Politics and politicians herd us like sheep into a protective ‘national’ net that restricts and exploits us rather than allow us to utilise our strengths.

It has now been nearly three months since my naani (maternal grandmother) reunited with her brother and sister. They were separated in October 1947. Witnessing the two sisters meet for the first time after that, yards forward of the family home in Mendhar (District Poonch in Indian-administered Kashmir), was nothing short of an epiphany for me.

I spent the last 22 of my 37 years trying to make this happen, and for the most part, it seemed an unattainable dream. Since April 2005, staying put in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — I came down from the United Kingdom — was my only means to ensure my dream was attained.

In these four years, two months and 11 days of my adamant insistence that this reunion must take place, it was just good fortune that old age and chronic health issues did not take any of the three siblings beyond return and India and Pakistan did not embark on a nuclear holocaust despite Mumbai.

Week after week, I watched divided families benefit from the cross-LOC bus service, except mine. The phenomenon of Chinese goods moving easier across the LOC than divided families, even the societal disgrace of not pursuing a living — nothing — absolutely nothing, tempted me to forego my project.

It was an angst-ridden period, but it gave me ample opportunity to examine human relationships and analyse the way politics and politicians herd us like sheep into a protective ‘national’ net that restricts and exploits us rather than allow us to utilise our strengths. I still find it difficult to believe that the impossible has occurred.

It is a bizarre coincidence that I am writing from an inner suburb of Rawalpindi, namely Arjun Nagar. Adjoining this is Mohalla Mohan Pura. As the names suggest, these localities have strong Hindu origins where, prior to the bloody partition of 1947, most of the residents here would have been of the Hindu faith, their heritage perhaps dating back thousands of years. Yet, just like my naani’s family in what is now Pakistani-administered Kashmir (Nikyal), they were all hounded out and those that survived, would now be living in various parts of India.

These mohallas of Rawalpindi or Nikyal for that matter have long ceased to be what they were. You would need to strain your eyes to notice any remnant of an old mandir and this is why I would contend that the whole sub-continent has become agonisingly indigent without coexistence. Our time with naani’s family gave me a refreshing tenor of how the region might have been.

Meeting her siblings almost instantaneously wiped out my naani’s misery and marginalisation of the past sixty-two years. Mourning face to face over their deceased parents and younger brother could almost be described as a luxury they had been deprived of for decades. The happiness and joy of reunion overwhelmed that sorrow like a balm. Naani seemed young again — after all, the three siblings could only visualise each other in the shape and form of when they were last together in their late childhood-early teens. Her voice got inflection, she no longer appeared to be the chronic heart patient that she was. In the time we spent with her family, even her diet and consequently her body frame changed as she finally began to enjoy food. From my childhood, I had always wondered why she ate so little — the reason now became so abundantly obvious.

Accompanying my naani and me on this trip was of course my naana (maternal grandfather), without whose involvement this 22-year-old dream of mine would have remained forlornly unattainable. For him this trip was into ‘traditional enemy territory.’ Thus the Jinnah cap was an essential item of attire. It came as quite a shock to him that Hindus and Muslims coexisted peacefully on the other side and that Muslims had no restrictions on worship. In a matter of days, it dawned on him that when you look beyond religious-cum-national identity, we were all homo-sapiens after all. He was pleasantly surprised that “they eat, laugh and swear like us.” Indeed, the Pahaari (the region of Kashmir that lies to the South and West of the Kashmir vale, traverses the LOC and is made up of Hindus and Muslims) cultural affinity was what he could readily relate to. By the end of our stay he was even waxing lyrical about Mahatma Gandhi’s attempts to keep the nation intact.

Which brings me to a dream that has been taking shape in my head these past few years. Is there scope for a Pahaari inspiration for reunion of the subcontinent? They didn’t cause the division of the sub-continent but suffered much because of it (my naani’s family being a case in point), and could possibly play a key role in reunion.

Alas, reality is much harsher than it should be. South of us in Kashmir, getting Punjabis on either side of the divide to forgive and forget is a mammoth task. Furthermore, India and Pakistan still have difficulty sitting across a table. Negative elements on either side are intent on sustaining separation. In our Pahaari region, if the constraining demands of Indian and Pakistani identity are loosened and crucially, if the legitimate security concerns of our Hindu minority are appropriately addressed, our people would be willing to listen, learn and revise. Evaluating history in a balanced manner and exploring opportunity in a globalised world requires that we embrace, not constrict our diversity.

