Tony Blair is in South Asia, second time since the US war against terrorism, on a mission to calm down the stand off between the nuclear India and Pakistan. It appears that this time Kashmir issue will have an important place in, if not at the top of his, discussions with the Prime Minister Atal Bhiari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharaf. While hopes and aspirations of 14 million Kashmiris, including over half a million in Britain, along with billions around the world have reasons to rise, for it is the first time after decolonisation that South Asia is becoming focus of the big powers activism, I feel a strange nervousness running deep through my bones. The roots of these feelings I can see clearly going back in our Kashmir history. This rather a lengthy article looks into the British role in Kashmir in its historical contexts and at the same time explains the struggle in Kashmir before and after its division under the Pakistani and Indian occupation in 1947.
16th March 1846, Fredric Currie and Brevet-Major Henry Montgomery Lawrence, under the directions of the Right Honourable Sir Henry Hardinge, G.C.P., Governor-General, on the part of the British Government and Maharaja Gulab Singh in person, signed a treaty at Amritsar in Punjab. According to this treaty Kashmir was transferred in independent possession of Raja Gulab Singh and the heir male of his body’. The Treaty consisting of ten articles contains no mention of the people of Kashmir. Article 3 reads ‘ In consideration of the transfer made to him and his heirs by the provisions of the foregoing article, Maharaja Gulab Singh will pay to the British Government the sum of seventy-five lakhs of rupees (Nanukshahee; royal Nanuk = about é300,000), fifty lakhs to be paid on the ratification of this Treaty and twenty é five lakhs on or before the 1st of October of the current year, AD 1846.’
The treaty was also signed and sealed by H. Hardinge.
Till October 1947 Gulab Singh and three heirs male of his body ruled Kashmir. While communalist view of Kashmir history would have us believe of this period as most cruel and suppressive against the ‘Muslim Kashmiris’, an honest read of the Maharaja dynasty reveals that it was not a great deal different from his predecessors é the earliest known Kashmiri ruler was Raja Daya Karan in 2180 BC. With a few exceptions, all Rajas, Kings and Sultans were authoritarians regardless of the religions they owned while at the top. However, since British were supposed to be representing a more civilized and caring system of government, reading history of their involvement naturally raises the expectations about their treatment to and recognition of the ‘people’. In Kashmir they did not live up to expectations. This treaty continuously haunts Kashmiri psyche and politics as the ‘sale deed’.
This was the first time British did it to Kashmiris. The very existence of people was not recognised let alone their rights.
Came 1940s and with that an end to the British rule in South Asia. Hopes rose once again in Kashmir that this time the protectors of democracy would recognize and acknowledge the popular struggle in Kashmir to transform authoritarian rule based on the Amritsar Treaty. Hopes did not survive. British failed once again to take into account the will of Kashmiri people, expressed through half a dozen political parties in Kashmir for a democratic independent government in Kashmir. Instead lord Mountbatten delivered a firm advise to the reluctant Maharaja against his manifested intentions for independence, which he shared with the majority of Kashmiris of all religions and identities from Ladakh to Gilgit Baltistan. This was the second time that British failed to acknowledge the people of Kashmir. This time their existence was recognised but wishes were not respected. The consequences were disastrous not only for Kashmiris but for the very independence and development of the South Asian people who till this day are paying for the ‘Kashmir Problem’. For it was only after the ruling out of the independence option originally provided in the ‘transfer of power mechanism’ that Indian and Pakistani politicians intensified their campaign to capture Kashmir through any means. This they did in October 1947. First through political pressure and then failing that through military invasion in an independent state. From 16th August when all treaties between the princely states and the British Crown were lapsed, to the 1st of January 1948 when UN brokered a ceasefire between the aggressor armies of India and Pakistan, Kashmir existed as an independent country minus international recognition. I do not understand why the ‘liberals’ in the west do not challenge their governments, particularly British, when they say that Kashmir is a ‘bilateral’ issue between India and Pakistan and that we can help resolving it only after are asked by the respective governments. This was second time that British did it to Kashmiris. Indeed the Indian and Pakistani occupation in Kashmir has more similarities with the Russian invasion in Afghanistan or the American in Panama etc. than with attacks on US power symbols. The International community and the international law in whatever form and shape it exists should take note of this and must make it clear to the Indian and Pakistani rulers. Particularly, the BJP’s efforts to equate Kashmir struggle with terrorism must be challenged. The atrocious acts of violence against the Kashmir Assembly and the Indian Parliament as well as such incidents as the Chattisingpura a few years back in which 35 Kashmiri Sikhs were killed require an independent international investigation.
