s urban centres and their frequent recourse to Muslim ‘Ashraaf’ (noble and ‘foreign’) backgrounds has become a serious hindrance to Pakistan’s internal coherence. In fact it has become a joke, frequently deployed behind the backs of the very people claiming to be of ‘foreign’, or non-Indian extraction. These actors, originally of modest backgrounds where one employs the concept of social class and upward mobility – they are not the remnants of the old Zamindar patronage system – are, quite literally, exaggerating the importance of their projected ‘racial’ identities, opening up Pakistan and themselves to ridicule, all the while they demean and disparage the indigenous natives of Pakistan for being of “Hindu” heritage unlike them. The “Pakistanis” they demean, ironically belong to tribes (of Zamindar backgrounds) with historical pedigree, whose forebears have left their mark all over North India, Pakistan included, and the wider regions. These indigenous Pakistanis are connected with the history of their regions – numerous place names point to the old ancestral connections; they have everything to be proud of on account of their actual heritage and not the modern-day fictions of social climbers who have no “past” to point to, except famed personalities with whom they share no connections.
Sadly, Pakistan has become the home of ideology and fictitious ancestors.
It is commonly joked in Pakistan that there are more direct descendants (‘Syeds/Shurafa’) of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and related “Arab” tribes (this list is endless) in our part of the World than outside it, all on the strength of upward social mobility and newly adopted family names. The ‘Pathan’ identity is another good example of this sort of social dynamic, but for different reasons. It is erroneously used as a substitute for the ‘Afghan’ identity; the two identities may overlap, but they are essentially separate identities. When one looks at the Ashraaf identities, the vast majority of the noble families associated with the old ruling ‘Nawaab’ courts were not ‘Pathans’ despite having come from the direction of Afghanistan from the Turkic belt. A lot of these assimilated “Persians” were of Turkic origin and spoke Persian in their courts – the language of high culture within Muslim India. These nobles did not identify as “Pathan” or “Pakhtoon”. Crucially, they married into the indigenous “nobility” of their “Indian” peers – Rajput households and others, which should explain the actual nature of power dynamics within the subcontinent.
Over time the new nobility coalesced with the old nobility and the natives. The remnants of these households following the colonial dismantlement of their territorial fiefs and privileges, live in poverty today, whether as the descendants of Mughals or as Rajput. Just like the old Hindu and Muslim Zamindar families, their power has been greatly reduced. This has happened to lots of ruling households across the world. A good example would be to point to the direct descendants of the Ottoman Ruling Household. More to the point, the genuine descendants of the old Mughal Rulers continue to live in India, not Pakistan, and their plight has not gone unnoticed by Indians. It is fashionable to claim the Mughal identity in Pakistan for all the wrong reasons.
Furthermore, the actual importance of the Ashraaf groups was restricted to Muslim-controlled areas of the subcontinent in mostly urban heartlands as opposed to rural areas. In areas where ‘Rajputs’ and other high-caste ‘indigenous’ groups dominated, Hindu, or as high-caste Indian converts to Islam, the ‘Ashraf’ identities were less prominent and less-prestigious. This was the case with non-Muslim controlled Princely States not least the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir and countless other States in the Punjab. These rulers of Jat or Rajput backgrounds did not feel inferior to their Muslim-Ashraaf counterparts, even as Muslim rulers had induced them into the Ashraaf sub-groupings as “nobles”.
We must never conflate the backgrounds of a particular elite in history, who were indeed ‘nobles’ on account of actually belonging to the “Zamindar” (landed) backgrounds, with our contemporaries who posture through such identities centuries later. Descendants or not, the labels may be the same, but the socioeconomic realities could scarcely have been similar. To maintain these distant connections today, even if one does indeed belong to such backgrounds – ancestrally, is the height of hubris and delusions of grandeur.
Hazara Hills, Swat Valley, Peshawar Basin
When we trace the history of the Swat Valley and the Peshawar Basin, and areas more westwards, as far as the Kabul River, we learn of a regional culture that extended into the Pothohar Uplands, the Hazara Hills and Jammu & Kashmir. This area was home to a particular culture that has become dislocated from its actual birth place in areas more westwards of its present location. As ‘new’ people move into areas, and older people move out, the situation on the ground changes; think of Native American lands, South America or Australia. These changes for the ‘Hindkowan’ of Swat and Peshawar started around the turn of the 16th century, prior to which there were no Pashtun-speakers in the area. The 16th century memoirs of Babur (d.1530), the founder of the Mughal Dynasty in India is quite revealing of the communities he encountered on entering his version of ‘India’. Over the past centuries, the original inhabitants moved eastwards and coalesced with the people of the wider cultural-sphere as vanquished tribes from the Plains of India (Rajput, Jat, Gujjar backgrounds, there were many other groups, clans, tribes etc) were gradually moving into the hills; there still remained an affluent community of Hindko speakers in the urban heartland of Peshawar as recent as the 1980s. But with the Afghan-Russian war this changed markedly as the Hindkowan, for the most part, packed up their belongings and left.
In earlier centuries, colonial archaeologists pointed out that much of the areas Buddhist stupas, monasteries and promenades were deliberately destroyed by fanatical elements within the newly-arrived “Pashtun” speaking community. British colonial writers were very damning and demeaning of this particular population and we should be aware of the bias and prejudice in their observations. This population was unfairly vilified and demonised, and one can see the legacy of those descriptions in later Pakistani descriptions of “Pathans”. As a direct result, Pathans had been unfairly stigmatised in Pakistan for decades aside from the celebratory story of successful Pathan politicians and celebrities, a social description that masks how millions of ordinary Pathan get treated in Pakistan. However, this doesn’t detract from the terrible fate that awaited the cultural artefacts of the historical Gandhara region with the shifts in demography. These artefacts are the cultural property of a particular people, history and region; they belong to the remnants of our modern-day Paharis, Patwaris and Hindkowan – almost entirely Muslim today. The 4th century sandstone carvings of Bamiyan, Afghanistan – a UNESCO world heritage site have been destroyed by the Taliban. The Buddha carvings, celebrated across the world for their ingenuity and richness, are an affront to the Taliban version of Islam. They have used dynamite to obliterate them on the grounds that they are ‘pagan’.
‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir; its Ethnic Population
I left the Paharis of Jammu & Kashmir last, and it is this group I’m concerned with in this post.
The Paharis of Jammu & Kashmir lived in the south westerly regions of the State. Of the State’s three Provinces, ‘Jammu’, ‘Kashmir’ and the ‘Frontier Province’ or ‘Ladakh’, Paharis were scattered across Jammu and Kashmir Provinces in 4 districts – Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad and Riasi. Of the latter District (names/compositions of districts always change), I’m really speaking about the area around Rajouri but Paharis extended eastwards as far as the River Chenab. Like their ethnic kin in the Hazara Hills or the Pothohar Uplands, some of their number, have been keen to foster relations with the peoples of the State, namely the Muslim ‘Kashmiris’ of the Vale than look inwards at their own people. They think that because they’re ‘Kashmiris’ by virtue of belonging to a designated ‘territory’ called Kashmir internationally their identity is somehow tied with the territory called Jammu & Kashmir, (Kashmir/Kashmiris is the territorial shorthand for this State/Peoples) and so some of them, a small minority unrepresentative of the much larger majority, have joined the pro-independence struggle of their Valley Kashmiri brethren. The activists among this group are very keen to point out that the ‘Kashmiri’ identity is a state-identity (territorial) and not necessarily an ethnic or linguistic one.
In Britain, most ‘Pakistanis’ come from the old Jammu & Kashmir State. Internationally, and according to the governments of India and Pakistan, and every commentator out there, these individuals would be classified as originating from the disputed region of “Kashmir”. They are therefore “Kashmiris” per the logic of this discourse, and are not imposters to the corresponding “Kashmiri” identity, as some ignorant people are keen to preach.
Again, there is a complex history here that eludes such protagonists.
Removing Azad Kashmiris from Jammu & Kashmir; the Propaganda War
It would appear these reactions do not appear to be the spontaneous diatribes of ordinary individuals, but the subtle ‘messaging’ of an orchestrated campaign that makes territorial claims (the real priority) under the pseudo-expertise of language, culture, history, and ‘ethnicity’. Even pseudo-race claims are deployed. Those involved in this deliberate disinformation are numerically small, though their online footprint and influence far exceeds their number exponentially. They are political actors not ordinary people. They resort to creating multiple social media accounts (false identities) to leave comments on videos directed at Azad Kashmiris, essentially demeaning and disparaging the “pseudo-identity” in question even when the footage makes no mention of “Kashmir”.
They intend to degrade the people of Azad Jammu & Kashmir to not want to identify with Azad Kashmir or Jammu & Kashmir – presented falsely as a less respectable identity to that of mainstream Pakistanis. This hatred is orchestrated, and it relies on a number of false propositions, false narratives and an over-reliance on false history.
The profiles always purport to be from different ethnic people (the usernames are extremely insightful of the identities deployed), the “edited” photos are also insightful given an obsession to present as “fair-skinned” – proof of “origin” and “ethnic identity”, I will explain this anxiety in due course. Suffice to say now, given how the ethnic narratives around Kashmir are constructed in Pakistan – a lot of which is false, more than 100 million “diverse” Punjabis are all imagined to be dark-skinned, whilst 5 million “primordially” ethnic Kashmiris from the Vale are imagined to be fair-skinned. These protagonists have clearly not visited Kashmir Vale or the various regions of the purported Punjab region, (Plains, Plateau, Hills-Mountains) to know the absurdity of their race distinctions. The racial distinction between Punjabis and Kashmiris is totally bonkers and false. But, it is a convenient way of racialising sections of Jammu & Kashmir thereby creating otherwise non-existent fault lines within a population demanding independence. Azad Kashmiris are rendered “Punjabis” who do not speak “Kashmiri”, thus their future should not be intertwined with “ethnic Kashmir” – the “real Kashmir” occupied by India. The commentators, (I would hazard the guess that they are mostly men) appear to be “riled” by the false “Kashmiri” claims of the ‘A’JK population under the occupation of Pakistan – known internationally as Pakistan’s Kashmir, which otherwise would seem irrational and visceral, but for the fact of the hidden political claims masquerading as natural “outbursts”.
We know such claims to be disingenuous because of the priorities behind the claims. All across the world, similar propagandistic claims in conflict regions have been exposed for the political intentions. The British-Mirpuri community in particular is on the receiving end of these diatribes, which again is insightful of the actual anxieties and priorities behind the claims.
My readers may think, but why are Mirpuris being demonised and not the other regional communities from AJK?
The answer is simple.
There is no Poonchi or Muzaffarabadi “community” living outside AJK. There are no sizeable contingencies from the rest of Jammu & Kashmir in the diaspora who could potentially advocate for Jammu & Kashmir per a pro-independence quest that puts 17 million people at the heart of its narrative.
If the ethnic Kashmiris had formed the mass of the Jammu & Kashmir diaspora, or any regional community from any of the 14 districts, or 3 provinces, they would have been similarly demonised, subject to how far they stray from Indian or Pakistan-controlled narratives on “Kashmir”.
This is about power and who has access to representation. The Kashmir Conflict directly impacts how “Mirpuris” are described.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, entire sections of Mirpur became pro-independence following the activism of the JKLF and its charismatic leader Maqbool Bhat Shaheed, a movement that was later infiltrated by Pakistan’s security services and internally weakened. Aware of the pro-independence sentiments amongst Mirpuris and the money raised for the cause of independence, Pakistan’s security services have become anxious to disconnect Mirpur and its huge diaspora from the rest of Jammu & Kashmir. Thus, attempts to assimilate Mirpuris as Punjabis denying Mirpuris any connection with their real heritage in the hills and mountains of the Western Himalaya.
By far, Mirpuris are the largest Jammu & Kashmir diaspora in the World. There are approximately 1 million Mirpuris in the UK, with another half a million across the world from all parts of Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Contrary to British-Pakistani vilification of this community being “backwards” – deliberately orchestrated I repeat, there is an emerging middle class that is not beholden to the ideological values of the Pakistani State.
Furthermore, contrary to Pakistani fictions, Mirpuris do not hate India or Indians – British-Mirpuris have formed lasting friendships with British-Indians, and although loosely reconciled with Pakistan, they continue to maintain connections with Kashmir, over and above any connections with Pakistan. Lots of British Mirpuris are asking questions about their heritage because of the propaganda against them. This demography, if it was mobilised correctly on the basis of Pakistan’s exploitation of so-called Azad Jammu & Kashmir, could potentially change the course of the current conflict thereby empowering indigenous JK-centric narratives in Pakistan.
The Pakistani propagandists thus try to divide Mirpuris and other Azad Kashmiris into separate and illusory enclaves to pity them against one another, (Paharis vs. Pothwaris, Kotli, Bhimbar vs. Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad vs. Mirpur, Mirpur vs Jammu & Kashmir, etc, etc.,) which merely reinforces the observation I am proffering. Crucially, it shows the direction of the diatribes and the identities of the protagonists. The propagandists are mostly Pakistanis who do not support independence for Jammu & Kashmir despite official pronouncements of Pakistan to the contrary. Pakistan bans pro-independence Kashmiri parties in its Kashmir; the activists of such movements are criminalised, tortured and disappeared. Human Rights Organisations have reported amply on Pakistan’s duplicity on the Kashmir question.