Even this is asking for a lot. It is not just the tedious cross-LOC application process. Many Hindus on the Indian-administered side are apprehensive about visiting their ancestral homes and relatives, if any, on the Pakistani-administered side, not least because of security concerns. They are also aware that for many people on our side of the divide, being Pakistani necessitates being anti-Hindu (synonymous with anti-India). Unfortunately, no amount of entente between India and Pakistan in the past few years has changed that pernicious perception. For activists such as myself, there is a non-existent institutional framework for developing cross-LOC initiatives, zero space for civil society and on top of that, an endemically corrupt administration whose sustenance lies in maintaining the status quo. That should provide the reader with a reasonable idea of how far we are from the road to progress and reconciliation.

The final morning of our visit across the LOC was extremely painful. Naani’s sister fainted and collapsed as she watched her sister depart. Her nieces wailed and nephews wept incessantly.

Sensa (our home tehsil in district Kotli of Pakistan-administered Kashmir) was only about 70 kilometres away, yet we all knew for reasons more than obvious that this reunion may never happen again.

Nevertheless, Vedic chants and exclamations of Masha-allah and Subhan-allah did, do and will coexist in this region.

This article was first published in 2009 in the Hindu
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Our time has come to transition from ‘subjects’ to ‘citizens’!
Working all hours to develop civil society in ‘A’zad Jammu & Kashmir.
“A solution to Jammu & Kashmir’s unresolved status can only be executed if the citizens of the territory create a solution without external interference” – Tanveer Ahmed.

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

15 COMMENTS

  1. You said about AJK, “Politics and politicians herd us like sheep into a protective ‘national’ net that restricts and exploits us rather than allow us to utilise our strengths.”

    Who are these politicians and how is this politics bad for AJK?

    • Well, in the context of AJK we have 49 Members of the Legislative Assembly. 29 are elected from 29 constituencies in AJK itself, 12 are elected from constituencies created in Pakistan wherever there is a concentration of refugees from other parts of J & K, who have migrated since 1947. These 12 seats are equally divided between refugees of Jammu (viz. 6) and the Valley of Kashmir (viz. 6). The remaining 8 seats are reserved for nominations from other Assembly members and include 5 seats for women, 1 for an alim (Islamic Scholar), 1 for a technocrat and 1 seat is reserved for a nominee from the diaspora (also described as the overseas MLA).

      All these 49 members have very little power to legislate except to parrot whatever is decided by the Kashmir Council (15 members – 8 Pakistanis including whoever is the Chief Executive of Pakistan at the time who chairs the council and 7 members of AJK who are nominated and then elected through a vote of members of the AJK Assembly).

      The Kashmir Council despite not being directly elected by the people of AJK, effectively acts as an Upper House which does all the legislating and controls all the finances in conjunction with the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad and shadows who lead ultimately to GHQ (Pakistani Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi although their commanding officer in Murree – also described as GCO Murree plays a more hands-on role). They all ensure or conspire to ensure that control of AJK remains at all times with the Pakistani state and that their ‘security’ concerns always remain prominent over and above any economic, cultural, academic or developmental need of the AJK population. This structure spells disaster and is akin to the dark ages for any thinking citizen of AJK.

      Thus, in our case, our politicians (who for all intents and purposes are the 29 people directly elected by the public of AJK) conform to the needs and requirements of the Pakistani state, they openly and structurally pledge allegiance no less. They do not represent the concerns and aspirations of the public of AJK except to ensure economic facilitation for a limited number of their supporters – who in turn mobilse others under their influence to come out to vote – by carrot or stick and usually on a tribal basis – as a matter of survival in a land with little governance, economic opportunity or rule of law. Effectively, the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) acts as an insurance policy for the survival of the public in AJK. He (or she) also prolongs and cements the status quo in Pakistan’s favour.

      Thus, the ‘herding cycle’ repeats itself from election to election.