Third & Fourth Time
While there is substantial evidence that the Kashmir National Conference, the largest political party along with the Kashmir Muslim Conference, next in size, had ideological ties with the Indian Congress and Pakistan Muslim League respectively, neither demonstrated any intentions to accede India or Pakistan until after the armed invasion and occupation. The struggle in Kashmir at the time of British departure was primarily over sovereignty. This was a popular, peaceful and democratic struggle. Kashmiris did not take up no arms even after the massacre of over two dozens unarmed demonstrators out side of a court in Srinagar on 31st July 1931.The struggle was massacred while in its infancy by the invading armies both in the command of a British General. It was after this invasion approved by the British that Kashmir which Gandhi described as ‘an island of peace amidst a sea of blood’ joined the sea. This was for the third time that the British failed to recognise democratically expressed wishes of the Kashmiri people. Indeed they were ‘transferred’ once again from the great grand son of Maharaja Gulab Singh to the rulers of India and Pakistan. The Kashmir state, which existed as a distinct and for the most period independent entity from 2500 BC and as princely state since 1846 out side of the British India with all the governmental institutions in place waiting for taken over democratically by the people of Kashmir was disintegrated by force and British participated in it.
India and Pakistan both agreed before the world around the UN tables to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir for the final settlement of Kashmir issue. However, for a variety of reasons both failed snobbishly to fulfil their commitments. What the UN and international community did to incorporate the wishes of Kashmiris? Nothing é the fourth time but this time British did not do it on their own. Around this time in Kashmir Mohammed Maqbool Butt repeatedly questioned and criticised the role of the international community and UN in a series of public meetings across the ‘Azad’ (free) Kashmir (a joke with freedom and with Kashmiris), particularly after the 1965 war between the two aggressors in Kashmir and the subsequent Tashkent agreement. Till then not a single party existed with armed struggle as an option. All demanded right to self determination through plebiscite.
The sources of Kashmiri Militancy
Maqbool Butt along with several nationalists was branded as ‘agent of the enemy’. Pakistan arrested, interrogated and imprisoned him and many others as Indian agents and India as Pakistani. Maqbool Butt was hanged on 11th February 1984 in Tihaar prison Delhi by the government of Indira Gandhi, daughter of a great Indian leader and first Prime Minister of India Jowar Lal Neru, a Kashmir by origin. Despite several requests his body was not handed over to his family. He is still buried somewhere in Thiaar prison. Remember Baghat Singh and his comrades? There bodies were also not given to their families é by the British government. How then you expect that people will not get angry and frustrated to the extent that they start hating life é of their own and others? While we in large numbers in the POK respect and appreciate democracy and secularism in India. For it has been far better managed than what we have experienced in Pakistan, our other occupier. But democracy in Kashmir? My foot. Indeed the democratic set up has made significant progress in POK with compare to that in IOK where sufficient evidence indicates regression.
How lovely is the slogan of Kashmiris. (Recently he has changed it to ‘not only a slogan but it is our faith) that every inch of Kashmir belongs to its inhabitants.
They call suppression the peace and loyalty to what is actually rage
How unwise are they who confuse mere hissing sounds with the morning breeze
Wakeup my Kashmir! some power hungry are calling occupiers as the masters of your fate.