There is no nice way to say this. Intellectual honesty demands we speak the truth. Pakistan has no moral authority on Kashmir. It lost Bangladesh in 1971, not because India intervened to stop the bloodletting of innocent Bengalis, but because Pakistani soldiers murdered and raped thousands of Bengalis. The entire world accepts Bengali claims to that effect. Pakistan’s claims are rejected for what they are – propaganda against India. The founding myth of Pakistan – the Muslim homeland – did not not protect ordinary Muslims in East Pakistan from power-hungry Muslims in West Pakistan.
The Pakistani State does not seem to have a tradition of self-introspection. It is quite literally operating like a narcissistic State. It has no concern for redressing grievances which inadvertently benefits India – its arch enemy when it comes to Kashmir.
Pakistan’s politically-motivated and dishonest representations on ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir benefit India. By describing the indigenous population of Jammu & Kashmir in “non-Kashmiri terms”, whenever it suits Pakistan, often through the device of religion means denying the pro-independence demography on both sides of the LOC any credibility in their “territorial” claims as nationals of one territorial unit. Jammu & Kashmir belongs to her 17 million people – many of whom are not Muslims. The Pakistani propaganda used against pro-independence Kashmiris thus inadvertently benefits Indian actors, who seek to distance their “Kashmir” from Pakistan’s Jammu & “Kashmir” – endless and irrelevant debates about the ethnic identity of the people thus become important, not for ethnic reasons, but for political outcomes.
What is in effect a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan is thus masked in ethnic terms to disconnect the pro-independence populations outside the Vale of Kashmir with the rest of Jammu & Kashmir. Lots of pro-independence Kashmiris are not anti-India or anti-Pakistan, they merely want to live as sovereign citizens of their own sovereign homeland. It is about controlling one’s own destiny. The borders of that homeland correspond with the borders of the divided State of Jammu & Kashmir. This is why I say Pakistan has no moral authority for Kashmiri independence. Pakistan vocally and passionately supports the independence quest of the Valley Kashmiris against India whilst criminalising their Azad Kashmiri counterparts in its own Kashmir.
Pakistan deploys divide and rule tactics.
Pakistan’s terrible reputation across the World
Presently, Pakistan Officialdom is being savaged across the world for the lies its rulers have been telling the international community without any regard for how they are personally perceived – dishonest and not to be trusted. Aside from creating a State which languishes at the bottom of every human development index, I am keen to stress this is the fault of the rulers, not the ordinary people; Pakistan’s ruling class is a burden on tens of millions of people. It feeds off the State. When this ruling elite speaks about Pakistan and the need for democratic reform and progressive policies, they are not taken seriously.
This has serious implications for ordinary Pakistanis who should not be ‘indicted’ because of how power is concentrated and practised in Pakistan.
For instance, one example amongst many, there are serious questions about the validity of Pakistani University degrees given the country’s penchant for corruption – a situation grossly unfair to thousands of hard working students who cannot afford to bribe university officials and those who have studied hard for their degrees. But such is Pakistan’s reputation globally – the only real losers are the migrants escaping Pakistan, who do not have the political connections and wealth of the Rulers.
To put this duplicity into perspective, Bin Laden was found hiding (sheltered) in Abbottabad next to a military cantonment to the embarrassment of Pakistan’s supposedly powerful army. The Americans captured and killed Bin Laden, extracted his body without the Pakistani army being able to do anything about it, despite protests of the Generals not knowing Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The Americans had been paying the Pakistan Military to locate Bin Laden and operatives of the Al-Qaida Network, depositing the “aid” directly into Pakistani army-run bank accounts because they didn’t trust the civilian government courtesy of how the military presents the civilian politicians. This is the sort of propaganda Pakistan’s Army has been spreading about Pakistan’s civilian governments – encouraging the people to hate the elected representatives of the people, whilst loving an unaccountable army.
The Pakistan Army is actively undermining democracy in Pakistan.
Malala Yusuf, a child advocating for female education, was shot by the Taliban, an organisation that was previously recognised as the official government of Afghanistan, and funded by 3 countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan. Both Saudi Arabia and UAE are absolute monarchies. The Taliban were hated across entire swathes of Afghanistan because of the crimes they committed against the locals; the Afghan government is thus very distrustful of Pakistan’s army, but less critical of Pakistan’s civilian government. Pakistan Army used to speak of good and bad Taliban, the ones in Afghanistan, who are currently destabilising Afghanistan were good Taliban, but those who openly challenged the writ of the Pakistani State – the army – and the duplicity of the army are considered bad Taliban. The ensuing fight between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army has resulted in the deaths of innocent Pakhtoon in the Tribal Belt – a region where ordinary people are treated with impunity.
Some courageous Pakistani journalists have criticised these army-induced policies, and some are forced to leave the country depending on their stature; others are veterans of the Prison system. They refuse to be silenced whatever the prison sentence, physical intimidation or financial inducements. They are the only hope for Pakistan’s emerging liberal middle class who are not way-laid by the army’s abuse of power, all the while, the army creates an unhealthy environment to criticise Pakistan’s ‘corrupt’ politicians, deflecting attention from themselves.
In the diaspora, it seems, naive and impressionable Pakistanis have fallen for Pakistani army propaganda, and one will hear outlandish and farcical statements about the army’s selflessness of protecting Pakistan against corrupt politicians and unruly thugs. It doesn’t occur to such well-wishers that the Pakistan Army is amply rewarded for its self-appointed duties, owning the economy and ensuring lucrative jobs for their families. Worse, they don’t understand that their parents and grandparents left Pakistan because they had no future in a country beset by corruption and lawlessness; Pakistan’s provincial police forces are ranked some of the worst in the world.
The Pakistan Army is very much an integral cog in this ‘ordered’ chaos, not even the judiciary can hold the Generals to account – all the while senior Judges do the military’s bidding to bring convictions against corrupt politicians. This selfless service to country is celebrated by journalists on the Army payroll; the ‘criminals’ are paraded in front of the masses on their television sets – this is justice and accountability, Pakistani-style.
It is this engineered populism that influences the attitudes of Pakistan’s patriotic diaspora disconnected with Pakistan’s pitiable place in the league of nations, a country floundering at the bottom of numerous development indices. The diaspora is unaware that Pakistan’s military top brass live comfortable lives in gated communities, whilst the hurdled masses have to fend for themselves with limited chances of upward mobility. The fortunate can rely on remittences sent by oversees cousins, a fund that is a lifeline for millions of poor people.
The diaspora has nothing substantive to offer Pakistan’s hurdled masses except remittences, and applause for Pakistan’s military and the odd chest-beating against India. Eventually, the remittences will dry up.
So, why is Pakistani propaganda on Azad Kashmir’s ethnic population flawed?
Before the creation of the Jammu & Kashmir State in 1846, its diverse areas were configured differently. Some parts of its landmass were part of the Mughal Province of Lahore whilst other parts formed part of the Kashmir Province, that had been previously split off from the Kabul Province (Subah) to become a Province (Subah) in its own right. The actual form ‘sub-districts’ and ‘districts’ assumed, and the changing borders of old and new provinces, had always been in flux.
This history predates the history of Jammu & Kashmir and the “ethnic” composition of Azad Kashmir’s peoples by many hundreds of years. Geo-administrative configurations have become grenades in the arsenal of political propaganda. You will hear individuals making the most absurd comments about the ‘ethnic’ status of the peoples who have lived in the Kashmir Region for centuries, because of how the areas were configured geo-administratively.
These individuals have no appreciation of the history of polities or the social construct of ethnicity, they are entirely invested in popular anecdotes, having been influenced by subtle prejudice. They think because they’ve looked at some historical maps on Wikipedia of all places, they can somehow determine (and like the British colonial cartographers who were a lot more accomplished) ‘fix’ the ethnic identities of the people that lived in essentially ‘non-ethnic’ designated areas. The obsession of identifying or connecting areas with primordial ethnic labels is an entirely recent phenomenon borne of political grievances.
Some of the remarks you’ll confront about the ‘real identity of ‘Azad’ Kashmiris’ in particular, mindful of these claims, are just absurd, and I’m being polite.
They are breathtakingly unoriginal!
The intentions are clear though.
It’s about denying the self-affirming ‘Kashmiris‘ of ‘Azad’ Kashmir a future separate from Pakistan on the basis that they’re not really ‘Kashmiris’ but ‘Panjabis’.
The individuals who make these “Punjabi” claims, aside from not understanding how the Punjab identity emerged for the Punjab Province, are also unfamiliar with the historical demography of the ‘Vale of Kashmir’, many hundreds of years in the making – today a majority ‘ethnic’ Kashmiri space on paper.
Like every region on earth, the Kashmir of antiquity had always been ethnically diverse. This landmass does not belong to ethnic Kashmiris because they have all elected to take ownership of the word “Kashmir” ethnically-speaking. Paharis have been living in the Vale for centuries, well before administrative maps were created and ethnic identities were ascribed officially. Even today, there are hundreds of thousands of Paharis living in the Vale, side by side, with their ethnic Kashmiri brethren, as both communities are not perturbed by the propaganda, ironically outside the borders of the State, that wants to separate them into ethnic enclaves.
A lot of them, it would appear, want independence. This is their democratic right. Others are happy to remain with India. Others still want to join Pakistan. These positions are democratic. They are all stakeholders in this conflict. They are acutely aware that the Kashmir Conflict goes unresolved, day by day, to the disadvantage of the natives of this State – 17 million people. Democrats respect the national aspirations of people. Tyrants and their representatives do not. Most tyrannies across the world are actually dictatorships operating under the name of democracy or socialism.
The only people that lose out on the current Indian-Pakistani status quo are the natives of the Jammu & Kashmir State, split between an artificial border (LOC) whilst India and Pakistan proudly display the Jammu & Kashmir region on their respective maps. These 17 million “Kashmiris” – Hindus, Muslims, Sikh, Buddhist, Sunni, Shia, Atheists, Agnostics, etc – would remark, “who are these outsiders, on social media, Wikipedia, and other places lecturing people about the precise ethnic backgrounds of the people living in this divided but militarised space we call ‘Jammu & Kashmir’?
We know who we are – the indigenous state subjects of the divided State, do they know who they are?”
(The above map does not include Gilgit Baltistan.)
If that wasn’t bad, the detractors of the independence-Kashmiris don’t know that of the various tribal principalities that made up the four ‘Pahari’ erstwhile districts of Jammu & Kashmir, many of their sum-parts, not all, were actually part of the Mughal’s ‘Kashmir Province’, later merged into the Jammu Province. Centuries earlier these hill areas were part of the historical Kashmir region. These areas had never been part of the Mughal’s ‘Lahore Province’! And so the self-affirming pro-independence Kashmiris from our region who happen to come from these areas, are not wrong in saying that their regions were historically part of ‘Kashmir’. This is a position that is at stark odds with pro-independence actors from Gilgit Baltistan who generally do not self-affirm with the Kashmiri label.
The inference is clear, unlike Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan had never been part of the old Kashmir Subah historically. Although Kashmir’s historical influence no doubt spread to this region, but unlike Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan was never within an orbit of suzerainty that stretched from Kashmir across its Valleys that included tribal principalities. Colonial writers described these principalities as nominally independent Hill States under the control of Kashmir – (we’re speaking of rulers not ethnic people).
But labels are always going to be loaded and ambiguous because of the priorities behind them. The history of polities does not affix ethnically-diverse regions with eternal identity labels though – that is the realm of the political propagandist and not the realm of the historian, linguist, cultural anthropologist, political scientist and dare I say, “native” not yet ready to assume the identity of his “foreign occupier”. It seems Pakistan’s security agencies defending their own “territorial” identity that is barely 70 years old, the product of an ideological fiction according to a number of Pakistani historians, carved out of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Civilisation thousands of years old, want to incessantly comment on the identity of “Azad” Jammu Kashmiris – a piece of territory that belongs to Jammu & Kashmir.
This would constitute a text book definition for “irony” had the political priorities not been so glaringly propagandistic.
Indeed, the Pakistanis are so confident to engage their ”independence opponents” with spurious arguments, that they jump head first into a tiny pond of tired and worn out arguments. They leave no stone unturned when they speak of Azad Kashmir’s “Punjabi” “natives” in the attempt of reducing the Kashmir Conflict to an “ethnic” ploy.
Apparently, Azad Kashmiris cannot advocate for independence because they are not ethnic Kashmiris! The Kashmir Conflict is, of course, territorial not ethnic, to argue otherwise is to be openly disingenuous. Furthermore, the disdain with which Pakistan’s security agents demonise those prepared to challenge Islamabad’s autocratic writ in ‘A’JK calls into question Pakistan’s internal fraternity; these ideological Pakistanis cannot challenge Jammu & Kashmir’s ethnic diversity without challenging Pakistan’s ethnic diversity, which has enormous fault lines exposed in 1971 when ethnic Bengalis ceded from West Pakistan. There is nothing magnanimous in Pakistan’s treatment of pro-independence Kashmiris in AJK either. They intimidate these courageous souls, harass, torture, disappear and murder them in varying degrees, even as they proclaim to the world that Pakistan supports Kashmir’s right to self determination.
Let me state a fact known at home and abroad by those championing democracy, Pakistan does not support independence for Kashmir. The Pakistani claim is nothing short of hypocrisy that the entire world, including our democratic government in the UK, is aware of but silent all the while Britain’s Department for International Development offers up aid to an elite notorious for corruption.
We call this double-talk.
The native Americans had a term for the colonial British who would entreat the “Indians” to enter into ‘voluntary’ treatise arrangements with them over land. The colonial Brits would then renege on the agreements because they discovered the lands had natural assets. They would employ whatever sophistry they could to justify not honouring their own commitments. The native Americans would retort, “the white man speaks with two tongues”.
If India’s independence Kashmiris are still in doubt about Pakistan’s duplicitous behaviour towards Kashmir, they should speak to the pro-independence activists from ‘A’JK, if indeed they share the same cause and not merely the same sentiments for political convenience. One better, they should put down their Pakistani flags, if they want a Kashmir State free of Indian and Pakistani military forces – to use their own much-loved rhetoric.
Are they not aware that Pakistan has banned pro-independence parties from contesting elections in the free and liberated Kashmir?
But what is this Punjab Penumbra that pops up in debates over divided territory?
It was the ‘Persian-speaking‘ ‘Mughals‘ of ‘Turkic‘ background, who may or may not have descended from Ghenghis Khan the “Mongal”, to give you an idea of how complicated backgrounds can be, who first coined the Persian phrase ‘Panj-ab’ to denote a place of ‘five rivers’. Previous rulers, many of whom were indigenous to the region, had always considered the ‘Panj-ab’ area to have comprised of seven rivers (‘Sapta Sindhu’). In other words, the actual term Punjab doesn’t work for the region; which of the seven rivers should form the basis of historical Punjab? This is what is meant by the term ‘ambiguity’, hardly the basis of an all-encompassing ethnic identity linked with region.
For good reasons, writers on Punjab, have stated that the Punjab is a metaphor for an ambiguous region.
There’s a wider point here though; for the Mughals who coined the geographical term ‘Panjab’ from which was derived, centuries later, an ethnolinguistic ‘Panjabi’ identity, the areas that overwhelmingly make up most of ‘Azad’ Kashmir today had never formed part of the Lahore Province, including many sum-parts of Mirpur District in the north east. Even the Principalities of Khari Khariyali and Bhimbar in the south east of the District were known at the time as Chibhan on account of being ruled by the Chibh tribe. The Mughals for their part, called this area Jhibhal and merged parts of Chibhal with their Kashmir Province – these and other hill principalities, including Kotli, Rajouri and other areas have always had a shared history with the Vale of Kashmir dating much further back than the creation of Kashmir State and the Mughal Subah of Kashmir. This history predates the emergence of the Mughal Empire by centuries. Crucially, for the purpose of debunking the Punjab ascription for Mirpur and the rest of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir region, these areas had never formed part of a ‘Punjab’ penumbra.
It was only later the Lahore Province took on the nuance of being the Panjab Province. In Mughal nomenclature, there is no such thing as the Punjab Province (Subah) but the Lahore Subah. The term Punjab was an ambiguous metaphor for the Lahore Province. This is a geo-political ascription, the priority isn’t to ascribe ethnic identity to all those subsumed within the Province. This priority can be seen in British nomenclature as they saw themselves as the rightful successors of the Sarkar-e-Khalsa and the Mughals; they would refer to the territorial lands of the Sikhs as the Lahore State, frequently using the complimentary metaphor, Punjab State. The British did not call the subjects of the Lahore State, “Lahoris”, this is ample proof that the Punjabi term was essentially geo-political.
But even under the control of rulers like the Sikhs, the hill principalities north of the Plains, (the British innovated new terms, the ‘Panjab Alpine’, the Punjab ‘Hill States’), were similarly never considered part of the Panjab. The ruler of the Sikh Confederacy, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, did not consider the Pothohar Uplands as being part of the Panjab, even though the Pothohar Plateau was firmly under his control (territory). In his mind, the Punjab denoted the flat and fertile Plains around Lahore and Eastern Punjab, and not the foothills of the great Himalaya that was north of the Plains. It was British cartographers who expanded the idea of the Panjab to cover vast regions that had little or nothing in common with a cultural centre of gravity located in the old city of Lahore. The Punjab Province for them was a strictly geo-political unit that had expanded massively under their control.
But there’s one glaring abnormality in the claims of the Pakistani propagandists who use “Punjab’s” history for propagandistic reasons.
The colonial cartographers did not consider the historical lands we take for granted as Azad Jammu & Kashmir as Punjab. Colonial administrators, backed by geological insights, did not even consider the evolving District of Mirpur, originally an outlying area of Bhimbar in 1846, in geo-administrative terms, as forming part of the Pothohar Uplands!
Much is made by Pakistani propagandists that Mirpur was part of the Pothwar. The Pothwar is landmass not people. Colonial cartographers determined that the river Jhelum was the Pothohar Uplands’ most easterly border. One reads frequently on social media, but never in the works of professional geologists, that Mirpur formed part of the Pothohar Uplands. This is a spurious argument that is then conveniently conflated with shared culture.
The Pothohar Uplands is essentially a plateau. It is called the Pothohar “Plateau” for a reason.
There is a difference between “Plains”, “Plateaus” and “Rolling Hills, Mountains”
Geo-politically, the Pothohar Plateau (flat uplands) forms part of the Punjab Province. Geologically and geographically it does not form part of the Punjab Plains. Those who argue otherwise, are really making political arguments under the spurious claim that Patwaris are Punjabis, Mirpuris are Patwaris, therefore Mirpuris are Punjabis. Aside from the premise being factually wrong geo-politically, geologically, geographically, and linguistically, this is the sort of fuzzy syllogistic reasoning that Pakistan’s agents propagate to disconnect Mirpur from Kashmir State. For decades they have had a free hand promoting such falsehoods. And yet none of these false claims are relevant to a territorial dispute over landmass; colonial laws of accession, democratic values around national aspirations for contested territories; the right to self-determination is the overriding factors in the Kashmir Conflict, not spurious geological or ethnic clams.
To give my readers some bearings, so they can understand this ridiculous propaganda for what it really is, (easy to debunk) a plateau is “land area having a relatively level surface considerably raised above adjoining land on at least one side, and often cut by deep canyons.” This is one reason, amongst many others, geographers describing the Punjab have never considered the Pothohar Plateau or Uplands forming part of the Punjab. For the purpose of geology, these are separate regions. The erstwhile Mirpur District is not physically located within the Pothohar Plateau. It is overwhelmingly comprised of undulating countryside; its hills elevate in different directions and the overwhelming majority of “Mirpuris” live on rolling hills not on a relatively level surface. Thus, the idea that Mirpur is part of the Pothohar Plateau is a disingenuous claim, it owes its impetus to politics not geology, geography, or history.
It is similar to other ethnic and linguistic arguments that connect Mirpur with Punjab through illusory connections with Pothwar, even as the Pothwar is not Punjab in geological terms but in geo-political terms. The protagonists who deploy such arguments have seldom read books on the Punjab written by specialists on Punjab Studies who make it abundantly clear that the Punjab is an ambiguous metaphor.
It was our colonial rulers who started the practise of ‘fixing’ the identities they constructed for regions they mapped and described according to the norms of the day which suited their geo-political priorities.
What is even more damning of this political disinformation on Kashmir is how the people of what is today ‘Azad’ Kashmir traditionally identified. No one from our hilly-mountainous area has ever ascribed an ethnic Panjabi identity! For those of us “actually” from the region, we can ascertain this by simply speaking to our living grandparents; I entreat my readers to ask their grandparents how their own grandparents self-affirmed. It can be conclusively said that our forebears, four, five generations removed from us, did not self-affirm as Punjabis. They didn’t even identify as Pothwaris! The closest we’ve ever got to a ‘Panjabi’ identity, again because of outside influences, is the idea that our dialects are dialects of ‘Panjabi’ because of the connection with ‘Patwari’ (as dialect not region, not to be conflated with Majhi Panjabi). One should follow the logic here, Patwari was subsumed within a Punjabi linguistic identity, wrongly I add, because of geography not language. But, even the linguistic status of Pothwari in contemporary times is hotly contested, and owes its impetus to the representation of ‘Pan-Punjabists’, or a Greater Punjab identity.
In the Pothohar Uplands, there are language activists who go out of their way to point out that Pothwari is not Panjabi! Speaking a purportedly shared language doesn’t necessarily imbue you with a shared ethnic identity sociolinguistically; you can speak to any number of people across the world to come to this determination. The Australians, Americans, Canadians, Britons speak English, but the Australians, Americans and Canadians do not self-affirm or self-categorise as “the English” to use a modern example. Many Scots and Welsh are native speakers of English, unable to speak the native languages of Scotland and Wales, but they do not self affirm as the English either. More than forty percent of our indigenous English people are of Irish descent, who self-affirm as English and not Irish. Northern Ireland has large communities who can trace descent to Gaelic Scotland recently, but these communities self-affirm as Britons of Irish ethnicity and not as Scots.
Identities are complex things.
They should not be conflated with the priorities of political actors engaging in propaganda and disinformation through ahistorical claims of language and ethnicity. Such claims are gibberish, almost juvenile, and would fail the rigour of the academic disciplines they hold up as supporting their claims. Mindful of these examples as they could apply to Azad Kashmir, the most we can say about the Punjabi identity is that it is being projected onto our people through commonalities that exist eastwards in the Pothohar Uplands for all the wrong reasons – politics. In other words, Mirpuris are being forcibly assimilated into Punjabis contrary to their own agency. If you’re not from the region, and you do not have a sense of this history or the abuse of power and manipulation, but rely on voices that are easily accessible given the nature of existing power-dynamics, you will come away with a skewed understanding of what is actually happening in the region.
British-Mirpuris from Azad Jammu & Kashmir
In the UK, the overwhelming majority of ‘Mirpuris’ come from Mirpur Division, another geo-administrative area, originally under 1700 square miles that was comprised of even older principalities. The Division, the successor to the old District pre-1947, gets confused with the smaller town of Mirpur. The original settlement of Mirpur was moved downstream to its new location on the less hilly but elevated plain of Mirpur because of the upheavals caused by the Mangla Dam. Lots of the ‘Mirpuris’ upstream get confused with the Mirpuris of the Kharri Plains who had been coalescing with rural ‘Panjabis’ moving from the direction of the Panjab Plains in search of work and ‘free accommodation’ post-1947! Yup, Mirpuris are the butt of Pakistani jokes because they build mansions and then offer them up for free! This ‘humour’ is not lost on any of us from the Division.
Most ‘Mirpuris’ come from the higher hills to the north, and in the minds of our forbears, before they came to the UK, never once thought of themselves as ‘Mirpuris’. For them “real” Mirpuris lived in the old town of Mirpur – this label was not an identity but a term to locate where one’s people lived in a shared territory. Even these Mirpuris would refer to the peoples further north in the hills as Pahari people – mountain people. Outsiders to Mirpur from the vantage of the Punjab Plains, would similarly refer to everyone from Mirpur as Paharis. But this is how ‘identity’ labels emerge, people identify you on the basis of where they ‘think’ you come from, and then the label just sticks once it enters the realm of literature. Writers then merely recycle the label as a badge of identification unaware of the actual history behind the label.
The label then takes on a life of its own.
So just think about this for one moment, as it will help you understand why I’m saying labels can mean different things to different people, and why we should look to the actual priorities behind the labels.
Kashmiris from Azad Jammu & Kashmir
When you hear individuals say that they’re ‘Kashmiris’ – and you know them to be from your community – they’re simply saying that their grandparents originate from the ‘territory’ known as ‘Kashmir’. They’re not saying that they are ‘Kashmiris’ in the ethnic sense of the term, as most of them couldn’t care one iota about the ‘Kashmir’ of the ‘Vale’ in the way ethnic Kashmiris monopolise this identity. It doesn’t tickle their fancy in the way some writers project this identity on them, and imagine it having spent most of their time researching the Kashmir Conflict from the perspective of Valley Kashmiris. The insights of these writers and journalists have been heavily influenced by subtle prejudice through the agency of (some) Valley actors who maintain that the ethnic Kashmiri identity is the most ‘prestigious’ identity within the State. It isn’t. The importance they accord the Vale of Kashmir demonstrates this and the literature they produce bears this out.
Self-styled (caste) Kashmiris from Punjab, Pakistan
Non-ethnic Kashmiris from purported caste-Kashmiri backgrounds living outside Pakistan-admininstered-Kashmir are similarly influenced by these attitudes; many are also unaware of their actual backgrounds – some of whose ancestors didn’t even originate from any part of Kashmir. Worse still, they do not understand that the ‘Azad’ Kashmiris posturing through a Kashmiri-State identity, whether as ethnic Kashmiris, non-ethnic ‘Kashmiri’ Kashmiris, caste-Kashmiris of whatever ethnic community, are not making associations with self-styled “Kashmiris” of ethnic Punjabi descent, as they get absolutely nothing from making associations with such groups.
