Mirpur was the name of an historical settlement in the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir (1846 – 1947), variably known as Kashmir State, Jammu Kingdom and/or the Dogra Raj. The name Mirpur postdates the principality’s alleged founding in the 1600s. Centuries later, the size of Mirpur expanded beyond its original limits to include areas (Rajghan) with much older histories.
As of 2020, Mirpur is a much smaller place. It lost its sub-districts of Kotli and Bhimbar within the past decades. The older principality of Rajouri was detached from it during the first decades of the 1900s. Collectively, these areas were known as Chibhal, an arbitrary tribal designation based on naming practises postdating the history of the wider area. For the purposes of this discussion, Mirpur constitutes these areas. Of Bhimbar, Kotli and Rajouri, they are amongst the better known areas of the erstwhile District, not to discount other areas, with older histories that are not mentioned in this analysis.
Expansive Mirpur is bounded by the River Jhelum in the West, erstwhile District Poonch in the North, the Punjab Plains to the South and the River Chenab in the East. If one looks to these boundaries, one sees distinct natural features with the exception of Poonch, whose borders are the product of administrative fabrications, and not natural divisions. Of the three natural barriers, we have two Rivers (Jhelum and Chenab) and a geological Plain. Poonch District forms a porous border with Mirpur, which explains why the culture and language of the wider area spreads into neighbouring areas, as it meanders the course of the River Jhelum northwards into Muzaffarabad, reaching the modern geo-administrative designation of Kupwara in contemporary times. Uri and Karna are some of the furthest reaches of this area, after which point the culture changes noticeably.
This entire area collectively comprised a distinct cultural sphere with historical continuities much older than the geo-administrative and political settlements imposed upon the people. It was known as the Pahari Ilaaqah on the basis of the regions undeniable mountain ecology – the description in the name is itself very revealing.
Centuries earlier, areas to the west of the River Jhelum were known as the Pothwari Ilaaqah. The Pothwar is a flat upland piece of land (a plateau), which looks and feels very different to the neighbouring hills-mountains situated on the east banks of the River Jhelum. Anyone with roots in the region knows instinctively if they are traversing the Pothwar of Punjab Province or the Pahar of Jammu & Kashmir. The two areas – the Pahari Ilaaqah and Pothwari Ilaaqah, have separate territorial histories, but form one wider cultural space, known in academic and scholarly circles as the Pahari-Pothwari Ilaaqah. The term Ilaaqah means place/area. It is an Arabic-derived word that denotes territoriality within a political framework, which again, is insightful when the term is applied to the two regions of the Pothwar and Pahar, sharing a common culture (not to be confused with ethnic groups), but disjointed physical ecologies and histories. The juxtaposition of two separate words to form one phrase should be a clue to the separate histories of the areas, which are now being deliberately conflated post-1947 to the advantage of a Pothwari (Punjabi) identity to force Azad Kashmir’s natives (a Pahari speaking area) within a Pakistani nexus to thereby undermine Azad Kashmir’s actual Jammu & Kashmir linkages –
- 1) past history,
- 2) present issues and
- 3) future possibilities.
Mirpur has never formed part of the Pothwar or the Punjab to understand false linkages between regions sharing mutually intelligible dialects, a social reality that exists across the world, but which are not the basis of manufacturing false unions between designated groups through false ethnic memories, political claims, and not facts of history. This would be akin to forcing Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Icelandic peoples into a forced and imaginary ethnic “Nordic” union to the material advantage of one sum-part to the disadvantage of all the other territorial and separate parts. I will have occasion to explore these crass reasons in different parts of the ensuing discussion, especially when explaining the priorities of political propaganda and online mistruths/disinformation within the context of conflict.
A lot of what has been written about Mirpur is incorrect. The ethnolinguistic claims are far more dangerous. They are gibberish for the purposes of academic analysis, but powerful weapons of war that have produced their intended outcomes corrupting the minds of impressionable Azad Kashmiris to voluntarily disconnect themselves from the heritage of their ancestors. This political propaganda is too far advanced now for individuals like myself to counteract it on the basis of moral propriety and truth. It was allowed to spread without challenge by those purporting to speak “truth to power” on behalf of Jammu & Kashmir’s dispossessed natives, but it shouldn’t stop others true to their conscience, who may have larger platforms from exposing the dishonest narratives in their daily conversations. However, honesty demands that we appraise every situation accordingly, and we must accept that defending Azad Kashmiris from the propaganda onslaught is a hopeless situation, because they are themselves the first to parrot whatever they are told about their past, usually in a self-deprecating way.
It was said of Mirpur, the original tribal settlement, that it was founded by an eponymous chief, constituting a small area in comparison with the expansive Mirpur region of later centuries. There’s no evidence that the tribal chief existed. No one knows for sure when the settlement of Mirpur was founded, but that’s just how origin myths emerge around naming practises. Areas that interspersed the nascent principality, later became Mirpur District encompassing Kotli, Bhimbar, Rajouri and other areas. After the partition of British India in 1947, District Mirpur was reconfigured again.
The salient point to note is that the lands interspersing the District had been continuously inhabited by populations centuries before the names of areas emerged or disappeared. Crucially, when we appraise this history as honestly as possible, we learn that it is connected with a patronage system rooted in the idea of Kashmir, a particular historical entente between neighbouring peoples that did not extend to modern-day Pakistan or India. This Kashmir is a documented fact of history that is being savaged today to deny its diverse peoples a pro-independence character that has historical continuities older than the modern nationalistic identities of India and Pakistan.
The individual principalities subsumed within Mirpur collectively became a sub-unit of Jammu & Kashmir State in 1846, but the history I appraise is older than the Princely State by hundreds of years. In this respect, names of internal and external principalities and sub-divisions regularly changed, but their centre of gravity (sovereignty) remained remarkably stable throughout the centuries. It lay deep within the wider area’s socio-political mountain ecology. This is a distinct kind of patronage located within the Western Himalaya, and not the Indo-Gangetic Plains of modern-day India and Pakistan.
The Indo-Gangetic Plains include distinct areas of geography, geology and culture. As a designation, it includes the Panjab of the Punjab Province and Hindustan of North India amongst other areas. The Province of Punjab is a separate space to the Panjab Plains. Hindustan is a separate space to North India. Even these distinctions can be misleading when detached from the history I am discussing, especially when conflated with notions of identity politics that never existed in history. It is sadly the case today that the history of the Indus Plains and North India, two separate regions, are being projected onto the tribal polities of the Western Himalaya, conflating divergent regions within ahistorical categorisations. The ensuing story is anything but historical, a mumble jumble of priorities that are just nonsensical, with a clear political message – natives must adopt the identities of their foreign occupiers. It is thus a political re-reading of past events to further contemporary agendas at the expense of the actual peoples who reside in the controlled regions; by controlled I mean to say, outsiders problematise the regions and not the natives, who for their part are not even permitted to express dissent at the biased “representations”.
This unjust status quo began with the advent of the British Indian Empire, 1757, which saw itself as the rightful successor of the Mughal Empire (Sultanat-e-Mughlia 1526). Separate regions of the subcontinent with separate histories converged to form new geo-administrative units of territory that benefited the Rulers but not the indigenous peoples. For the new administrators, evolving boundaries and demarcations were about governance and not the welfare of the subjects, much less considerations around ethnicity or group identity. The Mughals would use terms like Subah, Sarkar, Tehsil, Mahal, Pargana to denote sub-units of their territories. The British would use terms like Princely States, Presidencies, Provinces, Districts, Subdistricts to denote their sub-units of territory. For the peoples of the Western Himalaya, the new political settlements of native lands were unlike any that came before the 1500s. Entire peoples were written out of their past to make way for the new colonially-inspired identities.
The emergence of Hindi-Urdu (Hindustani) as the dominant official vernacular in India and Pakistan is a good example of a disjointed colonial construction. India’s Hindu ruling households never used Hindi in their courts; it was the British who made Hindi an official language of British India. Pakistan is another salient example of this imperial agenda, it is a completely artificial and ideological project that has no territorial history to recount when policing older identities, strategically deploying religion (Islam) and ideology (two-nations theory) to legitimise a very unjust and unequal political and social order.
By no means is this an incidental point. It goes to the heart of discussions about how polities emerge in the first place, which powers decide their borders and how they were originally configured within a layered system of sovereignty. It goes to the heart of contemporary identity politics within documented historical timelines, particularly when territories, not to be confused with Nation States (or state-nations), are forcibly divided and contested by outside powers.
Outsiders to a region begin life as foreigners (not to be confused with foreign rulers – potentates), thus the terms are used interchangeably. The term native is an antonym to the term foreigner, capturing the sense that someone has roots within a place. In the overwhelming majority of documented cases, foreigners become naturalised to the extent that their descendants become natives, and in times of conflict their stakes are intimately interwoven with everyone else – the shared group. Sinister forces try to problematise new units of social identification thereby engineering imaginary fault-lines that never existed in people’s minds. This is one aspect of ‘divide and rule’, and it can be seen at work in numerous genocides across the world; Rwanda, 1994 (note, alleged Hutu and tutsi physical differences constituting proof that the two communities were separate. It transpired that the highly divisive racial claim was a political myth based on pseudo facts. Hutus and Tutsis were the same people, and they descended from the same breeding population. The 100 days of slaughter that followed was no myth though.
Who decides the borders of a ‘region’, ‘polity’ or ‘area’?
In the absence of advanced technological mapping systems, premodern Rulers would designate the boundaries of their territories through topographical features. The borders between rival polities were never fixed on maps. The delineating of borders on maps is a product of cartography, or the discipline of mapmaking, an innovation of modern times. Premodern borders were formed on the basis of natural barriers separating uplands from lowlands; mountain-hills from plains. Borders would follow the course of rivers meandering into escarpments, plateaus and mountain complexes, separating forests from deserts and plains. This is how the ancient world was mapped by rulers surveying their vast proceeds of war, conquest and peoples (chattel). Premodern travellers would know if they had entered a different country (‘mulk’, ‘desh’), from the one they had just left on the basis of natural features, and for obvious reasons there were no border posts manned by immigration officers stamping passports.
If we go back into prehistory, millennia before the emergence of neolithic cities and empires, ordinary people rarely ventured beyond their immediate localities. The distances people traversed, some 6/10 miles, were smaller than the ones we take for granted. Their entire universe of meaning was shaped by a radius of 6 miles. A tree or a bush could signal the border of a rival forager, or hunter gatherer, allowing us to contextualise historical cleavages between “natives” and “foreigners”.
How we’ve been mapping our territorial possessions since our earliest forays into the non-African continents of our African ancestors has been hardwired into our DNA. I’m speaking of a pioneering kind of ancestors though, who traversed thousands of miles on foot beginning some 70 thousand years ago, settling the most uninhabitable of places, moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, without the aid of modern maps. Some of these ancestors reached the subcontinent of Asia some 50 thousand years ago. Others had followed a different route into Europe and Asia, entering the subcontinent tens of thousands of years later. These instincts have been evolving over thousands of years, and modern humans are a product of that curiosity.
The expansive and ambiguous Kashmir of Antiquity, a distinct patronage system, was a very different space to the expansive and similarly ambiguous North Indian Plains; its political history was shaped by different priorities, not least because of its mountain ecology. Geographically, geologically, typographically and climatically, the Kashmir of localised history was not the famed and celebrated India of recorded history. It was these sorts of differences that were noted by ancient and premodern travellers, and not cultural or linguistic differences, which were rarely mentioned. To reach India from Central Asia, a huge frontier of sparsely populated nomadic lands merging into the sedentary worlds of powerful Kingdoms and enormous population centres, one had to traverse the tribal polities of the Western Himalaya. The course of rivers acted like modern-day GPS tracking systems, akin to how Arab Bedouins would expertly use the stars to navigate thousands of miles of desert terrain. Why Arab speaking peoples have expanded across the deserts of North Africa in a particular direction is itself revelatory of the migratory patterns I am espousing. This is not to say that 450 million Arabs descend from the original Bedouins of Central Arabia – that position would constitute an origin-myth.
Today’s Mirpur region is sandwiched between the frontier regions of Central and South Asia. According to Unesco’s definition of Central Asia – a geographical definition of a region within Asia, Azad Kashmir is located entirely within Central Asia and not South Asia. It is located at the point where the hills-mountains of Central and West Asia meet the Plains of South Asia. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise to learn why Mirpur’s territorial history had been intimately intertwined with the polities of the Western Himalaya and not North India. Without exception, diverse groups of invaders, empires and armies, traversed the lands of Mirpur to reach the India of famed history; the river Jhelum was the path into India through the north-west of the subcontinent. It followed an old trodden path that began at the Khyber Pass, that traversed a mountainous region until it reached the Plains of North India – a separate landmass. There were other mountain passes, most notably the Bolan Pass, but the lands traversed there were not part of Kashmir but Baluchistan – another mountainous region.
It was because of this priority that Kashmir entered the imagination of foreign writers, who followed the journeys of famed potentates on their way to India, documenting the lands and peoples they encountered (hot climates vs. cold climates, mountains vs plains etc). Some writers spoke of giant man-eating ants that mined gold in accordance with the popular ideas of their day, ethnicity had no part to play in such outlandish descriptions. There are other accounts of Arab travellers encountering mermaids; I recall in one juristic account, fishermen asking Muslim Jurists if it was okay to marry beautiful half-human women. The jurists responded in the affirmative, they had no reason to doubt what they were being told. The idea of ethnicity, or nationalism, would have been alien to this much older universe of meaning irrespective of how primitive it appears to enlightened minds if one probes the social airs of those chest-beating their modernity because of popular bandwagons.
Kashmir became a frontier region to India. It was never a frontier region to Central Asia to appreciate what was actually being sought – India. It was of conduit status, peripheral to India, less significant in terms of actual riches and material exploits, but no less deserving in terms of its beautiful mountain ecology. It firmly entered the Indian imagination during the rule of the Mughals, and not earlier if we make the fatal mistake of romanticising its eternal charms. Mughal Emperors had a profound fondness for Kashmir’s natural beauty, building holiday retreats for themselves. They had less admiration for the natives, minus ruling tribes, whom they quickly incorporated within their patronage network. They casually expunged the poorer less-powerful people from their own homelands, a tendency we see in the writings of lots of nationalistic ideologues re-imagining their nation’s history politically. If we are brutally honest when we look at these biased descriptions, without trying to offend anyone, Mughal Rulers expressed a loathing for the inhabitants of Srinagar (the Vale of Kashmir), whom they described disparagingly. This population would constitute our ethnic Kashmiris today, where we try to build primordial linkages between historical and contemporary peoples.
In later accounts of Kashmir’s native peoples, colonial administrators spun their own narratives around the older prejudicial accounts, describing the primordial Kashmiri race as cowards, dishonest, miserly and prone to telling tales, dirty and living in unsanitary conditions, seldom beautiful; “where are all these beautiful Kashmiri fair maidens the Indians keep telling us about”, they would ruminate? They conjectured on the basis of the conversations they were having, “they must have been taken away by Mughal Rulers to become concubines in their regal courts”, to appreciate the depravity of this way of thinking. A lot of these descriptions were subsequently expunged by a new set of writers – the ethnic Kashmiri protagonist. Nativist Kashmiri writers adopted the false colonial proposition of true and false people selectively, weaving their own version of Kashmiri exceptionalism.
The first people in history, who began the practise of racialising groups, speaking of true and false people were colonial administrators. They wore two caps. When they weren’t administrating their tracts of land for the East India Company, growing very rich off the proceeds, they were amateur ethnographers, which is not to speak ill of their formidable intellectual endeavours, or their sense of personal morality. Some of them were sickened by the depravity unleashed onto colonised people in the name of Empire. They began the tradition of the archaeological and linguistic surveys of India, and not native Indian elites (the English-speaking ones), who borrow enormously from this universe of meaning when flogging rapacious colonialists violating the virtues of mother India!
Today’s Kashmiris are being reified, borrowing from the older accounts selectively on the basis of contemporary myths that either proximate Kashmir to India or Pakistan. It is as if the ambiguous Kashmiris have been re-born again; because India and Pakistan are fighting over their lands politically, which must be integral to an Indian and Pakistani universe of meaning, Kashmiris must be a special people – this is the logic behind some of the new descriptions, “why else would foreigners be fighting over our lands, it’s clearly because we are special!?” Kashmiris are not important; Kashmir is important – land being the operative word, and not people! “Troublesome” natives, who may not necessarily agree with Indian and Pakistani solutions for their ancestral lands, are duly written out of their own history and lands, such is the power of today’s thought police.
My readers should note how I am using the words Kashmir and India through historical nuances lost on nationalistic ideologues, who project backwards into history through fictions always self-affirming the constructed “nation”, but demonising outsiders to their group politically. I’m not using the terms in any generic way, as if there is an innate truth to the identities in question, forcing millions of people within the restrictive boundaries of closed groups. This pseudo-scholarship is essentially nativist in its bearings, devoid of actual historical perspectives. The term primordialist could be substituted for nativist in the sense that the ideologues in question harp on about the “pure, fixed and never changing”, (for them, group identities are fixed and never changing since the dawn of humanity), forcing imaginary identities onto regional peoples that have had no basis in history. Not surprisingly, we all project backwards through considerations that would have been unintelligible to our Bronze and Iron age ancestors, when trying to understand their universe of meaning and the places they inhabited. Even modern concepts like ‘language classification’, would have been alien to our forebears, just a few generations ago.
Languages, (the correct term is dialects) have never formed the basis of separateness in territorial identities, tribal or monarchical; tribes have older histories than modern-day nation states. A very simple illustration would be to cite the naming convention around England.
England is named after a tribe – the Angles, much later than the initial invasion or settlement during the fifth century CE. The idea of the English people is a construction, weaved together by subsequent writers. The overwhelming majority of English speaking natives do not descend from the linear ancestors of this tribe. About 40 percent of today’s English natives are said to be of Irish descent, with little to no ancestral connections with the Germanic speaking Pagans, who gradually became Christians in Britain, after which point an English identity was increasingly being interwoven with ideas of Christianity but not ideas around race. The English homeland traditionally has been sparsely populated when compared to neighbouring European countries, a fact that colonial competitors like the Imperial French, were keen on exposing. Britain has incorporated lots of populations within its own native group. The ambiguous whites, centuries earlier demonised on account of their foriegn status, eventually coalasced into the body-politic. Advocates of far-right supremacism, may not know that they descend from these dispossessed communities unaware of their own foreign origin crucially when they essentialise origin myths.
Imperial Britain reluctantly carried out the first censuses, a little uneasy with the implications, concerned that had the colonised peoples discovered Britain’s small population, it would lead to insurrection in the colonies. The myriad of local collaborators would have been picked off; without local collaborators or systematic discrimination enforced by laws, there can be no occupation anywhere in the world. Whatever Britain’s small population, it didn’t stop the elites from expelling “vagrants”, “criminals” and “lessor-whites” to North America or Australia. In this respect, some individuals like to re-imagine themselves as belonging to the settler population (clearing and settling the new lands; cowboys fighting Indians, but never has unwanted deportees of Britain. The idea of an English nation is thus a myth, of political exigencies, it’s like ideas of the French or German nation. I am speaking of emerging speech communities borne of previous foriegn cleavages that later develop a sense of nationhood. In scholarly literature, these sorts of identities are deconstructed as linguistic or ethnolinguistic identities. They are wrongly reduced to primordial identities fixed to territories and ossified group norms. The trajectory of ideas behind such concepts can be traced back to the 19th century world of colonial politics, when the idea of nationalism first emerged, shortly afterwards causing havoc in the world. Nationalism isn’t a bad idea simply because it can be debunked within seconds, but because people are manipulated to murder people, possibly of the same lived experiences, in the name of a fictitious identity that needs protecting from outsiders, “we’re under attack!”
The “we” in this statement presupposes a “them”.
What comes to mind in 2020 when we compare shared trends across the world? Trump’s (white) America; Farage’s (Brexit) Britain; Orban’s (Christian) Hungary; Modi’s (Hindu) India, and numerous other examples. One mustn’t conflate China or Russia’s authoritarianism with the foregoing natavists, although the latter do exibit authoritarian behaviours and tendencies. When one probes actual backgrounds, one sees enormous ironies within the context of the history being espoused. Trump’s parents were immigrants to America, from Scotland and Germany; within a couple of generations, Trump’s paternal line had to change its surname to sound less German. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment in America after World War I. His father would subsequently claim he was of Swedish descent, to hide his stigmatised German linkages. Farage descends from a long line of refugees fleeing religious persecution in Catholic Europe. Thousands of dispossessed protestant Hugoneauts sought sanctuary in Britain, some 50 thousand came from France alone. Orban’s Hungary (Magyarország) is connected with the identity of the Magyar, Central Asian steppe people closely related to the Huns and Scythians who went in all directions, settling Europe and India. If one relies on origin myths around language, Hungarians are not true Europeans. The occupational caste background of Modi’s forebears was stigmatised, he belonged to a group identity that was much vilified by high-caste Hindu counterparts. In all these cases, hatred of the newest batch of outsiders presupposes a highly romantic vision of an unchanging past that had no bearing on the native’s actual lived experiences.
Before the rise of Nation States and corresponding national myths, group belonging equated to kith and kin networks, and almost every territory on earth was tribal and/or dynastic, where rulers passed power down to their legitimate offspring usually males. The spoken dialects of the time had not been standardised, and so they would inconspicuously merge into neighbouring dialects, without anyone being able to notice the changes. Every village community had its own dialect. Entire areas comprised of vast dialect continuums. Indo-Aryan speaking “South Asia” is one huge dialect continuum, as is Europe minus the Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian and the Basque peoples, non Indo-European speech communities. The conterminous Indo-European areas share an ancestral language putatively originating from somewhere in Central Asia, where thousands of daughter-dialects descend and spread. The Pahari spoken in Mirpur is not only related to Kashur, Dogri, Pashto and Panjabi (neighbouring languages in all four directions) but Persian, Slovakian, German and Spanish. There are thousands of shared cognates between all these dialects; the English “God“, the Persian “Khuda“; the Spanish “Dios“, the English “Deity” – strictly, a middle-English borrowing from old French, descend from the same mother language, exposing the political fiction that nations only exist within cleverly constructed ethnic or national boundaries.
For the purposes of linguistic analysis, a dialect-continuum is akin to a standardised language from which descend daughter-dialects; these identities – where groups are made to identify with particular speech communities by ideologues – are not fraternal in nature.
India and Kashmir were two separate realms, when we appraise this history, and not because of people, culture, language or religion, but because of power, tribal or monarchical, which is the actual point I’m making. The history of polities and patronage is not the history of contemporary identity politics. The region of Mirpur in history, (before even the word Mirpur existed), was a mountainous frontier, with no exact boundary fixed through cartographical representation. It fell within the orbit of a Kashmir geography, documented by those who first encountered this region and then wrote about it.
Ideologues intent on spreading ahistorical ideas of Kashmir are massively undermining its actual history, which we would have otherwise forgotten had the old memories not been savaged and distorted by Indian and Pakistani nationalists. It has everything to do with stopping independence for Kashmir. This war is being fought on different fronts. The online content that is produced is unquestionably propagandistic in nature, the aim is to split Kashmir within competing ethnic and religious narratives. Opponents will weaponise terms like ‘Punjab Hill States’, completely disingenuous to how colonial writers deployed the term itself, to force tribal polities of the Western Himalaya into an Indian or Pakistani nexus. In this respect, knowledge is no longer enlightenment – the sort we learn in accredited centres of (western) learning to widen our intellectual horizons; (in the West centres of learning are independent of governments and states). Rather, it has become indoctrination of the worst kind with the intention of deceiving people, who cannot question what they are being told.
A good illustration here would be to compare Encyclopaedia Britannica’s entry on Kashmir and Wikipedia’s post on Kashmir, to understand how invisible forces are trying to control the narrative on Kashmir through pseudo facts. Anonymous Wikipedia contributors speak of the Vale of Kashmir being the real Kashmir. The same contributors write the same posts on Kashmir’s real people. They speak of ethnic “Dardic” Kashmiris, who originate from the Vale of Kashmir, but not other parts of the divided Kashmir State. The term Dardic is itself a colonial misnomer that has no bearing on Kashmir’s ethnic people; it only makes sense when applied to a particular branch of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in particular areas. The Dards (the term Dardic is conflated with the idea of Dards) of Gilgit Baltistan are not ethnic Kashur speakers; they belong to their own cultural ecology, within a wider shared mountain ecology that extends across the region. The “Dardic” dialects they speak are incomprehensible to ethnic Kashur speakers; even the idea of a Dardic identity would have been alien to them.
Britannica’s editors and contributors have expertise in these ideas too. They are not volunteers electing to write posts on Kashmir, but are selected in accordance with their intellectual investiture in such ideas. They do not speak of a real or false Kashmir anywhere on the Britannica website, and neither do they speak of real or false Kashmiris. Wikipedia began life as a charitable platform, to give everyone free access to knowledge – an otherwise altruistic idea. But, because it is free to access, anyone can populate its pages, a very problematic proposition when one follows the journey of authoritarianism and disinformation across the world. Today, it has become a powerful propaganda tool for authoritarian regimes to spread post-truths. The direction of travel of these distortions is clear; one merely need confirm the identity of the people writing posts on Kashmir to appreciate the underlying agenda.
Let us briefly look at how the idea of the Punjab Hill States emerged within the context of conceptual frameworks not linked with people’s misplaced emotions and sense of belonging.
