Pakistan’s Propaganda on Azad Kashmir

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Questions to think about….

  1. How does propaganda work? General Context?
  2. How does propaganda work in Kashmir? Specific Context?
  3. Who benefits from propaganda?
  4. How do some people, unwittingly, spread the propaganda even when the propaganda has been designed to undermine their interests?
  5. What is messaging (images, words, ideas), and is it different from propaganda?
  6. How does Social Media aid the propagandists? Understanding online platforms.
  7. What is the psychology of group behaviour?
  8. What are elite interests, dominant groups, the mainstream and fringe groups?
  9. What is the status quo, social order and upward mobility (when poor dispossessed people assume the persona of the dominant group to get ahead in life – social respectability)?
  10. What are social and political movements for change, and how do they, naively, co-opt propaganda of the Occupying Power, without realising it?

Propaganda

Propaganda is as old as the first ruling class. It is the ability to manipulate people through false stories. Without getting technical or deploying associated ideas from text books, propaganda is an art-form, a skill that allows dishonest interests to unduly influence a population to think contrary to its collective interests. This is one example of propaganda, and it requires very dishonest people to be involved in it during times of peace, akin to how Pakistan’s leaders (Military Context) use Islam to manipulate millions of dispossessed and disempowered Muslims to follow interests that ultimately lead to their dispossession. There is no military solution to the India/Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, and yet the Pakistan Military has convinced naive Pakistanis that there is a war between Hindus and Muslims over Kashmir, when there is no war. There will be no Pakistan Army coming to the rescue of Muslim Kashmiris, who have become embroiled, unwittingly, in Pakistan’s asymmetrical contest with India.

Because I am speaking to pro-independence Kashmiri activists, I am framing this conversation on propaganda with reference to what is happening in Azad Kashmir.  I’m trying to show that the Pakistani Occupier uses propaganda against the people of Azad Kashmir with real effectiveness. 

Worse, the activists, unwittingly, spread Pakistani-sourced propaganda at the expense of the cause/ideals they follow – the liberation of ordinary people. They are constantly tweeting Pakistani-sponsored Urdu tweets about human rights violations in India’s Kashmir region, which are very real, whilst indifferent to the pleas of ordinary Azad Kashmiris, which has got me thinking whose interests are they really pursuing?

Liberation requires assessing and weighing up a situation, building consensus for one’s people. 

Occupation requires denying such outcomes, destroying the consensus of the Occupied People.


Bajwa’s son’s wedding, and the picture of the happy occasion tweeted across the world

So, think of General Bajwa and the wedding of his elder son in 2018.

A lavish affair, no doubt. Online pictures showed a very middle-class wedding where the bride is wearing a kind of decorative hijab (headscarf), and the men and women in the picture are his family, Imran Khan sitting next to him in Shalwar Kameez, and there’s no free-mixing. But, at the same time, the picture has the quality of showing Bajwa and his family to be an ordinary middle-class, urban family, that is modern and progressive. It serves different functions, and it is tailored for different audiences. It seems neutral of messaging, an ordinary fact of a happy occasion, but it is 100% propaganda. 

This is an example of propaganda that is designed to reach different audiences in Pakistan and abroad. The people behind the picture understand the psychology of group behaviour, and how people will respond to the picture. They understand people’s aspirations, and also their prejudices, what we call pre-judgements and stereotypes. Propaganda cannot work without pre-judgements and stereotypes. To understand stereotypes, one must understand how the brain works to mitigate danger (the psychology of behaviour); if a lion roars, and a person hears it roar, he or she will try to escape because a lion will eat a human being when it’s hungry. To a lion, human beings are food, and not people with families, emotions and stories. The human reaction to run away from the lion is based on pre-judgement (inherited from our premodern ancestors), and the stereotype that lions eat humans. But, the stereotype can be false, because this particular lion might not want to eat a human being, he’s just flexing his vocal cords. He is not hungry! Unlike human beings, lions only kill their prey when they are hungry. The human brain is designed to ponder/assess every possible eventuality without experiencing every possible eventuality. The brain skips to pre-judgements through stereotypes to conserve energy, and also protect itself. The stereotype is a kind of protection from bad eventualities, this is how the brain is hardwired.

