Last week, Pakistan Administered Kashmir banned sixteen pro-independence books on Kashmir. The books included two by JKLF founder Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. The development came as a shock in Kashmir where a large section of population sees Bhat as somebody who fought for their political rights. Expectedly, separatist groups and the civil society has slammed the decision. Yasin Malik, the JKLF supremo has termed the decision as the denial of the right to expression. Whether you like the views of these writers or not, common people should be allowed to read them. It is undemocratic to ban books, Malik said. Similarly, the leaders of the two Hurriyat factions Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have also criticized the ban. While Geelani called for revocation of the ban, Mirwaiz termed it unreasonable.
The books that have been banned are: The story of escape from Srinagar prison and Who am I by Maqbool Bhat, Wounded Memory, Kashmir and Partition of India, and Kashmir Issue: Bitter Facts by Dr Shabir Choudhry, Maqbool Bhat: The Life and Struggle by Shams Rehman, Guide Map of Poonch Division and Map of Jammu and Kashmir State by Mohammad Saeed Asad, The Issue of Jammu and Kashmir and several Urdu books.
Ironically, the ban has come at a time when Jawaharlal Nehru University in India has run into a bitter political controversy for observing the anniversary of hanging of Afzal Guru and for debating Kashmirs Azadi.
The notification banning the books makes it clear that the order has been issued on the direction of Kashmir Council, a constitutional body chaired by the Pakistan Prime Minister and run by Pakistan minister for Kashmir and Northern Affairs. The powerful body, its website says, is the highest linking forum, between PoK and Islamabad and in effect has a decisive say in the governance of PoK. The Council has clearly defined executive, legislative and judicial rile enumerated in the third schedule of the 1974 interim PoK Constitution.
Sudden ban on the books has left people in Valley wondering as to the reason for this extraordinary step. On its face, it seems difficult to explain this. For some people in Kashmir, the impression that it has conveyed is that Pakistan which is a party to Kashmir issue is against the option of independence for Kashmir. And the ban means Pakistan is out to come down hard on the pro-independence politics and its propagation in PaK. In recent years, the popular support for Kashmirs independence has been proven to have grown. In 2010, a poll conducted by the London-based Chatham House revealed that nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country: 44 percent of people in PoK compared with 43 percent in Indian part of Kashmir. Earlier in 2007, a poll by Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies found that nearly 90 percent of people living in Srinagar, J&Ks summer capital, want their state to become an independent country.
Over the years, this popular yearning for Azadi has recast the discourse about the ongoing political conflict in the state away from both India and Pakistan. But between New Delhi and Islamabad, if there is any consensus on Kashmir, it is to not allow the state become independent, says Christopher Snedden, the author more recently of Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris. Pakistan has often said that United Nations Resolutions on the state only allows J&K the two options: to join either India or Pakistan. For now, all prospects are elusive. Kashmir is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future. But PaKs decision to ban books on a particular political ideology certainly cannot be justified. It goes against the principle of the freedom of speech. Besides that it also harms Pakistans moral standing on Kashmir.
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