The self-styled Kashmiris of the Punjab belonged to ‘non-landed’ occupational groups with stigmatised trades or professions as weavers, tailors, barbers etc. The ‘Bridarism’ of the landed groups has always been a problem within the region, although it would appear, a younger generation is becoming acutely aware of how the Bridari system is being manipulated to control the politics of Azad Kashmir in favour of Pakistan and not pro-independence Kashmiris, irrespective of their own political preferences. This aspect of social identities is never explored in the many works on the Kashmir Conflict.
Moreover, many self-styled Kashmiris (of ethnic-Punjabi descent; social occupation being the key to this identity, not ethnicity) are unaware that a lot of the Kashmiri communities that did leave Kashmir hundreds of years ago, were actually from the western Himalaya in general, and not necessarily from the Vale of Kashmir in particular. It was because of colonial practises of categorising people according to their own biased schema that rendered their forebears Kashmiri on the Plains of the Punjab outside Kashmir State. Kashmir State became the locus of an emerging territorial Kashmiri identity – Kashmir Mulki (inhabitant of Kashmir); the older history of a Kashmiri geographical space impacted the emerging identity – Kashmir had always been an expansive territory.
On the Plains of British India, refugees and immigrants from Kashmir (country), the expansive region – mostly landless labourers and artisans – were returned as “Kashmiris” by the colonial census takers. Of the languages they spoke, the overwhelming majority were not returned as “Kashmiri” speakers, and this happened within generations of leaving Kashmir because of famine and poverty. This is the nature of illusory group identities, people posture through certain identities unaware of the actual history behind their own projections to an imaginary past.
So that’s the backdrop to the Question.
So why does this matter in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, the diaspora and how is it connected with the title of this post?
Well because, when our grandparents came to the UK from ‘Azad Kashmir in the 1950s following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the war veterans, stokers, seamen etc, Pakistan had just been created. They thought they had a stake in Pakistan after all many of their number had fought to become part of Pakistan. So they would self-identify as Pakistanis, no questions asked, and they never thought anything of it. They had no reason to be dissatisfied with this ‘identity’ label. Many of them were making a life for themselves in the UK without even realising it; western writers speak of these experiences as the” myth of return” But, then, their peers from the Pothohar uplands, their ethnic kin, would remind them that they weren’t really from ‘Pakistan’ but ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir. This was the first cleavage within our supposed ‘BME-Pakistani’ community which spread like wild-fire amongst other mainland Pakistanis, and it’s now an established trope.
The charge that Mirpuris are not Pakistanis but Kashmiris has been doing the rounds for decades, and only insincere British-Pakistanis would be confident to argue otherwise. This is precisely the basis upon which British Pakistanis differentiate with Mirpuris when they single out “Mirpuris as the bad sorts of Pakistanis”. They have never once made these spurious claims for themselves or any community from outside the Pakistan mainland.
Within a decade or so, pro-independence Kashmiris from the same region, the activists I mentioned earlier, entered the fray, telling them, “nope you’re not Pakistanis, you guys are all Kashmiris – Pakistan is oppressing you in the same way India is oppressing your ‘real countrymen’ in Indian-administered-Kashmir.” Most of our elders didn’t fall for it, they knew who they were and what they weren’t, and in their minds, the ‘Kashmiris’ they came across were ‘menials’ (‘Kammis’; landless occupational groups).
I can’t emphasise this sad reality more.
Most of the caste-Kashmiris in the region belonged to stigmatised caste-backgrounds, and this became a problem in how ‘Kashmiris’ were imagined not least when some of their number sought leadership roles in the pro-independence movements in ‘A’JK post partition. Some of the pro-independence actors, howsoever they ascribed as ‘caste-Kashmiris’, were considered ‘Kasvis’ (tailors), and this militated against them receiving support from the landed and more dominant clans. Pakistan’s military exploited this situation to its own advantage, speaking of true and false Kashmiris, whilst empowering certain clan networks loyal to Pakistan. Lots of these clan members have also joined the Pakistan Army.
‘Bridari’ politics has always been a cancer in this part of the world, as it continues to ravage regions across Pakistan, and if you don’t belong to the dominant groups, you have no chance of gaining grass-roots support. Bridarism has stifled political activism in our region, and the talent pool is restricted to groups that produce their own sinecures. Pakistan’s political culture with established families monopolising the top jobs is a good point in question. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of British-Paharis are now opposed to the caste-system because of its many failures to produce an equal and fair society.
But as time went on, and life became harder in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir despite ‘Azad’ Kashmiris returning to their valley communities flush with cash, they began to realise that they were being exploited by fellow “Pakistanis”. Everything was expensive. They had to pay bribes. Nothing could get done without the middle-men, and they were always from the direction of Pakistan. It seemed to them that they were the only ‘villagers‘ Pakistani officials wanted to bribe as soon as they landed at ‘Islamabad’ airport actually located in Rawalpindi. Powerful people with connections don’t get bribed. It’s usually gullible folk who think anyone dressed in official-looking attire is somehow important enough to demand a bribe; don’t pay, they can’t do anything. You’ll be inconvenienced but that’ll be the end of it. If you pay bribes, you’re part of the problem, so don’t kid yourself by blaming others especially when you want to get ahead of the queue by dropping a British fiver in the pocket of an Airport employee!
If you want to root out corruption, you make a stand in your community first. Don’t overload your suitcase with knick-knacks and goodies for your extended relatives in ‘Pakistan’ and then get upset when some corrupt officer demands a bribe so you don’t have to pay for the excess luggage. Because of your actions, everyone else who does abide by the rules is subject to the same demand for bribes.
Let’s all lead by example.
The journey back to their villages was peppered all the way with rogue policemen demanding bribes, and guess what, these guys were from Pakistan too. Why so many people from our region buy cars with Islamabad number-plates should make sense to you now. Others are outraged that nothing has been done to challenge the status quo, and this feeds into how people view ‘Pakistan’ and imagine her ‘corrupt’ ‘peoples’.
This is a skewed way at looking at mainland Pakistanis.
The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are victims themselves of a hegemony that doesn’t accord them any real opportunities or, even, dignity. The Pakistanis in the diaspora know hardly anything about the dispossession of ordinary Pakistanis,who accept their fate as a fact of life. They can’t pull themselves up from their boot-straps because they don’t have any shoes. Life is hard, and they don’t have the luxury of complaining, they just get on with it. Our British-Pakistanis and their American, Canadian, European cousins are more predisposed to flag-waving and feeling fuzzy on Pakistan independence day!
And so the idea of an independent Kashmir became alluring for the ‘Azad’ Kashmiris particularly those from Mirpur. Why this happened, is not at all surprising. The majority of the oversees Pakistanis in Britain since the early 1950s came from the Division. As they were frequently coming into contact with Pakistan Officialdom, travelling in and out of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, they bore the brunt of Pakistan’s culture of corruption. In their minds, every corrupt official posted in ‘A’JK, or in the vicinity of ‘A’JK was a Pakistani or a local agent of the Pakistan establishment in its various guises. If only ‘Azad’ Kashmir could be free of these parasites, they prayed!
It was a bit like a ‘Kashmir’ free from its Hindu Dogra Patrons, “if only we had Muslims like us ruling us, things would be better and easier“. Decades earlier, “ilhaq-e-Pakistan” was the battle cry for the armed rebells of Mirpur and Poonch on the eve of partition. These veterans of World War II were shouting from the top of their throats “accession to Pakistan!” In their minds because Pakistan was a homeland for India’s Muslims, they too would have a stake in the new political order.
Well, clearly things didn’t get better for the people of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, even if the pro-Pakistani ‘leadership’ was handsomely rewarded for its loyalty to Pakistan. Their members now had the wherewithal to move into Islamabad!
Ordinary Azad Kashmiris discovered overnight that Pakistan’s new elite was despotic and corrupt just like the Dogra rulers, and the new local puppets were keen to do their bidding! And yet, ordinary Pakistanis in mainland Pakistan weren’t exactly having a blast either. The elite in Pakistan have been exploiting Pakistanis with equal devotion, so we shouldn’t get caught-up in thinking about these problems as ‘us’ against ‘them’. If you speak to Bangladeshis today, they would concede the point that the current incumbents in Bangladesh’s corridors of power are no less corrupt than the West-Pakistani leadership that exploited East-Pakistan all those years ago.
None of this mattered though.
Some of our vocal ‘Kashmiris’ started to imagine themselves as Kashmiris, using this identity because of its political value. Others went further and started to make outlandish overtures to a people who didn’t deserve their camaraderie. They would recycle slogans without ever probing the veracity behind the political claims. They would retort, “No, we’re not Pakistanis! Kashmir’s history is 5000 years old, and we want to learn about our history, the history of Maharajah Ghulab Singh!” They became the butt of jokes for all the wrong reasons. Their poorer ‘equals’ from the Kashmir Vale, and remember what I said about stigmatised backgrounds creating new beginnings, received a lot of affection from our ‘nuevo‘ (new) Kashmiris. That’s how western writers described them somewhat insultingly I add if you’ve had the unnerving experience of reading their accounts courtesy of narratives with an inbuilt bias towards the ‘Vale’.
The Kashmiris, for their part, thought that they were somehow more ‘superior’, ‘educated’, ‘refined’, the real ‘Kashmiris of the true ‘Kashmir”! Apparently, the idyllic Valley has produced amazing people from the moment God created it exclusively for the ‘Saraswati’ ‘Brahmans’ ironically from the direction of the Indian Planes. The Saraswati river, now dried up, used to flow through India and this is where the Brahmans used to live. We know the con of such claims and why so many Hindu Pandits, a tiny minority of supposedly ‘original‘ Kashmiris make such claims to maintain their stake in the conflict. Apparently, it was their direct ancestor who fought the demons and reclaimed Kashmir from a vast lake! History is replete with such narratives, and we know how illusory identities are constructed. This is akin to saying that Palestine belongs to the Jews because God gave it to them, it says so in the Bible!
Who cares if the Jews saying this for political reasons are all a bunch of atheists, right?
But, this didn’t matter to the unfortunate people under the yoke of ‘foreign’ tyrants because ‘Kashmir’ was being fought over; its ‘amazingly beautiful and temperate people’ split between ‘artificial’ borders had to have their honour restored.
Kashmir is India’s integral piece!
Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein!
Lest any of us forget how the divided State’s native residents were treated by their respective foreign rulers when we look to the annals of history that describe in detail this subjugation and humiliation.
The leaders of India and Pakistan couldn’t care one bit about the ordinary ‘Kashmiris’. The colonial Brits, Sikhs, Afghans, and Mughals with whom Kashmir first enters the Indian imagination for its scenic beauty minus its ‘undeserving people’, have all treated the Valley Kashmiris with contempt. That’s the history bit many ethnic Kashmiris become amnesic about as some of them think that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, because someone, somewhere, in the recent past blurted out this anecdote now recorded for posterity! Some of them say this whilst also claiming to be Brahmans, perhaps, those Brahmans are all the descendants of Y Chromosomal Aaron – look up this concept if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
History is a murky business and even stranger things have been said!
DNA on the other hand, is an altogether different proposition.
Race Myths, Politics and DNA Studies
Recent DNA studies on both Muslim and Hindu Valley Kashmiris have shown large admixtures with Ancestral North Indians (ANI) and Ancestral South Indians (ASI), (to use an older model that has been recently updated). They also share the same DNA as neighbouring populations, in varying degrees though, subject to the caste-backgrounds they belong to – the higher the caste-background, the less the ASI admixture, the lower the caste-background, the more ASI admixture. Many of the landed-groups who belong to the higher caste-backgrounds, whether in ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir, Panjab or North India seem to have the same, if not more levels of Ancestral North Indian admixtures, connecting them with Central and West Asian populations just as they are connected with ASI admixtures. The shared ancestors to these populations lived thousands of years ago in the past, and so it becomes meaningless to assert these prehistoric connections over and above our modern day connections. Point being, we are literally all related, literally everyone one of us from the subcontinent, north, south, east, west, is related, more closely related than we think.
Why so many people are keen to claim foreign “roots” is on account of anxieties of not wanting to celebrate the heritage that’s on their doorstep. They are a serious hindrance to the awakening of people who want to be true to the actual discoverable past of their forebears. I’m sure you’ve come across people like this who claim to descend from Alexander’s Army, or the 12 tribes of Israel, out of a desire to be connected with the very “Europeans” who taught them this ‘race science’ whilst their descendants, burdened by the crimes of pseudo race science, conclusively discredit such ideas. Ironically, the Moses depicted in the Old Testament would have looked more like an African, and his tribes would have looked more African than European. In fact, the further back we go into our past, the closer we all come to looking like our African ancestors, who left East Africa to populate the rest of the world. These facts are beyond the imagination of people who are incapable of realising how backwards they sound when they posture through flawed racial identities that merely exist in their minds.
The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has revealed. See Guardian article; First modern Britons had ‘dark to black’ skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals
The genomic revolution is transforming our understanding of modern humans. Geneticists like David Reich have made astounding advances in genomics, which is proving to be as important a field as archeology or linguistics for understanding our ancestry.
