Tragedy of Azad Kashmir

BEGINNING of cold war, formation of the United Nations, decolonization on a mammoth scale and national liberation movements across the globe were some of the major achievements of post-World War II. Our political world entered into a new phase of history in the mid-1940s after the upheavals of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Decolonization in Indian sub-continent was also a reverberationof WWII. Both Soviet Union and United States headed their respective camps and our political world got divided on ideological eminences. A wave of national liberation movements across the continents toppled and dethroned the colonialism. The process of decolonization coincided with the Cold War between Soviet Union and United States. Decolonization ominously changed the configuration of UN and international relations. 

This trailblazing wave also impacted the political movement of people in Jammu Kashmir, who were struggling against monarchy and conquest for their political rights. Pandit Premnath Bazaz quotes that the slogan of “Azad Kashmir” was raised, for the first time, in the plenary session of the party gathering of the Kashmir Kisaan Mazdoor Conference which was held in Kaba Marg, a village in the Anantnag district on 12th May, 1946. As a matter of fact, one of the several gates admitting visitors to spacious venue of the session was named as the Azad Kashmir Gate.  Bazaz’s conception of Azad Kashmir was based upon the freedom of working class of Jammu & Kashmir through democratic socialism. His book “Azad Kashmir, A Democratic Socialist Conception” was published in 1950. The origin of Azad Kashmir was indisputably quite different, based on the high principles of humanism, pluralism and democratic socialism. Meanwhile Muslim Conference adopted the Azad Kashmir Resolution on 26 July 1946 calling for the end of autocratic rule in the region. The resolution also claimed for Kashmiris the right to elect their own constituent assembly.

On the other hand Sheikh Abdullah was frantic to do away with the feudal landlord system. Sheikh Abdullah and his NC advocated the ideology of socialism and all-encompassing democracy and challenged tyrannical Dogra rule and feudal landlords. In the 5th annual session of National Conference held at Pather Masjid in September, 1944, the President of National Conference adopted a socialistic politico-economic document known as Naya Kashmir The document was authored by a known socialist intellectual B.P.L. Bedi with the assistance of many well-known leftist intellectuals. The document offered a complete economic program and high ideas of restructuring in every domain with a clear statutory structure. 

Kashmiri people’s patriotism in 1940s had many aspects: love for the natural beauty of the land, admiration for its secular traditions and spiritual legacy  and primarily  the conviction in the freedom, equality and justice. This was all happening before the materialization of “plan of division of sub-continent”. It was because Kashmiris living under the autocratic Dogra regime wanted to get the real freedom and set up a democratic pluralistic political system. The struggle was secular and inspired by global political wave of national liberations. 

The idea of creation of Azad (Free) Kashmir, by Kisaan Mazdoor Conference, Pandit Premnath Bazaz, resolution of Azad Kashmir adopted by MC on 26th July 1946 and Naya Kashmir manifesto by NC came amid growing global political awareness. The combination of all these historical events portrays a real secular and democratic picture with progressive ideology for freedom and it had to do nothing with the two nation theory, rather it had its political roots in the global revolutionary movements and secular pluralistic traditions of Kashmiri people.  

It was perhaps irony of the fate or trivial opportunistic approach that indigenous secular and progressive movement for “Azad Kashmir” became a victim of communal division of sub-continent in 1947. The resistance in Jammu Kashmir since 1920s was entirely indigenous, democratic and progressive. The events in 1947 led it to become communalized and the newly created Pakistan violated the standstill agreement by sending the tribal fighters and army to wage a holy war in Jammu Kashmir. Hari Singh had to sign the instrument of accession with India. Thus the idea of Azad Kashmir became hostage with communal riots. Subsequent occupation of Jammu Kashmir by Pakistan and India altered the character of the Kashmiri’s struggle. On 4th October 1947 an attempt was made to preserve the very same idea but on 24th of October 1947 the newly created Azad Kashmir was an opposite practice. The first felony of Azad Kashmir government was to hand over Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan thus limiting the area to roughly 4000 square miles. 