The Anglo-Sikh Wars
Colonial officers ethnicised the Punjab through foreign paradigms
Having defeated the Lahore State in 1846, the British East India Company, (it used to be called the English East India Company before 1707 to understand the illusory identities in question), acquired lands connected with its patronage system (Sarkar-e-Khalsa). The colonial administrators would frequently interchange the term Punjab State with Lahore State. The tribal tracts located in the Western Himalaya had only been recently conquered by the Lahore State, whose Rulers were Sikhs, but whose feudatories were Muslims and Hindus. The Lahore State would also be referred to as the Sikh Confederacy, imputing a religious character to Sikh dominions. The Sikh Rulers were not particularly religious, although they did self-affirm on the basis of their religious faith; for instance, the last Sikh Ruler, Maharaja Dulip Singh converted to Christianity in England (he was exiled to the UK), where he married a low-born Egyptian-German, with whom he fathered many children. He had difficulties finding a high-born spouse from the aristocratic circles he was moving in because of the prejudices of the day; the defeated Punjabi aristocracy were not suffienctly blue-blooded enough. Punjabi was indeed the sacred language of Sikh scripture (borne of composite dialects that included Lahndi), but Persian remained the language of the Sikh Court and official documentation to understand extrapolations of identity politics into this history. The colonial administrators would describe the dominions of the native Punjabi speaking Sikh Rulers in the Western Himalaya as the Punjab Alpine, or the Punjab Hill States. This naming innovation was thus an extrapolation of the factors discussed above.
How the Hill Tracts came to be identified as Punjab Hill States was thus based entirely on foreign paradigms of the colonial British. The native “Hill Chiefs”, whose power was vanquished and territorial possessions were subsequently surveyed, categorised and christened according to colonial norms, never once called their tracts “Panjabi”. Insightfully, colonial officers tasked with administrative responsibilities would casually observe that the tribal tracts of the Western Himalaya were unlike those of India, and by which term they meant North India, and not just the far away lands of South India. The Western Himalaya did frequently become an important sanctuary for defeated ruling tribes and their members from North India, but these tribes morphed into the existing population adopting the cultural norms of their new homeland, marrying locals and coalescing with them. Whenever colonial administrators spoke of the Punjab Hill States, a term that they invented and by which they meant semi-independent tribal republics with fictive lineages, they still spoke of a centre of gravity that was historically located within Jammu (Duggar – a newer entente) and Kashmir (the older entente), but not the Indian Plains.
If one turns to various Wikipedia posts about the Hill States, one is left with a distorted view of history that subsumes various principalities into an ethnicised Punjabi identity that never existed in history. Like all ethnic identities we take for granted, to not single out ethnic Punjabis, whose ethnicity is a product of modernity, “Punjabiyat”, or the idea of being a Punjabi is a recent modern-day innovation. It is a newish kind of group identity, a lot younger than neighbouring identities. But, the salient point should not be lost on any of us, the Punjab Hill States became Panjabi only because the colonial conquerers designated them so, not because of any fraternal connections between an imaginary group of people called “the Punjabis”. In the arena of scholarly insights, Wikipedia and Social Media claims about Azad Kashmir’s “Punjabi” primordial identity are essentially post-truth claims. They are not the findings of scholars researching ethnogenesis – the process by which an ethnic group comes into existence, a phenomenon comprised of observable patterns. When the politicised claims are deconstructed to understand the priorities behind them, they prove worthless as ethnic ideas because they are deceptive ideas. They are political claims to mislead minds, and not enlighten them about their actual past (history).
Here lies a simple rule in resistance-politics, “any foreign occupier who lies to you about your territorial identity cynically, can never be true to your priorities and lived experiences. The fact of his lying in one area, means he can be deceptive in other areas!” Narratives around Kashmir are full of deceit and dishonesty, and both Indian and Pakistani political actors are involved in the disinformation.
Understanding the conceptual frameworks
There is one caveat that I must emphasis in this discussion. When I categorically reject a Punjabi or Pothwari identity for Mirpuris and Azad Kashmiris because of the political sophistry involved, we cannot disconnect the wider area from an Indian civilisational space. Unlike Mirpur’s illusory Punjabi and Pothwari past – a fiction of unsophisticated proportions, Civilisational India is a fact of history that encompassed Mirpur and the mountains beyond. It included areas that interspersed Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. At one point, India’s cultures and languages extended to Central Asia and the Far East in opposite directions. How lots of diverse peoples became adherents of the Buddha outside the north easterly regions of the subcontinent is because of India’s civilisational pull. ‘India’, on the terms of this analysis was not territories, but a shared heritage thousands of years old, much celebrated by objective minds, thousands of miles beyond its borders.
Whenever we try to narrate historical events of India within the context of a shared space analytically speaking; there are different options open to us. We can relate this history to post-Vedic Hinduism (note, pre-Vedic Aryanism did not move beyond the old homeland), Buddhism and an array of Indic religions that included Sikhism, without discounting Islam. India’s Muslim history is part of the subcontinent’s story, it is not alien to India because nativist ideologues want to write-out one thousand years of documented events. The Islam of India made huge strides in India, it came from Central Asia and not directly from the Arabian Peninsula, which travelled via Mesopotamia, the Iranian Plateau and into Central Asia centuries earlier. The Islam of the subcontinent was shaped by India’s intellectual and cultural environments becoming native to the subcontinent. It attracted followers in the millions through the efforts of Sufis, not to discount forced conversions during times of war, or conversions of native rulers (feudatories) opportunely adopting the religion of the foreign Overlords (the sovereigns) to safeguard their lands, power and status.
Alternatively, we can relate this macro-type history to Indo-Iranian dialects, particularly of the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European languages – a colonial concept, to understand the trajectory of these ideas. We could use a completely different schema should we so choose, proving that the process is entirely arbitrary, and biased in favour of North Indians seeking proximity with the old colonial power (“proximity to whiteness”; colourism is a form of prejudice wrongly conflated with racism, they are however products of the same phenomenon, a dehumanising experience). South Indians do not speak Indo-Aryan dialects and have a rich and distinct history of their own, celebrated on account of its civilisational value. But, this does not mean that their cultural footprints did not impact the languages of the North. South Indians have shaped the story of North India in much the same way North Indians have shaped the story of the South. It was through the curiosity and enterprises of South Indians, that the cultures and religions of India reached the Indonesian Archipelago. Rome traded with the maritime powers of South India to understand which “Indians” in history are being written out of their past unfairly, when we superficially connect India with the River Indus.
For instance, we could deploy genetic insights, another analytical way of looking at the subcontinent of Asia through paradigms of human relatedness which connects North India with South India. Geneticists tell us modern-day South Asians have a shared maternal origin through Haplogroup M and some branches of N and R (notably U2), some 50 thousand years old. Of course, human beings have fathers too, and India is connected paternally with Iranians, Central Asians and Europeans – West Eurasians, through their y-chromosomes (haplogroups J, L, R and Q), but only in varying degrees. It doesn’t mean by having attested roots in a particular part of West Eurasia, that this fact confers a primordial identity on all those sharing mitochondrial or y-chromosomal haplogroups thousands of years later. These ideas are scholarly ideas, shaped by experts tracing human migrations across regions, or maps within evolving conceptual frameworks. They are not biblical ideas, ideas that are set in stone, but rooted in accredited science. These facts could be proven wrong subsequently.
No doubt, insights change with advancements in understanding, but they stand in stark contrast to lots of post-truths being paraded as knowledge on various online forums – Wikipedia posts, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook. We have people with no sustained intellectual investiture in the ideas they espouse, writing whatever they want on “Kashmir”, “true and false Kashmiris”, “India”, “Indians”, “Pakistanis”, “Hinduism” and even “genetics and archaeogenetics of South Asia” – the latter intervention is a troubling proposition given what is actually being instrumentalised and the selective way scientific findings (academic papers) are being presented. It is the essentialising of people on the basis of post-truths, ironically purported to be scientific claims. The actual authors of the scientific papers are not saying what our social media contributors are telling us, selectively.
Conversely, one cannot go from scholarly enquires into the past to forcing millions of diverse peoples, now identified through shared labels politically into an imaginary fraternity, controlled by a small group of authoritarians lecturing people about their everlasting identities. Accredited knowledge stands in stark contrast to political propaganda; it is an intellectual enquiry that does not prejudice any one outcome. Political propaganda is always committed to a political outcome, it is always binary (“us vs them”), and it always moves in the same authoritarian directions. Its centre of gravity is all-encompassing.
Civilisational India is an historically attested fact; but who decides the label?
Civilisational India is therefore an accredited idea with a documented past thousands of years old. It should not to be confused with political projects trying to efface or deny that heritage (Pakistan), or those trying to promote that history in a reductionist way (Hindu nationalism). There is an enormous body of knowledge on the idea of India that stands in stark contrast to the post-truths of our social media universe. But, even the labels we use to denote identities have a genetic imprint that reveal how such ideas were forged in the first place.
Take for instance, the term South Asia, a complimentary term to India and the subcontinent of India. It is a political construct of Western Europeans, akin to how the term Middle East is used, the brainchild of a British colonial administrator. For obvious reasons, the idea of Middle Easterners as a self-sustaining people is a very illusory idea, and it would hold true equally for South Asians, abbreviated to Asians, a term we frequently take for granted in the UK, but not North America. The point to take away from this discrepancy is that identity labels are arbitrary, they are not rooted in some innate coherence. For instance, Indians in Britain are not Asians in North America. In North America, Asian denotes someone of Far East Asian “racial” descent, conferring an illusory coherence onto disparate peoples.
The term Western Europe, has the same drawbacks as South Asia, or the Middle East. The West is rooted in the idea of Western Europe and it includes North America and lots of other countries, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand etc., to contrast it with Russia – the East of the Cold War period, which was located to the east of Western Europeans. The term West can also be used to denote the idea of Western Civilisation, with which it is not automatically interchangeable for obvious reasons. Japan may be part of the West, but it has its own Civilisation that is not called Western Civilisation.
Today, we speak of the nationals of Poland as Eastern Europeans, despite Poland being located in Central Europe, and not Eastern Europe. Technically speaking, the Poles are Central Europeans. The legacy of the Cold War, which saw Poland forcibly located within the contours of Soviet Russia, continues to impact nuances in out-dated ideas of what constitutes Eastern European peoples. This is an example of how an “ascriptive territorial identity” based on ideas of geography is conflated with ideological priorities, causing enormous confusion around how various identity labels are understood by ordinary people.
Ascription for territorial identities
When I use the term ascription for territorial identities, I mean to say that there is an imaginary fixed quality to imposed group identities, on the basis of criteria we take for granted. This is how lots of group identities have emerged, and there is nothing controversial about them either, except when they become contested by way of politics.
Words are nuanced in complex ways beyond a lot of people’s reductionist timelines, or starved imaginations if I’m permitted to call out the political mistruths being spread in the name of history. For instance, Civilisational Europe, has a documented past, variably called the Greco-Roman Civilisation, based on ideas of shared Latin norms. We can also speak of the Greco-Roman World as the Judaeo-Christian Civilisation, based on ideas of religious heritage. Christianity comes from the wellspring of Judaism, which also gave birth to Islam, what we would otherwise call the Abrahamic faiths. The birthplace of these ideas was the Near East, or the Middle East.
The Middle East is not conterminous with the European Continent, and for obvious reasons, North America is excluded. Although, when we do think of ancient Italy or the Greek City States, we think of this history in European terms, erroneously I add. The Greeks and Romans of old, did not extend their sense of groupness to the forebears of today’s “Nordic”, “Baltic” or “Central European” peoples, whom they viewed as outsiders to their group. This would be akin to how we narrate ancient Israel’s history. Today’s Israeli Jews can be categorised as Ashkenazi, Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews. Before the creation of the modern-state of Israel, these terms were borne of social and political cleavages outside the lands of ancient Israel. The identity labels we use can be very revealing of a disjointed past.
The continent of Europe is itself a strange concept, only partially true, because Europe is actually part of the Continent of Asia (Eurasia), where geological definitions matter, and not flawed colonial ideas of a European race; the white race – an historically attested idea that is biologically false where accredited science matters. To be ruthlessly honest, where we use definitions of disciplinary traditions, Europeans are Asians, and at the genetic level, all Asians are Africans. Identity labels can thus be misleading if people lack a background in them.
Whenever Britons speak of the Continent of Europe, it may come as a surprise to lots of non-Europeans that the British Isles, oftentimes are excluded. The idea of continental Europe does not quite extend to the British Isles, because Britain’s European history has diverged to form its own distinct cultural-sphere, the Anglo-sphere, where lots of countries and cultures are connected with a centre of gravity located in England – the white and black commonwealth. Whether this past is imaginary, or overstated according to critics, it helps to demonstrate that people use labels in different ways. Roman Britain, for instance, did not extend to parts of England, Scotland, or Wales, or Northern Ireland, but no Briton would dare deny that Roman history impacted Britain’s history in very noticeable ways. How London became the capital of England and Great Britain is itself very insightful of the power dynamics I espouse here. Colchester, or Camulodunum used to be the capital of the Roman Province of Britain, until seismic moments in history forced the Romans to move it to Londinium. This is a history of power dynamics, of strategic economic and infrastructural priorities, of tribal patronage networks and rebellions, and not the illusory history of Wikipedia ideologues. British history, like much of the history of the European continent, has been shaped by Roman history. Lots of Europeans voluntarily defer to that past, because of its celebrated storyline, whatever the fictions behind the narratives.
Genetically, European populations belong to shared descent groups, who have shared ancestry with western Eurasians in general, but again, this is only partially true, because all human beings living outside subsaharan Africa are closely related to human beings living inside Africa. Genetics cannot be equated with national or ethnic groups, because genetics operates strictly within the realm of biology, whilst the idea of ethnic or national groups is itself a non-biological consideration. Group identities are social constructs, and not biological facts. There is merely one human race, to borrow an out-dated word from the lexicon of zoology, and it is the human species, the more correct term.
DNA – the stuff of modern-day group fictions
For instance, no national group is 60 percent, or 30 percent “anything” genetically-speaking, because DNA does not work like that, and yet Commercial DNA companies are making billions of dollars in our post-truth world spreading nonsensical ideas around ancient and modern ethnic percentages. One cannot be 10 percent French, or 30 percent Turkish, 50 percent ancient Bronze Age warrior, or 20 percent Neolithic Farmer.
DNA is however a real thing. It is more real than our imaginary group identities. It will continue to impact our lives, as it has done so before our births, and will do so after our deaths. But, the idea of ethnic groups, or nationalistic identities, will be eclipsed by new ideas. The idea of the ethnic group and its more dangerous predecessor, “race”, had no social currency in the actual documented past of premodern territorial polities. There will thus come a time, when these bad ideas will be eclipsed by newer ideas, possibly more utilitarian in nature.
In fact, the differences between self-sustaining ethnic or national groups, are less greater than within groups; ethnic and linguistic groups have more diversity amongst their members than between groups. No one is “pure” anything to denote the false idea of imposed boundaries between ethnic or racial groups, a colonial fiction that has been rejected by modern scholarship conclusively.
Simplistic ideas around race are dangerous, borne of a racialist timeline that resulted in the rise of Nazi Germany and the deaths of millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, and disabled children in concentration camps. Lest we forget the horrors of the concentration camps, little children were gassed to death, and their bodies were experimented on to further the researches of eugenics. The sinews of dead bodies were liquidised to create lubricant for machinery!
Back then, “educated” people were speaking of bad races polluting good races. For a time, it was fashionable for eugenicists to advocate the separation of the social classes, racial groups in their mind. They would argue that vagrant whites from the lower classes had the capacity to pollute the white race of the upper classes if miscegenation was tolerated. Slightly off the topic, my readers should note how the idea of the working class emerged out of the idea of the lower social classes; polite euphemisms for older and dehumanising prejudices that we flippantly ignore when we make self-affirming and callous distinctions between the celebrated “Middle Class” and the demonised “working class”. It is usually upwardly-mobile aspirants to a middle-class identity, who ritualise the differences between their former group, and the group they aspire to join. One can see a huge range of anxieties and insecurities in the imaginary social cleavages they worship. It is part of the intellectual staple in the West to critique bad ideas irrespective of their social currency or popularity. It is a criminal offence in Germany to deny the Holocaust to give an idea of how dangerous these ideas are, fears that are fully justified.
Sadly, lots of debunked ideas continue to linger in the echo-chambers of political ideologues operating outside scholarly circles. Because of their practical outcomes, and the social psychology behind group behaviours, lots of simpleton-like people consume these ideas almost religiously. This is as much about group belonging, as it is about imagining one’s past, but it can also take a turn for the worst, as we are now seeing in our post-truth world; Brexit, Trump, the emergence of China and other authoritarian regimes, Russian interference in foreign elections, fake news. I use the word “simpleton”, because I have no other word to use; needless to say I am not using this word pejoratively. I’m trying to explain people are willingly consuming fake news, because of how they feel, or have been programmed to think; we are now living in an age where the technological and scientific strides of the past are being rolled back. Enormous populations think vaccines are conspiracies and that Covid19 is one big hoax to control people. The old conspiracy myth that the Jews control the world is re-insurgent again. It is doing its rounds on social media, diverse peoples who otherwise would hate one another, (radical Muslims, Far Right extremists and others) are eagerly consuming this lie to prove their own victim complexes; the online circles they are plugged into would reveal some interesting findings.
False histories, bad science and political propaganda
Consumers of propaganda are a good example when false ideas lead to material outcomes, usually political in nature. Propaganda is always directed at the literate, people who can read the propaganda, but are not highly educated, to be able to deconstruct the propaganda. Propaganda thrives amongst dumbed-down populations in human development index terms (HDI). Conspiracy theories, for their part, are highly lucrative “bombs” of “war” that are very cheap to produce and easy to spread. One can correlate the strength of feeling on any number of conspiratorial claims and levels of educational attainment. Rarely will astute people with insights fall for the rhetoric of division, and by which I do not simply mean people with qualifications, lots of educated people are consumers of “education” for social advancement purposes (seeking social status; “Phd Jones”). They can regurgitate course material, with little care about applying critically what they learn to their own lives, being primed to pass exams. They too fall for the rhetoric of division very quickly – “the Jews control the world! 9/11 was an inside job! Bin Laden was never killed in Pakistan! Malala Yusuf is a CIA Agent! Britain is controlled by Freemasons! Covid19 is one big hoax! Hindu Indians are murdering Muslims! Muslims are terrorists!”
Because of enormous contestation in the world today – the Kashmir Conflict is one small example, lots of facts, or non-facts we would have ordinarily accepted, or rejected uncontroversially, are being distorted to manipulate people’s sense of right and wrong. Scholars observing these worrying trends speak of political disinformation that is being “weaponised” to such an extent that we are now living in the midst of a post-truth world. The amount of mistruths being spread online is shocking and the prelude to something very terrible. Genuine democratic governments must react now to protect naive and impressionable citizens from adopting the bombs of authoritarian actors. This is not to be paternalistic, but to protect children and young adults from the harmful effects of Social Media.
My readers should understand, from the outset of this introduction, where I explore bad ideas of identity politics contextually, whilst exploring related themes, I am saying that Mirpur’s history is being problematised because of the Kashmir Conflict. Egregious political disinformation is being used against unsuspecting people, primarily through the platforms of Social Media to spread mistruths. These bad ideas are poisoning the minds of lots of unsuspecting people, not least British Azad Kashmiris themselves. The term Mirpuri is however problematic. It deliberately disconnects a regional people from neighbouring ethnic people in Jammu & Kashmir, who share a distinct political legacy of enormous suffering. Naive Mirpuris end up spreading propaganda against their own people. Fortunately, educated British Azad Kashmiris (if we’re going to be allowed to use our own identity labels outside authoritarianism; Mirpur is located in the Western Himalaya of Jammu & Kashmir), a fair few now, seldom fall for the lies being spread against their community. But, they are uncharacteristically silent in the face of enormous provocations, against their “group”. Pakistanis have been policing the Mirpuri identity for decades now and the negative ideas they produce leads to the denigration and vilification of ordinary British Azad Kashmiris.
How India got its name is akin to how Kashmir got its name
The word “Kashmir” simply means the land dissected by water; or at least this is how the term is explained etymologically. The term is of Sanskrit origin, mentioned in ancient Sanskrit literature. Of the 16 Aryan Tribal Confederacies (Aryavarta), the earliest recollections of which, again, come from Sanskrit and Buddhist Pali literature, Kashmira, or modern-day Kashmir, fell within the geography of Gandhara and Kamboja, two mountainous regions.
India is the English attributive label for lands eastwards of the River Indus, the Greek word for River Sindh. The first people to use this description were the Persians, from whom later Greek and Roman Rulers adopted the practise. For obvious reasons, the term was not precise, or intended to be exhaustive, but it traditionally applied to an ambiguous landmass associated with seminal events that were recorded for posterity. It was this India that was celebrated in the works of native Indian historians, and it didn’t quite extend to the hills-mountains associated with Kashmir’s geography, although Indian writers were keen to include the celebrated Gandhara region within their universe of meaning.
Fast forwarding centuries later, when we look to Arab incursions into the subcontinent from around the 8th century CE, and prior to the emergence of Persian speaking Turkic Kingdoms of the 11th century, Arab writers would speak of a region called Kashmir, which was their furthest forays into the Indus Plain.
They would speak of reaching the borders of Kashmir, a mountainous region, north of their territories. Crucially, they were not referring to the Valley of Kashmir nestled on the opposite side of the Pir Panjaal Mountain Range, but the Kashmir that began at the foothills of the Salt Range Tract, where the hills and mountains of Mirpur merge with the rest of the Western Himalaya. In many ancient writings, Kashmir is conflated with another region called Abisarah or Darvabhisara, which was located to the south west of the Kashmir Valley, on the opposite side of the Pir Panjaal Mountain Range; Mirpur is firmly located within this space. When I speak of hills and mountains, I am making no distinctions, because geologically, hills and mountains are the same thing; only the elevations change. Hills and mountains stand in stark contrast to plateaus and lowland plains, the topography is different. The landscape feels and appears very different.
Arab writers having taken their geographical cues from the Persians, did not consider the mountainous region of “Kashmir” conterminous with “Hind”. The later Mughal-Persian term for India, “Hindustan”, was the juxtaposition of the earlier Arabic word, “Hind”, and the Persian word “istan”, meaning country/landmass. Although this new coinage included lands conterminous with the Punjab Plains (an alluvial flat plain), somewhat tentatively I add. In fact, the actual word “Panjab” dates back to Mughal rule, and didn’t extend to Hindustan either. Crucially, it never included the mountainous tracts beyond the Salt Range Tract, when one looks carefully at how the term was used by writers. Even today, when Punjab is romanticised, one thinks of Eastern Punjab, with its flat and rich agricultural lands. No one familiar with this history would think of equating the barren lands of West Punjab Province with the Punjab Plains. It was because of colonial innovations of improved irrigation systems that made the once barren lands of West Punjab more fertile, becoming sought-after agricultural lands. Colonial Administrators would frequently refer to the Panjab Plains as ‘Punjab Proper’, fully aware of the nomenclature at their disposal, inadvertently “othering” people according to their conflation of regions with peoples through a flawed symbiosis.
How people were racialised by these colonial norms is itself revealing of lingering prejudices, barren lands produce rough but culturally sterile people, whilst fertile lands produce culturally virulent people, who are not martial or chivalrous in their fighting capabilities. They are however very cunning, akin to the cunning but weak fox in mental prowess and deceptions. The one was physically bigger than the other on account of the ecology he traversed, more threatening, less polite and more direct. These sorts of prejudices, which evolve and become malleable, are littered in the writings of modern writers, who offer social commentaries on native peoples unaware of their own bias and social class prejudices, writing themselves into the flawed observations they produce. Even today, one will hear Indians and Pakistanis speaking of Kashmiris in effeminate terms, disconnecting the false Kashmiris – the martial races of the hills-mountains, on account of how the region was romanticised and demonised through colonial paradigms.
Again, these are not irrelevant points. They show how the Kashmir of documented history, including modern-day Mirpur, was seen as a separate space to India-Pakistan long before we had post-colonial identities to categorise people under. It was colonial administrators, who began the practise of racialising people in accordance with how they viewed regions, and a lot of their insights are being regurgitated on social media. There is enormous contestation within India and Pakistan about what is exactly meant by any number of identity labels. Not everyone in India or Pakistan agrees to being called Indian or Pakistani, not least because of this colonial history and the enormous fractures that come with the labels. But the wider point remains, and our intuition could shed some light on how ascriptive identities of regions work in contemporary times.
One simple illustration would be to ask, “Punjabis are Hindustanis”; two peoples associated with distinct regions, this much we accept, “but are Hindustanis Punjabis?” Of course, the answer is no, they’re not. We can ask the further question, “Kashmiris are Hindustanis, but are Hindustanis and Punjabis, Kashmiris?” Again, we would answer in the negative, because we know Hindustanis are not Kashmiris, they are not identified as such. One can take this logic and apply it to any number of people across the world. We can apply the logic to our febrile playground of contestation – Azad Kashmir. And so I ask, “Pothwaris are Punjabis, this much we would accept. But are Punjabis Pothwaris?” Of course, Punjabis are not Pothwaris. No one from Lahore would agree to being identified as a Pothwari, because of how Pothwaris are perceived – “simpleton” village (Pindoos) people. In fact, if I’m brutally honest to not offend Pothwaris given how they are perceived (lessor Punjabis), Urdu-speaking-Punjabis from Lahore would feel insulted to be forced into a Pothwari camp, such are the mechanics of the Pakistan-Punjabi universe of meaning, when it gives vent to actual prejudices.
