Kashmir Solidarity Day is observed in Pakistan on February 5 as a way of showing support for those living in Indian-administered Kashmir. / AFP PHOTO / ABDUL MAJEED — AFP or licensors

This Kashmir Day, who will stand up for Azad Kashmiris?

Will solidarity with Kashmiris extend to this side of the LoC as well, to the ‘azad’ counterpart of the ‘occupied’?
Updated 06 Aug, 2019 04:22pm

This article was first published on February 5, 2018

Posters of wailing mothers and battered children, of Indian officials attacking the 'honour' of Muslim women, of beatings and thrashing of young boys, mark the Kashmir Highway in Islamabad ahead of Kashmir Solidarity Day, or Kashmir Day, observed as a public holiday in Pakistan every 5th of February.

"Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of Partition!" "Kashmir is Pakistan's jugular vein!", "Kashmir and Pakistan are like one soul in two hearts!"

These are some of the common slogans every year on this day, to show support for Kashmiris living under Indian hegemony on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC).

Hafiz Saeed — the Punjabi self-proclaimed leader of Kashmiris — usually makes an appearance, as do other parties advocating for jihad in Kashmir.

Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter also rallied today, with the latter shouting the erstwhile slogan, "Kashmir banay ga Pakistan" (Kashmir will become Pakistan).

The struggle must go on, they say. Pakistan won’t rest till Kashmiris are freed from Indian occupation.

In-depth: The pursuit of Kashmir

Over the past decade, however, Kashmir had failed to evoke the same passion in Pakistanis as it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Gallup Pakistan — which conducts periodic polls on Pakistani perceptions of the Kashmir conflict — revealed in 2016 that there is growing pessimism amongst Pakistanis over Kashmir’s independence.

Over the past 25 years, there has been a 14% increase in the number of Pakistani respondents who believe that it will take quite some time for Kashmir to gain independence; 19% increase in those who believe Kashmir will not be able to gain independence at all; and a 14% decrease in those who believed that Kashmir would gain independence in one or two years as compared to when the poll was first conducted in 1990.

The study also reveals that participation in Kashmir Day events fell to its lowest in 2015 when only 1% of Pakistanis actually took part in any events. Participation has generally remained low since 2010.

However, since Burhan Wani’s — commander of Hizbul Mujahideen — killing by the Indian army in July 2016, a new spell of violence has been unleashed in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK).

Related: I'll never forget the day Burhan Wani was killed

Pellet injuries, death and persecution are infused in the toxic air that continues to suffocate Kashmiris. Kashmir has once again come to the forefront and political forces in Pakistan are perhaps observing Kashmir Day with greater zest to show their opposition to their historic foe, India.

Lahore’s streets are full of Punjab government’s posters about Kashmir Day. The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan has also put up posters depicting Indian violence.

Emerging political forces, like Khadim Rizvi's Tehreek Laibaik Ya Rasool Allah, are also cashing in on the day, pledging solidarity to Kashmiris.

In light of this renewed vigour, one must ask whether Pakistan is only reacting this way because of India’s aggressive policies towards Pakistan recently — not least the claims of surgical strikes and hostile statements by the Indian Army Chief who seems to be playing an increasingly politicised role under Modi’s regime.

Kashmir was on the boil in 2010 as well. Is it Kashmir then that evokes passion in Pakistanis or is it anti-India rhetoric? It seems as if Kashmir has been completely consumed by the bilateral politics of India and Pakistan.

Emotions become heightened only when relations between the two countries sour. This bilateralism becomes even more problematic when it comes to the state of affairs of Azad Kashmiris.

By pledging solidarity to Kashmiris in IHK only, the underlying assumption is that Kashmiris on this side of the LoC are fully emancipated and satisfied. They face no injustices, they have no grievances. No one needs to stand in solidarity with them.

AJK is often ignored in discussions on Kashmir, only becoming relevant when Indian forces shell, killing scores of innocent civilians living by the LoC.

A closer look into AJK, however, reveals a dire state of affairs. 2017 marked the highest number of ceasefire violations since the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Already, over 200 ceasefire violations have been reported in 2018.

Men, women and children living by the LoC face the brunt of cross-loC shelling, but the Pakistani government stays removed from these areas.

Occasional visits by military and political officials to inspect the areas do little to alleviate the concerns of the people of AJK.

Just this past week, nine people were injured in Khuirratta, Kotli District. However, when locals came out to protest the shelling, they were forced to retreat.

Read next: Enforced disappearances: The plight of Kashmir's 'half widows'

Of course, one can argue that Indian shelling is beyond Pakistan’s control. What can Pakistan do if the enemy ruthlessly fires at civilians? But then who is in charge of providing bunkers and basic amenities to the civilian population?

Why has the civilian population not been relocated from areas scarred by shelling? Where is their compensation and allowance? Whose responsibility is it if not the civilian government’s and the Pakistani administration’s?

Last year when I visited Neelum Valley to enquire about the conditions of families living by the LoC, the locals told me that the civilian government was largely absent from the area.

