Visitors

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A petition for freedom, identity, economy and dignity from Gilgit Baltistan

This was a petition written on behalf of Shafqat Inqalabi who has effectively been reduced to a humbled existence by the Pakistani State for daring to challenge it's legitimacy in Gilgit Baltistan. This follows a similar pattern to the treatment meted out to other notable civil rights activists (Manzoor Parwana and Baba Jaan) in the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir.

The Interior Ministry of Pakistan has put Shafqat Ali Khan (sobriquet: Inqalabi), an activist from district Ghizer in Gilgit Baltistan on it's exit control list (ECL) without prior notice. The federal investigation agency (FIA) prevented him from boarding a flight from Lahore to Dubai on the 5th of August. The aforementioned agency confiscated his passport, national ID card and other travel documents whilst questioning him for two and a half hours. Their apparent reason, allowing him to travel out of Pakistan's jurisdiction could impede their national interest.

Whether or not the State of Pakistan's national interest takes precedence over the life and liberty of a human being who is not their constitutional citizen or indeed obliged to defer to their 'national interest', should open up a lively debate. Meanwhile, Shafqat describes the incident as a 'shameful act on the part of Pakistan'. He has been under constant vigilance and endured persistent harassment from the Pakistani State's clandestine agencies. He thus considers his life to be under threat, particularly since filing a writ petition in Pakistan's Supreme Court on the 4th of March 2010, against the State Executive’s 'Empowerment and Self-Governance' Order for Gilgit-Baltistan, enacted on September the 9th 2009.

I am a political activist not a terrorist”, Shafqat points out as he beseeches the 'International Community' to take serious notice of this gross violation of his basic human right to travel. He also implores human rights organisations to save his life and for fellow activists to play a positive supportive role.

Profile of Shafqat Ali Khan

He was born on the 4th of March 1978 in Village: Bubur, Tehsil: Punial, District: Ghizar in Gilgit Baltistan. He resides with his family in Gahkuch city which serves as the district headquarters of Ghizar. His father (Nizat Bahadur) works as a government contractor and his family is considered amongst the most renowned political families of District Ghizar.

Shafqat passed his matriculation in 1996 from Al Azhar model school in Gilgit before moving to Hyderabad in Sindh (Pakistan). He completed his FSC exams in Pre-Engineering from Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayat Ullah Higher Secondary School in Hyderabad. He was nominated for admission in Civil Engineering at the University of Engineering & Technology in Taxila from where he graduated in 2003.

Shafqat Ali Khan's political career commenced in 1997 whilst still a higher secondary level student. He worked as president of GQM (a district based organisation in Ghizer that stood against corruption) from 1997 to 1999 before becoming President of Karakorum Student Organisation - Punjab Zone in the same year up to 2002. Chairing this organisation in the capacity of Central Chairman from 2003 to 2005. Shafqat also played an active role in university union politics from 1999 to 2003. His active role in the national politics of Gilgit Baltistan commenced soon after graduation. A period of self-exile in Kabul (Afghanistan) ensued from December 2003 to June 2004.

Political pursuits included contesting district council elections twice. Shafqat Inqalabi has also written numerous articles on Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan focussing on their pending national question. He married in 2009 and has an 18 month old son.

Shafqat narrates that the Government of Pakistan through it's agencies began harassing him about six years ago. Their pursuit intensified after he submitted the writ petition against the Pakistani State (4th of March 2010) in it's apex court. When they (the agencies) failed in bringing him round to their line of thought, that infuriated them further. Wary of the impunity they enjoy, Shafqat Ali Khan kept the media informed whenever he endured the ire of Pakistan's secretive state apparatus - via press conferences in Islamabad, Muzaffarabad (AJK) and Gilgit. Please read the following for some background:


In April 2009 what outside observers may rightly find bizarre, the Home Department of Gilgit Baltistan expelled Shafqat from his homeland and banned his re-entry for three months. His right to earn a living was cruelly devastated by the very same agencies in May 2009 when they halted his construction business in Muzaffarabad and prevented other contractors from conducting business with him. He lost 17 lakh rupees (equivalent to around 10,000 US dollars) in the project that he was forced to abandon.