But, does this mean that someone from Lahore is more Punjabi than someone from Pothwar? Yes, that’s the social reality of being Punjabi, except when it too is downgraded by Urdu speakers. Mindful of the history I am discussing, whose identity are Pothwaris claiming, when they say they are Punjabis? Here lies a profound truth. If indeed we accept the false claim that Mirpuris are Pothwaris, to continue with the logic in its natural stream, why then would we accept instinctively the counterclaim that “Pothwaris are not Mirpuris”? Let me rephrase that statement, would “Pothwaris agree to being called Mirpuris?” No, they wouldn’t. Here lies a clue for people not accustomed to thinking for themselves, whose acceptance of popular ideas are confirmation bias and never critical thinking. They’ve already been manipulated to look for the rote answers, and so these revelations may come as a shock to their system, reluctant to accept the logic involved, emotionally shutting down their intellects, because the ground is being swept from under their feet.
Inclusive and exclusive group identities; “ascriptive identities”
The fact that an ascriptive identity can be inclusive for one group of people, doesn’t stop it from becoming exclusive for another group of people, as I have demonstrated. I hope to have created some sort of intellectual curiosity on the part of my readers. The inference is clear for minds reconciled with historical norms around naming practises, and not whims and desires of the politico, who want ownership of lands, far from their centres of power, by extending the reach of their identity labels to include disparate lands and/or peoples. Political ideologues will happily incorporate regional lands within their shared political label, but they’ll reject the ethnic persons of those lands within their wider group label when it suits them. Even if they tried to overcome this handicap of group belonging, covetous greed has destroyed many nation states, the history of divergent regions becomes a powerful reminder that lots of areas on earth had different beginnings at different moments in history, and separatists then deploy that history to separate.
Once the doors to social and political grievances open, as is the case with Azad Jammu & Kashmir, 70 years of unjust social and economic exploitation that has gone on unabated, it is very difficult to shut them afterwards. Ethnic groups like the Pashtun, Baluch and Sindhis have been pushed onto the fringes of their own societies to appreciate Azad Kashmir’s grievances. Outsiders to these respective groups have greater power and influence than natives in their own ethnic homelands. One can see separatism in the powerful indictments against the Pakistani State (a horrible place for minorities), wrongly and cynically conflated as the Punjabi State to the disadvantage of poor rural Punjabis, the “Pindoos” (village folk) who are degraded by citified-Punjabis speaking Urdu (no more culturally sophisticated I add); these cleavages are increasing. The violent blowback will be all encompassing. The separate history of regions are only then deployed to cement the difference between the occupied regions and the occupying centralised power. With the right leadership, usually borne of a confident and emerging middle-class, this history can be wielded with devastating effect and precision. History is replete with countries successfully emerging out of tyranny and injustice, and there are so many examples across the world.
It thus beggars belief that Azad Kashmir’s pro-independence Kashmiris have never deployed these narratives in their resistance politics. But, this fait accompli is a kind of history in the making. It has powerful precursors across the world, and not just in South Asia. Pakistan’s ethnic Bengali population in East Pakistan fought a war of liberation against West Pakistan to free itself from what became an incredibly unequal and cruel lived experience. The Pakistan that was created in 1947 by an Act of the British Parliament, became Bangladesh in 1971; two distinct entities, whose histories converged, and then diverged at different points in history.
How Bangladesh emerged is a precursor to what we are seeing in Azad Kashmir, and how Mirpuris (an imposed identity label), the most visible of all Jammu & Kashmir’s communities outside the divided State, are being written out of the Princely State’s history for political reasons.
1. Social and political grievances are at the heart of separatist politics; new countries emerge all the time
Policing resistance narratives
Today, Bangladesh is becoming more prosperous than Pakistan. Before 1971, it was an altogether different story. The region of East Pakistan was a backwater to West Pakistan, because of deliberate policies of empowering West Pakistanis against East Pakistanis. Forty years on, Bangladeshis are perceived better than those saddled with the Pakistani passport, one of the worst passports according to global passport rankings.
Internationally, Pakistan has become synonymous with corruption, terrorism and poverty. Its university qualifications are being rejected in the Middle East, because there is a widespread belief that they are not worth the paper they are written on. “Immigration” quotas from Pakistan in many developed nations are being reduced, because there is no way of ascertaining the truth of claims on various application forms. The actual numbers of Pakistanis being allowed to migrate to Canada, one good example to cite, are falling drastically when compared to Indians. This wasn’t the case in previous decades, and would be an affront to the integrity and dignity of ordinary Pakistanis, who are not mired in corruption and deceit. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, like people across the world, are good people.
So, why is this happening now?
Because, there is no credible way of knowing if the “highly-skilled” doctor from Lahore, or the pilot from Karachi, purchased his qualification, or attained it through study and training. Even the accrediting structures in Pakistan are corrupt! And this is not to mention Pakistan’s near absence from the 1000 top ranking universities internationally. Pakistan has no tradition of pioneering scholarship in the arts, humanities or sciences. Not only is the country materially poor comparable to developed nations, it lacks social and cultural capital to address its problems.
As harsh as this description may appear, no one could challenge its self-evident truth.
If I am wrong, I am open to correction?
I note in this respect, when Pakistani immigrants are given an opportunity to excel outside Pakistan, they excel on their own merits. In exposing the Pakistani State, I am trying to redeem ordinary Pakistanis (who are not part of my community), and who refuse to accept where their country is heading. But even the intellectually honest amongst them know that there is an enormous trust deficit with Pakistan and within Pakistan. The country is mired in so much questionable behaviour that international investors steer clear of the State. Ordinary Pakistanis pay the ultimate price for the costs of tolerating a rogue regime led by Army Generals, whose antics equate to murdering democratic norms. The Pakistan Army is intensely disliked in neighbouring countries, not because of envy or jealousy – the Army is not a regional power in South Asia, India is, but because it has been orchestrating terrorism in civilian areas of India and Afghanistan to pursue highly dubious national interests. Terrorist attacks against the Indian Parliament were masterminded by the Army in Rawalpindi. This is how a weak Army gets parity with India, by becoming relevant in other people’s affairs. It frequently targets the Shia population, making overtures to Sunni extremists (the Mullahs) and Saudi Arabia, a staunch enemy of Iran, creating an enemy in the form of Shia Iran. The Army then blames India cynically for these troubles, as if India created similar Sunni and Shia conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The cynicism with which the Pakistan Army conducts itself equates to a low-cost high intensity war game, prosecuted on the cheap to further dubious political aims. It cant win any wars, so it needs conflict to remain relevant to domestic politics.
One can give hundreds of concrete examples of how these policies impact the international image of the country negatively. Only a few will serve my purpose.
Destroying a “Nation” from within; the price of unaccountable power
Pakistan’s Military is unaccountable to civilian governments, and it operates above the law. We are told by a plethora of accredited experts across the world that the Military Complex is a cancerous drain on Pakistan’s weak State. These are not my words, I am repeating what I have read in accredited journals and books of scholarship. Everyone knows this, except dumbed-down civilians and those with questionable ethics singing the hymns of the army to get favour, or position. It has never been civilian governments, whose reputations the Military has been trampling over to create friction between voters and elected representatives. Politicians are victims of army propaganda. Not every elected representative of Pakistan is corrupt, and yet this has become the normative view of civilian governanc because of widespread social stigma. For lots of Pakistanis now, it is as if career politicians are incapable of humanity and morality, whilst the Pakistan Army is a spokesman for God, with a direct line to heaven. I’m not being facetious when I say this to explain the levels of irrationality motivating people to speak so positively about “the Pak Fauj” (Army).
After the 9/11 attacks, the Army received hundreds of millions of American tax dollars to locate and bring Bin Laden to justice. It transpired that the intelligence services (the ISI) were hiding and protecting him one mile from a military installation in Abbottobad, Pakistan. Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network took responsibility for terrorist attacks across the world. Bin Laden encouraged his followers to detonate bombs in civilian areas of lots of different countries, and not just Saudi Arabia. He preached that it was a religious obligation (fard ul-ayn) for ordinary Muslims to wage war against the Saudi Monarchy. The Saudis, for their part, had been providing much needed funds for the upkeep of Pakistan’s economy and society, to understand the nature of blowback against ordinary people. It was the Army who hid Saudi Arabia’s “most wanted man”.
To contextualise this outrage, recently, Saudi Arabia awarded India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its highest civilian honour. Pakistan accuses Mr Modi of being a Hindu ethno-fascist, who was responsible for the Gujarat riots against Muslims. Mr Modi’s political party, the BJP, created an untenable situation for co-existence between Muslims and Hindus in Gujarat and the riots were a symptom of that hate, a charge that the BJP reject vehemently. When the Saudi State honours Mr Modi, it is sending a powerful message to Pakistan that it cannot be trusted to speak on Muslim affairs. It is quite literally a slap in the face of a nation that has shown contempt to its own Muslim nationals – some of the poorest in the world. There is a lot of disquiet in Saudi Arabia about Pakistan’s double standards.
Decades earlier during the 1980s, Afghan freedom fighters were engaged in bitter conflict with the Soviet Union. They would complain that the Pakistanis were siphoning off critical funds needed to prosecute that war. This ‘monetary inflow’ came from America and Saudi Arabia; two traditional patrons of Pakistan, the one is a Secular Republic and the other is an Absolute Monarchy, they are hardly bedfellows by choice. Necessities demand that countries work together to defeat a common enemy, which in this case was the Soviet Union; this is how geo-politics works.
To return to a running theme in this discussion, both India (Hindu nationalist forces) and Pakistan’s Army are opposed to Kashmir’s independence, and so they work together to defeat Kashmir’s pro-independence Kashmiris, giving the lie to the claim that Pakistan’s elite cares for Muslims, a ruse for the simpleton. To contextualise this salient point, the Pakistanis were entrusted to deliver money and weapons to the Afghan Muslim Freedom Fighters. A lot of the money and weapons just disappeared.
Some years ago, the Taliban released a recording of a telephone conversation between a Pakistan Army Operative and a Taliban fighter, where the latter accuses the former of dishonesty, deceit and a sinister disregard for Islam, he made an explicit reference to Pakistan’s greed during the Russian-Afghan war. The General’s response was to cite Islam as a shared frame of reference; the Taliban Commander finished the conversation by accusing Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, of being an atheist. The response of outrage from the General seemed staged as if he was aware that the call was being recorded. Jinnah’s dubious Muslim credentials have already been questioned by lots of historians. To call him an atheist is not exactly a blasphemous act.
The earthquake funds for Azad Kashmir’s reconstruction in 2005 similarly disappeared. We’re talking about tens of millions of pounds raised from ordinary people across the world. Apparently, the military redirected the aid to more pressing needs. The term redirect is a polite euphemism for siphoning/embezzling money, a charge that the military constantly places at the doorstep of Pakistan’s politicians, unfairly I point out. On this occasion, tents donated for the rehabilitation of survivors disappeared; it was widely reported by Pakistani journalists that they resurfaced in Islamabad, where they were being sold. International funds for the Punjab floods of 2010 similarly vanished amidst an outcry in Pakistan. International donors have since stopped giving Pakistan money, because it never reaches the intended recipients, the poor and dispossessed peoples of Pakistan. There seems to be too many middle men in Pakistan. Army Generals sit atop this patronage network covetous of their unrivalled status in society – they have everything to lose, if they beome a professional army under the control of democratically elected civilians.
There is no such trust deficit for Bangladesh, where its army is under the supervision of elected representatives. As I write these words, the country seems to be attracting increased foreign investments, prospects that have changed the fortunes of the poor since it left Pakistan in 1971. Power dynamics do change, and sometimes they change for the better.
Ordinary people prosper, and not just elites. Children can grow up and have a future better than their parents, hope becomes a social reality, and the world doesnt seem cruel anymore.
The art of silencing dissent
The initial cleavages are always demonised by the occupying power structure; if it cant assassinate dissenters (targeted killings), or intimidate them into silence, it assassinates their characters. Every slur is thrown at them even the kitchen sink. If the activists stay resolute, finding the courage to continue their fight against unjust power, later outcomes could be rewarding for millions of ordinary people. This is what motivates dissidents everywhere. Most people in arenas of conflict do not do the actual fighting, they are spectators, jumping onto bandwagons to partake in social respectability, a kind of ritual of moral belonging, which is not bad. The real sacrifices are borne by those who have everything to lose, and many such people die in prison, without even having a solitary footnote dedicated to them. This is just the nature of politics. It is a horrible arena for lots of dishonest people trying to get ahead in life, excepting conviction politicians who do exist (in Pakistan too) and speak their mind, frequently demonised by the establishment Media. The benefits that accrue to millions of their countrymen makes their ordeals worth it. Convictions cannot be thwarted by threats of state coercion and violence, or loss of face, history is full of examples of tyrannical countries imploding. Before the first shots were even fired, lots of countries have fallen apart, because of all the hate that was simmering beneath the surface.
The Pakistan Army fears widespread dissent. It thus slanders its critics as Indian agents, or non-Muslim deviants – disparaged as “Sanghis” (Hindutva RSS supporters), or “Kuffaar” (non-Muslim disbelievers). How these words are deployed shows the actual direction of travel and its source, somewhere in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s intelligence services. The unaccountable Pakistan Army operates out of Rawalpindi; the encumbered Federal Government operates out of Islamabad. There is an enormous mainstream willing to reduce Pakistan’s internal problems to Indian and non-Muslim conspiracies, and this is what I mean by the term, dumbed-down population. An educated population could potentially undermine the military’s stranglehold on society, but for the fact that many Pakistanis in the West have become complicit in supporting the Army.
And so, it is the case that the Military, not professional historians, are writing Pakistan’s school textbooks. Islam and history have become casualties of campaigns of indoctrination. Islam, to borrow modern political and spiritual euphemisms, is a wonderful religion that owes its existence to the reformist teachings of a 6th century activist perturbed by widespread social and economic injustice. The Prophet of Islam, Allah bless him and give him peace, despite his enormous accomplishments towards the end of his life, died in penury choosing the endowments of a Sufi hermit than the enterprises of modern-day entrepreneurs. This old Islam, which created a cadre of self-sufficient Ulema, scholars fiercely opposed to the regimes of unjust temporal rulers, also died in penury. They were staunch opponents of dynastic Kings ironically claiming descent to the Prophet’s tribe, whose descendants they murdered. They would even curse the Prophet’s family from the Mosques, a history beyond the reach of today’s cosmopolitan identitarian Muslims looking for non-Muslim demons to blame.
Pakistan Army has instrumentalised Islam ideologically to control people’s minds, with no genuine devotion to the religion. Pakistan’s poor are being encouraged to learn Urdu, wrongly imagined as the language of Muslim fraternity in a pre-1947 India apparently. The children of the rich are actively learning English, the language of universal education, science, international commerce and social status. The one is forced to remain in a spiralling whirlwind of chaos and debt, whilst the other affords itself of every opportunity going, especially outside Pakistan’s borders. The one passively assumes a Muslim identity rooted in past fictions, whilst the other enters a social class hierarchy of its own creation, conveniently plopping itself at the top of an unjust neopatrimonial order. They offer nothing of value to ordinary Pakistanis, but myths and Indian demons.
Separatism is borne of grievances, not demonised identities, or academic concepts!
Regional identities become secessionist and separatist precisely in this way. If an oppressed region has a separate history, as is the case with Azad Kashmir, it wields that history to confer legitimacy on its cause. The international order can accommodate the new polity emerging, because it doesn’t destabilise the existing World Order (geo-politics). These priorities have nothing to do with illusory questions around national fraternity, imagined identities between ethnic or linguistic regions rooted in a non-existent past. It has nothing to do with foreign conspiracies either.
If we look to documented history, considerations of ethnicity and language are missing from pre-modern discussions on the nature of monarchical polities. Sometimes the rulers adopted the religion and culture of the conquered, at other times they didn’t. The ethnic or linguistic character of the historical polity conferred no legitimacy on its right to exist. Whenever ideas around ethnicity or language intersect with much older identities in modern-day conflicts, it’s usually through the behest of political narratives being projected backwards. Like I said, notions around ethnicity and language are fundamentally European constructs borne of the 19th century. Even the analytical labels we use to explain them, postdate the earlier concepts, which should explain the actual trajectory of the ideas. The actual word, “ethnicity” can be dated to 1953 to appreciate what I am saying.
When an occupying power uses academic constructs to retain a region within its forced territorial orbit, by saying, “you’re not separate from us, we are the same people”, it does so to delegitimise actual political grievances. Most of the time it does this disingenuously. Laypeople may not understand this, but intellectuals operating outside the immediate arenas of political contestation are familiar with the false ethnic narratives.
Patterns behind occupation are repeated the world-over. Narratives used against native peoples are strikingly similar, they are either,
- 1) forced into a neighbouring ethnic group, or,
- 2) they are written out of the territory completely,
It is as if the natives came to their lands from somewhere else – i.e., the imposter proposition. I explain the priorities behind the proposition as follows,
“You are an imposter to this identity because I say so, you are an imposter to this land, you are an imposter to this history because I other you. I occupy your lands for my own material advantage, I will dictate your identity to you to disconnect you from all the other natives. I will fabricate a false restrictive identity for you which puts you under my thumb. I need your lands and resources, because I am greedy and an opportunist, so I will make you think that you have no right to them. I will make you feel unworthy of your claims to your forebears actual past because I am more sinister than you. I call this political propoganda 5th generation psychological warfare, a nice sounding phrase for immoral behaviour. Because I need to control your actions, I need to control your mind. I do this through dishonesty.
In the olden days, stealing native lands was a lot less complicated. Imperial Empires would merely mass murder the natives, enslave them, or transport them elsewhere, and that would be the end of the matter. Lots of countries we take for granted today were the product of population displacements. Entire Native American populations were murdered, even their memories were misappropriated because they became fashionable, and no one really cared, because might made right. But, this doesn’t stop the people of the new territories emerging as rights-bearing natives either. They are also the genuine stakeholders of their homelands. Jamaicans, Cubans, Brazilians are now indigenous to Central and South America and not Africa. The descendants of 19th century indentured labourers of South Asia are also natives of Jamaica, Barbados and all the other Islands of the Caribbean, to understand dubious lines of reasoning in arenas of conflict. Because these countries are not disputed, no one would find a reason to contest the corresponding identities. The identities are just taken for granted.
To understand this norm within its proper context, it would be akin to an African living in Africa claiming the lands of Brazil or Mexico, because of an imaginary identity that connects him or her with African Brazilians or Mexicans; this would be akin to a Pothwari speaking Punjabi claiming the lands of Azad Kashmir, because Mirpuris (and all the others in AJK) are actually Pothwaris and not Pahari speaking Kashmiris, to disconnect them from a landmass that ironically doesn’t extend to Pothwar in the first place. The self-evident ploy behind such a manipulative approach speaks volumes about the people who deploy baseless arguments. They are quite literally bereft of intellectual integrity.
Fruitless debates around ethnicity were never considerations in the past. They’ve only become topical today, because authoritarian regimes have signed up voluntarily to the UN convention on human rights, which forbids ethnic genocide, or the forcible replacement of people. The immoral position of occupying another people’s lands resonates with the entire world, especially the Free World, this is why despotic countries have to control the narratives coming out of the lands they occupy. The right to self-determination for occupied peoples, i.e., those denied sovereignty in their own lands by outsiders to those lands is enshrined in international laws.
Azad Kashmir is part of the Kashmir dispute, thus it has a separate status to Pakistan, connecting it with India’s Jammu & Kashmir region legally-speaking, which is a major problem for the Pakistanis.
The Pakistani State and its covert agents with the blessings of India’s nationalists, (Indians seem to be changing tact to support Azad Kashmiris against Pakistan under a shared Jammu heritage) are actively writing out Mirpuris from Jammu & Kashmir’s territory, history and geography. But, there is one significant difference between Mirpuris and the examples given above.
Mirpuris have been in their ancestral seats for hundreds of years, and are not the product of forcible displacements. Pakistanis and Indians want to give the impression that Mirpuris are not native to Jammu & Kashmir, but rather Pothwar or Punjab. This may produce dividends for lots of sinister outcomes, not least separating pro-independence Kashmiris into different ethnic enclaves – “if that part is not Kashmir, why are we advocating for it in this part!?” But, it always backfires when a region develops a consciousness around its own priorities. Indians understand this very well and have begun to change the language they use when speaking of Mirpuris, no longer being dismissive of Jammu & Kashmir’s indigenous Pahari-speaking natives. They are now actively reaching out to Mirpuris, aware of the changing intellectual landscape in the UK and AJK. This doesn’t stop them from being any less sinister than the Pakistanis though, it merely shows the conflict is changing course to their advantage as the global order is slowly retreating from Pakistan whilst Azad Kashmiris are realising that Pakistan is a huge liability for its own nationals.
Previously, Pakistan’s false narrative against Mirpuris benefited India, but as Azad Kashmiris have grown tired of Pakistani corruption (a dehumanising reality), they are gradually moving towards a democratic and secular India mindful of the old “Jammu” connection. The leap from moving away from Pakistan in the direction of India is not big given 1 million Azad Kashmiris already live in Britain, the old colonial mother country that colonised India and brutalised its peoples – that’s the old grievance of Indians. They are joined by even larger Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities from Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, collectively imagined as the South Asians of Britain.
British Asians have been afforded infinitely better treatment at the hands of a mostly benign secular Britain than any religious Muslim country, some of which have the worst life prospects of any country. If my readers are honest with themselves, and they happen to be staunch Muslims, would they leave Britain’s shores for Pakistan, even if they came here as migrants and weren’t born here? They wouldn’t. Their love for Pakistan is hot air. They seem to demand their rights to practise Islam in a secular polity unaccustomed to supporting the rights of religious and other minorities within Muslim countries. Here, they are perpetual victims, because a benign State is prepared to listen to their group’s grievances and address them accordingly. But, they offer nothing to Britain in return except misplaced loyalties to Pakistan, a country that wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire – such is their love for authoritarianism. Azad Kashmiris have realised that they are indeed second class citizens in Pakistan, whilst independence is not a viable alternative.
What is more troubling for the Pakistan Establishment, Azad Kashmir is not Baluchistan or Sindh. It is part of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir State, a mountainous landmass that India has consistently claimed legally-speaking since the bifurcation of the Princely State. The Pakistanis are now in a pickle given how they’ve been writing Jammu’s Muslims out of Kashmir’s territory, whilst deliberately using the term Kashmiri ambiguously in the hope of playing Kashmir’s Muslim natives against each other.
To give credit where it is due, India has fought wars with China to retain lands of the old State – these lands of Kashmir are located in Ladakh, a frontier region. Muslim Pakistan gave these border lands away for free to Atheist China – a country that has banned religion from statecraft to appreciate the hypocritical tendencies of an ideological Pakistani State crying about Muslim victims. The hour has now arrived for an inclusive, democratic and secular India to prove its sincerity on the Kashmir question by reaching out to the peoples of the Occupied Lands on neutral terms, 1 million of whom live in the UK. I am not advocating this course of action as my own personal choice, I am merely expressing it as a point of principle and conviction to be true to my conscience, whilst exposing Pakistan’s hypocrisy of openly supporting independence for Jammu & Kashmir, whilst secretly making it impossible. The Arabic Muslim word for such behaviour symbiotically speaking is “nifaaq”, or hypocrisy in its ostensible English translation, but ultimately it points to a split personality of disingenuous people cleverly exploiting the values, symbols and rituals ordinary people cherish to control them.
Why do they do this though?
Because Occupiers grow rich in the limited moments they have to avail themselves of ill-gotten fortunes. They grow strong and powerful through the plight of their subject populations, manipulating their minds and controlling their actions. It is the oldest trick in the Occupier’s rule-book, it is about getting ahead in life with no care for the consequences for others around you, who have mothers, fathers and children too.
A reminder to my readers, Pakistan has made supporting independence for Kashmir illegal in Azad Kashmir; anyone who supports independence is criminalised. Pro-independence Kashmiris are treated with contempt in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. They are intimidated and disappeared if they carry large public mandates; the only Azad Kashmiris tolerated in Pakistan are those supporting Pakistan, and it is from this group the leaders of AJK are selected, not just in Pakistan but also in the UK, a country invested in genuine democratic norms, which has strangely become partial to Pakistan’s anti-democratic norms weakening its own democratic values. I remind Britons, the 7/7 suicide bombers were trained in Pakistan with the full knowledge of the Pakistan ISI (intelligence services)! The AJK leadership, a group of “uneducated Uncles” in the UK (this is how they are described by Pakistanis, who love berating them online) has never once criticised Pakistan’s deplorable treatment of ordinary Azad Kashmiris. They are completely beholden to Pakistan’s propaganda on India’s Kashmir. They preach that everything is wonderful and rosey in Azad Kashmir, this is what they propagate to British audiences, especially those on the Left of politics, who don’t seem to understand that they are empowering corrupt political actors, whom they would otherwise be challenging on other political fronts. Identity labels are thus very dangerous if one does not understand the priorities behind the false associations.
If indeed the Indians are sincere in their official pronouncements, they have an opportunity to change the course of the entire conflict, realities that were unprecedented before. The Valley Kashmiri leadership, according to Pakistani ISI narratives has shown no solidarity with Azad Kashmiris, offering lip service to its supposed brethren across the LOC complaining about occupation. There is an element of truth to what the ISI preach about Valley Kashmiri disloyalty to Azad Kashmir. The leadership in the Vale has grown accustomed to speaking in two-tongues; expressing love for Pakistan when in the presence of Pakistanis, and expressing love for an independent Kashmir when in the presence of Azad Kashmiris decrying Pakistani exploitation. This conflict has become a game, where the rules are conveniently changed. How they speak of Indians in particular is itself an indictment on how they perceive Pakistanis in general (dark-skinned “Indians” pre-1947), completely bereft of historical perspective that demonised them, or even the momentary insight that the world’s cameras are pointed at their faces, persons and bodies, debunking all manner of outlandish myths of people filtering their pictures. If it is the case that the ISI accounts purporting to be Kashmiris are false, maliciously spreading racism (colourism) against Indians, native Kashur speakers should speak out forcefully to redeem their reputations. These racist accounts have “Kashur” blurting out of their profiles. Good people everywhere hate racists, and they will turn their backs against Kashur speaking people, who will learn very quickly the social effects of online demonisation.