This is why psychologists speak of positive stereotypes and negative stereotypes, because without stereotypes human beings cannot function. Positive stereotypes can lead people to join celebrated groups, negative stereotypes can lead people to exclude the members of such groups (discrimination/persecution), whilst rejecting the entire group. Ethnic and racial stereotypes are dangerous. History teaches us that it was European Colonialists, who first started to use negative stereotypes (stigma, demonisation) to control populations, sometimes through mind-control, and not necessarily through chains and cages.

Stereotypes are thus used in propaganda because of the psychology behind human group behaviour. People start to make associations with others, thinking they are protecting themselves by joining good people (the respectable), whilst moving away from bad people (the stigmatised). 

So, how is General Bajwa’s wedding picture propagandistic? Because it is based on a political narrative; it uses sentiments we all take for granted for the purpose of promoting an autocratic entity that is responsible for conflict, social division and massive inequality. 

Bajwa is the Head of the Military, and the Military wants to rule the people of Pakistan. The happy picture of the wedding is not the reality of Pakistan for millions of ordinary brides and grooms, whilst the Military Complex that produced the picture, are billionaires and they don’t care about people in Azad Kashmir, but money, power and status. They use propaganda to stay in power and to cause havoc and social chaos in Pakistani society through pre-judgements that Pakistan is lawless and cannot govern itself without a strong Military. They use similar messaging about Azad Kashmir’s emerging civilian-society, “a ragtag society of activists who have no experience of governance and nation-building”, which is simply not true. The Army uses negative stereotypes of Pakistani society, in general, and positive stereotypes of its own institution (PakArmy brand), in particular, even though it is behind lots of terrible incidents and events – chaos it has socially engineered. It uses the religious mobs to frighten and intimidate ordinary people, and then comes to the rescue of the people from lawlessness. The leaders of these mobs are on speed-dial. It occasionally locks up the Mullahs and then releases them (The Red Mosque Imam), this is done deliberately to control the Mullahs and the people, who end up distrusting each other.

See, ‘Imran Khan Has Normalized Prejudice in Pakistan; Pakistan is already known for having little tolerance for its religious minorities. Khan and the PTI have aggravated the problem’

Intelligence analysts, across the Free World, understand this tactic very well, and it is the complete opposite of how genuine democratic systems work. True democrats can never behave like this. Ordinary Pakistanis and Azad Kashmiri activists are unaware of these realities if one looks at the conversations they’re having, which seem to be influenced by much older narratives that have since gone out of fashion in the West. But, if one looks at how the Pakistan Military uses propaganda, one sees the same patterns reappearing in different arenas of conflict. 

It was these sorts of older realities that destroyed the social fabric of East Pakistan in 1971 when the Military Complex socially engineered chaos in East Bengal to undermine the democratic will of the voters there. East Pakistanis won the Pakistan election, fair and square. Democratically speaking, they should have formed the government for both East and West Pakistan. The Pakistan Army, a West Pakistani outfit engineered conflict in East Pakistan, and then stepped in under the pretext that they were returning law and order to the area. It wasn’t Bengali freedom activists – the Mukti Bahini, who started the murders, but the Pakistan Army, who then blamed “the agitators” for the ensuing lawlessness. One must also look at the messaging at the time, and how the conflict was being reported across the world during the Cold War. In effect, West Pakistanis did not want East Pakistanis forming the governing class. The Pakistan Military used widespread prejudice (incorrect pre-judgements/stereotypes) in West Pakistan against East Pakistanis meticulously.