During another visit to Naykal Sector in Kotli, I met with a young girl whose mother had been killed by a splinter.

"It was Eid and we had tied the goats outside. At night the Indian army shelled and the mortar sliced our goat into two. When my mother went outside to see the animals, a splinter hit her.

"No one was willing to take her to the hospital during the shelling. People were asking for lakhs of rupees to cross the road.

"When we finally took her to a hospital, they told us we had to take her to CMH Rawalpindi for proper treatment. She died in the process."

The young girl emphasised how important it was to have a fully functioning hospital in the area. After all, Nakyal Sector has faced one of the worst ceasefire violations in recent years. Casualties are frequent.

It should perhaps be the government’s primary responsibility to equip the hospital and ensure that victims receive timely help.

The same money spent on posters and rallies would be better spent on uplifting the quality of medical services in the area, which can actually save lives.

The deceased’s husband further complained that "when someone dies in shelling incidents on the working boundary in Punjab, they are given five lakhs in compensation; when my wife died, we only got three lakhs. Are Kashmiri lives less important than Punjabi lives?"

Roads are full of rubble, sewage pipelines are not laid, and doctor-to-patient ratio is alarmingly low. Water and power shortages undermine economic activity in an area where dams have been constructed to fulfill the rest of Pakistan’s energy needs.

Royalties are not given because AJK is not a province of Pakistan, but when it comes to implementing projects that benefit other parts of Pakistan, the area is taken for granted as a part of the country. No permissions are sought from the local government before launching projects that aid Pakistan’s development.

Locals in Neelum Valley have been campaigning for a road from Athmuqam to Taobat; three Pakistani prime ministers — Yousaf Raza Gillani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Nawaz Sharif — have come and gone, each promising construction but to no avail.

Kashmiris tell me promises are only made to be broken in this region.

Also read: Courage lies in the hearts of Kashmiri women who dream of freedom

This Kashmir Day, who will stand up for Azad Kashmiris? Are they not Kashmiri enough? Are they not deserving of intervention and attention? Are their basic rights not important?

Will Hafiz Saeed and Khadim Rizvi stand up for them too? Will the Punjab government and the federal government take responsibility for them beyond putting up posters every Kashmir Day?

Will solidarity with Kashmiris extend to this side of the LoC as well, to the ‘azad’ counterpart of the ‘occupied’? And will that solidarity still remain even when India-Pakistan relations improve?

Perhaps it would be more constructive to ponder over some of these questions rather than chest thumping and sloganeering every 5th of February.

Solidarity must be shown through sustained development policies, protection of basic rights, and provision of basic amenities.

Posters may instigate sympathies for Kashmiris in Pakistan but that sympathy is nothing but a hallow commitment to the Kashmiri cause when the very Kashmiris the state represents are overshadowed in jingoistic displays in the name of ‘solidarity.’

Have you, your family, or someone you know, been affected by war and conflict? Share your experiences with us at prism@dawn.com


Author Image

Anam Zakaria is the author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians and Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan-administered Kashmir

