Azadi in ‘Azad’ Kashmir?


At a time when the issue of ‘azadi’ (freedom) in Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) is gaining momentum, the government of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) has gone and banned sixteen books published by National Institute of Kashmir Studies. This move has once again demonstrated that in what is officially known as ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ (AJK) the citizens don’t actually enjoy ‘azadi’. What makes this decision of the PaK government even more disturbing is that all these banned books that have been written by Kashmiris and amongst them there are two (‘The story of Escape from Srinagar Prison’ and ‘Who am I’) that have been authored by the icon Kashmir struggle Maqbool Bhat.

Islamabad has always boasted of the people of PaK being absolutely content as they enjoy the ‘azadi’ which is being denied to their brethren living in IaK (which it prefers to address as ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir’).  Yet, the AJK Interim Constitution Act 1974 belies Islamabad’s claims as Part 2 of Section 7 of the same stipulates that “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 State’s accession to Pakistan.” If accession to Pakistan is genuinely the ultimate and unanimous desire of all Kashmiris then where was the requirement of including this undemocratic section in the AJK constitution which disallows freedom of expression?  

However, the issue here is not to debate the degree of freedom being enjoyed by the people of PaK or the extent of repression in IaK, but only to highlight how varying interpretations of the concept of ‘azadi’ have diluted the Kashmir case. Coming back to the question as to why the government of PaK has banned sixteen books, the answer is so obvious that it doesn’t even require any deliberation. Thus, I can confidently stick out my neck by pronouncing with absolute confidence that the same has been done because the authorities would have concluded  that these books in some way or the other violate Section 7(2) of the AJK constitution! 

It is no secret that Maqbool Bhat disapproved of Kashmir’s occupation by both India and Pakistan; for him ‘azadi’ meant freedom in its true sense which could not be substituted by the ‘sugar coated’ variants of ‘azadi’ being peddled by New Delhi and Islamabad! Bhat harboured no ambitions of seeking personal glory or material benefits and all he wanted was that the people of Kashmir should be free. And he paid a heavy price for his unwavering convictions. While everyone knows that Maqbool Bhat was executed by India, many amongst the present generation may not be fully aware that Maqbool Bhat was severely tortured in Pakistani jails and dubbed as an ‘Indian agent’ just because he  opposed Pakistan’s occupation of PaK! 

Maqbol Bhat remains a legend in both IaK and PaK as his realistic vision of ‘azadi’ continues to inspire the ‘right to self determination’ movement. However, his dream of ‘azadi’ for Kashmiris living on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) also happens to be a source of worry for New Delhi and Islamabad would mean that both countries would have to let go the areas of J&K under their respective control. While New Delhi may not be in any mood to oblige, it appears to have accepted public expression of the ‘azadi’ sentiment by Kashmiris (including the raising of ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan slogans). However, Islamabad continues to maintain ‘zero tolerance’ for any ideology that questions its control over PaK. While the elders in PaK have largely reconciled with the existing arrangements therein, there is a live danger that the present generation may not be so submissive and swayed by Maqbool Bhat’s ideology could start demanding actual ‘azadi’! 

Since Maqbool Bhat was executed by India, both Islamabad and the government of PaK has been encashing on his popularity to embarrass New Delhi but the book banning incident goes to show just how opportunistic politicians are. Last month the media reported that PaK Prime Minister Chaudhary Abdul Majeed had requested the UN and world leaders to press India for returning the mortal remains of Maqbool Bhat. Then, just two weeks the PaK government banned 16 books which included two written by the same person for whose mortal remains to be returned by New Delhi the PaK Prime Minister had made such an emotionally charged international appeal! 

Yet, why blame Islamabad or the PaK government for being unfair to Maqbool Bhat when all that our own leaders who otherwise never tire of evoking his name and sacrifices have done is to merely ‘condemn’ this action and  request the removable of this ban. That the PaK government hasn’t yet acceded to their demands speaks volumes about the separatists’ claim of being the “true representatives” of Kashmiris. If Maqbool Bhat had been alive today then he would surely be quite upset with our leaders’ perfunctory reaction to the banning of books simply because they contain views which are not in consonance with the Islamabad’s idea of ‘azadi’!

Tailpiece: ‘Azadi’ is so a simple word with such a lucid meaning that it just cannot be misinterpreted unless someone intentionally chooses to do so. The ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ camp should be aware that even in PaK there are several curbs on ‘azadi’. The PaK book ban incident gives us the clear message that ‘azadi’ means complete independence and has no alternative – either we have it or we don’t! Therefore, we need to decide whether we want the unadulterated ‘azadi’ that Maqbool Bhat stood and struggled for or the ‘azadi’ sans freedom of expression!  


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