In an effort to quell his freedom of speech and association, the agencies had carried out a well rehearsed tactic that had served them so well in the territories they control but do not legally own - since 1947 - namely economic suffocation. Building momentum to raise the 'national question' of Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir, in order to advance his motherland's identity and hence dignity using the tool of freedom was viciously halted. The agencies didn't stop at that, they made his life difficult for him even in his home territory.

In the manner of any other human being who desires freedom, recognition of their identity, the right to earn an honest living and the dignity to enjoy equal rights, Shafqat Ali Khan's options to exist with his conscience intact became impossible. Leaving his beloved homeland and the adjoining State that occupies and rules it, was and is the only feasible option left to him and he's been denied that too.
Finishing with a recap of the event on the 5th of August (earlier this month), as Shafqat was undergoing the process of boarding a flight to Dubai from Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore at 1830hrs, he had checked in his luggage, cleared customs, received his boarding pass and had just the emigration counter to pass, he was stopped and informed that he had been on the dreaded ECL since March 2011 (though no legally imperative notice had been given to him). He was escorted to an FIA cell and not released until the completion of a two and a half hour interview and confiscation of his travel documents.

Shafqat Ali Khan (Inqalabi) is now left with no documents for travel, internal or external. He is effectively an alien and a prisoner, languishing in his home territory at a loss as to how to confront the predicament Pakistan has put him in. His, as well as his family's telephone/s have been tapped for the past two years. His suffocation and humiliation is complete. Any institution or country that sincerely believes in freedom and the richness of civilisation that it entails must take notice and act.

Written:
Friday
19/08/11

APPEAL TO ALL JUSTICE-LOVING PEOPLE (Guest Post by Quayyum Raja)

IN THE LIGHT OF 25 YEARS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND 65 YEARS INDO-PAK HISTORY

QUAYYUM RAJA:  
HEAD OF DIPLOMATIC MISSION FOR KASHMIR LIBERATION CONFERENCE

I have been acting as a Kashmiri political activist for the past 25 years and served 22 years in prison for Kashmir Cause. I was born in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and completed my Master in Social Sciences and Psychology in the UK. I am among the founders of the on-going struggle for Kashmir independence. Although we demanded complete independence both from India and Pakistan right at the outset, many Kashmiris considered Pakistan as a supporter and advocate of their cause and India as an aggressor and occupier. However, 25 years experiences of my struggle and 65 years history of India and Pakistan has proven that there is no difference between India and Pakistan. Those Kashmiris who argue it otherwise are either na├»ve or biased who only confuse and complicate their issue. 

The following will prove my claim:

- Pakistan invaded Kashmir on 22 October 1947, giving India an excuse to invade on 27 October 1947. 

- According to a United Nations resolution of 13 August 1948, Kashmir was an International Issue, which had to be solved according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir. However, Pakistan persuaded the UN to pass another resolution on 5 January 1949, which replaced “Kashmir Question” with India-Pakistan Question. The hidden agenda was to change internationality of Kashmir into a bilateral issue.

- As a result of 1965 war between India and Pakistan, they signed the Tashkent Agreement on 10 January 1966 instigated by Russia. Pakistan once again ignored the Kashmiri representation.

- Pakistan signed Simla Agreement with India, following the 1971 war. Pakistan agreed to change Ceasefire Line of Kashmir into a Control Line. Pakistan merged Azad Kashmir army with Pakistan army. 

- India and Pakistan signed a third agreement in Lahore on 21 February 1999, which confirmed the previous agreements. Kashmir was not allowed representation once again.

- The Provisional Government of Azad Kashmir was set up on 24 October 1947. It was to act as a successor of the Maharaja of Kashmir, but Pakistan reduced it to a local authority. Pakistan got a temporary control of Gilgit-Baltistan or the Northern Aareas under a bilateral agreement with Azad Kashmir on 21 April 1949, but Pakistan abused the agreement and occupied the territory, declaring it as its fifth province 2 years ago.

 We started a National Independence Movement to re-unite Kashmir back in mid 1980s. However, Pakistan infiltrated and turned it into religious war between Hindus and Muslims. Pakistan imposed Hurryet Conference on our National Movement as our representative, which has only commercialized the Kashmir Freedom Movement. Therefore, we all founders of the Freedom Movement reject the Hurryet Conference.

 We have reformed and cleansed our genuine movement. We do not consider only Indian part of Kashmir as an occupied territory, but also the territories under Pakistan and China. Most of the Kashmiris want complete independence. India and Pakistan were created from the British India. Kashmir was never a part of British India. In any event, India and Pakistan cannot snatch Kashmir from each other. 

