“If we can’t say what we think under our roof, then we have no roof.”
Andre Aciman – An Egyptian-born American writer
A view of Abbaspur taken on the 13th of August
Another first-hand report by Tanveer Ahmed, an Independent British/Kashmiri Researcher/Activist working on his own initiative in the region (of J & K), un-interrupted since April 2005
Background and previous detailed reports of interference by the Pakistani State in AJK, are available to read at the following hyperlinks:
Agents of the Pakistani State have been particularly invasive in these past few months: From repeatedly visiting my home village – Keri Gurutta (especially when I’m not present there) and discreetly trying to seek information from my relatives and co-villagers about my personal life, to hassling my wife over the phone to solicit details about me. By throwing a few red herrings here and there in a desperate attempt to find some point of weakness, they hope to entrap and bind me into their lustful, deceitful occupation of about 35% of J & K territory.
The language I’m using may appear even stronger than previous reports, as in this particular episode of kidnap and detention, they finally resorted to physical torture. Essentially, in response to me not conforming my behavior in adherence to the Pakistani nationalist narrative and persisting in researching the extent and depth of it as well as other alternative public narratives.
The incident referred to in this particular public report commenced at about 0930 hrs on Monday the 15th of August, at Dosa Mor near Chuffaar in Tehsil (Subdivision) Abbaspur in District Poonch (also referred to as Rawalakot).
I was on the verge of completing the ‘national survey’ (a 10-question pro forma with multiple-choice answers asked from a total of 10,000 randomly-sampled citizens throughout the 32 subdivisions of AJK) in subdivision number 29 (Abbaspur) that day, when my public interest research work to ascertain a representative sample of public opinion was un-necessarily halted yet again. Each incident in the past 5 years - by the Pakistani state - to disrupt attempts by a(ny) citizen of AJK to creatively institute their own mechanism for conflict resolution, has been equally devious and vicious in its intended impact but always different in form and execution.
On this occasion, as I conducted my random sampling of citizen’s views at Dosa Mor (whereby virtually all citizens sampled throughout AJK - have both been strangers to me as I have been to them - to give maximum opportunity for a genuine sample of public opinion to emerge), an interviewee after answering the 10 questions asked to see my ID card. This was his right and this wasn’t the first time that I had been asked for proof of identity in AJK. Whereas all previous citizens to date had been convinced by the proof I presented to them, this particular citizen was adamant that I showed him a ‘Pakistani’ ID card and was clearly not convinced by my State Subject and Domicile certificates. This is despite my explanation that a Pakistani ID card in AJK was not a legal requirement for identifying an AJK citizen and that I had proved this point in a court of law. ref. Judgement of District Court Hattian Bala on the 18th of March this year
Despite showing him ample documents related to my identity and work, he declared me suspicious and said I couldn’t proceed from this point (Dosa Mor) onwards towards District Haveli. I pointed out that I didn’t want to proceed but rather wished to return to Abbaspur town as my wife and children were on their way there from Mirpur. He responded by saying that I couldn’t go back either and that my documents would be handed over to a Pakistani Military post (namely Gap Post) nearby. I explained that he was free to do so but that he would be wasting the time of everybody concerned. After all, he was hardly in a position to over-rule an AJK court’s decision.
Source: Planning and Development Department AJK
Meanwhile, I continued the survey with another couple of citizens. Upon completion, I noticed 2 Pakistani soldiers (1 in a tracksuit, the other in fatigues with ammo) - huffed and puffed - approaching towards me. Their tone was abrasive and they insisted on me following them to their post. I explained that they weren’t trained or equipped to verify my identity or assess my research work, despite their ‘assumed’ mandate. As I had negotiated these scenarios many a time before, I suggested that they utilise the local district administration to ease their fears about me. They remained adamant and duly escorted me to their post.
A couple of hours later, by which time the Pakistani army had confiscated all my belongings, we all seemed to be waiting for a senior army officer to come and make a decision on what to do about me. Colonel Murtaza on arrival, immediately went through my belongings and began studying my paperwork carefully. After a while, his first question was what had prompted me to leave the UK and engage in research here in AJK? “It was simply my conscience,” I replied. His second question was did I think there were problems in only this part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir? My explanation was, “No, of course not. There were problems in each and every part of the erstwhile state, which needed to be independently researched, preferably by citizens originating from those corresponding parts, just like I’m conducting research here.”
Colonel Murtaza went on to explain what he described as “rules and law” related to civilian movement within 8 kilometres of the LOC. Further, he was unable to ‘confirm’ my identity and therefore would ‘hand me over’ to ‘others’ who were ‘trained’ to do so. At this point, I curtly put forward a few points to him and made it clear that subsequent to these utterances, I wouldn’t utter a single word, eat a single morsel or drink even a drop of water as long as I am kept detained against my will. The points were as follows:
1) This would be the third such episode (amongst many other smaller interventions) where I would be interrogated over matters that I have repeatedly clarified. Therefore, this action would be fruitless except to expose Pakistan’s policy on J & K even further. That if they can’t tolerate ink and paper being used by the citizens of this territory, then what would be their attitude if ammunition was used against them? Quite possibly, worse than the Indian response to the use of arms against the latter by citizens of the Kashmir Valley.
2) On the previous two occasions, I did little apart from writing comprehensive public reports on what had happened but on this occasion I would go a few steps further and bring their State into a court of law to answer for their repeated violation of my civil rights. I would do my utmost to bring them into a court of law in AJK (unprecedented so far) and explore means of appropriate legal action in Britain or Europe.
3) To date, I have tolerated Pakistan’s existence and control of our territory - as an interim measure - before in-depth independent research can clarify the calculated ambiguity and obfuscation that they have imposed on us and most of the international community since 1947. Many of our co-citizens work in Pakistan, conduct business with Pakistan, have conjugal relations with Pakistanis and of course there are co-citizens in AJK who genuinely love Pakistan. To ensure the latter do not confuse my efforts in public interest as illogical anti-Pakistani vitriol, I have hitherto been relatively calm about the Pakistani State’s consistently selfish antics masquerading as ‘Islamic’ public good.
This photo was taken at Kharli Dhraman – Abbaspur just a day before this latest episode on the 14th of August
Another 2 hours passed at Gap Post with me maintaining my silence while Colonel Murtaza mixed jibes about me remaining hungry with his favourite jokes about prostitution in Pakistan. He was clearly disturbed by me focusing my research on AJK and not mentioning a ‘word’ on Indian atrocities in the Valley of Kashmir. He even claimed to understand the right of citizens in AJK refraining from using a Pakistani ID card and ended with a flourish, “I don’t care if the people of Kashmir want to be with India, with us (Pakistan) or want to be independent. This matter should be resolved as soon as possible!”
As a team of 7 Pakistani soldiers escorted me to their truck, they forcefully took the keys to my vehicle despite me ‘insisting’ that they leave it where it was. “You can’t ever come back to this place!” barked Colonel Murtaza. Meanwhile, the Pakistani army’s dedicated cameraman clicked away at me, my vehicle and showed a particular keenness to capture the ‘AJK Self-Determination Public Fund’ box. It almost felt as if they had finally overcome their nemesis.
My vehicle has provided over a decade of service to the Kashmir cause and its condition has become so delicate (many a time I’ve had to neglect the needs of the vehicle in favour of the needs of my children) that if anybody apart from me, as much as touches the steering wheel, something somewhere inevitably goes wrong. Here’s a list of problems that I inherited 5 days later when my vehicle was returned to me at Rawalakot:
1) A broken aerial
1) A broken aerial
2) A damaged diesel filter
3) Damaged ignition
4) Steering alignment totally wrecked
5) Broken seat belt plastic holders
There were also some items in my travel kit which I couldn’t re-inherit after 5 days:
1) A fresh can of deodorant
2) A knife
3) A pair of pliers
4) A Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan music cassette
5) A biro
The 5 items mentioned above can be added to the Sony Ericsson phone and Ufone sim that went missing on the 13th of August last year at Reshian military checkpost in district Hattian Bala. Reference
Meanwhile, the journey from Dosa Mor in Abbaspur to CMH (Civil & Military Hospital) Rawalakot took over 5 hours, mainly because the Pakistani army personnel handling my vehicle took a long time in coming to terms with it. En route, just as we passed through Abbaspur, my phone which was in the custody of a soldier guarding me began ringing. I repeatedly demanded my detainers to stop the vehicle and allow me to speak to my wife. “Do not exceed the boundary of humanity”, I insisted. The vehicle had to stop as I became increasingly energetic in my demand. I explained that my wife and children would’ve reached Abbaspur by now (having travelled all the way from Mirpur in the morning – unaware that I had been kidnapped once again by the Pakistani army). When my wife won’t be able to get in touch with me, what would she do alone in a town where she’s a total stranger? These concerns found no audience with the Pakistani army who tried to pacify me by explaining how fortunate I was that they hadn’t put a hood over my head while travelling!