Every group in the subcontinent that has denied its subcontinent origin, but has had its DNA tested, its anecdotes have been flatly rejected by modern science. Studies have been carried out on numerous groups posturing through locally-sourced legends, and it transpires they are closely related to their neighbouring populations, geographically speaking than peoples thousands of miles away, or celebrated ‘Kings’ in ancient history. Put simply, Pakhtoon are not the descendants of Greek soldiers. They are neither the descendants of Israel’s lost tribe. Less known caste or clan groups like the Awan, Arian, and others, are not the descendants of Arab armies, or settlers from Syria, but rather they descend from Hindus and Buddhists. This holds true for the Gakhar and all the “Mughal” aspiring “castes/clans” in Pakistan all the while those of demonstrable “Mughal” descent (linear descendants of their armies, administrators) continue to live in poverty in India.
Indeed, over the past 1000 years, Muslims of diverse ethnic backgrounds did enter the subcontinent to form their own Kingdoms but the presence of their DNA in the extant Indian population is negligible. They coalesced with the “Indians” and their descendants share ancestors with Indians. It is also the case that present-day populations can be reconstructed on the basis of ancestral populations, but not in the way some individuals imagine these identities. These populations settled India thousands and thousands of years ago. In the subcontinent, aside from never-ending debates on who were India’s neolithic farmers, (from Anatolia, Iran) or Bronze Age warriors (from the Central Asian steppe), studies have shown, again and again, that the subcontinent’s population has an intrinsic coherence as migrating tribes from around the world, over different periods of time, merged with extant communities to give us our modern day population. In fact before they came to merge with the ancient Indians, they had already merged with other populations.
This holds equally true for ethnic Valley Kashmiris, who historically comprised of occupational, non-landed caste backgrounds (social constructs) courtesy of unjust power dynamics (at the time this history was being written), despite ahistorical narratives that now render the Valley of Kashmir the sacred homeland of Brahman ‘priests’ thousands of years earlier. These debunked ideas expose what’s really going on – the ‘primordial’ Kashmiris were forcibly converted to Islam by ‘foreigners’, “the evil Muslims”, but a tiny minority remained true to its Hindu “Brahman” heritage – the original Kashmiri Pandits that Hindu India needs to protect.
The idea is patently false.
Its chief aim is propaganda for the purposes of a minority of 200 to 400 thousand displaced people claiming a much larger stake in a territory of 17 million people, where they’ve always been a minority as far back as we can narrate Kashmir’s history. Hindu Pandits are victims of this Conflict, no doubt. No one should minimise their suffering; they have been forcibly removed from their homes by extremists shouting Pakistani slogans. But, some of their advocates are now recycling every possible origin-myth going, however outlandish, however absurd, to stay relevant to the Conflict – in the shared homeland of 17 million people.
We are all distantly related to not lose our humanity in the face of conflict and political claims.
It is usually people with outlandish ideas about the past who obsessively parrot 19th century race science to make connections with people they admire. If you don’t believe me, just do a google search on the “real Kashmiris” to learn about these anxieties and the racial claims they make. Then google the pictures of the people throwing stones at Indian paramilitary forces, or watch YouTube videos of the Kashmiri Pandits delivering speeches about their ethnic homeland, to see the huge disconnect with how the protagonists propagate this racial identity, and its actual reality. You’ll also notice a number of caste-Kashmiris from Pakistan involved in these discussions, which is quite revealing of different sets of anxieties.
Kashmiris can be forgiven. Some random person in the past wrote an unsubstantiated book about his people’s origin, and today those myths and legends have become “truths” for those posturing through such identities. Anecdotes have become unassailable evidence. Their words are very revealing of deep-seated anxieties about the things they actually value.
Take for example the Kalash. I mention the Kalash because of European fascinations with this particular ‘people’ in the Hindu Kush mountains (exceedingly blue-eyed and blond-haired). This was a particular fascination not extended to our modern-day Valley Kashmiris who seem to revel in their ‘Dardic’ connections unaware of how ludicrous they sound when they actively try to distance themselves from their ‘subcontinent’ roots. We learn from DNA studies that the Kalash are closely related to populations in the subcontinent, they are not descendants of Alexander’s “Greek” army.
Kashmir has become famous for all the wrong reasons.
In our modern times, ‘Kashmir’ – and by this I mean the State – is significant for all the wrong reasons. The region’s strategic location, water and timber resources, and the showcasing of Indian/Pakistani chest-beating has been enough to get people talking about the oppressed ‘Kashmiris’.
The actual outcome is less satisfying for the diverse ‘peoples‘ living within the borders of the State.
But, for the Kashmiris from ‘Azad’ Kashmir, now increasingly imagined as the ‘Mirpuris’ in the UK courtesy of disinformation, deliberate or otherwise, they’ve been positively excluded from this fraternal affection not withstanding their increased prosperity which may account for some of the gripes.
So that’s the subtext behind the use of the label ‘Kashmiri’ by people from our region.
We shouldn’t exaggerate the influence or numbers of those self-affirming as pro-independence Kashmiris though. They are a small minority of activists from a much larger mass of indifferent people. They organise events and move in their own closeted circles – which lacks adherents from the million strong British-born “Kashmiris”. The activists are very suspicious of ‘Indian’ and ‘Pakistani’ agents that are lurking everywhere apparently, and they get exploited by people who have their own agendas, even from within their own circles. They are sincere and committed to their cause, and should be commended for their efforts despite such bad odds.
Sadly their cause is critically flawed. It offers the people of AJK (four million people) and its 1 million strong British diaspora nothing by way of empowerment, or political redress in ‘A’JK!
But, the political sensibilities of the activists are being increasingly shared by lots of young British-Paharis who don’t like how their community is being ‘represented’ by fellow British-Pakistanis. This new generation is exploring issues of identity and asking questions about Pakistan and India’s history. They are also asking questions about partition outside the ideological musings of the Pakistan Movement. Most of them just don’t get the whole ‘we’re Kashmiris by the way because we’re from Azad Jammu & Kashmir‘; an identity that seems to be significant for commentators writing about the Kashmir conflict unaware of how ‘landless Kashmiris’ were treated in the region historically. The vast majority of ‘Azad’ Kashmiris including Mirpuris in the UK self-affirm as Pakistanis and not Kashmiris’; their own piece of ‘Kashmir’ (i.e., Jammu & Kashmir) is geography and nothing more. Just because Pakistan is actively exploiting Azad Kashmir and some British Pakistanis are deliberately degrading and dehumanising Mirpuris because of propaganda they are unfamiliar with, does not mean we should lie about how people identify in the UK – I repeat, lots of British Mirpuris do identify as Pakistanis. I believe this is a false conscience and an insult to the legacy of their grandparents who left “Kashmir” to redeem their children and grandchildren in the UK – a Kashmir being actively exploited by Pakistan.
Like I said, you’ll hear Pakistanis in Britain saying contradictorily that ‘Mirpuris’ in particular, and by this they imagine the entire people of ‘Azad‘ Kashmir, are not really Pakistanis but Kashmiris – yes, we’re the fortunate ‘ones’ that Pakistan’s army “liberated” from Indian “barbarity”.
It’s just not true. More propaganda!
Mirpuris and Poonchies – all those military guys that fought in World War II – liberated themselves and handed over their areas to Pakistan. A lot of people from ‘Azad’ Kashmir, today, regret this ‘mistake’ because in their minds the ‘Pakistan’ Jinnah had promised everyone, turned out to be a ‘fraud’. But, to be fair to Mr Jinnah the avowed secularist, he was scathing of the Muslim ‘elite’ who he accused of corruption. I wonder what he would think if he came back to life and returned to Pakistan today? He would probably die a double-death!
You’ll read online comments supposedly from ethnic ‘Kashmiris’ saying that ‘Azad’ Kashmiris are really ‘Panjabis’, a position they also hold for ‘caste-Kashmiris’ in Pakistan who don’t seem to understand that when the Kashmir Conflict is mentioned, they are positively excluded. However offensive some of the comments, you need to be careful not to apportion blame to the actual Valley Muslim Kashmiris fighting for independence. They are quite keen to point out it is not members of their community producing this content and they are quite suspicious of the ‘agents’ pretending to be from the Valley who posture through such claims whilst trying to undermine Azad Kashmiri demands for independence. It is usually online trolls, possibly paid or otherwise, who make these comments to further a narrative that polarises people against each other. Kashmir is conflict and propaganda is always used in conflict regions. Some activists believe that the Pakistanis are producing propaganda to cause confusion amongst the stakeholders of Jammu & Kashmir; they’ll assume Hindu profiles and then insult Muslims, they’ll assume Kashmiri profiles and insult Mirpuris. Whatever the truth of these claims, there is enormous disinformation on Kashmir which merely weakens the resolve of Kashmiris to address their problems across the divided State. They become alienated from one another because of the antics described.
So we don’t forget, arguments for the incoherence of the State are not historical or ethnic arguments. They are political claims that can be demolished very easily because they are not true.
So let’s return to the original proposition and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Let us think for ourselves mindful of the facts however it offends people’s sensibilities of how we ought to think.
Are we ‘Pakistanis’ or ‘Kashmiris?‘
To restate, I’m speaking about ethnic Paharis from Mirpur Division, Poonch and Muzaffarabad, what Pakistan calls ‘‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir’, what the international community calls, ‘Pakistan-administered-Kashmir‘, and what India calls ‘Pakistani-occupied-Kashmir‘.
I quote here selected passages from a forthcoming publication to be published by the Portmir Foundation entitled “Musings from the diaspora, the Mirpuri Conundrum“. Whatever the title of the book, the author is speaking about ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir and not just Mirpur. As his intended audience is in the UK, he is speaking of their particular experiences. His insights are nonetheless valid for the purposes of this discussion.
The first bit – are we BONAFIDE Pakistanis?
“Mainland Pakistanis as separate from ‘Azad’ Kashmiris”
By the term, ‘mainland Pakistanis’, I am strictly referring to Pakistanis from areas that constitutionally make up the territory of Pakistan. I am not speaking of nationality laws that apply to the citizens of Pakistan, but rather a defined area that is internationally recognised as the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. Collectively, the four Provinces of Pakistan, its Tribal Areas and Federal Capital, have a defined relationship with the Federal Government of Pakistan.
‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir and the Northern Areas are two separate political and geographical entities that once formed part of Kashmir State but had never formed part of the landmass directly partitioned by the British to form our modern-day territories of Pakistan and, more latterly, Bangladesh.
‘Azad’ Kashmir and the Northern Areas are, as a matter of ‘fact’, disputed internationally. Both areas are in a sense acknowledged to be physically occupied by Pakistan’s military with or without the consent of the locals, and contrary to the legal norms that created the decolonised nation-states of British India. It was an Act of the British Parliament, the Indian Independence Act, 1947, that not only gave independence to its colony but which crucially created Pakistan. We are operating within the framework of a political-cum-legal process. Here lies the subtle distinction between peoples i.e., subjects and citizens, and lands, i.e., territories and political systems. The legal processes that created Pakistan also necessarily laid down the legal frameworks by which its people were to be categorised and governed, explicitly, implicitly, or excluded from the reach of the State’s executive branch through military ordinances. The two oftentimes overlap and complement one another and laypersons can be forgiven for thinking they are one and the same thing.
They are not.
It is to this backdrop we look when appraising the status of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir and the Northern Areas. The first point to note, is that they are not part of Pakistan, de jure (‘by right‘) but de facto (‘denoting something as a ‘fact’ as opposed to it accruing on account of a ‘right’’) as a consequence of military force and not out of any legal entitlement that is internationally recognised.
The second point to note is the relationship of the peoples of the two territorial entities with the actual institutions and branches of the Pakistani ‘State’. The obvious question that arises from this political arrangement is intuitive; are the peoples of these two regions Pakistanis?
Yes and no and in very circumspect degrees.
The answer is anything but simple for a host of factors that muddy a straightforward equation that connects a designated ‘nation’ with a designated ‘territory’, and even this is to look at the issue purely from an outsider’s perspective dispassionately.
Trying to speak objectively about political and territorial realities can be undermined by a people’s own sense of national belonging and/or aspirations; the emotional investiture can be all encompassing. However, emotions and well-intentioned ignorance are not counterweights to ‘facts’. Technically, the most we can say about the ‘hereditary’ residents of ‘Azad’ Kashmir and the Northern Areas, to use the proper legal terms, is that they are the state-subjects of their respective territories; their relationship with the state agencies and laws of Pakistan are mediated through their primary status as being the ‘nationals’ of either ‘Azad’ Kashmir or the Northern Areas. They can avail themselves of a kind of Pakistani citizenship that would allow, for instance, the acquisition of Pakistani passports all the while denuded of substantial ‘rights’ ordinarily attainable by mainland Pakistanis.
In older forms of Pakistani passports issued to the ‘nationals’ of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, it clearly stated that the bearers of the passports are the citizens of the former Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. And so it is merely a consequence of their secondary status as Pakistani citizens on account of their primary status as state-subjects of a region occupied by Pakistan that there is a huge imbalance between what rights the people demand and what rights they actually get from Pakistan’s ruling establishment, civilian or military.