There is no military solution to Kashmir conflict. 

 We appeal to all peace and justice-loving people of the world to persuade India and Pakistan to withdraw their troops from Kashmir, allowing the divided families to reunite themselves and let Muslims and non-Muslims live in peace and harmony as before the forced division. The solution of Kashmir would allow India and Pakistan to concentrate on the economic conditions of their own people, who deserve a better future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The LOC - Raising the people's stake in their homeland

A factual account of a citizen's unlawful arrest, humiliation, detention, kidnap, harassment, intimidation, and torture by the Pakistan army/ISI viz a viz the territory gloriously though highly disingenuously described as Azad (free) Jammu & Kashmir (AJK).

Tanveer Ahmed

Backdrop
Creating problems related to matters of international security are not as easy as some people may assume, solving them are mammoth in proportion however. It's also amazing that most citizens of the globe do not fully grasp the concept of freedom and less so governments, especially the most powerful. Balancing as much as interpreting the relationship between freedom and security is a prominent challenge in today's age. For those familiar with the adage that we are born free and should exist as free citizens in this world should easily identify with the persistent human tragedy infused by the LOC (Line of Control) tinderbox dividing Kashmir. A territory that is less a dispute between two infiltrating sovereign nations viz. India and Pakistan – and more a failure of the world to recognise that each and every citizen from all parts of the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir has an inherent right to map out and determine their political future.

Motivation
As an unfunded civil society activist committed by conviction to the resolution of our 'national question' and the formation of a democratic political structure that ensures 'good governance' in our part of the erstwhile territory, I embarked on an '800km Citizenship Walk along the LOC' on the 20th of August, aiming to interview citizens of AJK by way of a survey form comprising of 10 publicly significant questions, hitherto unexplored. This form is available for download at kashmirone.net and is open to all citizens of AJK including it's diaspora.

Format
The idea is to walk from one end (south) of AJK to the other (north), interacting with civilians who live close to the LOC but west of Pakistani army posts that man it, thus avoiding land-mines as well as incorrect suspicion that I may be attempting to 'infiltrate' into Indian-controlled territory.

Dates and places visited

Day 1 – Saturday 20/08/11
I travelled from Rawalpindi to Sialkot with a view to beginning my journey along the international border (on public transport). Bearing in mind that Jammu is barely 30 kilometres - as the crow flies – from Sialkot, I wanted to give myself a sense of orientation of our State as a whole and the impact of 'borders' on our freedom to move. This took me via Chapraar and Saidpur to the Chenab River and Phagwal before I entered our State at Manawar late in the evening. I put up for the night at a hotel in Mo-il. I had been questioned by the police as well as an army unit near the Chenab River without incident.

Day 2 - 21/08/11
I walked from Mo-il to Chamb and wanted to walk further to Manawar but some locals insisted that I travel with them via motorbike, I reluctantly agreed. When we returned to Chamb I was invited to a prominent local shrine known as Khairowal Durbar. It was an opportunity to interact with many people who had come from far and wide including my own district of Kotli. The spiritual head (Peer Sahaab) suggested that I spend the night there. I accepted his invitation. There was zero interaction with 'authorities' on this day.

Day 3 – 22/08/11
As I bade farewell to the Peer Sahaab in the morning, he instructed one of his disciples to drop me at Mo-il. This is where I begin my walk northwards aiming to reach Deva Batala. A solitary (local) soldier in plain clothes confronted me along the way, though he softened his tone once he understood what I'd set myself out to do. I had a couple of maps (one bought from a Pakistani army shop on Murree Road in 2005, the other was printed by the AJK tourism dept.). I also carried a tourist pamphlet (again courtesy of the AJK tourist department) and GPS on my mobile (which was almost useless as there was little or no network coverage). Thus, I developed a habit of asking each and every person I met along the way to confirm that I'd adopted the correct route. I come across the first army camp of my walk unwittingly and spend about 15 – 20 minutes there. After a series of polite questions and confirmation of my identity, I proceeded with my journey. Before the end of my day's walk at Sariyaala Chapar, I encountered another army camp. Their conduct and approach was similar to the first, cordial though just slightly lengthier. I spent the rest of the day and night in nearby Kot Jamal, interviewing locals.