So who exactly benefits from these online accounts repeating Pakistani propaganda against India? India? Pakistan? Or Kashmir? I think it is obvious ordinary Kashmiris do not benefit from online discussions on the Kashmir Conflict. But this hasn’t encouraged Valley Kashmiris to come to the defence of Azad Kashmiris.
Dangerously, whilst basking in a terribly misplaced ethnocentrism that somehow makes Kashur speakers unique and distinct from everyone else in the divided State, they repeat ethnolinguistic rhetoric that Azad Kashmiris are not genuinely Kashmiris, or at least not like them, as if status is being bestowed on Azad Kashmiris to claim the Kashmiri territorial ascription! Aside from being true to the territorial history I narrate here, Azad Kashmiris have been afforded absolutely nothing from Valley Kashmiris, who cant even redeem their own people except to self-affirm through the imaginary ownership of a word that oddly wasn’t even connected to their lived experiences. The landmass we call Kashmir today is much older than any ethnic identity called Kashur or even the Kashur language, a middle Indo-Aryan language that dates back to the beginning of the 11th century CE.
This misplaced attitude on the part of disenfranchised victims, oddly going about their business speaking Urdu, a North Indian language, and where possible English but never Kashur, a lessor language in their minds is lost on “stateless people” complaining about foreign occupation. Their attitudes have been cleverly manipulated by both India and Pakistan to Kashmir’s disadvantage. Pakistan’s agents of disinformation, for their part, have amplified the minority (ethnocentric) voices in the Valley to create a wedge between Azad Kashmiris and Indian Valley Kashmiris. They have largely succeeded, and it would be the height of stupidity on our part if we think we can roll this back.
Independence for Kashmir is now less likely, not because India was opposed to it, which it was in the most strongest of terms, but because Pakistan was actively undermining it through stakeholders on the ground. This is the reason why I advocate moving towards a democratic and secular India for the benefit of all peoples, whatever their religions, cultures or languages. At least in India, there is no Military Complex intoxicated by the lies it tells its own peoples, is there? A sincere questions for the groupies of Pakistan?
Does the Indian Army control the Indian State? No, it doesnt. Ordinary Pakistanis are increasingly believing Pak-Army lies making them impervious to the suffering of lots of minorities across Pakistan, so where exactly is the fraternity between ordinary Pakistanis?
It doesn’t exist. Pakistanis are the first to turn on other Pakistanis, it’s become a national trait. The country is just too dishonest to fix its problems. Its die-hard patriots are some of the most deluded people you’ll ever have the misfortune of encountering – they still believe 9/11 was a conspiracy and Malala Yusuf is a CIA agent. Their interlocutors do not know if they should laugh or cry. They think Pakistan is a regional power, incapable of understanding that Pakistan’s importance lies as a proxy to do other more significant countries’ bidding. Pakistan’s military is for hire; it owns Pakistan and the minds of deluded patriots, who are no longer sentient beings. This is what Imran Khan used to say before he started to work for the military, now he has become unrecognisable.
A own-goal for Pakistan; consequences of being dishonest
But, what did Pakistan get from being dishonest to AJK’s population that had been reconciled with the idea of Pakistan in the first place?
Greed, and unaccountable power, wealth that was simply unattainable in Pakistan’s four provinces with enormous populations that need feeding and housing. There is only so much an elite can steal from already dispossessed populations, who rely on foreign aid that gets pillaged, siphoned and redirected to more pressing concerns. The ability to exploit Azad Kashmir’s waters, natural and human resources, and its huge remittences from the diaspora, running in the billions of pounds, was too great a temptation for Pakistan’s rulers, who’ve never understood the concept of reciprocating fraternity and fraternal relations. Because the backlash would be non-existent given how Azad Kashmiris are perceived as loyal but docile sheep, (“Pahari Bakreh”), Pakistan’s elite has always viewed Azad Kashmir as easy pickings.
Off the topic slightly, if indeed Mirpuris were Pothwaris, there would be no reason for Pothwaris and Punjabis to insult British-Mirpuri forebears as “Pahari Bakreh” (mountain sheep). Logic has its charms. Again, I speak of the misdemeanours of nativists and primordialists, and not people who happen to be Punjabis and Pothwaris, who would take offence at such abusive language. Sadly, they too remain silent in the face of huge provocations.
Azad Kashmir is a boon to Pakistan without any accountability.
AJK’s highly lucrative monetary inflows from abroad had traditionally kept Pakistan afloat especially during the 1980s. It has been widely reported in the books of scholars that without Azad Kashmir’s remittences from the diaspora, Pakistanis would lack reserves in GBP. To give perspective to this statement, the most traded currency on earth is the American Dollar, and the most traded currency for the overwhelming majority of countries is the American Dollar. Even the European Union’s most traded currency is the American Dollar, and the EU has been the most successful and largest trading block of any country in history. China’s most traded currency is the American Dollar. India’s most traded currency is also the American Dollar. The G20s most traded currency is the US Dollar. The G7s most traded currency is the US Dollar. The American Dollar has become the reserve currency of the world. Britain’s most traded currency is the Euro, to give an idea of how important European trade is to Britain and why it is so dangerous to leave the European Union courtesy of propaganda of foreign powers. But, the European Union has its own shared currency and like I said, its most traded currency is the US Dollar.
Against these global trends, Pakistan’s most traded currency is the British Pound. So, would it be wrong in thinking that trade with Britain is the reason why GBP is Pakistan’s most traded currency?
Yes, my readers would be misguided if they assumed that, Pakistan’s largest export market is America. But, there isn’t enough trade for Pakistan to accumulate US Dollars for that matter, because it is an impoverished nation (low HDI) that doesn’t produce anything that the world wants. I’m stating facts when I make this claim. Pakistanis are consumers, and not pioneers, and whatever Pakistan produces is considered sub-standard according to standards of industrial excellence. Pakistan does produce conspiracy theories for its own domestic audiences, India being the bogeyman, America, Britain and Israel are somewhere lurking behind in this imaginary group of demons. This fear is constantly drummed into Pakistanis and its reach includes the UK, where British-Pakistanis have been unable to come to terms with their better lived experiences in the UK. Integration is being hampered in the UK when British Pakistanis turn to Pakistani propaganda against the West, I repeat the Pakistanis have control over lots of social media apps, controlling the narratives on WhatsApp. The message is one of division and distrust and not humanity.
But, in the meantime, Pakistan relies on British-Pakistanis purchasing Pakistani Rupees through their British pounds, to ensure that the government has a reserve currency that it can use when honouring its balance of payments in Dollars. Pakistan’s weak currency is liable to huge fluctuations creating all manner of economic problems for the country, thus the need for British pounds. Needless to say, the world doesn’t trade in Pakistani Rupees, but US Dollars, Euros, British Pounds and even Swiss Francs, my readers should get the point. One million wrongly-classified British Pakistanis originate from Azad Kashmir, and it is they who are propping up a corrupt establishment in Pakistan through their remittences.
They overwhelmingly come from erstwhile Mirpur, and they don’t seem to understand AJK’s critical worth to Pakistan, a country that exploits Azad Kashmir, whilst disconnecting them as an ethnic group from Jammu & Kashmir. Outside Pakistan’s stifling corruption and hegemonic political order, Azad Kashmir could have a wonderful future, so long as it reconciles with India connecting its trading and infrastructure arteries to India. This is the only reason why Pakistanis want to brainwash Azad Kashmiris about “evil Hindus who hate Muslims with a passion”, which they don’t. Without the politics of hate and division, Pakistan’s Army can’t retain Azad Kashmir. It may be the case that Pakistan needs Azad Kashmir more than it wants the Valley of Kashmir, Mirpur’s Mangla Dam is a good example. The Royalties from the Dam are three to four times more than AJK’s total budget, which comes from Islamabad. AJK’s “water” and “electricity” royalties, far more substantial, go in the opposite direction to Pakistan!
Is this a fair exchange?
It is now 2020, and Pakistan’s elite still do not want to be accountable to the natives of Azad Kashmir, which are the underlying reasons behind the agitations and blowback in AJK. The anger in Azad Kashmir is palpable, it may not be obvious to Pakistanis looking for confirmation bias, but it will come to haunt Pakistan in years to come. It may even come to haunt Mirpuris in years to come claiming to be Pothwaris and Punjabis, who may be told to return to their Pothwar and Punjab by people sick and tired of self-hatred, (which might explain why some Indians are keen on reducing Mirpuris to a Pothwari identity all of a sudden). Assuming an identity at odds with the actual reality of Azad Kashmir will produce its own native cleavages, lots of identities fracture and splinter, and the naive Mirpuris going around telling everyone that they speak Pothwari but not Pahari don’t understand how lots of countries have imploded. Hatred exists in the hearts of lots of Azad Kashmiris against Pakistan, this is not a figment of this writer’s imagination. It cannot be reduced to Indian conspiracies either. It will turn increasingly violent judging by how the Pakistan Army polices dissent in the years to come; Baluchistan, FATA and Bangladesh are points in question.
Worryingly, for the Pakistan Army, which has lost every war with India, another inconvenient fact distorted by Pakistan’s official storytellers, Azad Kashmiris have a martial tradition of rebellion that is centuries old. But for the corrupt leadership of AJK and their surrogates in Britain (all claim to be Pothwari speakers with no grounding in Azad Kashmir’s Pahari speaking history), empowering Pakistanis against their own children because of inferiority complexes, Azad Kashmiris constitute a formidable fighting force. With an emerging middle class in the UK, progressive and forward-looking, they could change the direction for 4.5 million people, who are currently 2nd class citizens in Pakistan, whilst empowering 1 million British Azad Kashmiris to become fully integrated in the UK. It is at this critical juncture, British Azad Kashmiris must take their intellectual cues from the West, understanding what constitutes an identity and how people are manipulated through identity politics.
And so, when Azad Kashmiris decry the dishonest behaviour they’ve grown accustomed to at the hands of Pakistan Establishment, merely stating facts for what they are innocently, they’re accused of being Punjabis (as if there is something terrible about being Punjabi, which ironically they’re not). Gleefully, they are told, “You’re not even Kashmiris to speak about Kashmir, so shut up you dumb Punjabis!” The Punjabi slur is then clarified, “you’re not even from Punjabi cities, you’re from the villages, you dumb Punjabi Pindoos (villagers).
This is the standard line of attack.
It is a dishonest ploy that has poisoned the minds of lots of Pakistanis, who are unaware of how destructive such propagandistic claims are to Pakistan’s internal coherence, a massively impoverished society with fault lines appearing out of new cracks everyday. These false narratives will eventually be used against Pakistan with deadly precision, the triumphant Pakistanis dismissing such eventualities, are sitting on the wrong side of history, which will eventually exonerate lots of writers, who are seeing a silent march towards India.
Pakistanis don’t realise how far they are drowning in a contemptuous ocean that will eventually spit out their emaciated bodies for all to examine. History is a ferocious beast, and by no stretch of the imagination are the Muammar Gaddafis and Saddam Hussains of this world exceptions. They were preceded by the likes of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The great Roman General Marcus Antonius, commonly known as Mark Antony, also died the death of a common degenerate. Pakistan’s ruling or military class are not immune from the hatred its ISI creates to devour enemies. Pakistan’s military is not that powerful, the fact it has to manipulate people’s minds to retain its coveted role in Pakistani society, should be food for thought! It is a huge liability for Pakistan’s civilian population, it needs American tax Dollars to prosecute its war against the Taliban, which it helped establish. Pakistanis will not be able to save themselves, when Pakistan finally implodes, just like it did in 1971.
It is a ticking time-bomb.
Syria and Iraq will become footnotes in history when compared to Pakistan’s civil war. Hatred will eventually consume every province, city and district, and legends will be created about how evil the Generals were, who only yesterday were hanging and assassinating Pakistani politicians with no repercussions. The assassins of Benazir Bhutto have never been bought to justice to understand the sheer impunity with which the Pakistan Army operates. It is mired in so much deceit that no foreign company wants to trade with Pakistani companies, because of how the country is viewed – the only people to lose out are private enterprises and the people they employ. And yet ordinary Pakistanis are encouraged to sing the praises of the Army! This is the effect of having a dumbed down population ripe for brainwashing, the effects of this manipulation are being felt on the streets of the UK.
To appreciate the irony of disconnecting Mirpur from the rest of Azad Kashmir, without Mirpur’s people, memories and history, there is no Azad Kashmir, 5000 square miles of land that was originally a backwater of the Princely State. Mirpur was the 3rd largest urban area in the entire State after Srinagar and Jammu. It was important to the State because of its fertile lands, huge migrant population and soldiers. Before 1947, Mirpur’s expatriate community managed to remit huge sums of money into the District. Kashmir State Census officials noted in the 1901 Census that Mirpuris were employed in large numbers outside the State, many of whom were sepoys of the British Indian Army. Revealingly, this fact is always missing from contemporary accounts of how Mirpuris ended up in the UK, which exposes the backgrounds and intentions of the people writing Mirpur’s history.
Why do they fail to mention Mirpur’s Muslim soldiers in contemporary times? Kashmir State’s Census compilers (Munshis) would mention this fact almost with pride, and they were Hindus linked to the State? Why discount an historical fact easily accessible through primary source material? What’s the real reason?
The propagandists are not just motivated by politics, but active feelings of malice and envy. One can see this inferiority complex in the words they use when describing Mirpuris, a type of language that they would never use when describing their own parents – “peasants”, “uneducated labourers”, “illiterate economic migrants”, who also ended up in the UK from dispossessed swathes of Pakistan. Forget about migrations pre-1947 from Mirpur, one need merely glance at Lahore or Karachi today to see enormous destitution as “peasants” and “uneducated labourers” complain about stinking sewers, the lack of electricity and clean drinking water in 2020! How different communities are described on Wikipedia, (the language is exceedingly insightful), points to profound bias and prejudice, exposing post-truths for what they are. It opens a window into the souls of the haters.
Historically, migration from Mirpur was so great that of all the State’s Districts, Mirpur’s male population was noticeably reduced. These migrations predate the creation of the Mangla Dam in the 1960s. Mirpur’s soldiers saw action in both World Wars I and II, even on the western front, and every conscientious Azad Kashmiri, who is connected with the actual past of his or her forebears is aware of the old British Army connections. Professional historians could write voluminously about these lived experiences. Mirpuris managed to travel to different parts of the World, because of their army connections, that’s how the migrations began. The British had classified Mirpur’s population, where one looks to how castes and clans were being constructed, as martial races. It was through this fictitious outlet that Mirpur’s ambitious men discovered economic opportunities in various port cities and beyond. Today’s British Azad Kashmiris are a product of those earlier migrations.
Had Mirpur not been part of Azad Kashmir, the poverty in the territory would have been exponentially worse when it was first incorporated into Pakistan in 1948. I believe there would have been a violent insurgency today, if indeed West Pakistan was still intact. I think Pakistan would have fallen apart a lot earlier.
Furthermore, Mirpur’s brethren in Poonch and Muzaffarabad, (AJK is one homogeneous space I’m keen to remind the divide and conquer brigade), have never been afforded better treatment for the ISI to now pity the residents of Poonch and Muzaffarabad against Mirpuris. Unlike Mirpuris, they had traditionally been unable to escape the State, because their forebears didn’t create transnational networks which allowed thousands of Azad Kashmiris to head beyond Jammu & Kashmir’s borders. Following in the footsteps of Mirpuris, Punchees did however avail themselves of Army Jobs, but their presence beyond the State’s borders was limited. Today, Azad Kashmiris from all parts of the State can be found in North America, Europe, the Middle East, East Africa (wrongly conflated with Punjabis) and the Far East, in Hong Kong and Singapore. The historical precursors to these migrations predate Azad Kashmir’s founding in 1947.
Dividing and ruling Azad Kashmir’s population through divide and rule tactics will only backfire against Pakistan’s establishment, a rogue regime that is quite literally despised across the world. I refuse to mince my words, because what I am saying, I believe to be genuinely true. When Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks about Kashmir and the behaviour of Hindu fascists, the Civilised World retreats in contempt. Members of Pakistan’s minorities are currently claiming asylum in Britain, Canada, America, Australia, Europe because they are Christians, Ahmedis, LGBT, free-thinking liberals, etc. These countries are not blind to the fleeing Pakistanis claiming asylum, exposing how the majority population behaves towards minorities and women.
Rich women from Pakistan’s elite should not be lecturing the world about how wonderful life is for women, “just like them”; post-truths may be subjective tribally-speaking, but they can be debunked objectively. World leaders laugh at Imran Khan’s antics at the UN, where he speaks movingly about the plight of Muslim Kashmiris (a terrible situation because of an insurgency Pakistan Army sponsored), all the while he is strategically and callously silent about China’s forced sterilisation of Muslim Uighur women in their own ethnic homeland. Pakistan has never cared about the plight of ordinary people, it exploits mind boggling suffering for its own ideological gains, and eventually not only will the doors to the rest of the world close, but people’s ears and hearts. Once out of politics, Imran Khan will be reminded about his you-turn on his own Pashtun people. He promised to return Pakistan to the people, instead he has ended up empowering the Army, just like every other politician trapped by Pakistan’s neopatrimonial order. The Army safeguards this status quo, whilst encouraging people to hate the “corrupt politicians”, very cleverly.
Engineering hatred against Azad Kashmiris to demoralise them, something I have been documenting for 10 years now, will only embolden Azad Kashmiris to seek a future outside Pakistan’s corruption. Poonch and Muzaffarabad will come to the defence of Mirpur, because the natives of this occupied land know who they are; the politics of post-1947 “India”, of which Pakistan is a firmament, won’t change the past realities of today’s Azad Kashmiris – a homogenous community. They know where their interests lie – which don’t lie with Pakistan’s history of corruption and foreign occupation. Without Azad Kashmir’s valuable remittences, Pakistan would never have been able to honour its balance of payments. A lot of the money that was bought into Mirpur and surrounding areas benefitted Azad Kashmir, and not just PIA and the shops of North Punjab.
Where’s the thanks?
It is because of these unjust power dynamics that Mirpuris are being written out of Jammu & Kashmir’s history. It was not enough that the erstwhile Mirpur District was written out of Kashmir’s timeline, detached from Jammu Province, but the Pakistani Occupier wanted to also impose a false ethnic identity onto people who have always been native to their mountain ecology.
Mirpur is not situated within Punjab Province (Pothohar Plateau) or Punjab Plains
It is a running theme in this discussion, to point out that Mirpur is not Pothwar or Punjab, whether as a Province, or as a Plain. There is overwhelming consensus on this point should one consult the works of geographers, geologists, ethnographers, cultural anthropologists, linguists, historians and political scientists. One can purchase any number of books on Punjab, or read academic papers on the Pothohar Plateau – the few that exist, to realise instantly how online discussions about Mirpur and Azad Kashmir diverge starkly from what is written in accredited books or journals. This literature is of an academic bent, and the writers have expertise borne of decades of scholarship. They are not paid by rogue governments to spread mischief. There is no mention of Azad Kashmir within any of those discussions, because the lands of Azad Kashmir have never been part of the Punjab.
Furthermore, to state the obvious, Azad Kashmir is a separate territory to Pakistan according to the constitution of Pakistan and the imposed constitution of Azad Kashmir, two documents that can be downloaded online to understand the level of Pakistani deceit on Kashmir internationally. Azad Kashmir has its own anthem, flag and legislative assembly, the hallmarks of a sovereign nation state. The sham nature of these accoutrements have been exposed by numerous people of conscience, not least those working for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Every Pakistani journalist of conscience has exposed the sham nature of the Azad Kashmir polity, and presumably these writers are not enemies of Pakistan. So, how does one explain this disquiet in Pakistani journalistic circles? It is simply the cases that Pakistani journalists are being true to their vocational calling and conscience.
Some western writers have made the illusory connection between Azad Kashmir’s “Pothwari” speaking population, by which they mean Pahari speakers, and a primordial Punjabi identity, but they are not experts in the field of ethnicity, cultural anthropology, or identity politics! They tend to be journalists, or retirees of political office, interloping into the affairs of native peoples being forced onto the margins of their own societies. Inadvertently, these writers become complicit in Pakistan’s attempts to write Azad Kashmiris out of their ancestral lands. They repeat verbatim Pakistani state-enforced claims having adopted such views in Pakistan, having been chaperoned and introduced to local agents loyal to Pakistan’s vision for Azad Kashmir. They get to sell books, attend events, travel first class, stay in five star hotels and receive accolades, whilst the occupied natives continue to suffer unnoticed in their ancestral lands. This is unacceptable.
I cannot over-emphasise how political agendas are thwarting historical facts and brutalising truths, which otherwise would not have been uncontroversial. The more salient question to ask is “why is there so much clamour to make MIrpuris Pothwaris and Punjabis, what’s exactly to gain?” Revealingly, what is the identity of the people spreading this idea? There are non-natives of Azad Kashmir and Jammu & Kashmir.
What does it mean to be a ‘native’?
Mirpuris are native to Azad Kashmir. To appreciate the definition of the word, “native”; native simply means “a person born in a specified place, or associated with a place of birth, whether subsequently resident there or not.” Mirpur is a sub-unit of territory and not the locus of 1), a territorial (nationalistic) identity, or 2) an ethnolinguistic group identity.
In other words, Mirpuris are native to 1) Jammu & Kashmir, and 2) are Pahari speaking Azad Kashmiris (ethnically speaking) in accordance with a long standing tradition that separates the Pahari-Pothwari Ilaaqah through the River Jhelum. As I explained in the opening paragraphs, lands westwards of the River Jhelum constitute Pothwar, lands eastwards constitute Pahar. The only exception in the Pothwar are lands that are not flat but comprise hills and mountains usually at high elevations, which is the reason why the mountain resort of Murree, Punjab Province, is colloquially referred to as Pahar. The people are referred to as Pahari speaking Punjabis and not Pothwari speaking Punjabis, but only colloquially and interchangeably. The town of Murree is some 7000 ft above sea level and it is for this reason, it is described with the lexicon of a neighbouring region – Kashmir.
To say Mirpuris are native to Mirpur, without mentioning their overarching identities to the Pahari Ilaaqah of Jammu & Kashmir is a very curious statement to make given how peoples across the world are categorised by officiating structures. In our case, the impulse is entirely political. It is a sinister attempt on the part of Pakistan to disconnect Mirpuris from the Kashmir Conflict. The logic is so absurd that it would be akin to saying, the British are native to Birmingham, or the French are native to Marseille, whilst creating inconsistent categories on forms – “Tick your ethnic or national identity; are you English or Brummie (Birmingham)?; are you French or Parisian (Paris)?”
The ascriptive identity of groups always prioritise the overarching identity, and not the identity of its sum-parts. That’s the universal norm. Mirpuris are thus indigenous to Jammu & Kashmir. Azad Kashmir’s future is thus connected with 17 million Muslims, who happen to be Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs of a divided “State”. I challenge any scholarly authority to prove me wrong when I say Mirpur is Jammu & Kashmir, and not 1) Pakistan, 2) Punjab, or 3) Pothwar?
So, what do Pakistanis get from lying about Mirpur’s Jammu & Kashmir identity except to distract people from their actual ancestral memories and corresponding priorities? There are no signs in Mirpur, or any part of Azad Kashmir that say, “welcome to Punjab, welcome to Pothwar”, or even “welcome to Pakistan!” The actual signs read, “welcome to Azad Kashmir!” The absence of these signs prove Mirpur has never been part of the Punjab Province, the Pothohar Plateau, or even Pakistan, where facts matter and propaganda is seen for what it is, the dishonesty of sinister minds.
Pakistan’s intelligence services are very reactive and ingenious in their cover-ups though. It’s only a matter of time that new signs will start popping up.
So, how did Mirpur’s forebears identify in the past?
Azad Kashmiris like Pakistanis and Indians used to self-affirm through their occupational caste or tribal-clan backgrounds. This was how people were traditionally identified, or socially stratified, to use the correct terms, before the emergence of the Pakistani and Indian identities courtesy of British colonialism. Even then, by saying a particular group belonged to a certain identity, doesn’t equate to them all joining a wider group fraternity in India, or Pakistan, at the expense of smaller kinship networks.
Like ethnicity, nationality or race, caste and clan identities are also modern-day group fictions. These imagined nations do not give way to loyalties and fraternities. The British did not create the caste system, if one reduces western conceptualisations of Brahmanical norms around a four-tiered society to caste dynamics. The term caste is a Portuguese word, to understand how conceptual ideas emerge in the first place. The Indian words for caste were Varna and Jatti. The actual priorities of the Indian caste system, thousands of years old, were radically different to the conceptualisations of colonial writers, post 1800s.
Moreover, the British did not create the clan network either, what native Rulers would call the Jagirdari system of landed estates, in effect fiefs awarded to subaltern tribal rulers from which accrued later clan identities with fictive lineages. Colonial administrators manipulated these older non-political instincts in their pursuit of dividing and ruling their subjects by creating new group identities. Colonial ethnologists pursued this priority with vigour, and they were successful in creating competing ‘interest groups’ with mutually-exclusive myths of origin.
Pakistanis and Indians today, with very limited insights of the analytical terms they deploy as bombs of war, conflate identities of occupational castes, clans (with fictive lineages) with ethnic groups and regional identities. To illustrate this problem according to standard classificatory systems of identification otherwise taken for granted, I give examples of caste (a social unit of identification in India and Pakistan) and ethnicity.