How they did this is an example of how propagandists operate. They used negative racial and ethnic stereotypes about Bengalis fully aware of how West Pakistanis perceived East Pakistanis, they dehumanised them, and ended up murdering 3 million people. Soldiers raped nearly 400 thousand women (comfort women). Bengalis were described as being “black-skinned, dark, ugly, short, of non-muslim backgrounds, Muslim converts from recent low-caste backgrounds (Kammi)“, “really Hindus”; their leaders were described as being clever, cunning, devious, smart, “like Brahmans, and Indian agents that need to be neutralised.” Messaging was employed about the Bengali language script (really Hindu, not Muslim). This is exactly how propaganda works in the World, this is how 6 million Jews (“really semites”) were murdered by Nazis; how Bosnian Muslims (“really Turks”) were murdered by the Serbian Military; how the Myanmar Military murdered Burmese Rohingya (“really Bengali Muslims”); how ISIS enslaved Yazidi women (“really devil worshippers”). Yazidi girls with blue eyes were worth more, as slaves, than Yazidi women with dark eyes, the sort of colourism that pervades Pakistani society – the elephant that no one wants to talk about.  

Because of how group behaviour works, no one in West Pakistan seemed to care about what was happening in East Pakistan. This is because of how the Military Complex succeeded in its propaganda against East Pakistanis in general, and Mujib ul-Rehman’s governing party in particular.

So, you should understand now, pictures and stories (messaging) are not innocent things when they are connected with Power Structures. They have intent, and always result in favourable outcomes for the Rulers. They are used like bombs of war. When Azad Kashmiris circulate this messaging, they empower the Rulers and disempower themselves. Indirectly, they give credence to the Pakistan Occupier’s messaging about the Kashmir Conflict.

The Pakistan Military Complex self-perpetuates at the cost of wealth that Pakistan doesn’t produce, but comes from International Aid, IMF loans, World Bank grants, and a small Military budget, comparable with developing nations, that is disproportionate to the small federal budget. At today’s reckoning, Pakistan’s economy is about 300 billion US dollars. Its federal budget is about 50 billion US dollars. Its population is around 220 million people and increasing at a rate that cannot be accommodated by the depleting resources of the State. The Military budget is just under 10 billion US dollars. Pakistan’s Human Development Index is one of the lowest in the world. If one understands these figures, Pakistan is a very impoverished country that cannot sustain itself, and yet the Military seems to be getting richer every year, whilst Pakistanis get poorer every year.

India’s economy is worth nearly 3 trillion US dollars. Next year, it is estimated that nearly 200 million people will join the middle class, a people who have surplus wealth to buy things. Joining India is an option for Azad Kashmiris, which scares Pakistan, because there are 150 million Muslims in India, and they are not being murdered in the same way the Pakistan Military presents the Kashmir Conflict. Tensions between the BJP (the governing party in India) and ordinary Indian Muslims benefit Pakistan’s propaganda against India, a Hindu country. Interestingly, India does not want the rest of Pakistan to join India, its rulers have washed their hands of Pakistan. But this option exists for Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, because of India’s claims to divided Jammu & Kashmir. India continues to extend the hand of friendship to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, but Pakistan wants Muslims to perceive India in religious terms.

In theory, Azad Kashmiris can walk across the LOC and say to the Indians, “we want Indian citizenship, we are Occupied Indians”! I doubt very much the Indians of the ruling class would honour their propagandistic claims, because they too are involved in false narratives. They were more than happy to see hundreds and thousands of Hindu Pandits expelled from the Valley of Kashmir because of the value of the horrible messaging. Overnight, ordinary Hindus became refugees in their own homeland, living in tents in Jammu. Lots of Kashmiri Pandits and Hindu and Sikh Refugees from so-called Azad Kashmir (Mirpuri Mahajan) have not forgotten how they were treated by their own, supposedly, Hindu (secular) governments. They were expendable too.