Day 4 – 23/08/11
I re-started my journey in the morning from Sariyaala Chapar and headed out to Patni. Learning from my experience of the previous day (of unwittingly coming across army camps) I decided to stick to the main road on whatever route I adopted from this point on, though remaining as close to the LOC and west of Pakistani army posts as physically possible. I encountered an army check-post about 5 kilometres before Thub, they questioned me extensively and checked my baggage thoroughly before escorting me (on public transport) to their camp at Thub. I remained in their custody before an army major decided to ring a number on one of my phones to confirm my identity. He was pleasant in manner and politely informed me that he did so without my permission. They allowed me to proceed to Patni. Though I was questioned extensively and repeatedly, matters remained cordial.

Day 5 – 24/08/11
Baghsar was my next destination. It was an uncomplicated though steep road with very little human habitation in between. It wasn't until about 8 kilometres before Baghsar that I encountered my first army camp of the day. They questioned me briefly before escorting me towards their main camp at Baghsar. Incidentally, at each and every army camp/post that I came across, I made it a point of explaining that I had been questioned and cleared previously by their colleagues. I also requested on each occasion that they make a note of my ongoing route and kindly inform subsequent posts that I'm travelling with the aforementioned purpose (i.e. that of surveying the AJK public). I clearly clarified that just as the citizens of AJK who live in the cities have aspirations and grievances, similarly those who lived in what they (Pakistan army and it's agencies) describe as 'border areas' deserved equal attention.

In any case - a few kilometres short of Baghsar – the soldiers escorting me met up with a (pre-agreed) set of soldiers from the army base in Baghsar. At this point, I came across my first experience of humiliation, they tied up my hands and despite my protestation, frog marched me towards their base. As we walked through Baghsar bazaar, the sight of locals staring at me and imagining that I must be a criminal incensed me. I knew that if I was free, I would have interacted with these very people and discussed matters of our homeland. On approach to the army base, they humiliated me further by blindfolding me with a towel.

Once they sat me down in a chair, they began interrogating me with questions that I had repeatedly answered to numerous colleagues of theirs over the past few days. I made it very clear at the outset that under no circumstances was I going to answer a single question while blindfolded. My subsequent silence infuriated them and the young Pathan colonel doing the bulk of questioning threatened to shoot me. Realising that I wouldn't relent, after about half an hour they changed their tone and manner of questioning. I didn't respond until they removed the towel and untied my hands.

At this juncture, I re-emphasised my stance that politeness on their part will generate co-operation on my behalf and I will assist them in allaying whatever fears they may have about me. As they came across my laptop, the young colonel that threatened to shoot me asked for the password. I explained that it wasn't possible for me to give it to him. I was after all - legally speaking - not a citizen of Pakistan and thus under no obligation to divulge personal information. However, with the aim of not giving them a reason to suspect that I had some sort of hidden agenda, I said I could co-operate to the extent of typing the password for them and allow them to look at whatever was in my laptop but in my presence. They reluctantly agreed but broke their pledge by taking it elsewhere after a while. They had to return to me when the power settings prompted re-entry of the password after a short period.

Detailed and repetitive questioning followed up until 11pm. In the meantime, they indicated that they would drive me to Bhimber before releasing me and assist in procuring some sort of 'authority letter' so that I wouldn't encounter any more problems on my subsequent journey. That is not what happened. They shackled me with handcuffs and blindfolded me before embarking on a 3 hour 20 minute journey. At this juncture, I was shifted from one vehicle to another on what seemed a major highway (quite likely the GT road) and taken on another blind journey for a further 1 hour 40 minutes. I had managed to glimpse at the vehicle dashboard time on embarking as well as disembarking the first vehicle.

Day 6 – 25/08/11
It was just past 4:00 am when they removed my blindfold after sitting me down in a window-less room. In a similar manner to earlier in the previous day, I explained that I could not answer any questions with my hands cuffed and will not take kindly to being questioned in the manner of a suspect. Possibly taking the experience of their colleagues with me on board, they readily agreed. However, despite knowing that I had walked over 25 kilometres the previous day, been through many hours of repetitive questioning and a blind 5 hour journey, they considered it appropriate that they continue questioning me in this tired state. I put up with their antics for a while (again for the purpose of ensuring they understood me). I found it out of place that they wanted to know the names, addresses, profession and marital status of each and every member of my family. I found many other questions that they asked to be beyond their concern. I reminded them that I wasn't a citizen of their country and was being questioned under duress. That I was too tired to answer tedious questions and would rather they be specific about what sort of information they were seeking. They even asked me about my relationship with Shafqat Ali Khan (Inqalabi) an activist of Gilgit Baltistan whom they have put on their exit-control list (ECL). Again, a matter with little connection to my 'Citizenship Walk'.