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (32) Closed

Feb 05, 2018 05:15pm
Delighted to read the insightful story by the author. Pakistan govt. should provide Kashmiris basic amenities for safety amid Indian naked aggression and blatant ceasefire violations. The rationale behind Kashmir is strategic gains in guise of populace. To get its aims achieved, Pakistan should introduce local govt. there to nurture a strong leadership. Without strong inclusive leadership in AJK it would be hard to justify our claim in Kashmir should time come for plebsicite.
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Garib Das
Feb 05, 2018 05:44pm
Please forget about kashmir becoming part of Pakistan or an independent state. This attitude has spoiled Pakistan .It has lost its credibility on world forum. So sad that kashmir has become part of gaining political mileage in Pakistan.
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Feb 05, 2018 07:01pm
Status quo is the only viable solution to the Kashmir problem.
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Feb 05, 2018 07:36pm
My point is : Let the people welfare not become hostage to politics and hostility between Indo-Pak. Please spare poor people of the misery.
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Az Khan
Feb 05, 2018 09:08pm
Thank you for timely piece .. much needed pakistani governments have blundered many a time on Kashmir since 1947 and we are still playing the price You should look into and write about the install the puppet regime in Muzafarbad, worse than how they do it in Srinagar.
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Az Khan
Feb 05, 2018 09:10pm
Thank you for your timely piece .. much appreciated
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Feb 06, 2018 03:45am
Bravo to the author for showing the mirror and for Dawn for publishing this!
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Feb 06, 2018 04:15am
Last year when I visited Neelum Valley to enquire about the conditions of families living by the LoC, the locals told me that the civilian government was largely absent from the area. Someone remind Nawaz Sharif of this, he seems to be forgetting this little detail in his speeches lately.
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Feb 06, 2018 04:53am
Would love to read your book Anam , nice article, wish more people write about this issue.
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Feb 06, 2018 07:27am
fresh perspective !!! focus on development, and not political games
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Feb 06, 2018 11:15am
Very well written article. My family is from Azad Kashmir and I have visited all these areas like Kotli, Nakyal etc where there are so many cases of cross border shelling on a regular basis, due to which most of my family has shifted to Mirpur, AJK. It is true that all these areas are left on their own by Pak Govt and their only focus is on Indian Occupied Kashmir and the human rights violations there. AJK roads and civic amenities have not been improved since decades however I guess since the people there are too content and peaceful in nature, no one thinks about them.
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Nadeem Ahmad
Feb 08, 2018 10:19am
Thumbs Up Anam. You tried your level best to put forward the real ground situation of Kashmir & how Kashmir dispute is just a emotional issue for more than 99% of Indians and Pakistani,s. Kashmir now turned as a political football which is kicked on special occasions for political gains. I am from the Nakial sector. Living right on #LOC. Our lives are in serious threat since 2013 as exchange of Mortars is a daily routine in our area. Nakial suffered most civilian casualties during last 4 years, almost half of the whole LOC causalities. Believe me we are left at our own. Government has no concern at all. we have to shift our injured at our own. No ambulance, no doctors and no roads. For even first aid & X-Rays we have to move 70KM to DHQ Kotli. Government, Unfortunately we don't have any.
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Feb 08, 2018 01:51pm
Making a social cause the front cause has hurt pakistan in education economy and all around sectors and sad part it looks light is way far away in the tunnel.
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Feb 05, 2019 04:53pm
We need to open our eyes and accept the bigger realities. When will we remove from our national emblem "the jute and the tea" it has been what like 47 years we have been importing both commodities.
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Feb 05, 2019 05:34pm
Has anyone dealt with the enormous amount of resources including men and armaments spent on an insoluble issue over the last seventy years,none have gained in this futile effort.Leave Kashmir alone for sometime and see the difference it will make to both nations.But then this will not happen is equally well known,The politicians will have no agenda left!
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Feb 05, 2019 05:53pm
N some wanted to take over Kashmir by force... Now if something is beyond one's capability it should be acknowledged.
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Riaz Ullah Baig
Feb 05, 2019 06:43pm
A country of 220 million goes on strike and all those state employees and private firms workers stay at homes in the name of solidarity day! Has it any real effect on the alarming condition of Kashmiris? Who we are fooling?
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Shaheen A.
Feb 05, 2019 06:52pm
Hats off to Anam for this masterpiece. Its time to mend our own fences and clean up our backyard before we point fingers outside.
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Ash Man
Feb 05, 2019 07:10pm
Interesting article. Would like to know the per capita incomes of people on both sides of the loc. Along with education and healthcare and other humanitarian issues. A comparison would give a true picture.
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gary ira
Feb 05, 2019 09:07pm
brillianty written.The author has Guts and positvity
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Ghani K
Feb 05, 2019 11:28pm
Jamaat -e-Islami has always been in the forefront demanding freedom for Kashmir. Not other political parties or 'liberatis' sipping finest tea from the finest cups!
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abbas Khan
Feb 06, 2019 01:38am
@Ghani K Continuous demands (lip service) and doing something about the plight of oppressed people of Kashmir are two different things.
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Feb 06, 2019 09:24am
Truth. Bitter, uncomfortable truth.
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Feb 06, 2019 09:28am
GDP of 'Azad' Kashmir = 3.2 billion USD GDP of Jammu and Kashmir = 25 billion USD. End of story.
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huma yousaf
Feb 06, 2019 10:31am
Reality check for Pakistan, thank you for this article.
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Feb 06, 2019 10:38am
If money spent on organising all these meetings to show solidarity to Kashmiries is spent for welfare of people of Kashmir living in Pakistan side, it will be a great help of Pakistan to Kashmir. Well written.
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Feb 06, 2019 11:35am
They all full liberty unlike their counterpart
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Feb 06, 2019 11:59am
Any taker for this? : Convert complete border between India-Pakistan into open border like European countries or U.S-Canada. Convert Jammu and Kashmir ( both sides) into one independent province and open border towards India-Pakistan sides. Give this 10 years to see if it works.
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Feb 06, 2019 12:43pm
"It should perhaps be the government’s primary responsibility to equip the hospital and ensure that victims receive timely help." As pointed out in editorial Shri Narendra Modi has already laid foundation stone for two nos of premier hospital cum medical college(AIIMS) one at Jammu and one for Kashmir and power, road and bridge projects for J&K.
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Feb 06, 2019 04:02pm
So what does the PM of Asad Kashmir does? Or the parliament to which he belongs?
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Jehengir khan
Feb 06, 2019 10:44pm
Israel- palistine may find peaceful solution but india-pakistan will never live in peace. It simply doesn't fit politicians goal...
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Feb 06, 2019 11:05pm
The best write-up on Kashmir that I have read in a while. This article represents the reality in AJK. We in Pakistan should value our prize trophy and welcome every Kashmiri man and woman in our fold. After all they are our brothers and sisters and true Pakistanis. I pray that such a spirit is born in Pakistan.
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