Gitanjali Sharma Trapped voices from ‘Azad Kashmir’ by Anam Zakaria
a bone of contention: The Kashmir issue remains central to the politics of both India and Pakistan. Caught between the never-ending strife, PoK inhabitants live in a constant fear of mortar shelling and violence, at the mercy of powers that be and often a pawn in hands of political parties. Photos by Amiruddin Mughal
Helplessness. This is a strong feeling that accompanies you as Anam Zakaria takes you on a journey to ‘Azad Kashmir’, a place in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which Human Rights Watch report has concluded is anything but azad (free).
The journey “between the great divide” acquaints you with a region that is almost set in oblivion, of which little is known to the outside world and whose residents almost don’t appear to count to powers that be or to a nation that professes to administer it. It is a journey that makes you meet generations that have not stepped out of turmoil. They live in constant fear of shelling and violence and don’t enjoy basic rights and privileges in a land they want to call their own but whose fate is only getting more uncertain each passing day.
The 13,297-sq km area along the LoC with a population of 4,045,366 that makes up for ‘Azad Kashmir’ has remained embroiled in conflict for over 70 years since the Jammu and Kashmir region got divided between India and Pakistan. Both countries continue to assert their claim over the entire region, and this never-ending strife has taken a toll on the disputed land that is for all practical purposes under the tight control of Pakistan and has no real sovereignty.
The compelling narrative lays out different dimensions to the seven decades of turmoil that remains caught in history, politics and vested interests. The author has divided the book into three parts: the first attempts to delve into the origin of the conflict at the time of Partition; the second focuses on the state perspective with interviews of Pakistan’s former army chief and president of ‘Azad Kashmir’, and the third covers the period after the 2003 ceasefire and the complex issues of both the azadi seekers and pro-Pakistan dwellers.
Interestingly, Zakaria has intertwined the past with the present to project a clear perspective of the complexities that have only magnified over the years. Whether it is the heart-rending account of a Sikh gentleman who lost several members of his family in Muzaffarabad, the capital of ‘Azad Kashmir’, to the raiders’ attack or the telling take of a former Hizbul Mujahideen commander, a Kupwara native now settled in Islamabad, on the Kashmir conflict, the journey brings with it long and short interviews as well as informal conversations with residents of the region or those connected with it. Direct quotes make for an authentic and engaging read.
The author boldly dwells on concerns that can touch many a raw nerve in the Islamic nation: how militancy gained significant support in Pakistan-administered Kashmir; how by linking Islam with the Kashmir cause, the Lashkar and Al-Qaida entered the proxy war; how the clampdown by Pakistani establishment against any kind of rebellion against it is resented by many ‘Azad Kashmir’ residents; how in 2016, 16 books were banned in ‘Azad Kashmir’ that contained pro-Independence literature.
Covering the wars between the two nations in 1948, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil conflict in 1999, she attempts to gain a deeper understanding of the instability in the region. By bringing up locals’ complaint of Pakistan’s support to the LeT and Jaish, she has the retired army chief Gen Jehangir Karamat admitting that “the line between terrorism and the freedom struggle getting blurred is an enormous blow to Kashmiris (their fight for azadi)” as well as how in the Kargil conflict, Pakistan came out as “the aggressor”.
Though the author has handled the contentious situation sensitively and incisively, yet the picture of the Indian side of the divide remains a little out of focus. The “atrocities” perpetrated by the Army in “Indian-administered Kashmir” are brought up several times through the accounts of edgy ‘Azad Kashmir’ residents and Kashmiris who left the Valley. The Indian Army’s defence, however, is sorely missed.
One of the main takeaways from this enriching journey is the appeal for peace from the women on the volatile border who have seen suffering and loss. One of them says: “It all started when the mujahid came and settled here…this was around 1990-91. It was because of this the Indian forces started the mortar shelling. It killed our boys, destroyed our land….but for what….Kashmir is still not azad. We want all of this struggle for makbooza (Indian-occupied) Kashmir to end.”
As the journey comes to a close, the helplessness refuses to leave you. There appears no end in sight to the long-festering vexed situation. The author has deftly laid out the hazardous twists and turns and the danger points dotting the ride. The roadmap for a solution to the conflict zone probably lies in paying heed to the voices of distress and cries of helplessness heard on this gainful journey.
The views expressed in the Article above are Author’s personal views and kashmiribhatta.in is not responsible for the opinions expressed in the above article.
Courtesy: Tribune: Aug 26, 2018,