It was around 9pm by the time we reached CMH Rawalakot where I was to be medically examined before detention. Sitting sideways on a bench in an army truck for over 5 hours over rocky roads had created its own disorientation. However, the doctor I was presented to simply but patronisingly asked me, “Are you ok?” I replied, “Yes, I’m absolutely fine.” That was the end of the medical examination!
From the hospital I was ‘driven’ (back) to Bilal Camp – Chak Barmang near Kaigala which happened to be a Pakistani army camp on the road between Rawalakot and Kaigala. I was immediately escorted to a waiting dusty cell where I was given a couple of tatty rags to protect myself from the chilly Rawalakot night. Of course, the last morsel I had to eat was way back in the morning just before this latest episode began.
The next day, Tuesday the 16th of August began with exhortations for me to have breakfast, which of course fell on deaf and dumb ears as I was determined to not engage at any level with my captors.
In the afternoon, I was hooded and brought into a room not too far from my cell where 2 men were sitting around a table and where most of my possessions were strewn all over the room. Both were constantly smiling (akin to banking staff on entry of a rich prospective client) and very encouraging in their attempt to ‘hear my story’. An hour of mute silence on my part and repeated signals that they provide me a pen and paper, eventually forced them into doing just that. I wrote 4 main points which will be briefly summarised here:
1) That no civil or military institution representing the State of Pakistan has any right to interfere in research carried out for the purpose of self-determination, by and for the citizens of AJK.
2) That Pakistan’s (controlling) role in AJK is merely assumed and has no legal or constitutional basis.
3) That this is the 3rd such episode and repeatedly digging this mountain will not produce as much as a rat (to borrow some aspects of a well-known Urdu metaphor).
4) That as well as being a 1st class State Subject of J & K where our ancestral origins in the territory began about 700 years ago, I also happen to be a 3rd generation British citizen and thus demand access to the British government.
These 2 ‘officers’ after reading my ‘submission’ and making a few condescending comments later – particularly on seeking the help of a non-Muslim entity viz. Britain - changed their approach somewhat and pleaded that I engage in conversation with them, so that they could divert their attention to other pressing matters of the Pakistani State, by letting me go in a matter of hours. Through previous experience I knew they wouldn’t let me go so easily this time. One of them presented himself as a ‘Raja’ of Dadyaal and claimed to have some distant links with my family and he referred to his colleague as a ‘Gujjar’. The latter intermittently tried to play the aggressive card while the former (Raja) constantly acted as his gentler counterfoil. The Gujjar (I’m using this term – not condescendingly – but for ease of reference as I don’t know his name) had a heavy Punjabi accent, though he implausibly claimed to have migrated from Srinagar in the early 1990’s.
In that previous hour, the Gujjar had gone to the extent of threatening to take my “eye-balls out of my arse” when I constantly stared at him whilst listening to his baseless allegations (or rather provocations): that I was collecting money from the poor public of AJK to enrich myself, that my State Subject and Domicile certificates were fake etc. Little does it matter that a totally unemployable and perhaps socially useless citizen living in Britain gets more financial support from the British State (income support, job seeker’s allowance etc.) for his personal sustenance, than I obtain from the AJK public for conducting a public opinion survey across the length and breadth of AJK!
That hour had also at one point got the Gujjar into such a fix that he made an assistant come and handcuff me with my arms behind my back, whereupon he threatened to add me to the missing person’s list and where I would be finally buried in an un-marked grave, with nobody to cry over me. All this put a smile on my face as I am certain that whatever I have done in terms of independent research and public activism in the past 11 years and 5 months, is enough for me to die a satisfied man. That whatever I had done for the unresolved national question of Jammu and Kashmir was to the utmost of my ability and enough to create a reference for future generations.
The Gujjar’s insolence mixed with the Raja’s gentle persuasion eventually prompted me to test their commitment to release me in a matter of hours. Green tea, a packet of cigarettes and an almost sumptuous meal followed a hunger strike of roughly 28 hours. I explained that what I had written for them should be sufficient explanation, if only they were to calmly accept the ground reality. However, I emphasised that the discussion that I’m having with them is most certainly a one-off and if I’m not released by the morning; my food, water and verbal communication strike would resume forthwith.
After lunch, the Gujjar angrily asked me, “With whose permission are you conducting this 10 question survey?” I explained that the answer was simply: ‘Self-Determination’ and that his manner of asking was totally un-warranted. This reflected the balance of power equation between Pakistan and AJK, an equation that has nothing to do with mutual respect and everything to do with aggression for selfish ends by the relatively more powerful entity. Permission to conduct the survey is and must only be gained from the citizens who are asked these questions; be they a labourer, a government servant, banker, politician or judge. I explained that I don’t need the Pakistani State’s permission (or consent/approval) to do something of public imperative that should’ve been done by the AJK Government at least 50 years ago.