For reasons cited above, most observers use the terms Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir or Pakistan-administered-Kashmir to highlight the separate nature of the two territories and respective peoples from Pakistan. Both terms can be emotive depending on how you define Pakistan’s control over its ‘Kashmir’ holdings. India prefers the term, Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir; the international community seeking to be a honest broker between India and Pakistan prefers the term, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir; whilst Pakistan prefers the term ‘Azad’ (free/independent) State of Jammu and Kashmir’. By this logic, domestically acknowledged by Pakistan’s highest court and international legal and political bodies to which Pakistan is a voluntary member, Pakistan does not have an automatic claim or right to either of the two territories.
Because of this legal quandary, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir is subjected to laws and, worse, ‘military’ regulations that are discriminatory in nature and which have created a popular backlash in both ‘Azad’ Kashmir and the Northern Areas.
As a direct consequence, the educated and politically astute inhabitants ‘feel’ little more than second class citizens in their own homeland. For the purpose of my analysis, this has serious implications for how ‘mainland Pakistanis’ diminish the justifiable grievances of our ‘state-subjects’, labelling them ‘cantankerous’ and ‘ungrateful’ not least because of a state-enforced narrative that renders Pakistan the saviour of ‘Hindustan’s’ Muslims. Whenever I use the term ‘mainland Pakistanis’, I am therefore not speaking of Mirpuris or British-Mirpuris or the various regional communities of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.
“Pakistan’s pseudo-‘Pakistanis’; The ‘Azad‘ anomaly
It is on account of this internationally-acknowledged reality I had in mind when I stated most British-Paharis from Mirpur are just ignorant of ‘A’JK’s status as a territory of Pakistan that isn’t really part of Pakistan.
Let us briefly appraise this fact with the founding documents of either ‘state’.
Part 1, article 1, (2) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan reads,
The territories of Pakistan shall comprise –
(a) the Provinces of Balochistan, the Khyber Pakthunkhwa, the Punjab and Sindh;
(b) the Islamabad Capital Territory, hereinafter referred to as the Federal Capital;
(c) Federally Administered Tribal Areas; and
(d) such States and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise.
Part 12, Article 257 reads,
When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State.
The next article, Article 258 reads,
Subject to the constitution, until Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament]) by law otherwise provides, the President may, by Order, make provision for peace and good government of any part of Pakistan not forming part of a Province.
Aside from failing to mention ‘Azad’ Kashmir by name in part 1, article 1, Pakistan’s constitution clearly stipulates the internationally-recognised fact that ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir is not part of Pakistan de jure but de facto. In other words, because Pakistan physically occupies the territory, it is part of Pakistan, but not because it has any legal right to the territory.
This is a position that Pakistan is very proud of as it accuses India of forcibly annexing its part of Kashmir without consulting its ‘occupied’ people; it is through the consent of the people that Pakistan will have a rightful, note, ‘de jure’ claim to ‘Kashmir’ eventually. Pakistan’s official position on Azad Jammu & Kashmir is therefore in principle democratically salient – “the people of the territory must decide their territory’s exact status through a fair and free plebiscite.”
What could be more democratic?
This sentiment has been echoed in numerous official statements from the highest echelons of Pakistan’s power structure, from the earliest days, when the country came into existence up until today. In 1947 Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1846 CE – 1948 CE), the founder of Pakistan stated,
“That after the lapse of paramountcy the Indian States would be constitutionally and legally sovereign states and free to adopt for themselves any course they wished. It is open to States to join Hindustan Constituent Assembly or Pakistan Constituent Assembly or to decide to remain independent.”
Kashmir State was not part of British India that formally comprised of Provinces (or Presidencies as they were known earlier). At the time of independence, there were 17 Provinces. Kashmir State was not a Province. It was a Princely State independent of British India but still subject to British Paramountcy; the colonial Brits were still in charge. There were approximately 562, 565 or 584 Princely States, depending on which figures you rely on. The partition of India and the commission responsible for partitioning it into the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India had no authority to partition the Princely States in accordance with their respective populations.
When the British vacated ‘India’, it was the responsibility of the Princely States, and by this I mean their rulers, to either accede to India or Pakistan. The overwhelming majority did just that pocketing generous pensions from the successor ‘State’ only to have them withdrawn some decades later. There were, however, a few that wanted to remain independent, a position that was not countenanced by the British Indian government, who wanted the majority Muslim areas to become part of Pakistan whilst the rest were encouraged to accede to India.
Jinnah, unlike his Indian rivals, was prepared to publicly support a Princely State’s ambition to remain independent, but what this meant practically is an altogether different proposition. However we look at this claim, the sentiment should nonetheless resonate with my readers – Kashmir State is not an integral part of Pakistan, a position routinely countenanced by Pakistan’s politicians in their private dealings with the UN and the international community whatever their populist rhetoric that “Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein”.
Consider the following official statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adorning the country’s official website, 2005 – 2009,
“Pakistan’s principled position on Jammu and Kashmir is based on the UN Security Council Resolutions, which provide that the final disposition of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people. Pakistan is committed to this position until the three parties to the dispute, Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir arrive at some mutually acceptable final settlement.
In 2006, a similar statement was made by a foreign office spokesperson,
“Pakistan’s legal position on Jammu and Kashmir dispute is based on the UN resolutions. Kashmir is a disputed territory. According to the UN Security Council’s resolutions, Pakistan and India are parties to this dispute and Kashmiris have to essentially decide their future. It is about the aspirations of Kashmiri people. Pakistan does not claim Kashmir as its integral part. Kashmir is disputed. We however hope that when Kashmiris are able to exercise their right to make a choice, they would opt for Pakistan. The president did not talk about giving up Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Azad Kashmir has its separate identity with its own President and Prime Minister. It is not a province of Pakistan. If it were so, there would have been a Governor and Chief Minister instead of President and Prime Minister.”
These sentiments are even written into the constitution of ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir, technically an Act of the Pakistan Parliament, otherwise known as the ‘AJK Interim Constitution Act 1974’. Anyone with the most basic familiarity with constitutional matters will instinctively know the difference between a ‘Constitution’ and an Act of Parliament or ‘a written law passed by a legislative body’.
Constitutions are fundamental documents over and above any ‘Act’ of a ‘Parliament’ or law-making body. Ordinarily they are the product of constituent assemblies, which in the arena of functioning (liberal) democracies are made up of the representatives of the people to be governed under the constitution.
A constitution thus defines authoritatively the working relationship between the various organs of a State; it enumerates fundamental principles or established precedents ‘according to which a state is acknowledged to be governed’. The constitution, if it germinates within a liberal tradition, will also guarantee a place for the ordinary person on the street (who may have no one to protect his/her interests) in a society ruled by elites through something akin to a ‘Bill of Rights’.
A ‘Bill of Rights’ is a formal declaration of the legal and civil rights of the citizens of a State’. In other words, States exist for the welfare of their citizens and not the other way round; constitutions entrench that principle, so no one, no matter how powerful or rich, can fundamentally alter that priority.
And so a ‘statute’ in the strictest sense of the term is thus on a much lower scale, it is the product of a legislative body that itself owes its existence to the auspices of the ‘Constitution’ – the product of a constituent assembly – the manifest expression of the people’s ‘will’. And so the constitution of ‘Azad’ Kashmir is not the product of its ‘liberated’ people, as Pakistan would want the international community to believe, but an Act of its own Parliament tipping the balance in favour of its own institutions, civil actors and bureaucrats.
In any case, what does the interim constitution of Azad Jammu & Kashmir State say about its own territorial status?
Its preamble reads,
WHEREAS the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be determined in accordance with the freely expressed will of the people of the State through the democratic method of free and fair plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations as envisaged in the UNCIP Resolutions adopted from time to time;
AND WHEREAS a part of the territories of the State of Jammu and Kashmir already liberated by the people are known for the time being as Azad Jammu and Kashmir;
AND WHEREAS it is necessary to provide for the better Government and administration of Azad Jammu and Kashmir until such time as the status of Jammu and Kashmir is determined as aforesaid and for that purpose to repeal and re-enact the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government Act, 1970, with certain modifications;
On reading these clauses, and the previous articles of the Pakistan constitution, one cannot be in any doubt we are dealing with a ‘territorial polity’ separate from Pakistan but yet controlled by Pakistan, to the point where the ‘sovereign residents’ – hereditary state subjects – are not Pakistanis in any meaningful sense of the term and yet Pakistan’s writ runs absolutely supreme.
In fact, part 8, article 258 of Pakistan’s constitution implicitly stipulates autocratic rule for ‘A’JK; “Subject to the constitution,… the President may, by Order, make provision for peace and good government of any part of Pakistan not forming part of a Province.” There is no allowance here for the people’s wishes or objections, nothing by way of democratic uprising or sentiment would alter this priority if they disagreed with the ‘Orders’.
It is here we should understand the point of citing the aforementioned passages. The unfortunate status of ‘A’JK as a separate polity from Pakistan all the while controlled by Pakistan opens the door for massive economic and political exploitation which makes a sham of ‘A’JK’s supposedly autonomous credentials.
‘A’JK is treated differently because it isn’t a ‘Province of Pakistan’ and so the necessary arrangements aren’t in place between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Independent government (‘Azad Hukumat’) of the ‘Liberated State’ (‘Azad Riyasat’) of Jammu & Kashmir. In common parlance, those of us with some insight, would refer to such an arrangement, albeit politely, as being in ‘limbo’. Many other words can be used to describe this situation – ‘shafted’ comes to my mind. The ‘A’JK polity is not worthy of the title ‘free’! It is exactly what the international community perceives it as, a client-state of Pakistan lacking democratic teeth.
And yet no one from the polity can practically challenge Pakistan or take it to task for the imbalanced relationship between the two unequal entities; no matter how loyal one feels to Pakistan or whether one demands independence, both ‘attitudes’ will be considered outside the pale.
Section 7, under the clause ‘Freedom of Association’, AJK Interim Constitution Act, 1974, article 1 stipulates,
1) “Subject to this Act, every State Subject shall have the right to form association or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of morality or public order”.
Now, what exactly are those reasonable restrictions imposed by law and in the interest of morality or public order? The following clause stipulates,
2) “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”
Ah, so it’s immoral, as far as the architects of these laws are concerned, for the supposedly sovereign people of ‘A’JK to have a separate future from that of Pakistan, if they so choose?
And to remind us again, what exactly is a ‘State Subject’? The following definition is given in the same ‘Interim Act’,
“State Subject’ means a person for the time being residing in Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Pakistan who is a State Subject, as defined in the late Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir Notification No I-L/84,dated the20th April,1927 as amended from time to time.”
And to put this concept into its proper context, let us remind ourselves once more what exactly is ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’? The Interim Act stipulates,
“‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ means the territories of the State of Jammu and Kashmir which have been liberated by the people of that State and are for the time being under the administration of Government and such other territories as may hereafter come under its administration.”
These clauses, read in conjunction with other clauses, whether in Pakistan’s constitution or in the Interim Act that is being passed as the ‘A’JK constitution expose the farce of ‘A’JK’s autonomous democratic credentials. What kind of ‘liberation’ is this that asserts the moral high-ground in giving a ‘people’ the right to decide their own future, publically and with fan-fare, audaciously hardcoding such enlightened principles into its own constitutional framework, and yet, all the while, making it practically impossible for the same people to actually experience it?
The term ‘activities prejudicial to Pakistan’ in clause 2 of the AJK interim Act can be interpreted in such a way to safeguard the imbalanced status quo, even to the detriment of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, and yet the offending clause finds expression in the constitution of a polity supposedly separate from Pakistan. So what about all that talk about giving the people the right to determine their own future; free and fair votes for all? Of course, it’s a farce. Everyone seems to know it’s a farce, except for that latent mass that likes to wave Pakistani flags in British cities much to the annoyance of ‘Azad’ Kashmiris aware of their people’s plight.
And so when anyone from the State speaks up against the injustices prevailing in the State as a direct result of its maladministration by Pakistan, they are condemned as being disloyal to Pakistan, arrested and prosecuted. Those fortunate to have been employed by the polity and working in the interest of their own people are summarily sacked.
Clause 9 of the ‘A’JK Interim Act, ironically under the heading ‘Freedom of Speech’ stipulates,
“Every State subject shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the security of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, friendly relations with Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of Court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
In fact, no one can even stand for elections, mobilise one’s people against ‘injustice’, ‘economic exploitation’ or ‘political corruption’ should such a candidature be deemed prejudicial to Pakistan, or at the cost of ‘friendly relations‘ with Pakistan. And for good measure, all elected parliamentarians of the ‘A’JK Assembly must swear an oath of allegiance to Pakistan, the very cost of the polity’s ‘liberation’.
For instance, the oath for the President of the ‘A’JK assembly reads,
“I [name] do solemnly swear that I am a Muslim and believe in the Unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, His angels, the Books of Allah, the Holy Quran being the last of them, his prophets, the absolute finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the day of Judgment , and all the requirements and teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah; That I will remain loyal to the country and the cause of accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan; That I will perform my functions as Prime Minister honestly and faithfully; and That I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any official secret which may come to my knowledge as Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir; So Help me Allah.”
