Shackled Political Freedom

(An excerpt from article “PaK: Ethnicity, Democracy and Islam” taken from book titled “Of Occupation and Resistance, Writings from Kashmir”)

 By Mazhar Iqbal

Clan loyalties do not come to the fore as much in public expression of freedom of thought as they do in electoral politics. As far as the political views of people about the future of Jammu and Kashmir are concerned, they do not conform to clan politics or a collective opinion. People are divided into two broad groupings – the pro-Pakistan people, who favour accession to Pakistan, and the pro-independence people who favour secession from both India and Pakistan. It has been observed that the ‘pro-Pakistan’ people routinely and enthusiastically back the armed struggle against India and

never hesitate to speak against the Indian government, politicians and army. They openly participate in meetings, programmes and other activities and feel free to join any Pakistani forum, either political or social. They also like to make Pakistani friends and boast about their relations with their contacts

in Pakistan’s major political, bureaucratic, military and social circles. Most of the educated persons in Pakistani Kashmir have friends in Pakistani communities, religious groups, social and political organisations and in the Pakistani business sector.

More than a few politicians have relatives in the Pakistani security establishment and intelligence set-up and they tend to seek their active support as and when they need it. The commanders of the Pakistani military formations responsible for the Pakistani Kashmir region are considered the real bosses, the ones who run the affairs of the state. Political parties such as Sardar Qayyum’s Muslim Conference are considered the political face of the Pakistani army in PaK.

In the past, the strongest supporter of the idea of accession to Pakistan was the Muslim Conference. During his son, Sardar Attique Khan’s last tenure in government, the Muslim Conference had to face serious infighting, resulting in its bifurcation. Now the Nawaz Sharif backed Muslim League is the strongest political group that supports Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. This party has supporters in almost all districts in Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions.

However, the support for accession is not the only reason for people to stay in this party; there are many other compelling factors, including tribal associations, ethnic biases and socio-economic trends. For example, Nawaz Sharif’s party is in power in the Punjab province which is geographically much closer to the Jammu and Kashmir region than any other part of Pakistan. The people of Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Abbotabad, Jehlum and Murree share a mix of customs and traditions, culture, religious functions, agricultural practices and business ties with the people of Mirpur, Bhimber, Kotli, Pallandari, Rawalakot, Bagh, and Muzaffarabad districts in PaK.

Abdul Razzaque is a Kashmiri IT student. He is a strong supporter of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. He says: ‘Even if we hold a plebiscite today, Kashmiris would prefer Pakistan over India because it (India) is a military power occupying Kashmir with its 6,00,000 troops to suppress Kashmiris, whereas Pakistan is the greatest ambassador of the Kashmir cause in the international forum.’

Such political freedom is not available to those people who have different political views. A person who believes that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India is the ultimate solution of the problem cannot speak publicly. He may face intimidation, harassment or at the very least, social stigma. Equally, for those who have been speaking up in favour of liberation from both India and Pakistan, life has been difficult.