A few questions later and yet more (repetitive) explanation that my laptop password wasn't public property, left me mentally exhausted. They soon brought in a mattress to the hot stuffy window-less room and allowed me to lie-down and 'rest'. Despite the exhaustion, the humidity as well as their repeated disturbance to ask me a query or two, forced me to quit trying to sleep any longer. After a couple of hours of enduring this ridiculous scenario, I stood up and said, “Right! Enough is enough. Either you explain the purpose behind what you're doing to me, arrive at a solid conclusion or release me forthwith!” Going into a fake polite mode, they continued with their rhetoric about how lucky I was to be treated so cordially by them and the problems their country was going through etc. etc. The password issue crept up again and I felt like I was conversing with the dumbest thick-heads that had ever been born. I could not co-operate any further. If they were smart, they could crack the password themselves. Indeed, they stoutly mentioned that they could (of course, they couldn't – yet another bluff on their part). I had given them ample opportunity to browse through the laptop but I could not do it repeatedly and indefinitely, especially as I knew that they themselves did not know what they were looking for. To sift through each and every item would take them at least a week. That's not something I was willing to entertain.

They warned me that I would not be able to endure what they would put me through. In turn, I pointed out that I was made of far stronger stuff than they possibly imagined. I've worked selflessly for the enlightened progress of my people (the citizens of J & K) for the past 6 and a half years with a specific methodology and output in mind. From what I've gathered of them, they were part of a country that was characterised by deep divisions, widespread social injustice and utter confusion about their future. I worked in a transparent and accountable manner, they worked in a manner totally opposite. Everything I do of public interest is published on the web, I repeatedly emphasised that it was pointless interrogating me for information that was already available publicly. They used the sentiment of the noble religion of Islam to garner blind allegiance while promoting fake aims. I wanted to help solve the problems of the people of my territory by relying on our common humanity and adopting a consultative approach. Hence, my survey. Alas, they were too conditioned otherwise to understand.

They believed in muslim vs. muslim oppression for the purpose of ensuring the muslim masses continue to hate people of other religions. What I describe as follows is evidence of that.

They blindfolded (included a blind-fold as well as a black sack over my head – all subsequent blindfolds were in such manner) and hand-cuffed me once again before frog marching me to a cell hardly 4 metres by 6. Removing the blindfold, they ordered me to change into jail clothes which I wasn't going to do. I was in no mood to take up residence, I would rather be tortured and die nobly. I began reciting passages of the Quran from memory quietly as I'd made up my mind to die rather than endure the stupidity of State interrogation. Beginning to realise that I meant everything I said, three of them entered the tiny cell, kept the gate open and forcibly removed my clothes. Now that I was in a naked state, albeit continuing to recite the Quran, they swore at me repeatedly and tried to intimidate me into donning jail cloth. As they had me pinned to the ground, one of them exclaimed that I wasn't circumcised before stepping on my private parts with a view to inflicting pain without doing lasting damage. I continued with my Quranic recitation as they left soon after, further realising that I mean what I say. Leaving me in that naked state for what must have been at least an hour, they returned with my clothes and sheepishly suggested I put them on.

It wasn't till the evening at about 6:15 pm that I was blind-folded and handcuffed once more, before being led out of the cell back to that original stuffy office. On this occasion, they had a Kashmiri who had some media experience to mediate between me and them. Gradually, we managed to obtain some sort of understanding and an agreement was struck at around 10:30 pm. I was to be released after sehri (roughly 24 hours after being brought there) but not before I had to sign and thumb-print a couple of papers that I hadn't been tortured. Not true of course but I had to get out of that hell-hole. Absolving yourself of responsibility as a State cannot possibly be such a simple process.

Day 7 – 26/08/11
I remained blind-folded and hand-cuffed as we left in the morning. The blindfold was taken off at my request just before entering Azad Kashmir at Holaar after I complained of breathing problems, as the morning sun began to make it's intensity felt. The handcuffs were removed just before we entered Sehnsa. I was released at the police station after some minor formalities at around 10:00 am.