Initially only a few intellectuals and some students responded to the message for freedom. But gradually it spread. What is the level of support for independence in POK at present? Can’t tell. For the participation of pro independence in elections, which do take place in Ak regularly even when the election season disappears behind the brown uniforms in Pakistan, is constitutionally banned. Even for employment or publishing a newsletter the allegiance to the Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan is an essential requirement. Biraderieism (clans) remains the most crucial factor with the exploitation of religion the next shaker and mover in the AK (Azad Kashmir) elections. While no study exists it would be an interesting research to test the claim that the exploitation of religion in the Kashmiri (as well as in South Asia?) has been not a phenomenon attached exclusively to the ‘fundamentalist’ parties. In Kashmir strong evidence exists that the so-called ‘moderate’ parties such as the Muslim Conference initiated it. The jihaadis came out only when felt marginalisation and extinction.
However, Kashmiris, particularly youth, in the Indian occupied Kashmir, more specifically in the Valley, at this point although largely disillusioned with the Indian democracy and secularism, were still optimistic about bringing a change in government through democratic means. No guns are militant slogans as yet. Also the role of biradrie or clan identities seems less prominent over there. Instead it was the religious contradiction with the Indian state which gradually became the core of expressing resentment and anger over the politics of corruption led by the National Conference, particularly since its take over by the present chief minister Farooq Abdullah, son of the legendary Sheikh Abdullah, the school teacher and lion of Kashmir in the united Kashmir. In the 1987 State Assembly elections the youth of Valley actively stood as candidates and/or campaigned for Muslim United Front (MUF). The idea of independence and the name of Maqbool Butt had little significance in the IOK at this point. The trust and confidence in democracy however could not survive for long. While the candidates and their supporters were busy counting at polling stations, the all India radio was broadcasting the results. Indian National Congress and the Kashmir National Conference felt the need for this worst rigging in IOK elections despite the clear indication that MUF will gain at the most twenty seats in a house of seventy-five. The results were drastic and unexpected even for the politicians who dominated the scene for over half a century. The anger and frustration took to the means which all suppressed people of the world at various phases of their history turned to. They decided to snatch the democratic right through militancy when democratic means were slammed to their faces. Once coming face to face with the armed forces, which generated resentment for decades, they went far behind the issues of elections. They demanded to change the very roots, which harboured militancy and denial of the democratic rights of a very peaceful and harmonious people. They demanded withdrawal of the Indian forces and the right to self-determination which they claimed was still pending at UN. It was this background against which Kashmiris in IOK rose into revolt against the Indian occupation. However, their focus was primarily at the Valley and more specifically on its Muslim population. For backing they looked across the ceasefire line in POK. Here Pakistani authorities were closely watching the constant rise in the nationalist politics. Now several pro independence groups were operating openly rejecting the Pakistani occupation and challenging the constitutional restriction on pro independence associations and campaigning. The strongest of the nationalists groups was the JKLF. Formed in Birmingham Britain, this was a result of the crackdown on the nationalists in POK after the hi-jacking of the Indian plane Ganga, by Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi from IOK under the instructions of Maqbool Butt. By now a significant Kashmiri community was developed in Britain including hundreds of politically aware and active Kashmiris who participated in various campaigns from the peasants revolt against Maharaja in 1930s through 1947 revolt, Anti Mangla Dam Movement 1960s, Ganga crackdown 1970s and so on. While JKLF declared Maqbool Butt as its head (by now arrested in IOK), practically it detached itself from the politics of the national liberation. Gradually it expanded in the leadership of Amanullah Khan to several towns across Britain, mainly amongst factory workers and few intellectuals. In the first week of February 1984, an Indian diplomat was kidnapped and then killed in Birmingham. A massive rounding up of hundreds of the JKLF members and sympathisers followed this. Two Kashmiris are still serving their time in Britain with a campaign for their release claiming many flaws in their cases. While the campaign has not achieved any significant success in their release, it has given birth to the Kashmir Justice Party in the Birmingham local elections and also stood for the last parliamentary elections gaining over fifteen thousand votes in two constituencies. This is also one of the many sources of Kashmiri political activism and the rise of Kashmiri identity in Britain, separate and away from the Pakistani or Punjabi identity which has been ascribed to British Kashmiris by the British State and academia. Currently the Kashmir National Identity Campaign is working for the recognition of British Kashmiris in the British State and Society with nine local authorities recognised Kashmiris as distinct ethnic community in the ethnic monitoring system. The campaign is however deals exclusively with the issues of British Kashmiris as British citizens in Britain. As alluded above Maqbool Butt was hanged a week after the killing of Rovindera Mahatrey, the Indian diplomat in Birmingham.
