Kashmir is the epicentre of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the region. The state of Pakistan continues to take pride in portraying itself as the most prolific advocator of the freedom for Kashmiri people.
But the harsh reality is that the establishment of Pakistan is very selective and biased in portraying the freedom movement of Kashmir to the Pakistani masses. If you belong to the right-wing militia and equate freedom of Kashmir to annexation with Pakistan, only then will you be projected as a ‘freedom fighter’ and a ‘hero’ of Kashmir in Pakistan.
Otherwise, your struggle and sacrifices for the freedom of Kashmir are going to be disregarded and rejected, like you never existed. The most obvious example in this regard is of Shaheed Maqbool Butt – the young Kashmiri revolutionary who sacrificed his life for the freedom of Kashmir.
He was executed on February 11, 1984 by the Indian government on the charges of killing an Indian intelligence officer. His body is still buried in the Tehar jail in New Dehli – this ostentatious act of the Indian government speaks volumes about the popularity of Maqbool Butt among Kashmiri masses and the real threat he imposed to the Indian occupation in Kashmir.
But believe me, you will never hear his name in the mainstream discourse on Kashmir in Pakistan.
For a layman in Pakistan, this may seem like a catch-22 situation – why wouldn’t the state of Pakistan portray Maqbool Butt as a hero?
After all, he faced the most vicious atrocities at the hands of the Indian administration and apparently he seems to fit in well with the anti-India rhetoric which is at the heart of the state ideology of Pakistan.
However, this conundrum can be resolved by understanding the context of Maqbool Butt’s words spoken in the Pakistani court,
“Freedom and independence is the fate and destination of Jammu Kashmir. Indian rulers or Pakistani generals and bureaucrats cannot enslave Jammu Kashmir for a long time.”
Maqbool Butt’s entire life reflects duality and contradiction in the character of the Pakistani establishment when it comes to the Kashmir dispute. He was born on February 18, 1938 in Kupwara. Inspired by freedom fighters and revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, Butt decided to fight for the freedom of his motherland against occupying forces through all possible means.
The incident which redefined the Kashmiri freedom movement and made Butt a symbol of resistance in Kashmir was the hijacking of the Indian Fokker plane in 1971. Butt and his comrades hijacked the plane and landed it in Lahore and from there they put forward their political demands to the Indian government. Initially, Butt was portrayed as a hero and a freedom fighter by the Pakistani establishment. But when he made it clear to the Pakistani administration that he wanted independence not only from India but also from Pakistan, he was immediately arrested and imprisoned in Shahi Qila, Lahore.
A case was later filed against him and he was tried in the Pakistani court as a collaborator of Indian intelligence agencies.
In his defence Butt released a political statement in court and I have included an excerpt from it:
“I can say without any hesitation that I have not designed any conspiracy nor have I been a part of any group of conspirators. My character has always been transparent and unambiguous. However, I have done one thing and that is rebellion against ignorance, greed of wealth, exploitation, oppression, slavery and hypocrisy. If the ruling class of Pakistan, which is a product of imperialism and is represented by the bureaucracy and the military, views this as a conspiracy then I have no hesitation in accepting the charge.”
He was later released by the Pakistani courts and returned to Kashmir where he was arrested by the Indian security forces. He was imprisoned for eight years in an Indian jail and finally he was executed on February 11, 1984 by the Indian authorities. His dead body was not returned to his family.
His death anniversary is celebrated on February 11, not only on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) but all over the world by the Kashmiri diaspora.
Although one can disagree with the method opted by him to attain freedom, his relentless commitment to the cause of freedom cannot be contested. Figures such as Maqbool Butt unite Kashmiris across religion, ethnicity and geography because his fight and struggle reflect the aspirations of the majority of the Kashmiri people. Secular principles and socio-economic justice was at the heart of his struggle.
For us (Kashmiris), azadi (independence) means not just getting rid of foreign occupation from our beloved motherland but also removing hunger, poverty, ignorance and disease, and overcoming economic and social deprivation. One day, we shall achieve that azadi.”
For Maqbool Butt, azadi or independence did not simply mean freedom from India, it implied an independent state of Jammu Kashmir, including Azad Kashmir. His left-leaning political inclinations and secular approach towards the freedom movement made him undesirable for the Pakistani establishment of that day and age and it continues to remain the same till today. While the mainstream media and politicians in Pakistan want Kashmiris to believe that Pakistan fully supports the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people, there are some obvious questions which remain unanswered:
Why are pro-independence political forces of Kashmir never allowed to feature and participate in the debate on the Kashmir issue in the mainstream media in Pakistan?
Why are pro-independence political parties barred from participating in the electoral process in the so-called Azad Kashmir?
Will these questions ever be raised and addressed in the mainstream political rhetoric of Pakistan?
Even the liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan denounces any possibility of an independent, secular state of Kashmir as a possible solution to this on-going dispute. This clearly reflects how carefully and aggressively the establishment of the country guards the debate and narrative on the Kashmir issue in the broader society.
The rallies held by right-wing religious forces in the urban centres of Pakistan on Kashmir Solidarity Day reflect the state’s sustained policy of painting the Kashmir dispute in religious colours.
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Kashmiris see Kashmir as a pluralistic society – where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others have lived in harmony for many years. They believe that they have to stay united as one nation to win their freedom.
For Kashmiris the dispute of Kashmir is not a religious dispute; it is a question of national oppression. The status-quo forces of both India and Pakistan have tried their best to undermine and suffocate the voice of Maqbool Butt but for Kashmiri masses and especially for the youth, Maqbool Butt continues to be a significant source of inspiration and motivation in their struggle for freedom
The Article First Appeared In THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE