Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Un-free Kashmir

The earthquake opened up Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to the world. Will Islamabad close it again? Graham Usher continues his special reports from Pakistan in Muzaffarabad

December 1, 2006
5 min read

In October, 370 delegates gathered at the Neelum View hotel in Muzaffarabad, ‘capital’ of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. They were from the All Parties National Alliance (APNA), a coalition of nationalist parties fighting for Kashmiri independence from both Indian and Pakistani rule.

The delegates were launching the ‘referendum campaign’. Over the next 12 months the APNA hopes to ask Pakistan Kashmir’s 3. 2 million residents one simple question: do they want freedom from or accession to Pakistan? ‘I believe there will be a thumping majority in favour of freedom,’ says Arif Shahid, APNA chairperson and brain behind the campaign. ‘The time for a real referendum on Kashmir has come.’

There is nothing unusual about the aspiration. Kashmiri nationalists have been fighting for the reunification of their state ever since it was partitioned between India and Pakistan in 1948. What is unusual is the brazenness. Nationalist parties are banned in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Neelum View is the glitziest hotel in Muzaffarabad, hosting Pakistani politicians and army generals alike. From where did the APNA get its temerity? The answer is as simple as it is tragic, says Shahid: the earthquake that last year destroyed large swathes of his country.

‘We lost thousands of our people and scores of our villages. But there’s no doubt the earthquake helped our cause. There is now an international presence and media in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. They see the political realities. And they are favourable to us.’

The call for an independent Kashmir has long been muffled by India and Pakistan’s rival claims on the territory, which have caused two of their three wars. Pakistan’s argument is that as a Muslim majority state Kashmir should be ‘free’ to accede to the Islamic Republic. India says Kashmir is an ‘integral’ part of its secular nation and will remain so in war or peace. Both sides are ready to fight ‘to the very last Kashmiri’, says Shahid.

The latest fight – an insurgency against army rule in India-controlled Kashmir – has been the bloodiest. Although it began as a nationalist uprising in 1989, it rapidly degenerated into a proxy war between Pakistan and India, scarred by sectarian killings, brutal army oppression and, so far, the death of at least 45,000 people, many of them civilians. Pakistani (or ‘Azad’) Kashmir has supplied the hinterland to the conflict, hosting 30,000 refugees and bases to a dozen or so pro-accession jihadist groups fighting the war on Islamabad’s behalf.

It was the presence of these ‘banned’ groups that explained Pakistan’s reluctance to open its side of Kashmir following the earthquake, says Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). ‘For 48 hours the Pakistan army dithered,’ he says. ‘In the end the scale of the disaster overwhelmed them and the army was forced to open up Azad Kashmir to international relief organisations. But there were real misgivings. First, the army knew it would expose to public view militant jihadist camps whose existence had officially been denied. And second, it understood that with such a massive international operation in place the military would lose its grip on one of the most closed areas in Pakistan.’

That is what happened. Prior to the earthquake, all land and mobile telephone links were controlled by the army, proving a major obstruction to postearthquake rescue efforts. The government was thus compelled to open lines to private mobile companies and, through them, greater telecommunications and internet access. Similarly there are now for the first time nonstate radio stations, as well as several international media networks, operating out of Muzaffarabad.

This freeing up of Kashmiri society has redounded to nationalists’ benefit more than to the jihadists or the army, says Mohammed Khaleeque, APNA spokesperson. The reason, he says, is the Islamists’ sectarian role in the anti-Indian insurgency and the army’s failure to meet people’s expectations in the aftermath of the earthquake.

‘There is a lot of anger and it has translated into political protest,’ says Khaleeque. ‘In the last 12 months we’ve seen meetings, demonstrations and showdowns with the Pakistan authorities. Sometimes the protests are over government inefficiency and corruption. But increasingly there are demands that the army withdraw from Kashmir and that our sham “autonomous” local government stand down. People want real control of their lives. All of this has strengthened the nationalists.’ Brad Adams agrees.

‘Everyone we spoke to in Indian Kashmir – activist, official and neutral – said that the growing sentiment was for independence rather than accession to India or Pakistan. I’d be amazed if that wasn’t also the case in Azad Kashmir. Kashmiris on both sides of the divide know Pakistan is not the Muslim paradise it was made out to be. My hunch is that were Kashmiris free to choose they would prefer to go their own way.’

But the fear is there will be reversion to the old ways once the emergency caused by the earthquake is over and the international agencies start to pack up and leave. Diplomats and donors say that Pakistan is already quietly urging that the aid agencies quit Kashmir sooner rather than later. It is a request the world must resist, says Adams.

‘With the earthquake, the international community has a golden opportunity to open up Azad Kashmir permanently,’ he says. ‘And $6. 5 billion in aid is a lot of leverage. I am not saying emergency humanitarian relief should be made conditional.

But development aid can be. There are a lot of demands on the world’s resources. If they are to be spent on Kashmir’s reconstruction, then it should be on condition that Pakistan respects the basic civil and political rights of the Kashmiri people.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero


15