Finally, what transpired was a waste of their time as well as mine. Ultimately, ignorance can be dangerous if not fatal and I still maintain a level a sympathy for those who sincerely believe in the Pakistani State. However, I will not tolerate a repetition of what happened to me in the past few days and will seek to take pre-emptive measures before I resume my 'Citizenship Walk' from the very place that I was originally hand-cuffed from. This requires identifying a genuine stake-holder in the Pakistani State with executive power and includes making the difference between Kashmiri and Pakistani citizens amply clear.

Note:
I wish to remind readers that the territory referred to as 'AJK' is de jure an independent entity, legal opinion further suggests that the UNCIP resolutions restricted Pakistan's role to maintain the 'sanctity' of what was then the ceasefire line (LOC post Simla) and not what traditionally has been thought of as 'fulfilling the responsibilities of good governance'. Subsequent Pakistani involvement dictated a gradual deepening de facto control of the territory, not least by repetitive marketing of the 'Kashmiri liberation' dream twinned with the supposed duty of 'Islamic brotherhood'.

Date written: 27/08/2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 5 Wednesday 24/08/11

Photos on flickr photostream (ID: sahaafi)

Videos at:






Baghsar was my next destination. It was an uncomplicated though steep road with very little human habitation in between. Now into my fourth day of walking, I was feeling fitter and my rucksack was feeling lighter. All I needed to do was pace my walk out every day for about 20 kilometres and I would be able to complete my 800 km walk without much hurdle, or so I thought.

I still remembered the countless number of times I was stopped by the public yesterday and asked for my ID. The people living along the LOC had been brought up on living amidst cross-fire, heavily monitored physical movement, the risk of losing limb or life from land-mines, restricted agricultural space, virtual non-existence of economic opportunity and a lack of basic amenities (If the electricity malfunctioned, it could take a week or 10 days before somebody from the electricity department would come and fix it). The nearest they came to experiencing normal civilisation was by travelling to the tehsil headquarters in Barnala, about 30 kilometres away. Some local traders also ventured out as far as Gujarat in Pakistan to procure goods for the local market. The physical price they were paying for India and Pakistan's conflict was clear enough, the mental stale-mate of society was mind-boggling and difficult to quantify.

Much in the same manner as the previous two days, I had to prematurely break my fast. With no sign of habitation for kilometres on end and the rain descending uninterrupted for the past couple of hours, all I could do was cup my hands and drink rainwater at every makeshift stream I came across.

It wasn't until about eight kilometres before Baghsar that I encountered my first army camp of the day. They questioned me briefly before escorting me towards their main camp at Baghsar. At each and every army camp/post that I came across, I had made it a point of explaining that I had been questioned and cleared previously by their colleagues. I also requested on each occasion that they make a note of my ongoing route and kindly inform subsequent posts that I'm travelling with the purpose of surveying the AJK public.

Similar to previous conversations with army personnel, their boredom on duty was palpable. Most soldiers tend to look forward to their holidays as a means of appeasing their plight. Coming across a stranger like me evoked many questions on their part, they took as much interest and showed as much concern as any average citizen to the plight of the country they were serving.

Much of what happened after this point is narrated in my document entitled, 'The LOC - Raising the people s stake in their homeland' and is the next blog entry on this page.

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 4 Tuesday 23/08/11

Photos on flickr photostream (ID: sahaafi)

Video at:


I re-started my journey in the morning after 'royal' treatment from my hosts (we share a common friend who originates from this region currently residing in Mirpur). They escort me back to Sariyaala Chapar where I had halted my walk yesterday. Today, my target destination is Patni. Learning from my experience of the previous day (of unwittingly coming across army camps) I decided to stick to the main road on whatever route I adopted from this point on, though remaining as close to the LOC and west of Pakistani army posts as physically possible.

Today's walk is distinctly longer than yesterday's and I make far more contact with the public. The locals say economic life was very hard until a few years ago when many youngsters found a formula of getting to Greece and beyond. Repatriation of wealth is visible amongst the many examples of concrete hamlets littered throughout the horizon. There is irony in terms of the bout of inflation imported from Pakistan over the past few years as well as the current economic plight of Greece. Every story isn't rosy though, the road to Europe and economic upliftment has cost many a life. Ruination also ensues if one is deported or even jailed before they can start repaying the agent's fee.

