MUZAFFARABAD: A large number of journalists from different parts of the country, joined by civil society activists, staged a rally from the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) capital to a town near the Line of Control (LoC) on Saturday to express solidarity with the besieged population of India-held Kashmir in general and media fraternity in particular.
The call for the rally was given by Central Union of Journalists (CUJ) but it was endorsed by the rival AJK Union of Journalists as well as both factions of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) as well, to send a message to the world that there were no divisions among people in AJK and Pakistan on the issue of emancipation of their brethren in held Kashmir.
By Friday night, groups of journalists from as far as Sukkur and southern Punjab had also reached Muzaffarabad, apart from those from Lahore, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad and other nearby towns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.
Participants of the rally marched on foot from Central Press Club Muzaffarabad to Domel, the confluence of the Rivers Neelum and Jhelum, while chanting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans, from where they boarded their personal vehicles and coaches.
All along its path, the rally was greeted by residents with victory signs. “Lockdown, curfews, lawless laws and communication blockade: This defines today’s India occupied Kashmir,” read one the several banners and placards carried by the participants apart from colourful AJK flags.
The organisers had initially announced that the “symbolic rally” would terminate at Chakothi, a town located barely three kilometres before the heavily militarised LoC and overlooked by India’s gun positions atop lofty mountains. However, late on Friday the plan was changed reportedly after the law enforcement agencies cautioned that the assemblage in a vulnerable location could put the lives of the participants at risk.
The town of Chinari, located some 10 kilometres before the LoC, was then chosen for a gathering, in a decision that many participants said they did not like. “We had come with a desire to go close to the dividing line and we are disappointed by this decision to stop here,” said an emotionally charged participant in Chinari, as a group refused to join the main gathering in a playground and kept on chanting slogans on the main road. Police had set up barricades to disallow vehicles beyond that point.
In the playground, journalist community leaders Afzal Butt, Rana Azeem, Abid Khurshid, Zafeer Baba, Abdul Hakim Kashmiri, Lala Asad Pathan, Tahir Ahmed Abbasi, Shahzad Rathore and others paid tribute to the valiant people of held Kashmir and assured them of their unflinching support. They pointed out that such a worst communications shutdown had not been clamped anywhere in the world in the modern history, except for India-held Kashmir under the “fascist” BJP government.
The speakers called upon the international community to play its role not only in lifting the inhuman curbs on innocent and unarmed people of held Kashmir and media but also providing much needed essential supplies to them. The situation in the held territory was a test of the world conscience, they said.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2019