During the period only K.H. Khurshid as the President of Azad Kashmir endeavored to re-enforce the idea of Azad Kashmir but  he became victim of conspiracies. It was only in 1970 that the territory was given some form of constitution which was amended in 1974. The 1974 Interim Act is not a constitution rather a document of slavery where the authority rests with Islamabad. The actual authority was handed over to Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Kashmir Council headed by Chief Executive of Pakistan. In practice, the real control in Azad Kashmir is exercised by the government of Pakistan. Even the oath of the Azad Kashmir’s President reads: “As President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, I will be loyal to the country and the cause of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan” In the oath it is not mentioned that President or PM will remain loyal to their own territory or people. 

The written code of conduct of 1974 replaced joint secretary with chief secretary and inducted a uniformed IGP from Pakistan. Although Pakistan prima facie, supports Kashmiri’s right to self-determination and the implementation of UN Resolutions on Kashmir, yet in practice on one hand, it continues to remain in breach of the UN provisos and on the other has introduced statutory limitations, under sections 4(7)(2), 19(2), 31(3) and 56 of the Constitution Act 1974 of Azad Kashmir.  

Under Section 4(7)(2)- “ No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted  to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan”. The political activists who challenge and denounce this Constitutional handcuff attract the adverse attention of the authorities and in many cases face persecution.  After the 1974 Act Azad Kashmir has practically become a business place for the politicians who have transformed the political parties into family owned business entities, where along with other associates, they are making profit by selling the utopian slogans. These politicians cum business managers are working in close liaison of Ministry of Kashmir affairs where profit is shared at the cost of poor masses. They spend most of the time in Kashmir House Islamabad because they have to do nothing with every day suffering of the masses in Azad Kashmir. Our political world is entering into newer phases of science and technology, but the story of Azad Kashmir government portrays a frightening picture. 

The situation in Azad Kashmir today is that people do not have proper roads for transportation, industries for jobs, educational institutions for higher studies, clean drinking water, health services, common established and joint market for economic and business activities, cultural museums, not a single air-port and simply forget about electricity. The lofty slogans of 70 years could not empower Azad Kashmir independent enough for 350 megawatts of electricity, while it is producing more than 1500 megawatts. Then how political wisdom can perceive any futuristic magic from these political merchantsto lay some pro-people foundations Due to the misconduct of Muzaffarabad and Islamabad towards poor masses of Azad Kashmir as for now about 1.5 million inhabitants have migrated to middle east, Europe, America, Canadaand Pacific regions. Pahari, Kashmiri, Hindko and Gojri were once widely spoken languages of the region and there is even not a single course being taught in these languages. During this cunningly crafted mechanism a new class of neo-capitalists has emerged in Azad Kashmir by exploiting the natural resources, multiplying their wealth in the guise of fake developmental projects,shamelessly introducing the culture of financial corruption and bribery, severely violating the principles of merit and all other notorious means of wrongdoings. This new class of merchants is promoted as the political cum business heirs to further exploit the poor masses. Incompetent ruling elite instead of practicing norms and principles of political theories banks on tribal identifications and further dividing the poor masses into tribes and regions because they are too naïve to compete politically. All the talented, educated and skilled youth has migrated from the territory for better future because when one of the chief justice of Azad Kashmir Supreme Court has to knock the door of Pakistan Supreme Court for justice, then it is obvious what ordinary folks can do in that territory.  

Leaders of Kisaan Mazdoor Conference, Premnath Bazaz, BPL Bedi and all others who conceived the idea of Azad Kashmir all have passed away but their souls must be crying at the question as “What has been done to their idea of Azad Kashmir” because the tiny strip of present day Azad Kashmir could be anything but Azad (free). 

—Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst and human rights activist of Kashmiri origin. His area of concentration is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at [email protected]

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