I was taken back to my dusty cell and tatty rags for blankets with my head covered in a hood. I was given a couple of books to read so that I could pass the time as well as use them as a makeshift pillow at night. I had dinner in my cell in the evening and also received a cup of green tea as a night cap.
As predicted, the next day Wednesday the 17th of August was a non-event. I remained confined in my dusty cell, didn’t eat, drink or speak. Late in the evening, a guard came to request me to speak to ‘Raja Sahib’ on the phone. I signaled my disinterest and retreated back into sleeping mode.
Thursday the 18th of August was my 4th day in captivity, the dust in my cell had by now got me coughing incessantly and this day will be remembered as the day the Pakistani State finally crossed the red line and used violence and torture as a tactic against me.
At around midday, I was hooded once again and escorted back into that room where I met those 2 officers a couple of days before. This time, sitting across the table was just a fuming Gujjar. I kept my head down to avoid being provoked into doing something that could be used against me later, as my own blood was boiling. “Put your head up you Kashmiri bastard!” he yelled. I ignored that and all subsequent provocations from an abusive creature straining to use all the facilities at his disposal to intimidate me, yet unable to do so. I was handcuffed behind my back once again but so tight this time that my wrists had no leeway whatsoever, as the metal grinded against my skin at every attempted movement.
“We tried to be nice to you. Raja Sahib went through so much effort to make you at ease but you’re an evil nut who won’t submit the easy and respectable way. I spoke to that fucker of an uncle of yours and even he agreed that we can continue our enquiries (interrogation) for a week before we let you go. I even spoke to your wife and she agreed too….It seems that you’ve trained her well…I’ll get the bitch picked up too and then she’ll not talk the way she does….Admit that you’re an Indian agent pretending to fight for the Kashmir cause….Admit that you’re working in self-interest and not public interest…..Admit that you’re State Subject and Domicile certificates are fake……”, the Gujjar furiously ranted on and on.
During this rant, he slapped me across the face 3 times. Then he used a wooden stick to repeatedly beat my hands and feet. It just so happens that the 4 years that I spent in Maddrassah in West Yorkshire (UK), between the age of 10 to 14 had battle-hardened me a long long time ago. Nevertheless, the intent and manner of this violence and torture needs to be noted and understood. Certainly, if I was a ‘local’ with no outside contact, a lot worse would have happened and does happen, whereby the animal instincts to preserve occupation easily put Pakistani oppression on a par with Indian oppression. For example
Photo of my heavily bruised right thumb taken 2 days after the incident and a few hours after release
Photo of my bruised right ankle taken 2 days after the incident and a few hours after release
After this ‘beating’, I was kept face-down on the floor for over half an hour before being hooded once again and dragged back into my dusty cell.
By the evening, it had been over 48 hours since I had last eat and this suddenly prompted the Pakistani army to bundle me into an army vehicle and take me to CMH once again. The hooding and handcuffing were by now farcical as I knew exactly where we were. Where the dusty cell was in relation to the torture room in Bilal Camp and of course where CMH Rawalakot was.
While kept hooded in a hospital room I was forcibly drip fed glucose, which might have put some energy back in me but almost immediately made me a victim of influenza! It became difficult to negotiate the plethora of sneezes that the glucose invoked, especially with a hood covering my face. Nevertheless, I was promptly brought back to my dusty cell in Chak Barmang. My hunger strike continued, as of course I was still in detention.
I didn’t know at the time but Friday the 19th of August was my last day in detention. The day was spent desperately trying to fend off the flu but because I wasn’t eating or drinking anything, my condition became more critical as the chilly breeze of the evening set in. At around 10pm a doctor was brought into my cell, who politely insisted that I must take some fruit juice in order for medicine to be able to counter my flu. I mulled over my dilemma and as I reluctantly drank the apple juice with a sense of deep regret but for the purpose of fighting another day, I was informed by a guard that he had just received confirmation that I would be released tomorrow morning.
The Pakistani army which had been guarding me round the clock for the past 5 days appeared to be jubilant that I was finally being released. No longer would I have to endure the thudding repetition of gun-fire (they have a target-practice arena not far from where I was detained) throughout the day, every day on an empty stomach.
Chicken soup and a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes (a soldier insisted that I accept it as a goodwill gesture) followed. I couldn’t sleep throughout the night as I began working out my next public interest agenda in AJK.