      • Absolutely outrageous. Thank you for speaking out against this political ‘tyranny’; we need more courageous people like you to tell ‘us’, ‘your people’ in the UK, about so-called Azad Kashmir’s ‘reality’. It is sad that so many NGOs and academics have written movingly about the pitiable state of AJK as a client state of a country that doesn’t even care for the ordinary citizens of Pakistan, and our people are simply unaware of their publications. The condition for AJK ‘state subjects’ is even worse. And yet so many of our people in the UK continue to fly Pakistani flags thinking they have a stake in a country that is actually exploiting AJK.

        But what can we do to change this here in the UK as Mirpuris, and how are you going to realign our politics to serve the interests of the people of Mirpur and our fellow countrymen in the rest of Azad Jammu & Kashmir?

        In other words, how are you going to speak out to the people in Britain who continue to fly Pakistani flags unaware that AJK has its own flag, anthem and political structure courtesy of a country exploiting AJK?

        • Well, thanks for your comments. I would say ‘Nation-state’ sensitization is a gradual process. By that I mean, for whatever reason Pakistan was created and for whatever reason it continues to exist, it needs to understand that other territories which were in existence before Pakistan’s creation, have as much right to exist as it does.
          Overall, better connectivity between AJK and the UK will create opportunities to decrease the lacunae in information, especially on Pakistan’s role which as amplified already, is not as benign as many of our co-citizens imagine.
          I think this portal viz. portmir.org.uk will do much in due course to address the current imbalance.

  2. Well done for making this happen; ostensibly, it seems an almost impossible task. Thank you for such an emotional piece.

    “They eat, laugh and swear like us.” echoes the near-harmony which existed pre-1947, which has been shattered.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=267cOJSycTM

    Krishan Dev Sethi is a well-known leader in Jammu, whose once resided in Mirpur and still feels a strong affinity with its lands, history and people. In this interview, he elaborates on the history of Mirpur.

    • Many thanks for your appreciative comments. If only our diaspora can demonstrate an inkling of the passion and affinity that Krishan Dev Sethi feels for his birthplace Mirpur, we can make gigantic strides in developing a system of governance that most citizens of the ‘developed world’ take for granted.

  3. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/pakistani-kashmir FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT

    Pakistani Kashmir * STATUS; NOT FREE

    “In 2014, 12 political activists in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) were sentenced to life imprisonment under the country’s antiterrorism laws for speaking out for the rights of the local people. This prompted protests calling for the removal of such laws.

    A series of attacks on Shiite Muslim communities in Pakistan during the year killed a number of GB residents, leading to protests. In October, sectarian militants attacked a van of Shia Muslims on Gilgit-Skardu road, killing three people.

    Monsoon rains across the valley in 2014 flooded many regions of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and GB. In AJK, 63 people lost their lives; 11 were reported dead in GB.”

  4. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/265758.pdf

    THERE ARE NUMEROUS REPORTS THAT PAKISTAN IS A CORRUPT COUNTRY RUN BY AN ELITE THAT CARES LITTLE FOR THE POOR AND ORDINARY PAKISTANIS WHO MAKE UP THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION. WHAT CAN PAKISTAN OFFER ‘AZAD’ KASHMIR IF THIS IS THE REALITY OF PAKISTAN?

    “Lack of government accountability remained a problem, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among the perpetrators whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights violations.”

    “Corruption within the government and police, as well as rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, honor crimes, other harmful traditional practices, and discrimination against women and girls remained serious societal problems. Gender inequality continued. Child abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children persisted. Child labor remained pervasive. Widespread human trafficking, including forced and bonded labor, continued. Societal discrimination against national, ethnic, and racial minorities persisted, as did discrimination based on caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Respect for worker rights was minimal.”

    • Yara did you even read the post? He said he is from Sehnsa, which is in Kotli. These are hills that were part of the old Mirpur District, still form part of the Mirpur Division in Pakistan-controlled Jammu & Kashmir. Rajouri town is in now on the other side in Indian-controlled JK, these people are split between Indian and Pakistani checkpoints. NO BODY in AJK or Indian JK WANT CHECKPOINTS. THE LOC IS OPPRESSION ON OUR PEOPLE IN JAMMU KASHMIR. If you hadn’t read the post, honest mistake, as every Mirpuri in UK thinks every other Azad Kashmiri is from Dadyal. What kind of name is Mashup anyway?

  5. U speak from the heart, I’ll give u that much. How do we know u aint like the rest of them over there?

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