The Jat (farmers) of Punjab and the Brahmans (priests) of Punjab are ethnically speaking Punjabis where analytical definitions of ethnicity matter. The idea of being a Jat is a caste identity, it only becomes a clan identity, depending on the fictive lineages involved (Bhatti, Chauhan etc), this would hold true for Brahmans, who claim descent from an illustrious line of priestly families. The term Jat can be used analytically in different ways, but no one would dare attempt to connect loyalties between the Jat of Afghanistan, where they used to live in large numbers not so long ago, with the Jat of Rajasthan, or Delhi. In the case of these three “Jat” identities, they are actually separate communities, because of other overarching identities. The Jat of Sindh and the Brahmans of Sindh are ethnically speaking Sindhis. The Jat of Gujarat and the Brahmans of Gujarat are ethnically-speaking Gujarati.
The Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus of Kashmir are Kashmiris ethnically-speaking, and the actual word for this ethnic sphere is Kashur, but not Kashmir (territory/landmass), which can be used in a complimentary way, as it often is. But, the term Kashmir is much more nuanced than the terms Gujarat, Sindh, or Punjab. The idea of Kashmir is more akin to the idea of Afghanistan, which gets conflated with Pashtun, an ethnic Pashto speaking group, despite Afghanistan being home to 50 or so ethnic groups – all natives. Although Kashmir in its ancient and modern manifestations, comprises different religions, castes, clans and regions, it doesn’t stop any one group from being Kashmiri, anymore than one ethnicity, caste or clan group can own exclusively an identity, borne of historical powers, beyond the agency of their forebears.
In terms of Kashmir, unlike the Provinces of Pakistan, or the States of India, territoriality intersects with ethnicity and regions, but the ascription of a shared Kashmiri identity remains because of the older legacy. This reality is a problem for India and Pakistan, two countries that came into existence in 1947 through an Act of the British Parliament, both claiming Kashmir. Kashmir has a much older history than ideas of language, culture or identity, and it is this history that is being problematised by Indians and Pakistanis, who have learnt a lot from the out-going colonial power, hypocritically lecturing Britain about its past antics.
Today’s Britain is a redemptive country, at the forefront of democratic norms. It is a virtuous country that seeks to heal the cuts and fissures within its body politic. This claim is not a post-truth, it is a fact that can be objectively tested. India and Pakistan are many grades below Britain when they lecture this colonial power about its past, something English and British historians have been exploring honestly with no care for how they are perceived by British or English nationalists – nativists worshipping a history that probably brutalised their own ancestors!
Deluded nativists exist in all societies. It is the works of British scholarship that Indian and Pakistani nationalists deploy when whipping Britain about its past misdeeds, unaware of how their own hypocritical tendencies appear to outsiders when they brutalise their own populations. Britons should be proud of this history, not because of the many inhumanities that robbed enormous populations of their own lives, but the profound desire of ordinary Britons, including aristocrats and formidable intellectuals, to right the wrongs of that history and past. Lots of these Britons were shunned during their own lifetimes, demonised by the press of their own times, because what they said directly challenged the power structure. The upwardly mobile in these societies, people of humbler backgrounds, usually supported the status quo, it was their way of getting ahead in life; thus the tussle between the social classes, without essentialising these imaginary group identities.
It is from the works of British and European historians we learn that colonial administrators, began the practise of separating Rajputs, Brahmans, Jats, Hindus, Muslims, Chamar, Mochis, Kashmiris, Punjabis; “cunning Brahmans”, “child-like Farmers”, “courageous but stupid Warriors”, “aboriginal low castes”, “criminal tribes (Gujjar)”, “dirty refugees in Punjab (Kashmiris)” etc, etc, into illusory groups, to pity enormous populations against one another. I do not deploy these terms in any hierarchical sense, and I get no pleasure repeating horrid colonial descriptions; I have to point this out, because we have people trying to pick our words apart to sow discord.
Without concerted and cleverly thought out policies of divide and rule, colonial British administrators, (the elite in India, and not ordinary Britons, the masses), would have been unable to control an enormous population. To give some context, of the 250 thousand soldiers in the British Indian Army, a professionally trained army that actually won wars for Britain, only about 30 to 40 thousands soldiers, mostly of the officer corps, were native Europeans. The rest were native Indians, drawn almost entirely from the “martial races”, a construct the British created.
Colonial administrators needed native clients and a system of stratifying people according to their own identity paradigms, conferring nobility on whoever they wanted to empower. Colonial administrators were very open about the sinister priorities they were pursuing though, and they were also influenced by prejudices borne of their own lived experiences.
It wasn’t a major leap for someone growing up in Britain in the 18th century, to look down at occupational castes in India, because the lower social classes (serfs) in England, what later became the working classes, were intensely detested and stigmatised by the landed elites. Prior to industrialisation, and the emergence of Britain’s modern cities – factories were located in urban areas with good transport links, resulting in enormous social upheavals, the English ethnic people were stratified into social units of aristocrats, priests and serfs. The King sat at the top of this unjust social, economic and political hierarchy and power cascaded downwards through a feudal system. There was no middle class, which evolved out of later social developments borne of industrialisation, norms that revolutionised the emergence of new social and intellectual ideas. These historical realities are sadly lost on our upwardly-mobile Pakistani contemporaries in the UK and North America, the “urbanites”, who seem to obsess about proving illusory city roots to Pakistan of all places, to mask a less prestigious past in some rural backwater.
Just to give my readers an idea of what Pakistan was on the eve of its creation, 93 percent of Pakistan was rural countryside. The remaining 7 percent comprised of tiny urban areas connected to sprawling shantytowns, Pakistan was underdeveloped in 1947. Not much has changed today. Pakistan has the illusion of cities, but when one investigates further Pakistan’s economic performance, one is discombobulated. The settlement of British India’s assets between its successor States, India and Pakistan was not fair at all. Pakistan received a bad deal, but again, these realities are beyond the imagination of people romanticising Pakistan’s pre-1947 Muslim history.
If you listen to Pakistani Urbanites from Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, they all originate from the primordial city, they descend from Babur’s children, a scion of a Turkic-Mongol people, who spoke disparagingly of the poor Indians he encountered. Babur and his Mughal sons didn’t speak bad of India’s ruling Hindu elite though (Rajput feudatories, whose dress and paintings Mughals emulated), many of whom were encouraged to become family through marriages. This elite, Muslims and Hindus, spoke Persian in their royal courts, and not Hindustani; they would frequently fight with each other, and then make up. Some Rajputs remained staunch enemies of the Mughals, refusing to enter into alliances with them, the Mughals made overtures to this group trying to incorporate them within their structure. Some Rajputs relented. Others didn’t.
Speaking Urdu or Hindi, for our previously “low-caste” Urbanites, proves in their minds the old regal connections with the Mughals of all people, without realising that there was no language called Urdu, until the British arrived. This new “Urdu” language used to be called Hindustani (because it was spoken in Hindustan), Hindvi, Khari Boli, Dehlvi (because it was spoken in Delhi), Gojri (because it was spoken by the Gujjar); note, how ascriptive identities actually work? Some Urbanites like to make jokes at the expenses of Pakistan’s Gujjar community, sedentary Gujjar who share an identity caste label with the nomadic Gujjar of the Western Himalaya, a separate group for social identification purposes), despite the fact that the Urdu they have adopted used to be called Gojri! These disjointed narratives are priceless ironies against a people not grounded in historical facts but popular anecdotes.
How colonial ethnologists described landless “refugees” from Kashmir in Punjab, and by this term I imply Jammu & Kashmir Princely State, is very revealing of another disjointed narrative in Pakistan today. British India’s rulers had a lot more respect for clans with fictive lineages, and this can be seen in how they described Jat, Rajput, even Punjab’s Sikh and Hindu Gujjar rulers positively. They had more respect for the Brahman (priest) of Jammu than the Chamar (sweeper) of Jammu. No one is projecting these priorities into their published policies to be unfair to them either. Divide and rule was a well known colonial policy, and a very effective one. Native Britons opposed to Colonialism living and working in the UK abjured its use against unsuspecting Indians, a lot of the equality legislation we have in the UK today is borne of those much older struggles. It was because of the sacrifices of ordinary Britons that ethnic minorities enjoy the rights we do today, as some of us from BAME think it’s fashionable to constantly thrash “the white English male bigot”! To appreciate these sentiments, I will direct my readers to read the works of George Orwell, who wrote very movingly about the plight of ordinary people. He did much more to change people’s minds than some BAME activists (not all) constantly spewing hatred against Britain’s colonial past and white people!
Which brings me back to the ideas around ethnic discourse, caste or clan groups are not substitutes for ethnic identities, neither does religion play any significant role in understanding India and Pakistan’s ethnic groups, the Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris, Baluch etc. Religious or ethnic divisions benefit the Occupier, not the peoples under the yoke of occupation. Pakistan’s intelligence services have swallowed the colonial rule book on divide and rule, and they operate like mediocre versions of the old colonial guard.
Understanding the nuances in group labels
The Pashtun are Pashto speakers, who occupy a shared ethnic space; the Pathan, who do not speak Pashto living amongst Punjabis, or Biharis, are thus a caste-group for social stratification purposes. The surname Khan does not prove someone is, or isn’t of Pashtun heritage, and in a lot of cases, surnames are conflated with origin myths. Ethnic identification operates on the basis of certain observable realities, like language, culture, food, dress – things that are observable, it is never connected with ideas of ancestry, fictitiously linked to non-existent groups passing on their heritage, as if identities are heirlooms.
When some of these fictive lineages become highly pronounced, it is because of the social appeal of claiming such identities, and not because people are connected with a particular ethnic past. How we identify collectively could also be subject to contestation, not because we’re being dishonest to our own sense of group belonging individually, but because political projects – usually authoritarian in nature, want to police those identities to their advantage. The inference is very clear though, and I can cite a very native example to debunk illusory identity questions.
By saying, “I speak English natively”, it doesn’t mean that I am seeking to make fraternal connections with some eternal English-speaking nation. The Canadians, Australians, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans, Jamaicans, all speak varieties of the English language, natively, but they belong to separate nations, or territorial fraternities. The progenitors of the word “England”, the Angles came from the direction of modern-day Germany, which doesn’t make them Germans ethnically speaking. The overwhelming majority of today’s English people, ethnically-speaking, do not descend from the forerunners of the Anglo-Saxons, which adventitiously conferred its name to a large chunk of the British Isles at a certain point in history. How the ascriptive word “Britain” emerged historically was beyond the agency of native Britons, in much the same way, a Kashmiri or Punjabi identity emerged in India.
Problematising “Mirpuris”; “expatriates of Mirpur”, but never “expatriates of Jammu & Kashmir“
In British literature, whenever Mirpuris are described by both western and Pakistani writers, and by this term they mean Azad Kashmiris, they are differentiated from Pakistanis and Indians for sociological reasons. The latter groups are celebrated by the very pens seeking social and moral redemption, this is a type of unconscious bias that leads to denigration and not enlightened insights. Only a few decades ago, Indians and Pakistanis were being described as unworthy immigrants to the UK. If one looks at media representations of Indians and Pakistanis, it becomes very clear that they were being problematised. They were presented as “poor”, “uneducated”, “from peasant backgrounds”, with no sense of individuality or civic engagement, but a profound “communal instinct”. I can only describe these words as demeaning imagery of the media; one can recollect images of nodding Indians and Pakistanis, with accented English accents, saying in chorus – “yes sir, no sir, how high I jump sir?” These images continue to carry proverbial meaning for lots of us unconsciously hating everything about our reconstructed past.
British Media, notably the BBC, can expunge the images, but the unconscious bias that lingers in the minds of editors and contributors continue to shape how Pakistanis and Indians are represented to the general public. “Blacks”, or “African Caribbean” populations are now acceptable, as can be demonstrated in the visual narratives of popular culture unfolding on our television sets, but Asians have yet to enter the mainstream as genuine equals.
The advertisement budgets of stores across Britain employ “white” and “black” models to market their services and products; those budgets accrue from sales, of which South Asian consumers contribute a massive chunk. British South Asians have no representation in fashion, entertainment, or popular culture, except in the traditional stereotypical way of the nodding Indian-Pakistani, with his tilting head. Whenever Asians do appear in the usual peripheral roles – the token South Asians, they are cliched negatively, and this has always been done stereotypically. But this doesn’t stop individual Indians and Pakistanis queuing up to audition for such “opportunities”, after all, they are getting ahead in life. They can go from Citizen Khan, an utterly offensive portrayal of Pakistanis (note, the reconstructed accents of British-born Asians), into the respectable newsrooms of TV stations.
How Indians and Pakistanis describe Mirpuris is a thus a window into their souls. It proves subtle racism is not the purview of the white English bigot – a much maligned person, unjustly, if you ask me. It is an instinct that exists in lots of victim complexes. Cognitive dissonance is the norm for lots of people, who think they are the embodiment of enlightened values, when in fact they are little more than bandwagons of fashionable ideas and causes. And so, we have the irony of upwardly-mobile Indians and Pakistanis, dreaming of a middle-class utopia, writing about Mirpuris through the same bias that degraded them and their forebears a few decades ago. If ever we needed an indictment on these duplicitous individuals, this is it. Look no further than their antics of demeaning other Asians – always from working class backgrounds, or newcomers, “fresh off the boat”!
To appreciate the actual trajectory of the word Mirpuri and the profound prejudice behind it, it is a false analytical group label created by outsiders. Our imagined group, to borrow a term from Benedict Anderson, first germinated in British print media through the interventions of Pakistanis. Our group identity slowly came to the attention of western writers through the efforts of native informants offering nuances on South Asian identities. The vast majority of ordinary Britons still don’t know who Mirpuris are, a blessing of sorts I guess given how Pakistanis have been problematising ordinary people. Pick up any book on Britain’s South Asians, and read what has been written about Mirpuris, one third, or fourth of all South Asians in the UK, to understand the unconscious bias in such descriptions. The observations carried forward in such writings are cliched, caricatured and offensive, but no one thinks to challenge such clearly racist portrayals.
It is for this reason that I say openly with no care for vindictive retributions that Mirpuris are being problematised by Pakistanis, socially, economically, religiously and even racially, to appreciate the inconsistencies behind the descriptions. My readers will come across terms like “an inbred race” of “cousin shagging neanderthals” with all manner of “congenital diseases”. These are deeply racist terms for obvious reasons. If they had been applied to the Jewish or Jamaican diaspora, it would have been the end of a person’s career. No one wants to associate with closet racists, and yet racism for dispossessed communities goes unaddressed. The people who have made these remarks, attributing them to other Pakistanis, something Shazia Manzoor did when quoted by Fergusson in his terribly stereotypical book on British Muslims have become much-loved “BAME” celebrities; a British ritual of sorts, that congratulates its multicultural virtues with no regard for how ordinary people are just written out of their lived experiences in the UK. Fergusson’s book won praise from redeemed Pakistanis and British Muslims. They were queuing up to applaud the nuances in his work, begging the question, what exactly were they reading not to detect the profound middle class bigotry in the book? How he objectified the physical appearance of Shazia Manzoor, contrasting her with the Mirpuri women of northern towns – cringeworthy remarks, would have sent genuine feminists into a tailspin, but not so much the upwardly mobile Pakistanis problematising “the lessor Pakistanis”.
The Cowardice of the Bandwagons
The degrading use of language for Mirpuris is a Pakistani vice. But, which sorts of Pakistanis are behind the negative representation, so we can pinpoint where the hate is coming from? They are self-affirming “culturally sophisticated” Urdu-speaking Pakistanis, those whose parents adopted Urdu from low-caste backgrounds (I use the term low caste analytically and not pejoratively to explain the background behind the persona), frequently deploying connections to cities in Pakistan (the Urbanites). They are unaware of how an illusory urban identity emerged in Pakistan in the first place. They deploy the city connection to prove origin myths around flawed ideas of nobility and social status. According to their group narratives in the UK, urban Pakistanis are high achievers with great jobs and fabulous lives, unlike the Pakistanis from the villages. They don’t live amongst Britain’s white “chavs”, or “northern monkeys”, if I recall one horrible discussion on twitter, and they don’t marry their cousins either, only Pakistani villagers are this “incestuous”, which is patently false if one turns to the writings of researchers. More than a billion people on earth are presently married to their cousins, including Hindu communities in India. Of the 210 million Pakistanis alive today, more than 80 percent are the product of cousin marriages.
The people, who typically offer insights about inbred Pakistanis, think they are redeeming themselves, by throwing lessor-worthy members of their community under the bus. So, they’ll happily use the term “cousin-shagging neanderthals” for Mirpuris, but would they use this description to describe their linear elders, generations removed from them today?
If I may be bold, would they use this language to describe members of the Prophet’s family (Allah bless him and give hime peace) – lots of them are atheists, when it suits them to claim this identity opportunely, but why should they fear a backlash from other Muslims, if indeed they are so sincere about their observations? Would these same Pakistanis have the intellectual integrity, grit and honour to decry Europe’s traditional ruling and aristocratic households as “cousin shagging neanderthals?”
Of course, they wouldn’t. This is what I mean by the cowardice of the bandwagons. It’s easy picking on dispossessed communities, like the Roma, or Irish Gypsies, especially Muslim Refugees, but how will such people fare with the people they admire? How will they ingratiate themselves at the expense of being native informants, getting jobs at the BBC and writing articles for the Guardian, whilst using deeply offensive caricatures for millions of ordinary people?
But, they are social commentators apparently, with important insights to share. When these insights are picked apart and debunked, they’ve already moved on to new careers, courtesy of the BBC. From time to time, they moralise about colonial Britain’s evil divide and rule policies, the lack of opportunities for ethnic minorities just like themselves, and that most fashionable of sighs, gender inequality! They display hashtags from the #BLM movement and #Palestine, unfazed by colourist prejudices against dark-skinned people. For the Pakistanis amongst this group of equality and human rights campaigners, I never see them speaking out against the Pakistan military’s complete control of Pakistani society. But, they want to tag onto the suffering of “Muslims” or “Blacks” in other parts of the world. They are completely silent about child abuse cases being perpetuated in Mosques and community centres, but they speak so bravely about Israeli crimes being perpetrated against Palestinian children in a conflict zone. There will be no hashtags for little Zainab or Zaid, if he or she was sexually and physically abused by a Mosque elder in the UK – crimes that have always been brushed under the carpet, but there will be an avalanche of social media outpouring for Muslim children brutalised by Zionist guns.
It is these sorts of people problematising Mirpuris, and they are hypocrites as far as I am concerned. They are not members of my community, and I reject their fraternity for my people’s self-preservation. Whenever these thought-police use terms like Mirpuri or Azad Kashmiri, they end up problematising 1 million Britons of Pahari ethnic heritage (Jammu Kashmir), just to show the level of unconscious bias associated with the label. This outcome is a sad and dehumanising reality that produces clear dividends for Pakistanis to deny us any connections with our actual Jammu & Kashmir past, which to me is an attack on our very persons, history and culture, and no doubt origin myths.
“Mirpuri Pakistani” label; disconnecting Mirpuris from Azad Kashmir
Today, in English schools, the classificatory system of a mostly benign political order; (British officials want to evaluate the failures and successes of marginalised ‘ethnic’ groups), is being used to remove Mirpuris from a Kashmir universe of meaning politically, because of the Kashmir Conflict. I have every reason to believe that the Pakistanis are behind the choice of labels given to our young respondents. These are the same Pakistanis whose souls are crushed when they are told “Pakis can’t be British”! They have no experience of self-introspection. Their anxieties have left us with bewildering ethnic labels such as “Mirpuri-Pakistani” and “Kashmiri-Pakistani”; two separate group labels to somehow give the impression that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris, i.e., have no right to even deploy the word Kashmir given their forebears actual lived experiences in a place called Kashmir.
Who exactly are these Kashmiri-Pakistanis in the UK, if indeed they are not Azad Kashmiris? And why would any British Pakistani claim to be a Kashmiri-Pakistani if they weren’t from Azad Kashmir? The level of deceit being deployed against Azad Kashmiris is so self-evident that it beggars belief that no one to date from the pro-independence Kashmiris, has exposed the sinister use of identity labels to disconnect 1 million Mirpuris from their ancestral lands.
Mirpuris are “Azad Kashmiris” in the strict sense of an ascriptive territorial identity; this is how lots of territorial identities emerged across the world; flawed notions of ethnicity do not cancel out these identities.
Worse for the Occupier, Azad Kashmiris are not bonafide Pakistanis, according to Pakistan’s official narrative on Kashmir and India’s position on Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, so how did 1 million British-nationals of Pakistani “ethnic descent” – according to official classifications – become “Mirpuri Pakistani” in the UK, when they’re not Pakistanis in Pakistan? What is the background of the people behind this choice of label?
Do foreign agents have the right to impose an identity label for a UK-based minority within a democratic State?
Crucially, the question I ask of all fair-minded Britons not connected with India and Pakistan’s incessant demands to own Jammu & Kashmir – the land of my forebears, “what is the actual identity of the people telling you that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris?”
Are they Mirpuris themselves, or Pakistanis and Indians?
Crucially, why doesn’t this labelling convention not extend to actual scholarly publications where Mirpuris are identified as Kashmiris in accordance with conventional norms around geographical or territorial identities? This convention is hundreds of years old; it was the British who gave the world this ‘rules based system’. Are British officials ready to renege on uncomfortable consistencies in their own democratic system, whilst moralising about a fair and transparent rules based system?
The trope that Mirpuris are not Kashmiris, precisely for the reasons of Occupier Politics, could be debunked within seconds, but you have versions of this political disinformation doing its rounds on Wikipedia and other interactive posts. Foreign agents of occupation have turned Jimmy Wales’ online encyclopaedia into an arena of political propaganda for their own national interests. Not even the virtues of philanthropists are spared the clutches of authoritarianism today.
I will show in this discussion that the idea Mirpuris are Pakistani Punjabis is not a just Pakistani slur to degrade and demean people from Azad Kashmir, and to a lessor extent, an Indian imposition, borne of a colonial mindset to disconnect one group of “separatist” actors from another group of “separatist” actors. It is also a political stratagem with far reaching implications. I am deliberately using colonially inspired lexicon to show the inconsistencies of those who decry the colonial practices of the British Empire in moral terms hypocritically. In truth, I should be calling these actors “the pro-independence Kashmiris” to be fair to their struggle for self-determination. The label Kashmiri is borne of their agency and free volition. To be truly democratic, I must accept their choice of words when describing themselves, even if I disagree with their positions, which I do because independence is undeliverable. It is therefore a disingenuous political ploy of the politico to deny Azad Kashmiris agency in their affairs, and of all places, here in the UK! It is also rooted in unconscious bias to demean and degrade Mirpuris in other areas of their lives. The actual priority has nothing to do with the mechanics of language, culture or group identity, but, amounts to saying, “Mirpuris cant speak for Kashmir, or Azad Kashmir, or any part of it, because they’re not Kashmiris, they’re from Pakistan Punjab, and in the meantime, we’re going to “other” them in the UK from “Pakistani Punjabis” and “Indian Hindustanis”.
2. Mirpur and Kashmir’s patronage system; who should speak for this historical space?
Long before Punjab and Hindustan became terms of political reference, even when we look to their separate cultural ecologies, the term Kashmir had a self-sustaining political heritage and legacy. When the words “Punjab” and “Hindustan” didn’t exist, the word “Kashmir” existed. The word “Pakistan” is less than a 100 years old; the word Punjab is less than 400 years old, and the word Hindustan is about a 1000 years old – again used in a very ambiguous way for lands that traditionally had their own separate histories.
The word “Kashmir” is much older than a millennia. There is no ethnic equivalent term (Kashur – being the ethnic term for Kashmir) in any documented work of history, to understand what is really happening, when Kashmir is reduced to ethnicity, but not landmass. Ancient writers praising the “Kings of Kashmir” spoke of Kashmir, but they never spoke of Kashur.
To put some meat on the bones, India’s earliest history of Kashmir dates back to the 1100s. It was penned by a Kashmiri Hindu Brahman named Kalhana; even the title of the book, the Rajatarangini – the “River of Kings“, written in Sanskrit, a “high-variety” language connected with Indian Civilisation like Persian, or Latin, shows Kashmir’s connection to Rajeh (Kings), alluding to the patronage system I’ve been speaking of. If, however, my readers become predisposed to Pakistani mistruths, they would come away with the false notion that Rajputs, Jats and others, had no indigenous constituency in Kashmir, thenceforth the exclusive homeland of ethnic Kashmiris, and for the purposes of ISI propaganda, the birthplace of Punjabi Caste-Kashmiris. Caste and clan labels may change, new identities may emerge, but recorded history is a powerful indictment on people trying to rewrite that history.
The Kashmir of history applied to an expansive region, of which Mirpur was a part. Like every other comparable region, it expanded and contracted, and at its core lay certain lands. The word Mirpur may not have existed, say, 1500 years ago, but the landmass of Mirpur was very much part of Kashmir. Although this entire area was not significant to foreign powers in the way an ancient Indian space was; vast lands, peoples and fortunes, it predated the emergence of the Mughal Empire and the British Indian Colony by millennia.
So, my readers are not waylaid by the pseudo historians of nationalistic projects, constantly berating Mirpuris as imposters to the identities they claim, Britain created the modern Republics of India and Pakistan in 1947. How can any people, whose nationalistic identity is younger than some of our grandfathers and grandmothers, lecture others about their historical group or territorial identities? There is something very rotten about that instinct. Not only was Pakistan created by foreigners – no one fought or died for Pakistan, Indian landmass was gifted to the architects of the Pakistan Project in 1947, but so was the Punjab Province. It was British colonial officers, who created the much enlarged Province of Punjab, which at one point extended to Delhi. The Mughals didn’t create a Province called the Punjab and neither did the Sikhs of the Lahore State, whose religious universe of meaning is rooted in the Punjabi language.