See, ‘Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India; The Prime Minister’s Hindu-nationalist government has cast two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies’

This is when propaganda becomes deadly. The Pakistan Army uses Islam to disconnect the Sunni Muslims of Azad Kashmir with the Sunni Muslims of India. It uses propaganda to disconnect the Muslims of Kashmir with the Muslims of Jammu. It uses ethnic propaganda to disconnect Gilgit Baltistan from Azad Kashmir, and from the Valley of Kashmir. It uses the caste system in this way too – “Only the Ashraf (noble) castes love Islam like the Military (almost entirely of Indian descent), but the low-castes (Ajlaf/Kammi) are really undercover Hindus”. People of humble backgrounds – the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis come from humble backgrounds including the ISI, start to overcompensate to prove that they really are Muslims. They do this because there is a psychology to group behaviours. They want to belong to the celebrated group and not be excluded from it, we call this ‘exclusion’ in the UK; Huguenots, Jews, the Irish, Black people, Muslims, Asians, women, have all gone through this, in varying degrees. Prejudice and stereotypes are at the heart of the false narratives, lots of people lose their moral compass when dealing with people they think to be inferior to themselves. Western academics have written extensively around such dehumanising behaviours.

Prejudice can lead to discrimination, which can lead to persecution, which can lead to genocide. This is a familiar story across the world. Pakistan Military uses prejudice and stereotypes to separate the peoples it controls. It uses hatred and toxicity in ways that destroy the social fabric of its own society. And it does this mostly through religious propaganda against non-Muslims, women and liberals. 

So, what exactly is propaganda within the context of Kashmir? 

Propaganda is a sophisticated weapon of war used by people to influence naive and impressionable people to think they’re part of something, when they’re not. Pakistan’s military propaganda exists so the Military Complex continues to have access to power, privilege and prestige. Pakistan’s wealth comes from different sources which could help alleviate Pakistan’s poverty, but it ends up in the pockets of the Military Complex. Rich Pakistanis do not pay tax on their personal wealth, so where exactly does the government’s tax rupees come from? 

It comes from the unlikeliest of places. British Pounds are ensuring Pakistan can honour its balance of payments in a stable currency, and yet GBPs do not accrue from trade with Britain but remittences from British Azad Kashmiris in the UK. Unlike the other regions of Pakistan, the tiny slither of land called Azad Kashmir produces water, hydropower and royalties from its natural assets; remittences from the Azad Kashmir diaspora, and a consumer market for Pakistani products. If British Azad Kashmiris stopped using Pakistan’s national carrier, or buying things in Islamabad, the economy of this part of Northern Pakistan would be severely affected. In other words, unlike Pakistan’s wealth that stays in Pakistan (the elite deposit their wealth in foreign banks), Azad Kashmir’s wealth is a net-loss for ordinary Azad Kashmiris, and a net-gain for Pakistan’s elite, and even ordinary people, especially the commercial sector. 

If my astute readers can frame this discussion within the 10 questions I raised earlier, they’ll understand why Azad Kashmiris need to be sold Muslim Unity delusions through propaganda including positive stereotypes about the Pakistan urban middle-class; negative stereotypes about the rural Azad Kashmiris – to reign in their rebellious streak. They need to be constantly told they are one people with Muslim Pakistanis when, in fact, they are separate people. Pakistanis are very prejudicial, and sometimes, outright racist towards Azad Kashmiris and other rural/mountainous communities, some of these equality campaigners end up giving lectures to the BBC and Guardian. They end up writing books about Birmingham’s Balti Triangle (“Pakistani” cuisine), failing to mention the Azad Kashmiri pioneers behind the trade. They co-opt the memories and struggles of Azad Kashmir’s forebears when it suits them, discarding the offensive stereotypes they impose upon the lessor-Pakistanis.