The reaction against the hanging of Maqbool butt was huge in Ak, Britain and Middle East. I was in Karachi University and it was for the first time that a non-political animal like myself became interested and engaged in the independence ideology and movement. 10,000 Kashmiris demonstrated in London. In Srinagar however nothing significant happened apart from some public meetings organised by the ‘cells’ Maqbool Butt created during his underground interaction with a few hundred Kashmiris. Larger demonstrations were erupted in the ‘border’ villages. But the 1987 elections changed everything. This was the time when in the Valley Maqbool Butt and his ideology of “independence through armed struggle” rose like the morning sun over the cities and villages of the IOK, especially in the Valley. Unaware of the realities across the ceasefire line and the treatment pro independence Kashmiris received at the hands of their ‘Muslim’ Pakistani rulers, these young Kashmiris, including the present head of JKLF Yasin Malik, came to POK singing ‘Sarhad Paar Jayengey Klash n kov layengey’ (we will go across the border and bring klash n kov). Despite the fact that the then JKLF chief Aman ullah Khan’s links with the Pakistani authorities and his politics was always suspected by many progressive and radical Kashmiris in POK and in Britain, he enjoyed the status of Maqbool Butt’s number two by the majority of nationalists.
It was revealed only at a later stage that Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI) had a significant role in launching the movement in the Valley. JKLF Britain suffered its first major split over the question of the independence of the independence movement in Kashmir. Those questioned the role of Pakistani rulers were expelled and the Daily Jang London exploited the situation to confuse British Kashmiris further. For JKLF was viewed by the British Kashmiris as the hope for the future of Kashmir. However, both groups of JKLF and other pro independence groups in AK such as NLF, NSF, PNP, NAP, KFM carry a significant weight particularly in ‘Azad’ Kashmir and in UK. JKLF along with Shabir Shah’s people League and Hashim Qureshis Jammu Kashmir Liberation Democratic Party are the main pro independence groups in IOK with Hizb Ul Majuahideen and some others also supporting the unfettered right of self-determination.
Liberation of the liberation struggle?
Various sources show that during the last decade of an increased interaction between the people across ceasefire line, Kashmiris on both sides have learnt a great deal about each other and the actual agenda of the Indian and Pakistani rulers as well as about the Kashmiri leadership. Surveys and opinion polls conducted by the Indian Magazines such as ‘The Out Look’ and international/ American media like CNN indicate that an overwhelming majority favours independence for Kashmir and is more than willing to workout a peaceful and democratic framework to achieve it. Before considering the allegation by the BJP against the Kashmiri struggle, one must not overlook the above background against which this struggle has shaped and risen. One and the main reason that this strand of Kashmiri struggle remained marginalised has been the reluctance of international media and academia as well as politicians to engage with Kashmiris and the hegemony of the Indian and Pakistani states and intellegentia over Kashmiri and Kashmiris in and out side of Kashmir. The classical example of this is Britain itself. Here while Kashmiris form one of the largest South Asian groups after the Indians, they are not even recognised as such. The Asian media, which is dominated by the Indian, and Pakistani middles classes originating mainly from the urban centres in South Asia show a strong resistance to the demands of British Kashmiris for recognition. Asian Age, the News International and Eastern Eye all present Kashmir issue from the viewpoint of either India or Pakistan. Five English dailies from IOK are hardly consulted. Instead the reports are used from the Indian and Pakistani, often official sources.