Aside from disenfranchising the non-Muslims of the State (apparently there aren’t any, everyone of us is ‘Muslim’), it is therefore an openly acknowledged fact by constitutional experts, jurists, political scientists, human rights experts, academics, charity workers that the democracy on show in ‘A’JK is a sham where low-level officers from the Pakistan mainland have more executive powers than the elected representatives of the ‘A’JK Parliament. Why would disinterested and dispassionate outsiders make such claims if they weren’t true especially when they have nothing to gain from rudely waking up British-Paharis whilst smashing Pakistani sensibilities?
Okay, the second bit, are we bonafide Kashmiris?
The Scenarios; Competing ‘State Identities’ & Ethnic Ambiguities
In the absence of a genuine Pakistani state or nation-state identity what are we? It is at this point that we enter the quagmire of the Kashmiri identity dialectic which in the UK some pro-independence actors from our region have been pushing as the ‘Kashmiri National Identity Campaign’. These individuals are extremely sincere and hardworking. They are generous with their time and money, and committed wholeheartedly to any kind of enfranchisement for ‘our’ people who live in a part of ‘Kashmir’ (technically ‘Jammu’) that no one really cares about.
They are not, however, imaginative or creative, and neither are they very probing when it comes to deconstructing the conflict and understanding ‘our’ stake in it. The mainstay of their followers is just ‘tribal’ whilst many in their ranks are incapable of mobilising their own peers and circles.
They tell us, “Pakistan hates us and exploits us because we’re ‘Kashmiris’”. When they use the term ‘Kashmir’ they use it as the basis of an illusory national space comprised of all the territories of the undivided State pre-partition. In other words, Pakistan is a nation state and Kashmir is also an occupied nation state in the loosest political sense of the term. They are not using the term in any cultural, linguistic or ethnic sense but in a way that is diametrically-opposed to the imposition of the Pakistani label.
Are we ‘Kashmiris’ by virtue of occupying a national space called ‘Kashmir’? Well, the simple and honest answer is we’re not. The most we can say is that our parents and grand-parents were hereditary state-subjects of Jammu & Kashmir presently administered by India, Pakistan and China.
In terms of China, the least problematic of the three countries where state subjects are concerned, its stake in the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan is uninhabited. Thus China does not have to contend with unruly ‘state-subjects’ or independence movements. Its concerns are limited to manning its borders for geostrategic reasons and diplomatic wrangling with India minus any border skirmishes.
It is thus more predisposed to Pakistan and maintaining the current stalemate which otherwise would call into question its claims to ‘Jammu & Kashmir’ territories. The more this conflict goes unresolved the better for China. And so China’s ‘love’ for Pakistan (usually in the form of financial and technological aid and diplomatic support in the UN Security Council) and Pakistan’s reciprocating ‘love’ for China (usually in the form of accepting such lovely gestures) is not based on any fatal attraction but on geo-political priorities that help sustain the status quo to each other’s advantage.
There are implications here that I will be shortly discussing in chapter 7; suffice to say here, the ‘state subject’ concept is outdated and borne of a colonial age that is being stretched to somehow give us a ‘national identity’. In its political-cum-legal context, where the term properly belongs and not in the discourses of ethno-identity-politics, it deals with subordinated classes of ‘persons’ and ‘things’ in a hierarchy imposed by a colonial power. In other words, not only are the colony’s ‘permanent residents’ state-subjects but also its cows and produce and bicycles; you should get the point.
Understandably, those who framed the parameters of this legal-cum-juridical system engineered a status qua that helped perpetuate their rule. They would be surprised to learn that the term is being used as the basis of an illusory national identity by the multitude of tribal communities ‘whose lands’ they had originally colonised especially in the absence of a shared sense of belonging.
The ‘State’s “Subjects”’; Servitude and illusory “Kashmiri” Nationality
To briefly illustrate this point for those who might require clarification in weaning themselves off its colonial residues, the term ‘subject’ had a ‘legal’ meaning not just for hereditary ‘state subjects’ of Jammu & Kashmir, i.e., a demarcated territory of the British Crown, but for ‘subjects’ of British India, another demarcated territory.
In legal discourse, ‘territories’ encompass ‘jurisdictions’ and jurisdictions by necessity have a ‘sovereign’ power and those subjected to it are known as ‘subjects’. In the world of colonial politics, sovereigns were without exception ‘Monarchs’ and usually male.
To be a ‘subject’ in either of the two jurisdictions mentioned above meant you were ‘subjected’ to power-dynamics not of your choosing. In the British Indian Empire, the ‘paramountcy’ of British India superseded that of the Princely States; ‘Imperial’ Britain was the senior partner, the Princely-States were ‘client’ states.
We are therefore speaking of a legal relationship between two unequal entities with far reaching consequences. The Oxford English dictionary entry for the verb ‘subject’ is quite helpful here; it reads,
“bring (a person or country) under one’s control or jurisdiction typically by using force”
The status of a subject was usually conferred through birth or descent by mere logic of falling within the jurisdiction’s territorial boundaries; the choice of assuming such a status is thus out of your hands. Individuals lacking this territorial status were categorised as ‘aliens’.
Where we parse the concept according to its historical context and usages, we are strictly speaking of legal duties in the sense of an allegiance that is owed to the ‘Sovereign’ who would reciprocate with a set of responsibilities owed to his subjects. These responsibilities were seldom discharged as absolute rights but nonetheless involved maintaining the semblance of security, upholding justice, offering jobs, providing education etc., etc.
If one looks at the ‘hereditary state-subject’ pronouncement of Kashmir State’s 1927 ordinance, one can clearly see these considerations at work. The background to the ordinance is also insightful as is the role played by the Hindu Pandit community of the Valley to address their own loss of state-sanctioned privilege (in competition with ‘subjects’ of British India for state-patronised jobs in Kashmir State), but sadly this theme is outside the scope of the present discussion.
Suffice to say albeit briefly, the state subject rule was formally enacted to appease Hindu Pandits of the Valley in the face of threats to their jobs from subjects of British India, namely Urdu-speaking ‘Bengalis’, ‘Beharis’ and ‘Panjabis’. The slogan that consecrated the occasion ran, “Kashmir for the Kashmiris” which literally meant ‘government jobs for the Hindu Pandits’ because, in their minds, they were the rightful beneficiaries (‘state subjects’) of such legal entitlements.
In practical terms, this meant safeguarding the privileges of a very small minority of Hindu Pandits who were conversant in Urdu, the official language of statecraft. For historical reasons, the official language of the Princely State was Persian and educated Hindu Pandits were traditionally conversant in it. When the ‘Darbar’ (‘Royal Court’) decided to switch to Urdu in 1889, the Hindu Pandits were instantly disenfranchised as the State’s patrons could now rely on a steady stream of loyal Dogras and Hindu Panjabis from ‘India’. The Pandits were thus forced to learn Urdu, which they did to guarantee themselves ongoing access to state patronage. They demanded this privilege by way of a ‘right’ owed to them as hereditary state subjects of Kashmir, thus the slogan, “Kashmir for the Kashmiris”.
In maintaining this position, they weren’t advocating an inclusive-message of brotherly fraternity and universal rights with Muslims, whether from the Vale or outside.
To the advantage of the Hindu Pandits, everyone else was practically excluded from the enjoyment of this supposed right given the absence of state-run schools in predominately Muslim areas. These state of affairs were the product of deliberate policies that sought to patronise certain groups aligned with the Darbar. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, including those in the Valley of Kashmir were illiterate. Hindu Pandits immeasurably benefited, from what appeared to many, to be a ‘Hindu’ status quo although they were distrusted by the Dogra Rajput patrons of the State. The Dogras for their part sought to curtail the influence of the Hindu Pandits by encouraging members of their own ethnic group to take up such jobs even if it meant recruiting them from outside the State. Ethnic Dogras were not only located in the State of Jammu & Kashmir and neither were Hindu Pandits exclusively located in the Valley of Kashmir, which should help highlight how such identities are construed through times of social and political contestation.
Understandably, subjects of the Princely States were not subjects of British India because they were ‘subjected’ to a different jurisdiction, namely that of a different ‘Sovereign’. On account of being born outside the direct jurisdiction of the British Crown, these persons did not owe duties to the Crown and neither were they entitled to reciprocating rights within the State. So what of the responsibilities owed by the ‘Sovereign’ of a Princely State to his ‘subjects’ when they were outside his jurisdiction, not forgetting that his power ordinarily wouldn’t extend beyond his borders?
In these circumstances such persons were legally categorised as ‘British Protected Persons’. It was part of the arrangement between the Princely States and the British Indian Empire, that the latter as the dominant power in the subcontinent would be responsible for the external or foreign affairs of the former, its defence and communication. Because of this arrangement state subjects travelling outside their Princely States (for example in French, Dutch or American colonies) were nonetheless afforded formal ‘protection’ by way of the British Crown. This same protection was afforded to the Indian Princes as well who were also categorised as ‘British Protected Persons”. In this more restricted sense, the Princes and their subjects were subjects of the British Empire.
Whether some states were larger than others and had more control over their internal affairs (and thus semblance of greater ‘sovereignty’), is neither here or there for the basic claim that they were essentially high-level ‘clients’. The real masters were those who devised the ‘rules’ and then subjected everyone else to their jurisdiction.
This is the basic gist of the hereditary ‘state-subject’ category as it historically applied to Kashmir State, the other 564 or so Princely States and British India. Whatever its peculiar specificities given how the idea developed and was consecrated in Kashmir State through the agency of a powerful but privileged minority, the underlying priority remains the same when applied to disparate colonial territories. Fundamentally, the concept has nothing to do with our modern sense of nationality when applied to a nation state in the crucial sense of belonging to a nation and enjoying a reciprocating sense of ‘nationhood’ symbolically with all the attendant legal and political benefits that come by way of the category.
In the years and decades that accompanied the demise of the British Empire, nationality laws moved in the direction of a new legal category, namely that of the ‘citizen’.
In its original usage, the new term distinguished between residents of the British Isles and those of the former colonies who were still categorised as ‘British Subjects’. The rationale behind the new category was to control immigration to Britain from the former colonies who on account of their status as ‘subjects’ of the Crown were legally entitled to come to the mother country without any visas, procure employment and settle in Britain.
As time progressed and the legal discourse evolved, our modern concept of citizenship was born. We no longer speak of ourselves as ‘subjects’ despite the term’s legacy in legal discourse but rather as citizens, with rights and liberties that are protected by the courts and not merely handed down to us via an unaccountable Monarch or an unimpeachable Ruler.
If we understand the concept correctly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to then learn that ‘subjects’ of British India didn’t self-affirm as ‘Britons’ or contemporaneously as ‘Britishers’ willingly or otherwise. It would have been a rather curious self-ascription for those demanding independence from Britain, shouting from the tops of their throats that they demand independence because they are the legitimate ‘subjects’ of the British Crown’! It would have been even more curious had these pro-independence ‘subjects’ argued through some warped dialectic that their status as ‘Crown-subjects’ automatically made them inherently British especially as they sought to eviscerate British rule.
This is akin to arguing that the state subjects of Jammu & Kashmir State are all ‘Kashmiris’ because the British lumped them all together into a ‘territory’ which British officials lazily and incorrectly called ‘Kashmir’. How can anyone publically affirm an innate sense of belonging to a fabricated territory on the basis of a legal-cum-colonial category that sought to maintain power-dynamics to his disadvantage? If this is not an absurd position then we must find a new definition for the word absurdity.
Moreover, many writers have observed that ethnic Kashmiris from the Valley poke fun at non-ethnic Kashmiri ‘state subjects‘ pretending to be Kashmiris. It may be the case that this representation is being influenced by Hindu-Pandit activists trying to disconnect Muslims of the Valley from the wider Muslim population of the State. However, we look at this dynamic, the Kashmir label is territorial shorthand for those expressing opposition to Pakistan in solidarity with Muslim Valley Kashmiris fighting against India. Those who would like to reduce the Kashmir Conflict to troubles in the Valley alone are intellectually dishonest of the actual conflict between India and Pakistan. They are also unfamiliar at best or disingenuous at worst with how the world perceives ‘Kashmir’, namely a conflict between India and Pakistan and not merely an ethnic space located in the Vale of Kashmir. But this nonetheless reinforces the claim that the ‘Kashmiri’ label does not work at the grassroots level in ‘A’JK and the Diaspora and we need to find an alternative.
Excerpts from “Musings from the diaspora; The “Mirpuri” Conundrum by Reiss Haidar
So why should we care about how we’re identified?
Put bluntly ‘occupation’ is ‘occupation’ and in the case of the ‘A’JK population now with its large British diaspora, we’ve collectively been duped by the Pakistani establishment into thinking that we’re bonafide Pakistanis. We lack ordinary benefits that come by way of being genuine citizens of a country – so how are we Pakistanis if Pakistan is a political territory from which our regions are excluded?
Just think about this perverse position for one moment.
In ‘Azad’ Kashmir our people do not have the same rights as mainland Pakistanis because Pakistan’s ruling establishment has determined that we’re not really Pakistanis, or at least not yet. Some of our impressionable youngsters may take great delight in cheering on the Pakistani cricket team in Britain, wearing Pakistani cricket t-shirts and shouting Pakistani slogans, but they cannot play for Pakistan nationally or internationally.
