– by Dr Shabir Choudhry
Story of Kashmiri struggle is a long and tragic story of suffering of human beings on both sides of the forcibly divided State of Jammu and Kashmir. During our study tour of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, I met a ‘leader’ of Kashmiri militants who still live in Azad Kashmir. Before giving details of their plight it is imperative to give short summary to the on going armed struggle.
They were young, energetic and full of life; but they were frustrated and not satisfied with what life had to offer them. They wanted change; and they were led to believe that the change could only come from a barrel of gun, which did not grow on Kashmiri trees. The gun and training needed to bring about the desired change could only be gained from Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, so they crossed the Line of Control to get guns, training and ammunition that they could fight the Indian forces stationed in Kashmir.
Between 1989 and 1991 tens of thousands of Kashmiri youths crossed over the Line of Control and went to a land of their dreams – Pakistan, which many of them thought was a place where there was justice, peace and tranquillity. Pakistan, for many of them, was just like a second Makkah, a country established in name of Islam and where, according to them, all was well.
Many of them thought their Kashmiri brothers living under control of Pakistan were living in heaven; and enjoyed life much better than them. Their dreams were shattered when they crossed over. Many of them lost their lives while walking to land of their dreams. Those who made it across the LOC reached there exhausted and in some cases needed urgent medical help.
On arrival they were not greeted with flowers. They all had to go through rigorous security checks, interrogation and, at times, humiliation. Many soon got frustrated and went back empty handed. On way back, they either got killed or adapted to new life style in presence of gun culture, oppression, large army, fear and intimidation.
Their position was similar to that woman who insisted for a divorce, despite husband’s pleas of forgiveness and promises of rectifying the past mistakes. After getting a divorce she got married to a man of her choice, but soon realised that he was not caring and compassionate enough. After a big clash with her new husband, while sobbing she said: oh my former husband, how good you were.
Tens of thousands of other militants decided to fight their corner and adapt to new life style in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, as they thought they could not go back because of fear of death and repercussions. Most of these militants were kept in camps; some went to their relatives or friends. Some others got training and were sent back to fight, and either they embraced martyrdom or, in some cases, they abandoned militancy.
Most of the Muslim Kashmiris living under the Indian rule were, no doubt, staunch supporters of Pakistan, it was Pakistani policies and attitude of Pakistani agencies which transformed them to Kashmiri nationalists. They had seen the Indian rule and obviously they rejected that; and after experiencing the Pakistani policy and their rule in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan and their attitude to Kashmiris and concept of azadi (independence) they became ardent supporters of an independent Kashmir.
Only those Kashmiri militants who practically became collaborators of Pakistan and helped Pakistan to promote a Pakistani agenda on Kashmir enjoyed their stay in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. These people were lavishly rewarded and promoted as true Kashmiri leaders and representatives of people of Jammu and Kashmir. Families of these chosen few enjoyed life, they travelled to all major cities of the world to promote ‘Kashmiri struggle’ and their children studied in universities in Europe; yet they encouraged others to pay sacrifices for the cause of struggle.
Of course this is not the full story, as different people faced different situations and their experiences also differ from one another; and it is not practically possible to narrate all these stories. Fact, however is, that the raw material needed to keep the Kashmir pot boiling soon started to run out, as many Kashmiris realised that their sentiments were used in name of azadi to advance a Pakistani agenda, but they didn’t know what to do. They had no options, as life back home was not rosy, as there was oppression, killings and imprisonment. They were between a rock and hard place.
Those who controlled and planned this ‘azadi struggle’ for Kashmiris got alarmed because of short of supply of Kashmiri raw material required to continue their policy of ‘keep India engaged’ and ‘keep India bleeding’. Nationalism or azadi was not the kind of product which they could sell to recruit warriors from the international market, so this was presented as a ‘Jihad’ in such a way that Muslims from various nationalities were attracted to come to Kashmir to wage ‘jihad’ against India either to embrace martyrdom or to make Kashmir part of ‘Islamic Umma’.
Thinking Kashmiris soon realised that it was not their struggle; and they were deceived in holy name of ‘jihad’. Their struggle for their identity and independence was made part of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ to deprive the struggle of international support and support of other Kashmiri minorities; and to get the State of Jammu and Kashmiri divided on religious lines.
Now coming back to the plight of those Kashmiris who remained back in Azad Kashmir, and who went to there to get training and weapons. A man called Mohammed Isahaq Malik phoned me and requested for a meeting. I had four meetings planned for that afternoon, but his desperation and requests for meeting forced me to find some time for him. We met in Roopial Hotel in Mirpur.
He was from Rajouri, a part of Jammu province on the Indian side of the LOC. Like many others, he also crossed over with his friends in name of azadi and on call of the JKLF to get training and weapons that he could go back and fight India. Mohammed Isahaq Malik who was now President of Mahjareen Council (Council of Migrants) said: they were let down by Pakistan and the JKLF. We were deceived in name of azadi and struggle.
He said: now we know Pakistan government had its own agenda on Kashmir, but what hurt us more, is the attitude of the JKLF leaders and the government of Azad Kashmir. We fail to understand why they have betrayed us and why they have betrayed the ideology and the movement.
When he was complaining about the attitude of Amanulla Khan and other JKLF leaders, I asked him if he had met Amanullah Khan and explained the plight of these suffering militants who were away from their homes and their love ones. He said he did, and after listening to their serious humanitarian problems Amanullah Khan said: it is part of the struggle. You have to be patient and accept things as they are. He further said: if I was in a position to help then I would have helped my own people in Gilgit Baltistan.
Mr Malik said: we can understand these things – suffering and sacrifices in name of struggle. We can be patient because it was our decision to come here and consequently suffer, but how could we explain our young children who have their own needs and dreams. Everything looks rosy and good when you have plenty of food in your stomach, expensive clothes on your body and decent shelter over your head; but slogans of azadi, ideology and struggle look totally irrelevant and unattractive when your children are crying for food and you have no money to pay for their medicine or no money to educate them.
He told me that thousands of militants of 1990s abandoned militancy and they wish to go back home to be with their parents and other friends and relatives, but they were dumped in these camps which are living hazards for us and our children. We have no means to go back. He said there were around 26,000 militants or families (as these militants got married and started a new life) from Jammu province alone.
He said: these people were in a desperate need of help and support. All of these people want to go back and want to be with their families. We made a mistake of coming here in 1990, but for how long we have to suffer for that mistake?
He gave me details of the camps and how many families live in each camp. These camps are spread over in many parts of Azad Kashmir, for example, there is a camp in Poonch with 500 familes; Ambor Camp with 800 families, Kotli camp 303 families, Manak Peer Camp more than 800 families, Bagh Camp 50 families and 200 families in another camp. Each person is paid 1500 per month and at times no money is paid for 4/5 months. How can one survive on this money with soaring prices, he asked me?
He said: they did not face so many problems in Rajouri. We had some respect there, but here we are humiliated and looked down with hatred and abhorrence. We have a Muslim majority in that area and they were supporters of National Conference of Omar Abdullah. He hoped that Omar abdullah will formulate a policy to get us back that we can return to our homes and start a new life.
It was really painful listening to plight of these Kashmiris who went across in name of azadi and faced enormous problems; and now wanted to return to their families. I was in no position to help these people, but I promised Mohammed Isahaq Malik to write an article about them and voice their concerns hoping that someone might be in a position to help them.
Writer is Head Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.