In Kashmir, however, Kashmiris on both sides of the control line have shown a strong commitment to a democratic solution to the Kashmir problem based on their national identity and aspirations. Today the democratic forces make up the bulk of Kashmiris across the division line and religious identities as well as amongst the million strong diaspora in America and Europe. In POK the pro independence parties other than JKLF have also grown substantially. An environment to initiate a democratic process for the resolution of Kashmir imbroglio has it seems finally arrived. First requirement for such an initiative to take off is a clear message to the governments of the India and Pakistan that while militancy against their occupation needs monitoring they too have to take concrete and practical steps to create a space for democratic activism in their respective ‘Kashmirs’. First move towards this can be the withdrawal of the Indian militant forces from the residential, business and civic areas. Then to create a ‘peace line’ across the ceasefire line with a cross border movement of Kashmiris. The restrictions on the movement of Kashmiris between the Pakistani Occupied Gilgit and Baltistan and Indian occupied Ladakh as well as between the POK ‘Azad’ Kashmir also need removing. This should be followed by the reversion of all such legalities, which curtail the freedom of speech, political association and participation in employment and elections of the pro independence Kashmiris. All political prisoners including those in Britain should be released and given opportunities to participate in the rehabilitation process in Kashmir. For the majority of these imprisoned Kashmiris are far more democratic, progressive and articulate than the Kashmiri rulers of Farooq Abdullah and Sardar Qayuum brand. The road from here can then be discussed and monitored with the involvement of all Kashmiris regardless of their creed, colour, language or political inclination. Religion is as much an issue in the liberation struggle in Kashmir as Britain is a Christian country. Kashmiri Muslims are very committed to their religions but never liked the use of religion by the political parties. The past decade has changed this to some extent. The flight of the Kashmiri Pundits from the Valley and exclusion of the non-Muslims from the current struggle combined with the communalisation of the Kashmiri society in 1947 with the Indian and Pakistani invasion need serious understanding. However, whatever knowledge I could gain Kashmir is still the place where the respect for all religions and a strong potential for a progressive democracy exists.
However, Kashmiris alone are not in a position to arrange a conducive environment required for peace and democratic politics. For the Indian and Pakistani armies which invaded Kashmir under the command of British generals and the pretext of ‘protecting’ Kashmiris from the other side, are not only still there, their number as well as anger is increased many folds. Kashmiris need help from all those who genuinely care for peace and democracy around the world. Britain, US and other influential powers surely has the intellectual, technological, political and economic skills, resources and abilities to provide that help. However, this requires the immediate recognition of Kashmiris a party, perhaps the primary party to the Kashmir dispute. Currently this does not seem the case. British foreign minister Jack Straw as reported on BBC Radio 4 on 3 Jan 2002 at midnight, is the latest British politician to describe Kashmir as a bilateral issue. Can we blame young and old Kashmiris in Kashmir as well in Britain think that in relation to Kashmir issue Britain always had its economic interests ahead of its commitment to the principles of justice and democracy? Indeed the democratic and progressive Kashmiris find themselves suffocated in this atmosphere of allegations, but can not do much unless Britain show a tangible change in its policy on Kashmir. If our Prime Minister Tony Blair shares his foreign minister’s perspective on Kashmir then possibilities of ignoring the wishes of the Kashmiri people once again appear very strong. I have lost count that how many times will be this that Britain did not take the wishes of Kashmiris into account. That is why I feel nervousness running deep in my bones on Tony’s visit. And that is why I would like to ask our Prime Minister, on behalf of the five hundred thousand British Kashmiris and 14 millions inside Kashmir, please do not do this to us, Kashmiris, this time round. Initiate a serious process to resolve Kashmir issue with Kashmiris at its core. This is the only ground on which in my view, he would not feel too uncomfortable while delivering ‘tough massage’ to Bajpayee and Musharaf to have a ‘calming influence’ over the hot ceasefire line dividing Kashmir. Let us hope that Tony Blair will recognise the Kashmiris in South Asia as a people (based on the State Subject Legislation of 1927, approved by the Maharaja Hari Singh in response to a long campaign around ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’) and on his return the British Kashmiris, on the basis rooted in the history and cotemporary situation in South Asia and also due to the limitations of the other identities ascribed to them in meeting the community, linguistic and socio-psychological needs of British Kashmiris.