On Saturday the 20th of August I had my first shower, breakfast and a change of clothes in 5 days before I was hooded and hand-cuffed once again (albeit only for a few kilometers on the road towards Rawalakot), before being presented and handed-over to SSP Rawalakot at around midday.
Co-citizens of Rawalakot came as ‘guarantors’ for me, all my possessions apart from those missing (as mentioned on page 5 and it must be remembered that a detailed scrutiny of what I possessed before my detention was not possible with countless people hurriedly going through the inventory on hand-over, whereby I could only confirm items listed in the inventory) were duly handed over to me. Many co-citizens in the city insisted that I stay with them for the night and leave for home the next day.
I begged leave in the afternoon of Sunday the 21st of August after a detailed press briefing with journalists in Rawalakot.
I want to try and summarise the whole scenario given that the Pakistani State is becoming increasingly intense in trying to vilify my work, terrorising those who are related to me or who come into contact with me and even trying to penetrate my domestic life.
A very recent example is the appearance of 2 figures in my local bazaar (Keri-Gurutta) on Monday the 29th of August. They described themselves as representing Pakistani military intelligence (MI). They met an uncle of mine and were keen to meet me at my residence. However, when a local citizen came to inform me of their intention, I told him to pass on the message that I had no time for them and that they should prepare themselves for discussion in a court of law.
The following reference encapsulates public policy for the past 69 years in AJK:
In Union of India vs. Association for Democratic Reforms, the (Indian) Supreme Court observed:
One-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non-information, all equally create an uninformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions.
Given that AJK inherently suffers from constitutional ambiguity since its creation on October the 24th 1947, that the ‘rule of law’ here remains interim after the passage of 69 years (Article 370 of the Indian constitution defining its relationship with the State of J & K also describes itself as temporary) and also given that J & K-ites (to borrow Christopher Sneddon’s term) were 'suddenly' bracketed into India and Pakistan without their consultation in 1947, necessitates that the citizens of the territory of J & K take the responsibility to clarify their constitutional (and international) status or statuses as the case may be.
The status quo as described above confirms that India and/or Pakistan cannot either unilaterally or even bilaterally resolve this dilemma. The international community’s approach – in general – is to advocate a bilateral solution but this is evidently disingenuous and makes a mockery of J & K-ites fundamental right to create a mechanism for their future without external interference, as envisaged in the United Nations Charter.
What I’m doing as a researcher is trying to help create that appropriate mechanism for AJK, using the public’s opinion and resources without external involvement. If we are successful in creating an indigenous political process in AJK, it could provide a reference for the other divided parts of the erstwhile princely State. After all, the current ballot-boxes on either side of the divide do not provide adequate space for expression of political choice.
What I’m up against in opposition to my work is a neighbouring State (Pakistan) suffering from a psychosis of deep fear that someone, somewhere will imminently break it down. It doesn’t protect itself within its own borders but seeks to dominate the life and land of its peripheries viz. AJK, GB and in a different context: the Pashtun belt of Afghanistan.
As a British citizen understanding through experience that the Pakistani State cannot yet move beyond the 2-nation theory, that it is willing to do anything to make the world ‘understand’ that it is a ‘victim’ for not obtaining the coveted Kashmir Valley - which of course is adjacent to AJK - it follows that Britain cannot abdicate from its responsibilities to address issues created by its colonial legacy.
Varying interpretations of the Indian Independence Act 1947 aside, what is clear is that the constitutional procedure through which India and Pakistan became dominions in August 1947 did not specifically compel each and every princely state to accede to either dominion. The Dogra State of J & K was partly created and fully protected by the British Indian empire until the 15th of August 1947 when according to the above ‘Act’ it became a fully independent state. The entry and subsequent consolidation of Indian and Pakistani armed forces in the State of J & K was of course under British military command and control. In the critical days of October 1947 when Pakistani involvement through its proxy – the tribal raiders – were creating havoc at one end, Lord Mountbatten as Governor General of the Indian Dominion, in response to the Maharajah of J & K's request for military assistance to save 'his' State, conditioned his response with a proviso that the future status of J & K should be decided by the people of the State.
In 2016, the people have yet to become the deciding factor in J & K’s destiny.
I’ll end with an excerpt from John Stuart Mill's celebrated essay on Liberty:
"All progress, advancement of knowledge and progressive change and improvement of old ways of thinking, and the consequent old behaviour-patterns, habits, customs and traditions can come about only from free individual dissents and dissentions, innovations, etc."
This photo was taken in Rawalakot city on the 11th of August during a protest against on-going Indian atrocities. A message for Britain (England) can be read too.
Written by Tanveer Ahmed
Contact: 0092 (0) 345 50 44252