I recall an email exchange between a friend, and an up-and-coming Pakistani comedian insulting Mirpuris in language so offensive and degrading, it would have been the end of a person’s career. At the time, he was very popular on the Muslim comedy circuit, I contacted a Pakistani charity about his forthcoming appearance, and the tone of the response I got back was dismissive; I was told by the director of the charity that he would have a word with the chap.

Weeks later, the same guy turned up to give an interview at the BBC Asian Network about autism. My son is autistic, he was diagnosed very early on in infancy, because of our insistence to get help for him, going to and from doctors and experts who kept telling us, he wasn’t autistic, and we shouldn’t worry about his delayed speech. Well, it turned out that he was on the autistic spectrum, and we’re fine with that, but I had the galling experience of sitting through a radio interview, listening to a prejudicial person telling the Asian presenter, from the same community as him, that he believes he is autistic. He had discovered this fact during his adulthood. Complaining to the BBC is pointless because the Pakistanis have become gatekeepers to the British Azad Kashmir community, and they have the ear of powerful people who can influence whether our complaints would even be given time of day. Some of these indididuals have become bandwagons looking for opportunities in the UK. They are so concerned about Palestine and India’s Kashmir that they seem to be reticent about oppression in Pakistan’s Kashmir region and Eastern Turkistan, where the Uighur are being ethnically cleansed as I write these words. The way Pakistanis describe Azad Kashmiris, negatively, is a window onto their souls, and should not be lost on any of us who want the end of Pakistani Occupation in so-called Azad Kashmir for the dignity of the ordinary man, woman and child.


So, what makes other British Pakistanis view Mirpuris as a distinct group? Those from Karachi or Islamabad use the term “Mirpuri” pejoratively, and adverts on online dating sites such as muslimsingles.com often stipulate “No Mirpuris”. Many Mirpuris prefer simply to call themselves Azad Kashmiri. 

‘The mosques aren’t working in Bradistan; Bradford’s Pakistani community predominantly originates from the Mirpur region’ by Samira Shackle, the New Statesman, 2010

Note, Just like the Guardian, the NewStatesman supports independent journalism, and so Samira Shackle simply borrowed the incorrect insight that the 7/7 bombers were Mirpuris from Madeleine Bunting’s article, who in her own independent streak took her insights from the Pakistani gatekeepers in the UK. She aptly titled her article the ‘Orphans of Islam; the history of Mirpur’s population may help to explain why some became suicide bombers’. As someone of Muslim descent whose grandparents originate from Azad Kashmir, I find such a characteristion deeply offensive, my peers are not the Orphans of Islam, they happen to be Muslims.

But there will be no apology for the incorrect reporting; (the 7/7 bombers were not from Mirpur, Azad Kashmir but the Punjab Province, Pakistan), because that’s just the nature of unjust power dynamics, until the dispossessed group resists and actually speaks back, exposing the hypocrisy of those who want to represent them at every turn, negatively.

See, Crisis of Impunity – Pakistan’s Support of the Taliban, 2001

Reiss Haidar

Birmingham, UK 

05/12/2021

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Equality & Human Rights Campaigner, Researcher, Content Copywriter and Traveller. Blogger at Portmir Foundation. Liberal by values, a centrist of sorts, opposed to authoritarianism – States must exist for the welfare of people, all of them, whatever their beliefs or lifestyles. People are not “things” to be owned, exploited, manipulated and casually ignored. Political propaganda is not history, ethnicity, geography or religion.

I love languages and cultures – want to study as many as I can; proficient in some. Opposed to social and political injustice anywhere in the world.

I believe ‘life’ is a work in progress, nothing is fixed even our thoughts! Feel free to contact me – always prepared to widen my intellectual horizons and stand corrected – don’t insult me though. Be grown up. Tell me why you think I’m wrong. If you make sense, I’ll change my views.

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship; if you disagree with any of us, and you espouse liberal values, write your own opinion piece, and we’ll publish it even if we disagree with it. It has to be factual and original. You can contact us at info@portmir.org.uk.

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