My first encounter with the Pakistani army today is at a check-post about 5 kilometres before Thub. They question me extensively and check my baggage thoroughly before escorting me (on public transport) to their camp at Thub. I remained in their custody before an army major decides to ring a number on one of my phones to confirm my identity. He is pleasant in manner and politely informs me that he did so without my permission. They allowed me to proceed to Patni. Though I was questioned extensively and repeatedly, matters remained cordial.

It is little wonder that the tehsil of Barnala is famous for stone as the Punjabi lexical variations 'watay da', 'Watala' and 'Batala' indicate. I'm glad that I've passed that area as the toll on my sandals was beginning to tell. An occasional glance at my phone's GPS screen shows both India and Pakistan coming up wherever there is network coverage, serving as yet another reminder that I'm close to the LOC. Though, what I found highly irritating as I approached Patni was almost every member of the public asking me for my ID card. They had obviously been taught to be vigilant and mentored to question any stranger they came across.

It was almost nightfall when I arrived in Patni. With not a commercial building in sight, my immediate attention was focused on getting some water before I could start imagining where I may have to spend the night. A local house that I approached for water decided that I needed to have dinner and rest to follow. I was the first 'stranger' to have come to Patni since 1947 according to my host, all bar the Tablighi Jamaat that is.

The locals were outnumbered by mohajirs throughout Tehsil Barnala which verifies the region to have been predominantly Hindu before 1947. Originally, the mohajirs wanted to return to their homes on that side of the LOC, imagining that the conflict would be imminently resolved. Alas, it took some years before it dawned on them that their decision to 'cross the line' was decades long and indefinite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 3 Monday 22/08/11

Photos on flickr photostream (ID: sahaafi)


Videos at: 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th3WG4TRutI 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39EmC3JAaC8 


As I bade farewell to the Peer Sahaab (Spiritual Head) in the morning, he instructed one of his disciples to drop me at Mo-il. This is where I begin my walk northwards aiming to reach Deva Batala. A solitary (local) soldier in plain clothes confronted me along the way, though he softened his tone once he understood what I'd set myself out to do and was satisfied that I'm an AJK citizen. He refused to take part in the survey though, visibly alarmed at some of the questions I posed.


I have a couple of maps (one bought from a Pakistani army shop on Murree Road in 2005, the other was printed by the AJK tourism dept.), a tourist pamphlet (again courtesy of the AJK tourist department) and GPS on my mobile (which is almost useless as there is little or no network coverage). Thus, I have to rely heavily on asking each and every person I meet along the way to confirm that I've adopted the correct route to my daily destination. 


I come across the first army camp of my walk unwittingly and almost inevitably. This is not before a local shares a dream with me that he had not many nights ago. He had sensed the breeze of freedom and independence blowing northwards from the direction of Jammu. Meanwhile, when I reach that first army camp of my walk - perched as it is on a steep hillock – I feel compelled to prematurely break my fast.


A soldier obliges me with a bottle of cold water as I explain my purpose and verify my identity with a couple of colleagues of his. Fifteen to twenty minutes later they bid me farewell by giving me directions for my onward journey. Coming across a goat herdsman just as he's finishing his morning dip in a small lake, I decide that I should try and get him to answer the questions on the survey. I regret not recording his reaction as there was a lot of humour in his innocent anger. When I asked him of which single identity he would choose to adopt from among Indian, Kashmiri and Pakistani; he was livid at the prospect of Indian being one of the choices at stake. He wanted to hand his 'prize catch' to a soldier passing by, who had descended from the very camp that I had already visited.   


About five kilometres further ahead, it dawned on me that Deva and Batala were two different habitations and even then the people who lived there were scattered. The second army camp of the day was encountered near Sariyaala Chapar. Their conduct and approach was similar to the first, cordial though just slightly lengthier. I spent the rest of the day and night in nearby Kot Jamal, interviewing locals.


Judging from the abysmal quantity and yet more abysmal quality of electricity in Kot Jamal – they receive as little as six hours of electricity per day with the voltage sometimes as low as 10 watts out of a standard 220. It's little wonder that every shop and household is armed with a regulator or two. Neither is it surprising to hear of a rumour that both China and Iran have reportedly offered electricity to AJK at a flat rate of 200 rupees per month for full electricity without any load-shedding.