How is that, at all, fair or right, or evidence of true fraternity?
Most people of conscience would feel insulted!
Our people in ‘Azad’ Kashmir have little rights.
That is a fact internationally attested. This is not Indian propaganda or ill-feelings against Pakistan.
But there are no legal remedies either.
As far as the law goes, our grandparents and parents are ‘state-subjects‘ of a ‘country’ that only exists on paper.
Whatever the false symbolism of having a constitution, flag and borders, ‘Azad’ Kashmir is a territory that’s being actively exploited by Pakistan. None of our politically ambitious ‘state subjects’ can aspire to become the President or Prime Minister of Pakistan. They cannot vote in Pakistani elections, for they must content themselves with the third-class citizenship of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, a polity completely controlled by Pakistani officials.
If our people sought a destiny for our own country – because apparently we’re ‘free’ in ‘Azad’ Kashmir – outside the clutches of Pakistan’s military, we would be bribed and bought off. If that didn’t work we would be imprisoned, probably tortured and disappeared. These are the tactics the security services and agencies employ to impede dissent. Ironically, we would be considered enemy agents against the Pakistani State despite successive governments of Pakistan claiming internationally that the peoples of ‘Kashmir State’ have the right to decide their own future.
The international community is not stupid, and have exposed the Pakistani farce on more than one occasion. Everyone around the world that knows a thing or two about ‘Azad’ Kashmir knows it is occupied by Pakistan. It’s just our parents weren’t very educated to understand the pitiable place reserved for them on the fringes of a corrupt political order.
We’ve since moved on from that simplicity.
The only real remedy is to take up arms and fight against the tyrants that have reduced our people to the status of cattle, our forebears did this in 1946 thinking they were liberating themselves from decades of tyranny, the latest incumbents being the Dogra Rajputs of the Jammu Darbar.
But what did they actually achieve?
They simply traded in one group of tyrants for another group of tyrants. Worse still, the new tyrants sought to manipulate them through Islam even as they were irreligious themselves!
The Hindus became the bad guys.
The Muslims became the good guys.
The lie that Pakistan somehow saved ‘Azad’ Kashmiris from the wrath of Hindu India is one of the most abiding frauds that is being perpetrated against our people. And so I ask a much wider question of my readers if indeed they still employ their faculties to think for themselves without the need to be scared, afraid or behave sheepishly with one’s more respectable peers – wrongly deemed I add.
What did any of us from ‘A’zad Jammu Kashmir achieve with Partition?
As the lands of British India were spilt between two artificial territories, no more fairer, than the one freed from the clutches of British Imperialism, how have the lives of ordinary Indians and Pakistanis improved? India seems to be going in one direction and Pakistan seems to be going in another direction. The one is becoming more prosperous as entire populations are uplifted from poverty, is forward-looking, making advances in modern science and technology, sending rockets into space, proud of its heritage and ethnic diversity, celebrating its past, whilst the other seems to be entrenching the social privileges and material interests of a tiny elite unaccountable to the masses.
Is this a flawed contrast?
Is this Indian propaganda?
How does the world perceive Pakistan on account of the elite that runs Pakistan?
Just think about this for one moment mindful of partition and the political claims in support of a Muslim homeland in India.
Wars, separation, inflammatory language of grievances and victimhood, false political ideologies, bring nothing but destruction and the loss of innocent blood. Everyone loses mostly women and children, and from the ashes of destruction, new elites are born having created a space for themselves, their families, children and local agents. These kinds of corrupt Nation States are illusions for everyone except those who directly benefit from them, and I doubt an independent Jammu & Kashmir would be more fairer than India or Pakistan.
If Pakistan implodes, and Azad Kashmir becomes free, and India does not reclaim its territory per the accession of Hari Singh, from the ashes of Pakistan will come a new elite comprised of the dominant tribes in ‘Azad’ Kashmir who like their defeated patrons will employ their own sinecures as they profit from their new positions. In the absence of a widespread culture of civic engagement, democracy, respect for human rights, no one from ‘Azad’ Kashmir will be able to ensure the checks and balances of State Power. This is one of the worst consequences of our dispossession and occupation at the hands of Pakistan. They have dumbed down our people to such an extent that not only are we incapable of replacing them we are incapable of governing ourselves. The political culture of ‘Azad’ Kashmir is therefore no less corrupt than Pakistan’s for the politics of ‘Azad’ Kashmir has been shaped and moulded by the Pakistan establishment.
But, there are other considerations, if understood properly, which would allow us to break free from thinking of our identity as something that must be tied with a corrupt State, or an ambiguous territory, that only benefits an unaccountable elite, especially from the vantage of our lived experiences in Britain.
I say this as someone who lives in the UK who appreciates the freedoms and opportunities availed to me from a mostly benign State whatever Britain’s huge fault-lines and imperial history. My loyalties are with Britain because she does not oppress me whatever the mutterings of her racists.
I ask of my Muslim brethren, how many of them get offended when ‘Islam’ is blamed because of the actions of violent extremists, so why the double standards with the UK? Racists do not define the UK anymore than extremists define Islam or Hindu extremists define India.
And I choose to live in Britain.
I have the right and freedom to leave her shores. Britain does not detain me, or place restrictions on my movement. She has not shackled my tongue, I am free to express my grievances. I am free like a bird, I can leave any time I want.
How many of us from our own ethnic background would exercise this right?
The answer is clear.
And so we must do everything we can to preserve our shared British values because they work and they’re fair and they’ve made us much better people – we have a real stake in this country and we owe it to those traditions to work for the betterment of all Britons.
But, these values do not connect me with my past and the memories of my grandparents.
So what of my ethnic roots?
What of the people who share this ethnicity with me in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Indian Jammu & Kashmir and Northern Pakistan, in the Pothohar Uplands, in the Hazara Hills, the forgotten Hindko-speakers of Afghanistan?
I can cherish my roots in Britain, but as I return to the homeland of my grandparents to cherish and preserve their heritage, I am morally obliged to speak up against the political and economic exploitation of ‘Azad’ Kashmir. If I was from Rawalpindi or Mansehra, even Islamabad, the federal capital, where many Mirpuris live today as proud Pakistanis but crucially in their own ethnic homeland, I would do the same thing.
I owe it to my people, who ended up on a particular side of a geo-political border, to educate them and raise their spirits, that mass of dispossessed and despondent people that has been left by the wayside thanks to Pakistan Officialdom.
We in the diaspora owe it to the sacrifices of our forbears who came to the UK with a couple of shillings in their pockets to speak on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. And we must do this as part of a global struggle against the abuse of state power. We don’t need an illusory identity to do this, we need humanity and a backbone, even as we oppose inequality in our own communities.
If we in the Diaspora turn away from our own ethnic kin in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, then let not one of us ever fool ourselves about our moral worth. Let us never ever feign compraderie with any other ‘nation’, ‘people’ or ’cause’. If we cannot be brothers and sisters to our own people, which stranger would ever want us as a neighbour?
Celebrating our roots in the UK but preserving them in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir
Our ‘ethnic’ people belong to a cultural-sphere that transcends the creation of Pakistan (1947) and the emergence of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir (1846) by many hundreds of years. And yet as a people we know very little of this heritage despite being the actual beneficiaries of numerous settler peoples who contributed vastly to the civilisations of the subcontinent, and who in turn where indigenised since Vedic times (1500 BCE – 1100 BCE). The Indo-Aryan Kingdoms known as Gandhara and Kamboja represented in the very geography of our region are intricately interwoven with the cultural tapestry that defines us.
An example in point would be to cite ‘Gandhara’, an ancient civilisation in the North West of the subcontinent that also had its own corresponding polity of the same namesake (1st century BCE – 11th century CE). According to modern DNA studies, the people of Gandhara were closely related to the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the earliest of all human Civilisations built on the banks of the River Indus, and celebrated all across the World except in the land of its own birth. It was from the region of Gandhara that Buddhism was cultivated historically during the reign of Ashoka, (304 BCE – 232) BCE before its eventual spread into Central Asia and beyond. This particular version of Buddhism was responsible for a huge outpouring of human ingenuity and advanced culture; the Buddhists of our region were egalitarian, open-minded and progressive. Their material culture and prosperity were admired afar.
The great ‘Ashoka’ Raja of the Maurya, for instance, resided in Taxila where he had also assumed the governorship of Gandhara during his father’s reign. The dialects our grandparents spoke have very old roots in this region, and we should never forget that past – as some of us, on account of not knowing our cultural heritage, want us to stop speaking Pahari, and its sister dialects, Patwari, Hindko, etc., because of some self-hatred, never once questioned, never once probed. Whatever we call our language, Pahari, Patwari, Hindko, it is our ethnic language, it is ours on account of our shared heritage. It is an old language from which its shared dialects descend, spoken in a region rich in culture and history.
Urdu is not our ethnic language. As someone who loves languages, Hindi-Urdu is a a beautiful language that everyone should learn, just as I would encourage my people to learn Arabic, Persian or Turkish; Panjabi, Sindhi, or Pashto, or any language for that matter, but not because we are ashamed of the actual language of our grandparents.
In terms of education, travel and the international order, English is sufficient for us as our native tongue – lest we forget we grew up in England amongst English speakers and this language now reflects our evolving heritage in the UK. English is also part of us in a very profound way, it connects us not just with our future, but it will also connect our children and their descendants with our shared past.
As for our proud Urdu-speaking Pakistani elite whose children study English in English-medium-educated schools in Pakistan and abroad, whilst they demand that everyone else learn ‘Urdu’, poking fun of Pakistan’s native languages, calling the rural poor – Pendus (villagers), I doubt they have any concern for the preservation of ‘Urdu’, and the indigenous cultures of Pakistan.
This is a language that has no ‘prestige’ other than the one accorded to it by Urdu-speakers who speak English at their own dinner tables in Pakistan. What can they offer the Urdu language if in their minds, they feel a strong urge to speak English? English will serve us well, as we also preserve and consolidate the language of our parents and forebears. Our ‘Pahari’ language of the Himalayan mountains has roots in the area we come from, it’s not like Urdu, an equally beautiful and rich language that has come from the Plains of India, but was then cruelly and forcibly imposed on people who were then adjudged ignorant and illiterate because they continued to be themselves. Which indigenous nation of Pakistan benefited from this language policy except the people who were already proficient in it, and then demanded it as the national symbol of a country with many indigenous languages?
It was this same language-policy that destroyed Pakistan in 1971, separating brother from brother, sister from sister, as the rulers of West Pakistan insulted more than 50 percent of their countrymen in East Pakistan. In defiance, the Bengalis fought back and created their own country, as India came to their assistance. To date, the architects of this arrogance have shown no remorse, not even an apology to their former countrymen.
Ironically, our language has a pedigree much older than Urdu. Its predecessor was taught in the subcontinent’s first universities, again located in the region of our ethnic forbears, in Taxila, Pothohar Uplands, and Neelum, ‘Azad’ Kashmir. It was from this frontier region around 1000 CE that the Islam of Central Asia made its real headway into the remainder of the subcontinent, through which the vibrant traditions of Sufism entered and became indigenised. Many of these earliest settlers merged with the extant population and are now represented in the diversity of our people.
Tribes from the direction of Afghanistan that arrived later around 1500 CE and who have over the centuries completely changed the demography of the Peshawar Valley and neighbouring regions of Swat are actually intrusions into this historical cultural-sphere. Radical religious elements within this population have also been responsible for the destruction of numerous cultural artefacts associated with the Gandharan heritage – the Pakistani State has shown no desire to preserve and celebrate this heritage – our heritage. This destruction predates the iconoclasm of the ‘Wahhabi-inspired’ Taliban by centuries. Some from these communities have ironically claimed this heritage for themselves erroneously on internet forums and in their written publications.
Despite this, as the heirs of rich cultural traditions, we think we have no culture of our own. Disparagingly, we are told we are mere extensions of other ‘ethnic’ peoples who go on to claim our ancient and medieval heritage. We must reinitiate ourselves in our own history, develop our own historical narratives and exist as a people in our own right, on our own terms, for the benefit of our own people. In doing so we will discover the huge contributions our forbears made to the civilisations of the Indian subcontinent – our wider homeland that includes Pakistan. We must never forget that history is on our side in the pursuit of such a valuable undertaking, not least because it was our regional forbears who fought Alexander the Great on the plains of Kharri (Southern Mirpur) during his ‘Indian’ campaigns if indeed colonial historians were correct.
These are not outlandish claims. This is the actual history of our region, if we are bothered to learn it.
We don’t need to be from Pakistan or Jammu & Kashmir to know our ‘roots’ from a cultural-sphere that predates both territories by centuries, when we have something so profound in the heritage of our parents and grandparents. We don’t need a nation state to preserve our identity, we just need to be true to the memories of our forebears as we advocate for all those left behind.
And it will be this heritage that will inspire us to advocate on behalf of our people in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, the Pothohar Plateau, the Hazara Hills, Indian-administered-Kashmir, and dare I say the wider areas as we stay connected with our shared humanity.