Earlier in March my friends and I attended a three day conference “Destination Kashmir” organized by Youth & Women for Peace and Dialogue (YWPD) in collaboration with Youth Forum for Kashmir. The conference was arranged in the capital of Kashmir, Muzaffarabad known as Jannat Nazeer. The city that had been devastated and rebuilt almost from scratch after the Earth Quake of 2005, hosted us. This ‘heaven on earth’ is known for the scenic beauty, the pleasant weather and its immunity to 4G internet connection that allows one to put their senses to better use (seeing, hearing, smelling the pine trees rather than being ‘live’). For heat-stricken Lahoris that we are; this was a pleasant trip. The nights were chilly, mornings crisp, the distant houses shone like fairy lights up the hills. Each night I was surrounded by a spectacle that I had only ever seen in the movies and I was unaware…
The MLA lodges where we resided gave a strange sense of a home I should belong to, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court put down their weight on me. About what laid beyond the hills; what was this Kashmir I didn’t know of. I was unaware…
The first session was arranged by Commission on Status of Women AJK and ED Youth Forum for Kashmir; headed by Maria Iqbal Tarana, Executive Director. Her father back in the 1960’s as a young school boy recited the national anthem of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, while the then Field Marshall Ayub Khan was on official visit to Kashmir, K.H. Khurshid (secretary to Quaid e Azam and then President of AJK) gave him the title of Tarana, at the same event. The Tarana family have been direct victims of conflict in Kashmir and Ms. Maria in her opening address was adamant in labelling this as “Partition’s unfinished agenda”. She also highlighted how the Indian government under PM Narendra Modi has adopted an aggressive stance towards the Kashmiris and the situation has exacerbated to an extent where the educational institutions of Jammu Kashmir are no longer safe or considered safe havens; while the students are persecuted regularly.
Ms. Tarana founded her NGO in 2013 after realizing the limitations of being a Kashmiri representative at the UN Geneva Convention. She formed her NGO to lobby support for the Kashmiris and to raise her voice against the vices that plague this beautiful valley.
The Panel Discussion was attended by Minister Youth Culture and Sports, Chaudhry Saeed Ahmed; Secretary Youth Culture And Sports, Raja Abbas; Mrs. Jamshed Naqvi founder of YWPD; Ms. Nighat Iqbal President YWPD while the session was concluded by remarks from AJK President, Masood Khan.
Chaudhry Saeed Ahmed highlighted the milestones that the Azad Kashmir government has been able to achieve; while also recognizing the resource constraints that the government faces. What was most honest about Mr. Saeed was the fact that unlike many other ministers, he critically addressed the government’s inability to formulate a comprehensive uniform policy (mainly educational and social). It is overwhelming to experience an independent state, still attached to Pakistan, with its half on the other side of the mountains; where all ministries are more actively engaging with their youth unlike anywhere else.
Azad Kashmir has been able to elect the most suitable President, Masood Khan. His strongest trait is his eloquence in addressing his people, a trait not shared by not many in this position. In his address he was adamant in highlighting Kashmiris as separate but an integral part of Pakistan. Though this enraged most of us, I reminded myself that this was in concert with the plebiscite that is to be held in Kashmir. The eloquent Mr. Khan spoke like a true ambassador of Kashmir, addressing the importance of freedom and the need to replicate these ideals for the people of Kashmir. Having served as the Pakistani ambassador to China, his advocacy of a sound leadership was reflective of his experience as a man who has worked within the system.
Many Pakistanis like myself recognize the state of Kashmir and would like to see it as an independent country; united with its other half, however, this can only be done with the efforts of the Pakistani leadership. Successively, the Pakistani leaderships have been indecisive of their policies; each man who has resumed office has had a different approach to Pakistan but a coherent and a decisive policy towards Kashmir. We have always stood in solidarity with Kashmir and have taught our generations that the Kashmir Conflict stands at the epitome of all diplomatic ties. Anyone who denies that is unaware…
Beyond my classroom discussions that run critically at the roles of civilian and military leadership; we have always concluded that the mass atrocities and the magnitude of the human rights abuses in Kashmir never go unnoticed but at the same time remain unsolved because of the political lobbying by India at the UNGA sessions. Realizing that each state in this region has an intricate web of geo-strategic alliances; Pakistan fails to foster support for this issue. However, the efforts by the ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are to be applauded here. He was successful in taking up this matter at UNGA’17 and award Burhan Wani with the title of Martyr; for which the Indian government agitated and the Uri Attack debacle took place. My experience at DK YWPD’17 opened my eyes to critically assess the Kashmir Issue and label it as a political conflict that can only be solved by employing political devices.
This realization gave my trek to Pir Chinasai and my tryst at Neelum River a purpose. As long as we’re comfortable and our conscience isn’t shaken, we lead a one dimensional life that is based on some pre-conceived, pre-taught notions. However, being a student of Political Science I urge my reality to question what I am being taught or what I read. My visit to Kashmir on a three day conference was an eye-opener- I met people like Maria Iqbal and Ms. Nighat Iqbal who had witnessed this marginalization of Kashmir Conflict and seen how after years of teaching this; we had actually desensitized an entire generation. Here, I became aware…
In a recent interview with Ms. Maria she said, “The Pakistani government has no concrete strategy for Kashmir. Each leader has successively pursued a policy that they believe goes with the narrative they are trying to adopt.” She also believes that the military regimes in the country have adversely affected the Kashmiri Cause and the reason why “… the 5000 year old civilization that has engendered 6th and 7th generation of intellectuals living in absolute isolated resolute is slowly dying a silent death.” To her dismay, this dot com generation that we are, haven’t been able to effectively voice the plight of the Kashmiris.
However, she and her NGO are hopeful that under this peaceful democratic transition; the Kashmiris will be heard and the Azaad Media will make the audiences more and more aware of the dire need to address this cause. Her views resonated with that of Mr. Masood Khan in his address and I was assured that the popular Kashmiri narrative has been built in concert with this.
I realized, the political nature of the Kashmir Conflict that was beyond any state’s control as this can be termed as a conflict on the resources that are both precious and scarce in India and Pakistan alike. This is where our international organizations have failed and have largely become the providers of humanitarian aid to poor countries.
What we need is to address the Kashmir Conflict adequately and label it in terms of how it exists i.e. as a political matter between two rising geo-strategic giants in South Asia. The nature of the conflict is political because it’s based on the provision of resources that are increasingly becoming scarce. Yes, I am talking about the rivers that flow from Northern India and enter Pakistan through Kashmir. With Pakistan becoming extremely water stressed it is only a matter of time that Pakistan would have to review its diplomatic relations with India.
On the other hand as Ms. Maria Iqbal Tarana highlighted, Kashmir saw the bloodiest summers 2016. These coupled with Modi’s aggression on the Muslims of Gujarat and his nationalist stance point to the efficacy with which he wants to put down any secessionist movements within his country.
With Kashmir is tied the fate of two arch rivals while that of Kashmir is dependent on these two. Only the efficient employment of the political devices by both sides will determine which way the balance tilts.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. Her work focuses on economic and political issues. She can be reached at Google+