Under the Mughals, there was a Lahore Subah or Province, of which, the term “Punjab” would be used interchangeably, always metaphorically, but never literally. This Province didn’t include Multan, and many areas seen to be integral to a Punjabi identity today. It similarly expanded and contracted, but crucially for the purposes of my own analysis, Mirpur was never part of Lahore Province’s core-lands, which were located on the Indus Plains of North India, around Eastern Punjab. Mirpur was part of Chibhal, a mountainous region that used to form part of the Mughal Province of Kabul, of which Kashmir formed part, before it was reconfigured. This is the actual territorial history of Kashmir within the context of its own cultural ecologies, outside ahistorical attempts of re-writing that history to fit new political paradigms.
The word Panj-ab means five rivers in Persian, but the actual landmass was comprised of six rivers. The Persian word we use was incorrect in its application.
So, what exactly was this Punjab?
It was a highly fertile Plain celebrated on account of its delightful landscape. Punjab didn’t constitute mountains, or what otherwise could be described as undulating countryside. No one thinks of Punjabis as mountain people (Pahari speaking Kashmiris). Punjabis are a Plains’ people, the historical Punjab region of the Mughal imagination was conterminous with East Punjab, and not Pakistan’s West Punjab regions minus areas around Lahore. The core of the Mughal’s Punjab region, geographically speaking, was situated around the Lahore-Amritsar belt (Majha) from which it expanded outwards. In fact, without going into detail, towns like Sialkot, which we take for granted as Punjabi cities today, have had a much closer relationship with Jammu in the past than Lahore, but again these facts become inconvenient and dangerous for political ideologues manufacturing history.
Crucially, where origin myths are deployed to historically attested ascriptive identities, Pakistanis are not going around calling ‘Punjabis’ “Lahoris”, on the basis of an historical provincial (Subah-e-Lahore) label, if indeed they want to be true to the logic behind their reasoning on Mirpur’s pan-Punjabi connections, a premise that’s actually false.
That said, not even the Mughals, who created the Province of Lahore, spoke of Punjabis as an ethnic people. It was the colonial British, who began to use the identity of Provinces in ethnic terms officially. It was the British who began the practise of extending ethnic labels they created onto people not necessarily connected with a particular ethnic sphere, or designated Province. In fact, lots of provincial Indian identities emerged through the linguistic researches of colonial officers, who projected the idea of imaginary linguistic identities onto geo-administrative spaces, the largest unit being that of Presidencies or Provinces.
When we rewind back to this history in the making, there was no official Punjabi language policy under the British Raj, whose architects would go on to argue that “Punjabi”, a kind of creolised language in their minds, was not fit for sophisticated thought, or statecraft. These prejudices continue to contaminate the minds of lots of Urdu-speaking Pakistani Punjabis, who within a generation or two, adopted the language natively because of their own inferiority complexes around a Punjabi rural past. This is a kind of hatred of one’s ancestors and forebears, hating everything about them to the point of re-inventing “their” past according to a very starved and uncreative imagination. Muslim Urdu speakers were formally identified as Hindustanis, because they spoke Hindustani. There is no historically-attested ascription called “Urdudan” (Urdu speakers). This is how ascriptive identities work, lest we forget this point. In India, Muslim Hindustanis do not claim any linkages with the old Mughal Rulers, despite inhabiting the same spaces once inhabited by the Mughals.
The Punjab of history, on the other hand, is located in a rich rural sphere, to understand anxieties around an Urban Punjabi identity (Urdu speaking). When Pakistani Punjabis start policing linguistic identities of people with much older histories, they don’t seem to understand the pickle they’re in. These ironies are not lost on their detractors either.
Before 1947, there were no native Urdu-speaking constituencies in lands conterminous with East or West Pakistan. On the other hand, the India of history, was one of Civilisation, of a shared literary language and canon. High-caste Hindu converts to Islam adopted Persian, the language of their Muslim Turkic rulers. Lots of Rajput rulers gave their daughters in marriage to Mughal Princes and Feudatories; the Mughals merged into this native Indian population. Native Urdu speakers were never part of this historically attested lived-experience, to now claim to be the successors of the old Mughals – they rely on debunked origin myths when they claim this past, especially when they want to stigmatise the old Zamindar (landed) communities in Pakistan.
Which brings me to Indian nationalists and their origin myths. There was no unified Hindu nation in the past dreaming of a united country called “Bharat”. I can say conclusively that there have been no nationalistic attempts by ancient peoples – a contradiction in terms, to bring the diverse peoples of Civilisational India together, outside the clutches of British or Mughal colonialism, which debunks ideas that India cohered as a national space of united peoples. It simply didn’t. This historical reality doesn’t however debunk the idea of a Greater India, if this version of India is linked with a history shaped by various peoples living in today’s South Asia.
What’s really going on?
The Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir State has thus converged with Kashmir’s much older history violently, leading to all manner of disinformation and pseudo-history on what constitutes Kashmir, past, present and future. It begs the question, who ultimately has the right to speak for Kashmir?
Will it be the native peoples of the region, some 17 million people, or outsiders, some 1.5 billion people?
Even this priority can be rephrased into the following question; which political actors should shape Kashmir’s eventual outcome for the 21st century; representatives of 1.3 billion Indians (non-natives)? Representatives of 210 million Pakistanis (non-natives)? Or the hotchpotch and informal groups of 17 million rights-bearing state subjects of Kashmir State (natives), now divided between Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Jammu & Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan?
India has since disconnected Ladakh from Jammu & Kashmir to the outcry of Pakistanis, but when Pakistan removed the “Northern Areas”, (the actual historical term is Gilgit Baltistan) from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the same level of outrage didn’t register with Pakistanis. Pakistan has been trying to change the ethnic character of its Provinces for decades, the indigenous Shias of Gilgit Baltistan, will in time become a minority in their own homeland, just like the Turkic Uighur Muslims in Eastern Turkistan, who are now a minority. The parallels between occupied regions are breathtakingly similar.
The Qing Dynasty successfully invaded Eastern Turkistan in 1884 and changed its name to Xinjiang, which means “New Frontier”. In Han-Chinese lexicon, the Han would refer to this area as Xiyu, meaning “Western Regions”. It is quite revealing that autocratic actors behave the same, their policies mirror one another. They’ll change the names of occupied lands to suit their geo-strategic landscapes. In the UK, Pakistanis routinely call Israel, “the Occupied Palestinian Territories” in solidarity with its oppressed natives, but their moral compass does not extend to offering redemptive critiques for Pakistan’s oppressed peoples, the Baluch, Pashtun, and the ‘Azad’ Kashmiris, who refuse to be identified with the Pakistani group-label.
Occupying “foreign” lands, contesting the “native” identities; the old game
So that I’m not accused of being a pro-independence Kashmiri; I actually identify as a British Pahari from divided Jammu & Kashmir to be ruthlessly true to my heritage. I’m aware of the negative connotations of the term Pahari, (simple mountain-folk), but I still use it as a badge of self-affirmation to be true to my ancestors lived experience. When I say I am British-Pahari I am proud of both components in that identity, because I’m loyal to both histories, whatever the good and bad aspects. Social stigma, or the delusions of social climbers denying this past, with no actual history to recount of their own, except contempt for the working class, are not going to stop me being true to my forefathers’ documented past, which is sadly drenched in death, suffering and rebellion. The mountains of the Western Himalaya have been a refuge for sporadic populations, and the homeland of people with rich stories to tell their children, if only they bothered to listen to them. Azad Kashmiris are not lessor people to any other nation. My people have become victims of imposed identities, hating everything about their past.
I don’t believe in “the new lamps for old” storylines.
Because my linear forebears came from Jammu, and not just Kashmir, which is still part of a much wider identity that they were also connected to, for reasons not worth discussing here, I am invested in that history. I don’t need a tribe or bandwagon to express my truth, or legitimise my person, my conscience is enough. For me Jammu does not cancel out Kashmir, and Kashmir does not cancel out Jammu, in the same way Hindu Kashmiris do not cancel out Muslim Kashmiris, and Muslim Kashmiris do not cancel out Hindu Kashmiris. And what about all the atheists from the Muslim and Hindu camps – must they also be forced into religious identities?
I’m merely writing this critique of how Mirpur is being written out of Jammu & Kashmir’s history, which has been irritating me for many years now. I do not advocate independence for Kashmir, or merger with Pakistan, or India, that’s not what is driving me. I’m a pragmatist, I don’t advocate for the undeliverable, which does not mean I’m opposed to independence either if indeed this option was deliverable. I believe in the politics of conciliation and truth commissions, and not the politics of division and continued bloodshed. I believe in prosperity for all, and not unaccountable power for the few. I am fully reconciled with the idea of a democratic Pakistan and a democratic India, but I am not reconciled with the idea of authoritarianism, occupation and humiliation of the masses.
India is a secular democracy that is not presently working in Jammu & Kashmir, because of conflict with Pakistan; I believe that is a fair statement. On the other hand, Pakistan is a military state that has murdered democracy in the name of ideology, greed and deceit; would anyone in their right-mind disagree with me? It is a corrupt State that will implode, and foresight will prove a lot of people right, as it did in 1971.
I live in Britain, where I was born and raised. Britain is my home, and I will defend its ideals. I am forever grateful to my forebears for ending up here, where I was fortunate enough to learn the noble principles of liberalism and secularism, and where I have experienced first hand the truth of a humanity that is missing in many parts of the world, most notably Pakistan. If by expressing my love for British values, I am a British patriot, then I am a very proud patriot. I do not romanticise idyllic pasts that probably didn’t exist. But, by becoming a patriot of Britain doesn’t make me hate other identities. Because I choose to reject the imposition of a Pakistani identity for Azad Kashmiris especially here in the UK, does not mean I am opposed to the idea of Pakistan.
I don’t hate Pakistan. But, it is a horrible place for minorities, women, the poor and that most hated of groups now – secular liberals fighting against authoritarianism. Pakistan exists for the upkeep of the rich, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that. Does this make me a xenophobe of a Pakistani lived experience?
Of course it doesn’t.
Lots of British, American, Canadian Pakistanis make comments similar to mine in private, but in public they wave the Pakistani flag, such is their desire to belong to the Pakistani “tribe”. This is the extent of their longing to belong in the diaspora. It is a psychological state of mind, and not a principled position. Diaspora Pakistanis are not in the habit of speaking their truth because it takes them out of their comfort zones. They offer the thing they love nothing but lip-service, with no personal sacrifices whatsoever. They won’t dare ask the question, “who is wronging who in Pakistan, and why are we all silent like lemmings?”
People get used to anything once their spirit of defiance is broken
It’s a bit like the treatment of Pakistani women by their male folk in the West. Lots of them can’t even wear ripped jeans, or western attire, which would give them a sense of belonging to Britain’s social norms, because it is an affront to the dignity of the Gods, the male patriarchs of moral virtues (“Izzat”, or male honour). They convince themselves that they want to wear Shalwar Kameez, North Indian attire that’s not even native to Pakistan, because it’s the moral thing to do. It proves in their minds that they’re righteous and virtuous. They then start to look down their noses at their western sisters – the coconuts who “openly flaunt their beauty in western attire”! Without even realising, they end up assuming a community persona, not because of personal agency or freewill, but because family circumstances forced them into behavioural norms that are entirely arbitrary, borne of unjust power dynamics.
And yet, lots of British Pakistani women, the liberated ones at least, want to join the “Metoo” movement decrying the evils of gender inequality in the West. They have a problem with masculine liberalism, whatever this stupid term means. It’s easy tagging onto other people’s causes, and it’s a lot more dangerous telling the bigots in your presence that they’re tyrants and abusive. Some of them think its funny laughing at India’s “rape culture” – a bizarre characterisation no doubt, but they wouldn’t dare express similar humour against Pakistan, where children have been raped, murdered and dumped into large bins.
It becomes too personal then.
What has this got to do with native identities and foreign occupation? The same unjust power dynamics I allude to in the scenario above are at play in Jammu & Kashmir. I concede that lots of natives of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and Jammu & Kashmir want to remain under Indian, or Pakistani control. But, why is that the case? Is it because of financial inducements – as native clients? Is it because of natural affinities of religion (identity politics) with the occupying powers? Or, is it because of occupier-politics; intimidation and the threat of retributive violence? There is a certain psychology behind one’s voluntary acceptance of one’s humiliating lived experience; the odd reprisal from the despotic tyrant is enough to keep everyone in check.
“Dear Leader” knows best.
But, not all is bad in Azad Kashmir. Despite 70 years of Pakistani occupation and brain-washing, the majority Muslim-Sufi population has not cowed into silence, which is a remarkable testimony to their spirit of defiance in the face of such bad odds. These numbers are increasing exponentially, and those of us who happen to be privy to these trends see something very ominous on the horizons.
There is a lot of muttering in Azad Kashmir about the ill-fated decision to rebel against the Ruler of Kashmir State; lots of our forebears were involved in that rebellion I would like to remind Indians intent on reducing the anti-Dogra rebellion to a Pakistan conspiracy, which it wasn’t.
Decisions can be wrong. Hindsight is a lovely thing, when you rely on emotions, but not clarity of vision. There are people, who are now telling us that the Dogra Rulers were much more humane than the Pakistani Rulers, who, when they had the opportunity committed a genocide against Bengalis in 1971.
Whether, this is the reimagining of the past; I suspect it is, it doesn’t absolve the Pakistan Military of its crimes against millions of ordinary people. Crucially, the Dogra ethnic people are native to Jammu & Kashmir, which makes them our brothers and sisters, with whom we can have discussions about the State as genuine stakeholders. The Pakistanis are not native to any part of the old Princely State, and they have no right to dictate the framework and terms of our discussions. Their intelligence service operatives are intensely disliked.
Both Azad Kashmir and the Vale of Kashmir increasingly want to form an independent, reunited and sovereign Jammu & Kashmir State for different reasons. In AJK, it is a rejection of perceived injustices; economic, social and humiliating exploitation. In the Vale of Kashmir, it is because of human rights violations.
Since the 1500s, the peoples of Mirpur and the wider Kashmir State have been denied their collective voice to shape the political narratives that impact their lives. Throughout that timeline, Mirpur, Jammu, Kashmir, whatever terms people want to use, have been continuously occupied by foreign powers, which would account for why there is so much Indian and Pakistani clamour to explain who Mirpuris are (code for Azad Kashmiris), and what they’re not in relation to ethnic Kashmiris, (code for Valley Kashmiris).
Weaponising “Punjabi Caste Kashmiris” against “pro-independence Kashmiris” in Azad Kashmir
Divide and Rule
There is a third group, with no provable ties to the Valley of Kashmir, but probable ties to Jammu & Kashmir State, who constitute the Caste Kashmiri population in Pakistan, predominately in the Punjab Province.
Like a lot of historically documented ascriptive territorial identities, this group was labelled Kashmiri by virtue of the colonial classificatory system, and not because of ethnic ties to Kashmir State. Members of this group comprised almost entirely of “low caste” occupational caste groupings denied land rights in the Punjab. The colonial apparatus racialised this population as a ‘non-martial race’, and described its members in very disparaging terms.
Upwardly-mobile members of this population in the British Punjab Province, later aggregated, what they assumed wrongly to be native Kashmiri surnames (Butt, Dar, Khawajah etc) to mask their occupational caste backgrounds. They were essentially fleeing from inhumane social stigma, the type that still exists in Pakistan.
This population’s lived experience, where historical memories mean something, was shaped by enormous suffering, making them natural allies of Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris opposing unjust authoritarian power. I consider this demography part of my own heritage, they are my brothers and sisters, when we try to narrate the history of our forebears lived experiences. When it comes to human suffering, Azad Kashmiris, Punjabi Caste Kashmiris, Valley Kashmiris, Hindu Pandit Kashmiris, Jammuwal people, the Gilgitis, the Baltis, etc, are all one people.
Today, the identity of Punjabi Caste Kashmiris is currently being weaponised by Pakistan’s intelligence services against Azad Kashmiris to sow discord between Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris. AJK and the Valley want independence from both Pakistan and India to understand the priorities of creating cleavages between people fighting for independence.
Punjabi Caste Kashmiris are, for obvious reasons, bonafide nationals of Pakistan with no legal or political claims to Jammu & Kashmir State (rights-bearing “state subjects”). Some aspirational members of this demography, politically-minded, are being manipulated to do Pakistan’s bidding against Azad Kashmiris. If one looks at their social media accounts – a lot of which are committed to demonising Indians, they constantly speak of 1) Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, 2) Islam, and 3) the barbarism of Hindu India.
I have been exploring how the Punjabi Caste Kashmiri identity emerged, but those findings are not relevant to this discussion. What I will say, where definitions of ethnicity mean anything, Caste Kashmiris from Pakistan are predominately ethnic Punjabis, who may have originated from Jammu & Kashmir State at some point, but they resort to origin myths and purported surnames to prove a Valley-centric Kashmir connection. This projection is borne essentially of priorities flowing out of Pakistan today.
“India’s integral part”; “Pakistan’s jugular vein” – the bogus nature of oft-quoted mantras!
The reification of the idea of Kashmir, India’s integral part and Pakistan’s jugular vein, has unduly influenced some members of the Punjabi Caste Kashmiri population to think they are the embodiment of a special status linked to an idyllic Kashmir, an arena of enormous suffering, violence and bloodshed, without failing to mention the contestation of native identities. When one speaks to members of this demography about their primordial “Kashmiri” identity, they’ll retort that their forebears, all of them apparently originated from Srinagar, and were historically high-caste Brahmans, or Muslim Rulers. They seem to have a dislike for Punjab, or claiming any connections with Punjabis, a rather odd move, when you look to their actual lived cultural norms. They deploy debunked colourist notions around the idea of the Kashmiri “race”; “look how fair I am (in my heavily filtered pictures no less), it proves I’m a pure Kashmiri”; “look at my rosey red cheeks…,” another rather silly position to take given the larger numbers of darker-skinned people amongst them in real life. If, indeed, cringe-worthy claims are evidence of racial profiles in the first place.
In terms of how “fairness” proves a physiognomy-connection to Kashmir, a silly idea my readers would readily concede, they don’t seem to understand that lots of Azad Kashmiris are much fairer than them, and yet they don’t claim to be “ethnic” or “pure Kashmiris”. No Azad Kashmiri would ever feel the need to deploy ideas around race to prove a connection with divided and disputed Kashmir, because they’re stuck in the territory that’s been bifurcated. It’s just taken for granted that they come from divided Kashmir, because this is how the landmass has been described internationally, and not just historically. To reiterate, this is what is meant by an ascriptive territorial identity, it is the conventional norm across the world.
Outside notions of territorial ascription, Kashmir, for Azad Kashmiris, is profound suffering, not a badge of honour or pride. Azad Kashmir is oppression, inequality and the humiliation of the masses; the poorer a person, the lower his or social status, and the greater the pain of alienation. How fair someone is, means nothing to Azad Kashmiris, because it offers nothing tangible to the people. Relatively speaking, who isn’t fair in Azad Kashmir; who doesn’t have green eyes, or brown hair – a self-hating obsession on the part of lots of Pakistanis, when they constantly “other” themselves from Indians? Colourism is an anxiety for lots of Pakistanis, and not just Punjabi Caste Kashmiris. The latter resort to these ideas possibly because they cant really prove a connection to Kashmir except through origin myths and adopted caste surnames.
Millions of Punjabis are no less dark, if not, more fair-skinned than ethnic Kashmiris, which doesn’t prove anything either racially speaking. How communities were described by colonial writers has seriously warped how contemporaries view one another. Race myths have been rejected for a reason; the claims were false biologically speaking and dehumanising. What is more interesting in the case of Punjabi caste Kashmiris, is the near absence of “Watal” [click here], or “Shia” amongst them; they know nothing about how ordinary people were treated with impunity by some of Kashmir’s “Sunni” rulers! In the Valley’s highly discriminatory caste-system, the Wattal self-identify as Sheikhs, and the large plethora of “Butt” and “Dar” Muslim groupings were never connected ancestrally to Kashmiri Brahmans, who are themselves comprised of enormous diversity.
The term Shiekh was given to lots of low-caste converts to Islam, usually from occupational backgrounds, what high-caste Pakistanis call the “Kammis”, a very offensive term. Overtime, the occupational castes aggregated more prestigious identities, especially when they became more educated, or wealthy. Traditionally, the higher castes, or clans connected with India’s old patronage system, didn’t automatically lose their lands or social prestige, when they converted to Islam. They carried on identifying through their clan identities, a social marker of respect, which is still the norm today.
Hereditary titles like Rajah, Chaudhry, Sardar, there are many other titles, continue to have great social prestige in Pakistan and India despite the gradual loss of power for lots of the old Zamindar, the landed groups. These titles carry greater social significance than ideas of being an “ethnic Kashmiri”, much less the notion of being a “Punjabi Caste Kashmiri” (occupational castes in Punjab). Kashmiri Pandits, who were also identified through the old hereditary titles (Sardar, Chaudhry etc) continue to be respected in India, not because they are ethnic Kashmiris, but because they are purportedly of Brahman descent – that’s the actual priority behind the wider group’s ascriptive identity. In the history of India’s ruling households, no Brahman high-priest was ever equal to an King (Rajput), or their regional feudatories; the former were subject to the patronage of the latter. At the heart of such identities lies unjust social relations and inequality, and not the origin myths of later generations.
“Low caste groupings” of the Valley continue to be looked down at by the “higher castes”, comprised of the Jilaanis and others, newer labels for older systematic prejudices, which doesn’t make origin-myths of the “Ashraaf” (the nobles) anymore true. Lawrence in his seminal work on Kashmir’s plastic caste-titles has offered us some very interesting observations. He spoke of how low caste Muslims would aggregate the higher castes of their non-landed peers, when they became rich, aggravating the latter, who would go to great lengths to prove that they weren’t of low-caste origin themselves! He was writing during the late 1800s, early 1900s, which gives his insights particular relevance outside the priorities of the Kashmir Conflict.
Today, lots of us are aware of these dehumanising tendencies, how the upwardly-mobile amongst us, formerly of humble backgrounds, start making outlandish claims about their noble past “othering” their poorer peers. I personally take pity on these orphans of history, not because I find their antics funny, but because of how horrible life was for their actual forebears. I sincerely ask, who isn’t a Sayyid or Mughal in Pakistan today? It’s become a running joke amongst lots of Pakistanis that everyone from the “low castes” is apparently from somewhere else, but never the native lands from which they accrue their life stories, which should force the “higher castes” – whose parents came to Britain as low skilled workers to emancipate themselves too; why are the “low castes” compelled to do this? It only proves in my mind that the whole system of social stratification is rotten in Pakistan, and the sooner we get rid of this dehumanising caste, clan or class system, the better for people’s sense of innate dignity. We rely on origin myths and arrogance when we maltreat people to justify our blatant inhumanity; everyone of us should own our actual suffering to expose the charlatans amongst us.
Problematising Ethnic Kashmiris; weaponising Hindu Pandit “origin-myths”
Muslim ethnic Kashmiris, for their part, are being forced into an imaginary ethnic enclave, that did not exist in history, to cleverly disconnect them from other ethnic cultures and peoples that’ve traditionally been indigenous to the same mountain ecology, but who crucially share the same vision for an independent State.
The Kashmir of documented history had a territorial legacy characterised by a distinct patronage system; the celebrated rulers of that Kashmir and their hill-armies, Turushka mercenaries, this is exactly how they were described by native Kashmiri writers; I’ll have occasion to explore this history elsewhere, came from outside the Valley of Kashmir. Although central to Kashmir’s story, they would not have been considered ethnic Kashmiris today. The descendants of this population can be found outside the Valley of Kashmir, on surrounding hills-mountains in Azad Kashmir and India’s Jammu region, located around strategic entry-exit points leading to the Plains of North India. Many of them also settled India, where they were incorporated, centuries later, into British India’s dubiously classified ‘martial races’.
Lots of Hindus and Sikhs, and not just Muslims, originate from this ancient Turushka population. Turushka simply meant Central or West Asian, as opposed to North Indian. It gets frequently confused with the term Turkic, much like the term “Mughal”, which meant Central Asian (Turanian) as opposed to Iranian, a term that should not to be confused with the modern identity-label “Iranian”. Before the interventions of Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Iran used to be called Persia.
The only reason why Iran changed its name from Persia during the 1800s, was because of racialist claims that Persia and India’s “Aryan” Rulers were related to Europe’s ruling households. It has nothing to do with contemporary claims that the Ayatollahs wanted to deploy the term Iran (land of Aryans) to include non-ethnic Persian speaking peoples within their Islamic Republic.
Be that as it is, to explain the relatedness of people across lots of territories outside the reductionism of nativists, Turks, Persians, Afghans, Indians, and many other nationalities and ethnicities, originated from the old Turushka population. Their complete coalescence with Indian populations was so successful, that they forgot about the old migrations.
Lots of the Turushka left their nomadic pastures in Central Asia and headed for the riches of the Indian Plains. Ancient India was akin to modern-day Europe or North America in immigration terms. For more than 1700 years, since we can access this economic data, India’s GDP was consistently one of the largest in the world.
Nomads, usually expert horsemen, became sedentary populations coalescing into the Brahmanical caste system as Kshatriya – “the warrior caste”. Brahman notions of the warrior castes, thus intersect with British colonial notions of the martial races. One can see the trajectory of lots of dubious race ideas, when we go back into time to see how a number of fictive identities emerged in the first place. But, ultimately, the new identities do not cancel out the older migrations.
Civilisational India is a land of diverse peoples, and not just “occupational castes” or “fictive lineages”
Professional historians have written about how India’s “foreign” Agnikul Rajput became indigenised during the 5th century, emerging out of the Kushan, Scythian, Hephthalite, White Huns and others. This history was thousands of years in the making, and the names of these ancient populations were never lost to Indian writers. The descendants merged into various Indian populations adopting the native religions of India, which just shows how tolerant ancient India actually was.
These migrations were eclipsed by another set of migrations/invasions, where Turkic nomadic populations converted almost entirely to Islam with the advent of the Arabs during the 7th century. Certain groupings of Jat, Rajput, Gujjar and others, originate from these premodern migrations well before their subsequent identity labels emerged in India. Because they went in the direction of India, they became Hindus and Buddhists.
Centuries later, they converted to Islam and Sikhism, and no doubt, atheism, if indeed, people are allowed to self-define outside the established “official” labels of rulers. This is the nature of human migrations across the world, and how foreign populations coalesce with native populations to become the same people. Colonial researchers wrote extensively about these migrations, and they were not entirely wrong in their historical observations, minus dehumanising “Aryan” race paradigms that plonked “Nordic Europeans” at the top of the human tree.
Strictly-speaking, the term “Arya” implied nobility. In relation to territories, it implied “the territorial realms of the noble ones”. It was never used in racial or ethnic terms by the actual progenitors of the word, who ended up in different parts of India and the world, speaking different languages and forming new identities. They were “Arya” on account of their rituals and how they interacted with others.
No ‘identity’ is native to its lands, but indigenous peoples become contested when an outside foreign power wants those lands for its own political project. This has happened to the Native Americans (identified as “Native Indians” because of factors already discussed) and Aborigines of Australia. It has happened to the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews.
Enlightened thinkers true to their vocations, offer no political solutions to intractable territorial problems, because of the amount of division that exists within a society. It is usually control freaks monopolising power, who destroy multiethnic nation states, and not those fighting for their inalienable rights against unaccountable power. Good people try to redeem the naive amongst them through historical facts and not popular anecdotes and hate. They are aware of the dehumanising attempts of the politico to write entire peoples out of their lands and historical memories – the very definition of occupation, mental and physical.
The Occupier will twist the writings of historians, linguists and cultural anthropologists to push their political agendas; I can easily evidence the same patterns of occupation unfolding across the world. In light of these unjust power dynamics, I can say conclusively that the Kashmir of recorded history, like the India of recorded history, in all its celebrated forms, was never a uniform ethnic space that only belonged to one group of people exclusively. Lots of different and diverse peoples lived and were associated with this Kashmir within the context of an Indian civilisational timeline. No one but an ignorant nativist would dare challenge this uncontroversial fact.
3. Understanding ascriptive territorial identities, and the politics of social negation (prejudice)
The colonial tactic of divide and rule, is now being deployed by Indians and Pakistanis against pro-independence Kashmiris in every forum of debate and discussion, disingenuously and contrary to the democratic ideals and humanistic values that gave birth to the modern countries of India and Pakistan, two ethnically and linguistically diverse Nation States. It is a form of moral turpitude, when people decrying the ills of colonialism, become amnesic of their own propagandistic traits, imposing a restrictive ethnic, religious and ancestral identity onto territorial Kashmiris, knowing full well, that this will make independence for Kashmir unlikely.
A play is then made on what the word “Kashmir” implies; Indian and Pakistani bandwagons then emerge from every nook and cranny of the Kashmir Discourse to tell Azad Kashmiris that they are not really Kashmiris, unlike the ethnic Kashmiris. When attacking ethnic Kashmiris, the former are told by Indians that they are not really Kashmiris, unlike the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, who are supposedly, the original and legitimate occupants of the land.
Just imagine the arrogance of these positions?
Only yesterday, Indians and Pakistanis were decrying the iniquities of colonial impositions, and Britain’s pseudo race-science. Whether the Pakistanis and Indians, like it or not, lots of Azad Kashmiris choose to be identified as Kashmiris. By doing so they are conscientiously rejecting the imposition of a Pakistani identity label; it is positive self-affirmation, and lots of these Kashmiris are aware of their actual connections to a shared Kashmiri past rooted in enormous suffering.
The Bharat Origin-Myth; giving some context to purported primordial identities
If hundreds of millions of Indians, with no ancestral connections to the Indo-Aryan speaking Bharat tribe outside Eastern Punjab, feel empowered to call their lands “Bharat”, they shouldn’t be impugning the origin-myths of Azad Kashmiris, who actually do occupy a space called Kashmir by virtue of documented history, albeit a colonial one, but which extended further back into the chronicles of time.
Before large chunks of that landmass became Jammu, it was associated with Greater Kashmir, and this history is much older than the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. Jammu itself, and I am speaking of the old tribal principality of Jammu, has an older history than Punjab. When the word Punjabi didn’t exist, there was a language called Dogri, and a place called Jammu. Dogri was adjudged the language of the hills and mountains, and it didn’t quite extend to Lahore for pan-Punjabi ideologues to force Dogri and all the other Indo-Aryan dialects of the Western Himalaya into a Punjabi language group.
Mughal writers spoke of a language called Lahori, which would have been conterminous with Eastern Punjab, to understand how identity labels emerged in the past. The Mughals viewed Jammu very differently to Punjab; Jammu was hills-mountains, and Punjab was not hills and mountains, but an expansive Plain.
That said, the idea of a Greater Kashmir is no different to the idea of a Greater London, Greater Toronto, or a Greater India. One can extrapolate this rule and speak of a Greater Jammu, which also existed in history. But, the idea of a Greater Pakistan does not fit these paradigms for reasons not worth exploring in detail. Suffice to say briefly, Pakistan was created in 1947 as a completely new territorial entity, internal cleavages have followed since. It has no historical centre of gravity that can bring diverse peoples into its fold, it relies on ideology, a debunked one, and not a history of past relations, between diverse tribes or groups. We mustn’t forget that East Pakistan left West Pakistan in 1971 because of exploitation and humiliation. The Baluch, the Pashtun, Sindhis, and other groups have a problem with the idea of Pakistan too, and these groups have much older legacies. I only need cite some international examples to explain the concept of a Greater Kashmir, an historically attested idea.
Devout Muslim Chechens are secular Russians today; understanding ‘accommodationist’ identities
Chechens are Russians, not because Chechnya was historically Russia, or Chechens are ethnic Russians, but because there is an identity rooted in the idea of Greater Russia that incorporates lots of neighbouring tracts. The centre of gravity is thus located in Russia, and there is a history to this ascriptive identity.
Decades earlier, the Chechens were fighting a war of independence against the Russians, weaponising “Islam” against the “atheist” Communist State. Today, the sons and daughters of those holy warriors, Mujahideen with genuine Islamic credentials, have reconciled with a secular Russia, disheartened by the Islamic World’s double standards. The froth of the urban Muslim masses, love the hype of their victim-complexes, rather than understanding people’s actual suffering and predicaments.
The Northern Irish are similarly British, despite the Island of Ireland not being located within the British Isles geographically speaking. Sinn Fein, the representatives of a united Ireland disagree, and advocate for the reunification of Ireland outside Britain’s control.
The people of Gibraltar are British, lots of whom descend from ancestors with roots in the Iberian Peninsular, some of whom have no ancestral connections to the indigenous Britons, Celtic speaking populations. Spain claims Gibraltar, as part of its own landmass. But, because Spain is a genuine liberal democracy, it does not engage in occupier-race politics, akin to Indian and Pakistani narratives on Kashmiris, to somehow create illusory ethnic cleavages between Gibraltarians.
Canadians, Americans, Mexicans, Brazilians are Americans, because they occupy the southern and northern continents of America, despite speaking different languages and having different cultures. The association in question, has nothing to do with imposed notions of shared fraternity, but power dynamics. The United States of America is not the only “America” in the “Americas”, but because it has taken ownership of the word America, when we do think of Americans, we don’t think of Canadians.
When a French youngster of Algerian descent, born and raised in Paris, is told that he is not really French, native French speaking people come to his defence. Nativist protagonists, who would like to argue otherwise, are condemned as racists, and rightfully so. Only, a 19th century pseudo-race scientist, the type incriminated in the Nazi genocide of “non-European”, “non-Aryan”, “Semitic Jews”, would have a problem with what I am saying – to give an idea of how loaded these terms were.
The world is replete with hundreds of such examples, of people affirming and negating identities, but, ultimately, it is the same established naming convention that allows Indians and Pakistanis to self-affirm as Britons, Canadians, or Americans. The attributive quality of belonging to a political space, has nothing to do with notions of language, ethnicity or genetics, courtesy of a liberal order that redeems people on account of their humanity, and not their supposed backgrounds.
Akhand Bharat; or Greater India
If this is what is meant by the term “Akhand Bharat”, (Greater India), that can accommodate entire peoples and divergent lifestyles, then the idea is of historical pedigree. It may be a projection from the perspective of someone investigating origin myths, but it cannot be rejected out of hand. It has a practical value that should be investigated on its own conceptual terms, and not be reduced to something threatening or evil, because of antagonistic narratives.
To just give some context to the foregoing. In the UK, we have the bizarre case of Indians and Pakistanis, self-affirming Britons no less, telling young British-Mirpuris at university that they have no right to claim a Kashmiri identity, because Mirpuris are not ethnic Kashmiris, (apparently Punjabis), whilst Mirpur is not located in Kashmir but Jammu! As I have shown in this enlightened discussion I hope, the premises upon which such claims are based are actually false. Worse, the same protagonists cannot fathom the inconsistencies of their own stated arguments, because they are invested in the narratives of Occupier Politics, not history or discussions around ascriptive identities.
For the Pakistanis, the situation is much worse. They lose sight of the fact that only 70 years ago, they were Indians, and now they die with embarrassment, if anyone confuses them for Indians – a regular occurrence! This is a clear case of self-hatred, but it just shows how removed some people are from their own stupid arguments. They’ll use arguments like, “a dog born in a barn, doesn’t become a horse”, not realising this actual claim, (Bernard Manning would use versions of this claim in his comedy), was used against native-born Britons of immigrant parentage claiming to be British; “P**** (brown people) and N****** (black people) can’t be British (white people); a dog born in a barn, doesn’t become a horse!”
When these sorts of false claims fail to produce the requisite dividends, the protagonists resort to another set of origin myths around caste and clan backgrounds to deny Mirpuris connections to Kashmir, unaware of how ignorant these subsequent observations actually are. Having written most of the Wikipedia posts on Kashmir, they direct their adversaries and supporters to consult posts on Kashmir and Mirpur, which prove Mirpur is not Kashmir but Punjab. They cite these posts, as evidence to prove Mirpuris are not Kashmiris. This is how their dishonest circular reasoning works. It is a crude type of argumentation that exposes the lack of integrity of those behind the emerging body of knowledge on Kashmir – all non-facts of gibberish proportions.
Mirpuris are not Pakistanis. Furthermore, they have never been Indians, by way of an Indian identity. Unlike subjects of the British Raj, Mirpuris were subjects of the Dogra Raj, making them state subjects of Kashmir State. As far as ascriptive territorial identities go, the act of ascribing a district identity onto Mirpuris, can also allow them to ascribed a Kashmiri State identity and a Jammuwal provincial identity. On both counts, Mirpuris are not Pakistanis, because Pakistan itself says, Mirpur is part of Azad Kashmir, which is not Pakistan. Mirpuris are thus Azad Kashmiris.
Pakistanis used to be Indians, this was their ascriptive territorial identity before 1947. They are more “North Indian” in ethnic terms, and by ethnic, I mean observable lived cultural experiences; speaking a certain language, eating certain foods, dressing a certain way, even non-verbal gestures, etc., than Azad Kashmiris trying to preserve their native culture. But, this seems to be lost on them, and they think they are being insulted when their antics against Mirpuris are laid bare.
Our mothers never wore “Lehngas”; our fathers didn’t eat “Biryani”; and our grandparents didn’t speak a North Indian Hindustani dialect erroneously called “Urdu” , just to name a few of these cultural practises that connect Urdu-speaking Pakistanis to North Indians. This is something to be celebrated and not demonised.
Indians are no better in their delusions, when they resort to primordial identities – a completely debunked intellectual position. To reiterate a point I made previously, there is no “Bharat” in history that incorporated tens of millions of people across South Asia. Bharat was the name of an “Indo-Aryan” speaking tribe from today’s Eastern Punjab region. This is a fact that has been historically attested. Ruling members of this tribe may have gradually moved into the North Indian Plains, coalescing with the native populations there, from what is today Pakistan – if ironies weren’t so poetic, but this doesn’t make Indian citizens the blood relatives of the ancient Bharat. If indeed, archaeologists and Indologists are correct about these premodern migrations, my caveat; I rather take my intellectual cues from scholars committed to their vocations than political ideologues spewing venom in the name of nationalism.
Suffice to say, not everyone from today’s 1.3 billion Indians descends from the Bharat – a self-affirming “Aryan” tribe, which doesn’t stop the origin myth of Akhand Bharat becoming a badge of shared fraternity either, if at its core, lies tolerance and not hate of outsiders, especially Bharati Muslims – note, how ascriptive territorial identities work. If they’re inclusive, they can work, if they’re exclusive, they lead to all manner of problems.
Nativism leads to the denial of human rights for ethnic minorities
Good, decent and hard-working people everywhere understand the priorities behind racism. They can appreciate the dangers of nativism and the politics of envy. They don’t need to be lectured about why the concept of primordial race is dangerous when conflated with a particular group of people; the rejection of an ascriptive territorial identity for an ethnic minority usually amounts to a denial of basic human and civic rights.
Racism, a social construct, is related to the idea of race, which in yesteryears was understood as something primordial, “fixed and unchanging”. It was presented as a biological construct that wreaked havoc in the world. Enlightened peoples across the world understand the fluid nature of group identities and the origin myths behind the various labels. They understand the trajectory of persecution and discrimination, and their intersection with prejudice and bigotry. The road of unconscious bias is a well-trodden one, it begins life as subtle prejudice, and then moves into the realms of discrimination and persecution. If it is not challenged, it usually ends in genocide, once sinister political forces rubber-stamp the hatred in question.
But, there is a wider point here. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Indians and Pakistanis are serious about policing the Kashmiri pro-independence identity, they should begin, in earnest, by creating Hindi-Urdu ethnic enclaves for everyone in their respective countries, to prove their sincerity on Jammu & Kashmir, when they cynically reduce the complex history of this Princely State, some 84 to 86000 square miles to a dubious ethnic label (Kashur).
Of course, India’s liberals are already fighting the creeping Hindisation of the country, spearheaded by nationalists who feel threatened by multi-faceted expressions of the Indian identity, something that is good for India. It proves in my mind, that these nationalist type activists; ethno-fascists in saffron coloured attire and Islamo-fascists in bright green attire – this is how I like to imagine these haters, are just spewing non-facts.
Aside from not having any genuine intellectual investiture in the nonsensical facts they espouse contradictorily I add; on social media they do this through anonymous accounts, they then speak the language of fraternity, disingenuously.
The Pakistanis, accusing the Indians of ethnofascism, are however, more morally bankrupt in their pronouncements. They would do well to look hard in the mirror, when they apply the same dirty tactics against Kashmiris in their own so-called Azad or Independent Kashmir region.
If a person can lie about another group’s past, without any compunction, why should he be expected to speak the truth about his own country’s present and future priorities? When Indians and Pakistanis wilfully try to write entire peoples of Jammu & Kashmir out of their native homelands, they lose all moral credibility to narrate a pan-Indian or pan-Pakistani history.
I repeat this uncontroversial statement as someone, who is sympathetic to the priority of keeping both India and Pakistan territorially intact. We prosper more when we work together, rather than splitting into factions.
If India claims Jammu & Kashmir in its entirely, and wants to disprove already debunked Pakistani lies on the two-nation theory, they should begin by treating Azad Kashmiris and Gilgitis as “Occupied Indians”, rather than antagonising them any further, because of their hatred against Pakistan. Azad Kashmiris do not hate Pakistanis, they despise Occupation forced onto them by Pakistan’s Rulers in the name of Kashmir.
It was the Muslim League, in cahoots with British colonialism that destroyed British India. What became Azad Kashmir had previously been a backwater of Jammu & Kashmir State. The people of Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad were fed up with despotic rule of autocratic actors. They made the fatal mistake of thinking Pakistan would be a better place for them, because they were Muslims. Having liberated their own areas from the Dogra Raj, they handed over their lands voluntarily to Pakistan. Ideas of a Muslim Utopia were never realised, and Azad Kashmiris discovered that Pakistan was a fraudulent idea to further the interests of “North Indian” Muslims, who weren’t even indigenous to West and East Pakistan, if indeed what is said about the architects of Pakistan is true.
Pakistanis have no compunction when this history is narrated back to them by the indigenous people of Azad Kashmir. The Pakistan Army now has full reign of Pakistan, where a dumbed-down population is ineffectual in holding corrupt institutions and processes of the State to account.
Indians could very easily win the hearts and minds of Azad Kashmiris, if only they changed tact and started to open up lines of communication between themselves and ordinary Azad Kashmiris. Pakistan is now seen for what it is across the entire world, namely a malevolent force that consumes the dead flesh of its own countrymen. Britain’s intelligence services haven’t forgotten that it was the Pakistan Army that facilitated its territory for the purposes of creating some dubious terrorist networks to pursue a covert war against India. The 7/7 bombers who murdered innocent people in London were trained in Pakistan, indoctrinated on the internet by Islamofascists worshipping all manner of bogus grievances against the Muslim Ummah. The Pakistan Army benefits from this nihilistic narrative.
No one takes Pakistani propaganda on Kashmir seriously anymore, so Indians should start speaking directly to Azad Kashmiris, wherever they are living in the world. They shouldn’t behave like the Pakistanis, by trying to play one AJK or JK community against another, to somehow undermine opposition to India. It just do the complete opposite to show how hallow Pakistan’s rhetoric on Kashmir actually is.
Gandhi fought for humanity; Jinnah fought for land; how they dressed and conducted themselves speaks volumes
What did Mahatma Gandhi fight for when he sought to peacefully protest colonial indignities in British India in the simple attire of a Hindu sage, bestowing the profound insight, “an eye for an eye, will make the whole world blind”? He was later assassinated.
Is there any moral equivalence for Mr Jinnah, whose detractors revile him, the bacon-eating, gin-drinking Muslim “atheist”, who preferred his Saville Row double-breasted suits to Gujarat and Sindh’s ethnic dress. He died peacefully, never once being imprisoned for his beliefs, unlike the leaders of the Congress Party, who would go in and out of prison. English colonial Brits would observe that Mister Jinnah was more English than his contemporaries – the English gentlemen of India! He never prayed a cycle of prayer in his entire life, and yet he wanted to save practising Indian Muslims from barbaric Hindu Fanatics. It was this language of division that created the “Hindu” menace in the first place, as people began murdering one another over a shared piece of territory, that had been thousands of years in the making.
Upwardly mobile Hindustani-speaking Panjabi-Pakistanis, (to appreciate the irony behind Pakistan’s identity politics) now own Jinnah’s legacy, romanticising a North Indian dialect of poor people as “Urdu”, no longer an Indian language, but a Muslim language of Mughal proportions. Jinnah, for his part, didn’t speak Urdu at all. Indian languages had no social appeal for him. For Jinnah, Urdu equated to political utility of connecting India’s Muslims through a shared language. He preferred to speak English, and not his native ancestral Gujarati or the language of Sindh. When he told the Bengalis that they would have to speak Urdu and not Bengali, he delivered his speech in English, incapable of speaking Urdu himself! These ironies are poetic.
Lots of upwardly-mobile Pakistanis today have grand claims of being Sayyids (Allah bless the Prophet and give his genuine descendants peace). They have become Mughals, descendants of Babur, Timur and Genghis Khan, originating from Lahore and Karachi, cynically lecturing Azad Kashmiris about their “real” Pahari and Punjabi ethnic identities, removing them from Kashmir, as if they understand Kashmir’s complex history and how the Kashmiri identity emerged in the first place. They don’t understand their own country’s history, but they want to lecture people with older territorial histories about who they are and what they’re not!
These cruel ironies are lost on them. They end the process of demeaning and belittling Azad Kashmiris by making themselves feel good, because of how they feel about themselves. They despise their own Indian past, self-hatred is a contagious disease in Pakistan. They think they are insulting Azad Kashmir’s “Pahari speakers” by calling them Punjabis, or Pothwaris, as if the latter two identities are mired in the self-hating antics they embody. These identities are not lower in the scale of civilisational terms to Urdu speakers. In many ways, the peoples of rural Pakistan are still connected to the soil of their forefathers and mothers, to the rich memories and cultures of their actual homelands. They are not a bad imitation of other nations, not least the colonial Britons that upwardly-mobile Pakistanis seem to envy and hate, but emulate at the same time.
These language bigots don’t seem to understand that the joke is on them. To be ruthlessly honest, Urdu has no status other than the one imposed upon it by its own speakers. Its debunked origin myths have nothing substantive to offer natives being true to their heritage. What exactly are Urdu-speaking Pakistanis proud of in civilisational terms when they insult other people’s languages? Unlike Persian, Arabic, English, Latin, Sanskrit, the old Gandharan Prakrit spoken in far-away lands of Central Asia, ‘Urdu’ has no such status or legacy. It may be the language of poetry, but I can assure its readers, Shakespeare’s sonnets are being read across the world in the original native English, whilst Iqbal’s native Urdu verse is restrained to Urdu-speaking Indians and Pakistanis. This is what is meant by the term, power dynamics.
I ask this question in all sincerity, what have language bigots contributed to the world in humanistic, scientific or technological terms anywhere in the world? Absolutely nothing. Azad Kashmiris of Jammu & Kashmir, like their Kashur (Kashmir) and Dogra (Jammu) speaking brethren continue to speak their ancestral tongues with pride, and they don’t pretend to come from the loins of foreign peoples. They’re fighting to preserve the old connections for the familial and not the alien. In effect, both Indians and Pakistanis destroy the very fraternity they claim to preserve, once they become thought-police over group identities they despise, seldom looking to the facade-ridden exteriors of their own ahistorical origin-myths. Across the world, the Indian-Pakistani English accent has become a source of comedy, derision and not awe. Indians and Pakistanis are speaking English, the English are not speaking Hindi or Urdu. Chinese students are studying in North America and Europe, they’re not taking scholarly direction from Urdu speaking intellectuals in Lahore, or are they? Maybe this writer has missed something. These unjust power dynamics borne of colonialism are rooted in a lived experience that rob people of their humanity, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what is happening either, to put idiots in their place having assumed the false persona of identities they don’t understand. Which of the two groups sincerely self-introspects first, could win the hearts and minds of Azad Kashmiris tired of the Indo-Pak conflict over land. I have less confidence in Pakistan’s rulers though.
4. We should take our intellectual cues from genuine liberal democracies, not authoritarian actors or regimes
In appraising Mirpur’s documented history within the context of Kashmir State, before and after the seminal event of 1846, namely the Treaty of Amritsar, I hope to show that Wikipedia, Quora, Facebook, and other interactive sites, are the worst places to consult when learning about Mirpur, or Azad Kashmir’s history.
Wikipedia tops the list when one looks to the backgrounds of contributors and editors, they are almost entirely authoritarian-type Indians writing whatever they want about Kashmir, with a stranglehold over all related posts (Jammu & Kashmir, Jammu, Kashmir, Kashmiris, Mirpuris, Paharis, Pahari-Pothwari, Dogras, Punjabi Kashmiris, Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits, Diaspora Mirpuris – the latter is an ahistorical and factually incorrect idea). Anyone challenging erroneous claims is silenced, and booted off the site. The Administrators use Wikipedia “rules” to justify control over their narratives; just imagine this for one moment? To protect neutrality, the people having written the posts in the first place, then lock the posts for future-editing, to protect their politicised version of history from vandalism of biased 3rd parties. Who exactly is vandalising these posts to understand the sinister forces at play? There is no editorial board to challenge this abuse of power, and in the meantime millions of unsuspecting people resort to Wikipedia to learn post-truths. If this isn’t an ugly aspect of 21st century authoritarianism, which is contaminating lots of people’s minds, I don’t know what is.
I would add, Pakistan’s history is also being deliberately garbaged, to be fair to my Pakistani brothers and sisters trying to salvage what little honour is left to them in a world closing its door onto Pakistan’s 210 million nationals. It seems to me that lots of highly-politicised Indians are vandalising online pages committed to extolling Pakistan’s pre and post-1947 history. Lots of Pakistanis want to be honest about their country’s woes, but they have to contend with rapturous applause of intellectually dishonest Indians trying to demean and degrade ordinary Pakistanis. They are essentially of the nationalist bent, and they are creating an insufferable situation for ordinary people.
Constantly in the comment sections of Pakistani YouTube videos that do not involve Indians, self-appointed authorities emerge to leave degrading and often times, offensive remarks, but again, I ask curiously, are these really Indian actors? YouTube contributors are now disabling the comments sections on their accounts, a step backwards for freedom of expression and thought.
I used to think they were all Indians, until I started to dissect the reasoning and messaging behind the comments. I have my doubts now. Some of them are Indians. But a fair few are not. Having familiarised myself with how Pakistanis operate in the hate they generate on behalf of the “Indian enemy”, I am convinced a lot of anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim rhetoric online, especially when it takes an Indian religious hue is ISI propaganda to stir up reactive hatred against Indians. Despotic Military regimes across the world operate like this, they create animosity between the populations they control to ensure no solidarity between the oppressed. Having swallowed the colonial rule-book on divide and rule, their messaging to their own populations and enemies across the borders follow identical patterning.
The ISI has reduced its 5th generation psychological warfare to a game of cat and mouse hatred. This will not end well for them. It is something completely forbidden in Islam, if indeed the benefactors of Army Control had any attachments with Islam, which they don’t. Pakistan’s ISI have no attachments with Islam and the civility required of practising Muslims when countering their opponents’ positions, however damning the ensuing indictments. They operate more in the traditions of fascist regimes of old, Italy, Germany, Communist Russia, than the scholarly circles of the 8th century Abu Hanifah, the great Muslim “Persian” Jurist of Zuta origin (Jatt) originally from Sindh, responsible for an entire legal school in Iraq, where he was born and raised. The ISI loves making connections with “a celebrated Muslim past”, when they have no genuine attachments to its celebrated civility.
In narrating Mirpur’s actual history amidst a chorus of angry and hateful Indian and Pakistani voices online, who have destroyed civil conversations amongst themselves, I have already pointed out that I am not promoting the cause of independence for any part of the erstwhile State. I am not a tribal naysayer like my opponents. It is for the hereditary state subjects of Jammu & Kashmir, the embodiment of a political identity that is being problematised by Indians and Pakistanis to decide their future freely, on established facts and not hate-mongering, or fear of intimidation. I can merely express an opinion on Kashmir’s future prospects, and this is why I say, independence is impossible, and that Azad Kashmiris should look to reconcile with India, a secular and democratic State, where human rights violations against Muslim Kashmiri began in the late 1980s. Pakistan pursued its misguided policy of killing Indian soldiers in the aftermath of the Afghan-Soviet war. They wanted to create a situation of lawlessness and rebellion in the Vale of Kashmir, the Indians reacting to the provocations began brutalising civilians under the pretext of finding Pakistan collaborators. This is how Pakistan’s Army operates in every neighbouring location of conflict, it makes the suffering of ordinary people exponentially worse, so that it can have a stake in the never ending and ensuing conflicts. Armies have no tradition of statecraft, and authoritarian regimes run by Armies are some of the most morally bankrupt countries in the world.
The sooner Pakistanis understand this, the better their future prospects will become. Western leaders should be calling out these architects of violence, and not hobnobbing with them to pursue their own foreign interests. In the long run they too will become burnt; 9/11 and 7/7 are good examples, the control rooms of these tragedies were Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistan Army was complicit in creating the right environment for the Taliban to flourish just after the Soviets were defeated. The Pakistan Taliban eventually turned their back on the Pakistan Army, citing duplicity and hypocrisy. These religious students of antiquated ideas, were always true to their cause, however misguided and brutal their actions! And where was Bin Laden found after he fled Afghanistan? Which country hid him? These are clear indictments on the Pakistan Army which has an entire State to play with.
Educated Diasporas across the world should therefore give a platform to the natural aspirations of their peoples, without being prejudicial to any one outcome. They could potentially act as a counter lever to State oppression. Divided Jammu & Kashmir has a diaspora of 1 million people in the UK, with an emerging middle-class (I don’t imply this in any classist terms, I speak of emerging human capital which is critical to any movement). This community should be serving the interests of those left behind, and not rubbing shoulders with people intent on degrading, belittling and humiliating their poorer peers – because of authoritarian agendas.
Genuine democrats are beholden to the will of their people; where they speak critically about the pros or cons of a political decision, they do so with intellectual integrity, and not as agents of foreign occupation. Britain, Canada, Australia, amongst many genuine liberal democracies are people-inclusive societies. Dissidents of these political identities have been given the option of ceding, or remaining within the larger territorial entities; the Scotland Independence Question; Brexit; Montreal and Canada; Australia and the Monarchy Question, etc.
Having witnessed the debates firsthand, the civility of ordinary people on both sides of the debate, one does not experience the hateful toxicity of Pakistanis debating Indians over Kashmir, a landmass that belongs to a third entity, namely the peoples of Jammu & Kashmir. Because of what the larger entities offer, Britain, Canada, Australia, the natives of the smaller regions opt for safety, security, prosperity and genuine citizenship. They are not waylaid by misplaced romanticism around origin-myths and separatism, without discounting powerful economic and social arguments to the contrary borne of huge grievances.
Azad Kashmir could have a wonderful future outside Pakistan’s stifling corruption; functioning within the folds of a dysfunctional Pakistan is more of the same problem and not a solution. Powerful interests run Pakistan and ordinary Pakistanis cannot hold them to account, I’m speaking of egotistical rulers, who have no sense of shame, remorse or contrition. They laugh at their detractors concerns with such arrogance, that nations across the world are closing their doors on an impoverished nation that will implode. We are decades away from a bloodbath; there is a lot of visceral anger against ethnic Punjabis, wrongly conflated with the ISI and the Pakistan Army, “the Punjabi army”. That is a proposition that I hope Azad Kashmiris would seriously consider outside Pakistan’s norms of deceptive occupier-politics both in AJK and abroad.
Azad Kashmir does not need Pakistan, if it could reconcile with India, which does not mean outright accession to India, which should be an option nonetheless. If it had a trading corridor with India, a transparent system of rules, checks and balances, it would prosper beyond all measure for the benefit of 4.5 million dispossessed people. At present, Azad Kashmiris have no option but to leave their native lands, and join the diaspora abroad.
In Pakistan, Azad Kashmiris are frequently humiliated if they are poor, or from occupational castes. It has become a rite of passage for lots of returning British Mirpuris, far more wealthier than their Pakistani peers, enduring humiliation at Islamabad Airport, because they are seen as “rich pickings” . These are not the figments of this writer’s imagination – privately, lots of Azad Kashmiris hold negative views towards Pakistanis, a people who have no sense of how they are being viewed by lots of people, because of the antics of corrupt people.
Today, there are more Mirpuris living outside Mirpur than inside it, and this would hold true for a large educated Hindu community domiciled in India. How this has even happened in the first place, is because of the suffering of Mirpur’s peoples throughout the centuries, before and after 1947. When one speaks to Hindu Mirpuris of their exodus in 1947, their lived experience of the Indian State and ordinary Indians has been more positive, they tell us. Their grievances are targeted at the administration of India’s Jammu & Kashmir State, where they have been reduced to displaced persons within the divided but erstwhile State.
Pakistan, to be candid, has been exploiting Azad Kashmir since 1948. Azad Kashmir exists for the upkeep of Pakistan’s sinecures and corrupt elite. Pakistan is not a genuine democracy, where we look at the centre, and how it interacts with regions on its fringes. I don’t think it will ever become a democratic State, it will break up before its dumbed-down population realises how bad Pakistan fares amongst the countries of the world. This is a ticking time-bomb.
However, I would be an intellectually dishonest person to say India is as bad as Pakistan, because it isn’t. I cannot compare apples to oranges, notwithstanding the rise of Hindu nationalists; nationalists are a problem everywhere and not just in India. India is a redemptive country of sorts though, that has enormous human and social capital. Anyone who has had some exposure to Indians, and the vibrancy of their democratic traditions, knows there are powerful democratic forces in India, who are fierce opponents to authoritarian actors. These individuals are very unlike their Pakistani counterparts, they exist in large numbers and not a few pockets, here or there, as is the case with Pakistan.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has reduced its aspiring masses to insecurities and anxieties, on account of hating itself, which for Pakistanis, means hating their ancestors and forebears. It is a country that sits at the bottom of every human development index for reasons I need not explore. The same project that caused partition in 1947; its own breakup in 1971 amidst a genocide, whilst meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan, has been unable to create an inclusive society for the Muslim subjects forced into its deadly clutches. Muslim “Ahmedis” cannot say they are Muslims, by way of Pakistani law, imagine that? The State has the right to tell people if they’re Muslims or not! The Shia are constantly persecuted by Megaphone-totting extremists, the Army mobilises these crowds to spend signals to neighbours and stakeholders alike. Non-Urdu speaking minorities, natives of Pakistan, are treated like second class citizens in their own ethnic homelands, and there is a lot of built-up anger against Punjabis, the largest ethnic group in Pakistan that proudly speaks Urdu denigrating the rural Punjabi of its grandparents generation. In other words, ordinary Punjabis have been actively disconnected from their cultural ecology, for a politicised identity that will make them sitting ducks when blowback visits them due to no fault of their own.
The greed and avarice of Pakistan’s unrepresentative civilian and military elites have become legendary. It is only a matter of time, before the bloodletting begins, and the country implodes. The hatred in Pakistan is real, not just between ethnic groups but religious groups. Pretending these fault lines do no exist, will come to haunt the eternal optimists, eventually stranded in the midst of the ensuing chaos, with no one to help them. Because Pakistan has no sense of history, having fabricated the one it teaches its dumbed-down nationals, it thinks its future is guaranteed. In a generation’s time, or two, the 210 million Pakistanis currently will become just under 400 million people, with worsening prospects and fewer life chances. This is a recipe for disaster in the absence of widespread reforms.
If one looks at media footage before 1971, Pakistani rulers would gleefully laugh at comments that Pakistan would break up. They made these comments arrogantly, very boastfully to the world’s cameras. Days later, the world was beaming images of captured Pakistani soldiers, treated benignly by their Indian captors, which gives the lie to the idea that India is bereft of humanity, and Pakistan’s rulers always speak truthfully. In hindsight, had the Pakistan Army been convicted of warcrimes, they probably would have been less precocious in the crimes committed against the ethnic Baluch and Pashtun. There was no remorse or soul searching, instead, the rulers blamed the Indians and said of East Pakistanis, “life would be better now without these black Bengalis from low caste convert backgrounds!” These are the same charlatans calling the shots in Pakistan today, offering solidarity with Muslim causes across the world, perversely I add. They would accuse the naysayers of being cretins, using similarly dehumanising language to silence any kind of redemptive dissent. Rather than engage with the arguments, they would try and assassinate the character of their opponents. If this is still the reality of Pakistan’s Rulers (the army being top-dog), what hope is there for the dispossessed masses?
British Azad Kashmiris must represent themselves
Azad Kashmir should be widening its intellectual horizons as soon as possible. It only has two credible options now, independence/reunification with JK State (highly unlikely), or reconciliation with a democratic and people-inclusive India (less unlikely). The option of remaining with Pakistan is more of the same; it is to accept a terrible status quo that reduces Azad Kashmiris to 2nd class citizens in their own homeland. To continue postulating the possibility of a mutually-beneficial relationship between Pakistan and AJK is to maintain AJK’s subordinate status to a bunch of despotic rulers, who have no respect for their own mothers and fathers. Pakistan’s ruling elite have no tradition of fixing the country’s problems – they are quite literally the “Pigs of Animal Farm”.
I entreat my readers to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the appendices, to understand the sentiments I am expressing. Back then, no one wanted to publish his small novel, such was the cowardice of the intellectual class in England. Decades later, it became a masterpiece. A lot of what Orwell said about the USSR, was proven true.
India, a land of 1.3 billion people does not oppress Muslims; human rights violations in Kashmir began when Pakistan ISI got involved
Moreover, 150 million Muslims live in India, the number may be possibly higher. Muslims in India are proud secularists, I suspect not out of choice for everyone, but for the majority, secularism is a cornerstone of their faith in the Indian project. Without secularism, Muslim minorities lose their right to coexist; what is good for one minority, is good for all minorities. We should ponder these realities for what they are, to understand the tyranny of majorities, and how people from within a society, the minorities, fight back against authoritarian tendencies. My readers need to understand, authoritarianism can only draw breath on the back of a compliant majority; without exception, minority communities become demonised. The world is replete with examples, if only we bothered learning from accredited sources.
Indian Muslims are very devotional in their practises, they tend to follow a more syncretic faith than the highly politicised Islamists of the Pakistan Project, who have reduced their faith to identity politics. Devotional Muslims, wherever they are in the world, especially of the Sufi persuasion, endear themselves to lots of other Muslims tired of extremism and fundamentalism. Indian Muslims tend to be inclusive and tolerant of one another, their minority status has given them insights that could potentially impact Muslims in Pakistan, if only Pakistanis took an interest in Indian Muslim affairs, rather than taking their cultural cues from Bollywood!
I’m not saying they shouldn’t watch Bollywood movies, whilst glued to their TVs, but they should widen their intellectual horizons, and begin by reading accredited books written by scholars. I have more faith in the graduates of Cambridge and Oxford, and the many Harvards of the world than I do in the incumbents of post-truths in the universe of Wikipedia and Pakistani TV shows. Millions of people are consuming post-facts. To change course, Pakistanis need to develop an emotional investiture in the ideas they espouse, before they can develop an intellectual investiture critiquing such ideas. The Pakistanis in the diaspora, at present, are a tribe unaccustomed to thinking for themselves, whilst those in Pakistan are being brainwashed by the Military. Sadly, I do not see “change” happening anytime soon. Ironically, Pakistanis are viewed negatively by Indian Muslims, and Pakistan was created in the name of Indian Muslims, how’s that for another irony?
If a poll was conducted in India about the state of affairs in Pakistan, Indian Muslims would overwhelmingly choose to remain in India. They have no desire to join Pakistan, and use colourful language to describe the horrors of partition, and the Pakistan of 2020 that became its gift. To understand the propagandistic nature of Pakistan’s concerns for “Muslim” Kashmir, where human rights violations have sullied India’s good name, where chaos runs supreme, one only needs to speak to Indian Muslims, who are not being murdered, raped, disappeared or blinded by rubber pellets. Isn’t that strange?
By 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population of any country on earth. My readers should ponder that thought for one moment? These Muslims are Sufi-inclined, of both the Sunni and Shia persuasions. Even the Ahl-e-Hadis, or the Salafi movement in India is tolerant of diversity and dissent, to give the lie to the false idea that all “Wahhabis” (Saudi-inspired) are extremists. Collectively, they have become victims of Islamist violence, the kind Pakistan promotes in sponsoring terrorist networks to cause havoc in Kashmir. When Muslim terrorists (lashkar-e-tayba) attacked the Indian Parliament in 2008, sponsored by the ISI, (every intelligence analyst across the world concurs with this position), Indian Muslims were aghast, shocked and fearful of repercussions from Hindu nationalists. This is what the ISI wants, to sow discord amongst Hindus and Muslims.
Pakistan’s involvement in every neighbouring conflict since 1947 is destroying its own social fabric and future prospects; there are large numbers of minorities in Pakistan who are frequently targeted. With social equilibrium in Pakistan, the military wont get paid, it needs social, religious and economic fault lines to exploit in order to remain relevant to the domestic affairs of ordinary people. Pakistan’s Army is a mercenary state. It isn’t just a state within a state, but it is the State. It thus grows bloated on never-ending fault lines.
Azad Kashmiris can become Indian Muslims, because that is a political dispensation open to them by way of India’s claim to “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”, if indeed Indians are themselves sincere about their successive governments’ rhetoric on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Whether highly politicised Hindu nationalists, accept “Muslims” on equal terms, something I doubt very much, is still a proposition I leave to their conscience, but again, I have grown very distrustful of Pakistanis speaking about Hindutva Nationalists.
For Azad Kashmir, whether India makes a military bid for the territory, shouldn’t stop them thinking about their future prospects; there will be no nuclear Armageddon, because the world’s powers will converge on Pakistan to remove those weapons. Nuclear wars are a danger to the entire planet, and not regional countries; Pakistan is seen very negatively across the world, India is seen more positively. Azad Kashmir cannot remain occupied by a nation that has grown so arrogant, it now faces contempt from every corner of the world. Reconciliation with a democratic and secular India is thus a very good option, amongst the other option – independence.
This proposition should, at least, begin the process of talking to Indians directly in the UK, without Pakistan’s chaperons. A lot of what we are being told about India is simply untrue. The Pakistanis I am afraid – I speak of their rulers, not ordinary people, have become pathological liars, when they demean and degrade Indians, even insulting their physical appearances – a rather curious move, given lots of “Urdu-speaking” Pakistanis are practically indistinguishable from Indians! When you tell Pakistanis this self-evident truth, their souls combust, to understand the level of venom that has been spread against their own forefathers. The fact that they speak like this, especially through the anonymity of their fake online accounts, is a window onto their souls.
There is no nice way of exposing the racist antics of Pakistanis, when they berate the evils of India against ordinary Muslims. One must speak to Indian Muslims outside Kashmir to appreciate the lies being spread on WhatsApp and Social Media about millions of Muslims dying in Indian concentration camps; that’s the type of imagery being spread by Pakistan’s ISI. This Nazi-like propaganda is very dangerous in the UK, where social cohesion should be the norm. Pakistan is neither a friend of the UK, nor any democratic country that promotes social cohesion. The 7/7 terrorists who detonated bombs in the UK, I would like to remind my British countrymen, received their training in Pakistan. The ISI has turned Pakistan into a sponsor of terrorism; that is a fair and honest statement.
I believe in the politics of conciliation and diversity, within the context of functioning liberal democracies. In the absence of a just democratic settlement, which is the case for Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir polity, the natives of a territory must be free to chart their own course, and it is at this critical juncture that independence narratives become alluring, when all the other options fail.
Independence for Kashmir is a noble quest, but it’s not deliverable
Independence for Kashmir is a just and moral cause, which is being problematised by denying Kashmir its separate history to India-Pakistan. Highly divisive voices have forcibly taken ownership of Jammu & Kashmir, her lands, resources, identity-labels and ancestral memories, undermining the indigenous and native voices of 17 million beneficiaries of those traditions. They are playing the nationals of Jammu & Kashmir against each other.
This is simply unacceptable. If any of us dares feign a moral and intellectual connection to the noble ideas of a liberal democratic worldview, we should speak out now. Now is the time to speak out; our emerging middle class from AJK especially in the UK must take the reins of that liberating consciousness. They should stop being mealy-mouthed, speaking in double-talk through their social media accounts, whilst speaking hypocritically to their Pakistani friends in private. Kashmir should not be an opportunity, or a career move; they should speak with conviction, and not hypocrisy. They should not be scared of offending Pakistanis, many of whom, we consider family for all the right reasons. Lots of marriages and family relationships transcend national borders, and this doesn’t simply apply to AJK and Pakistan.
Living in the West, I am correct in saying that genuine liberal democracies have proven themselves, time after time, that they can reform their institutions and laws, accommodating diverse peoples and social classes, within their dominant mainstreams, if not imperfectly. Our lives have immeasurably improved on account of our forebears migrating here; this should be a powerful reason to advocate on behalf of a tolerant, secular and democrative Kashmir. If we can live in a secular democracy in the West and prosper, why cant Muslims live in a secular democracy in India?
For the naysayers in our midst, who love undermining our liberal democratic traditions in the UK for an illusory “Islamic” Pakistani identity, I am always curious to understand why they haven’t found better pastures in the despotic regimes they so admire? If Pakistan had any connections with Islam – I believe it is blasphemy to equate Pakistan with the Prophet of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), it would have offered an apology to East Bengal’s Muslims and Hindus, whose daughters its soldiers raped and murdered, designating them “comfort women”. We’re talking about 300 thousand to 3 million people butchered and brutalised by Pakistani Army guns – ordinary Pakistanis have no stomach for these damning truths! Everything to them is a conspiracy, either of Indian proportions, or Western proportions; the ludicrous idea that these countries, are somehow frightened by Pakistan, jealous or envious of its enormous human capital seems lost on them. Pakistan doesn’t offer its own nationals anything, so what can it offer the world?
If Pakistan had been so great to Azad Kashmir, why are there more than a million Azad Kashmiris in the UK?
Pakistan’s elite are ripping off Pakistan; AJK needs to head for the door
I would like to ask the intellectually honest patriots for world peace in Pakistan, why do their autocratic Army Generals own properties in Britain, America, Canada etc, where their children eventually settle? Lots of Pakistanis can barely get visas to visit these countries. Why does Pakistan’s Army spread so much hatred against the West, in whose lands the Generals and Army Officers eventually retire? Pakistan’s children, according to the UN, are malnourished, even their heights are now stunted; how far Pakistan has come from Britain’s colonial race myths around martial races. Why must the poor learn Urdu in Pakistan, denied their ethnic languages, whilst the rich are educated in private schools that teach exclusively in English? Pakistan is a two-tiered society, one that exists for the upkeep of the rich, and the other for the downtrodden masses.
Be that as it is, South Asia, the land of our forebears and their ancestral memories, remains in the hands of unenlightened rulers, who offer native peoples far from the centres of power, nothing but servitude. Kashmir has thus become their poisoned chalice, regrettably.
It is high-time that Azad Kashmiris, the bonafide nationals of Jammu & Kashmir initiate themselves in their own history, and form their own fraternity in the UK. They must separate themselves from British-Pakistanis for the purposes of official representation, advocating on the basis of priorities that will root them in a British lived experience, whilst connecting them to the blood-drenched lands of their forebears – Jammu & Kashmir.
They should elect their own officials to represent 1 million British Azad Kashmiris (who belong to Jammu & Kashmir), or any persons of whatever backgrounds, committed to the values of liberalism, equality and justice for all. Elements within the Pakistan intelligentsia have been slandering Azad Kashmiris for decades; they’ve been able to do this, because they have assumed the role of gatekeeper, all the while they’ve been protective of their own reputations. By throwing members of the AJK community under the bus, they think wrongly that they are redeeming themselves, whilst actively destroying the fabric of a wider British Pakistani identity, which doesn’t even work for Pakistanis living in Pakistan. It was the haters who began the process of othering and internal differentiation, Azad Kashmiris are merely concluding the process they began.
Pakistan’s Rulers, for their part, having availed enormous advantages through Mirpuri remittences from the UK, the figures are mind-boggling, and the enormous dam that displaced lots of people, have never once addressed the vilification of the community, or even offered an apology for the behaviour of their bonafide nationals – those Urdu-speaking Urbanites who come from some utopian Middle-Class heaven. If ever origin myths were cringe-worthy, one need not look beyond how Pakistan’s nobility class views itself. Why have the Rulers of Pakistan remained silent in the face of such provocations? Because, they have benefitted from its outflows, demoralising British Mirpuris, who otherwise could hold Pakistanis to account, creating a wedge between Azad Kashmiris and Valley Kashmiris, whilst guaranteeing positions of power and authority for themselves. These realities may be lost on individuals, who do not understand how unjust power works, but there are still people invested in morality.
Are Mirpuris this bereft of honour and dignity, when Pakistanis casually say, “we don’t marry Mirpuris”? Is this the fraternity they want to be part of? Pakistanis should be happy that Mirpuris have not turned hostile to their antics? The insecurities and anxieties behind these disparaging remarks speak volumes about how Pakistanis feel about themselves, a people who can’t offer anything to their own daughters and sisters. Pakistanis cant redeem one inch of Pakistan, because it is a Failed Project, the masses love deferring to autocratic Rulers, who are a special breed of narcissist.
My rejoinder to this dishonest relationship in the UK is not about hating ordinary Pakistanis, but about loving ourselves. We should never lose sight of our own sense of forgiveness, none of us is perfect; but if the Pakistanis want to mend this relationship, which is based on Islam, something that they constantly tell themselves, and something which Azad Kashmiris value, they should find contrition in their hearts and right the wrongs of previous decades with the utmost of urgency. I would however point out, by 2050, there will be more Muslims in India than in any Muslim country on earth. If Hindu India was this evil, why do Indian Muslims become so agitated when Pakistan’s intelligence services try to create a wedge between them and their countrymen? Indians have committed no wrongs against Pakistan, it was Pakistan that partitioned their lands in the name of bogus ideological claims; the founder of Pakistan, Mr Jinnah, allegedly, was an atheist!
Pakistan should stop oppressing its own Shia and Ahmedis. They should stop blaming Saudi “Wahhabis” for their own antics. Saudi Arabia has been a lifeline for Pakistan’s poor, who have been remitting billions of dollars every year, what thanks did the Saudis get when the Army hid Bin Laden a mile from a military installation?
When we espouse these facts, Pakistanis should not become spiteful or bitter, but take stock of the limited goodwill that still remains for Pakistan, vastly diminishing. They should free the British national Tanveer Ahmed, a native son of Azad Kashmir [click here], who they arrested in August 2020 contrary to their own sham laws for simply daring to replace the Pakistan flag in a supposedly free Azad Kashmir polity, ironically, with the Azad Kashmir flag.
There is no crime in law to replace a foreign flag in a supposedly autonomous and independent region called Azad Kashmir, which has its own constitution, anthem, flag, laws, courts and legislative assembly. Tanveer was making the point that Azad Kashmir is not Free, and succeeded in changing a lot of people’s opinions about the pathological lies Pakistan tells itself. These are the actual conversations people are having in the UK; the Pakistanis are trying to stop us from developing a consciousness that connects us with Britain, (being loyal to British values) whilst concerned for the poor and downtrodden people of divided Jammu & Kashmir.
40 years on, Pakistan should apologise to Bangladesh for the genocide it committed. It murdered and raped freedom-loving people, who dared challenge corrupt rulers. Whatever the dehumanising lies about Bengalis and their “inferior race”, they succeeded in throwing off the shackles of oppression. Who helped them? Indians did, and Bangladesh is a free nation today. However, I have my doubts about Pakistani self-introspection, and this is why I am advocating reconciliation with India.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” An English proverb.
India offers better prospects for Azad Kashmir, not least because India has never stopped offering the hand of genuine friendship and fraternity despite all the horrible lies being spread against it by Pakistan’s intelligence services. No amount of lies against Indians will change the true face of Pakistan, a horrible place for its own nationals. If silence and lies are the cost of maintaining the status quo in Pakistan for an unaccountable elite, Azad Kashmir must head for the exits now.
This post was amended in light of the arrest of Tanveer Ahmed in August, 2020.