|The benefits of power in AJK ensure you can name welfare projects after members of your family|
While I'm busy writing up my previous day's blog in the masjid that so kindly gave me accomodation for the night, I can hear children from an adjacent school shouting political slogans of "Kashmir Banega Pakistan" (Kashmir will become Pakistan). This is of course part of the state school curriculum in Azad Kashmir.
As I'm riding on my way to Dheerkot,I notice the Pakistani army is busy constructing the road ahead. It isn't long before an army captain in an ubiquitous 4x4 off-roader halts by the side of the road and invites me to his depot for snacks.
At the beginning of the conversation, he exclaims his surprise at my determination to attain fitness and lauds my attempt to analyse the social dynamics of Azad Kashmir, except that he assumes that I'm a blind adherent of the Pakistani nation State.
Once my "brash" views of the region register on his radar, he does well to contain himself and suggests that despite the 180 degree difference in our perceptions, that he wishes me well in my quest to define the region of Kashmir as a neutral territory, immune from the heavy political baggage that India and Pakistan have thrust on it.
What also emerged from our conversation was the perception that the people of Kashmir have a higher sense of awareness about their environment as compared to Punjabis. For example, the Azad Kashmiris had a better sense of the width that the road being built should have and were closely monitoring the road's progress. Confirming his perception, I lamented that it was a pity that the Kashmiri couldn't proceed and develop on their intelligence; that they were cruelly restricted in terms of their movement, ability to trade and creative thought. India and Pakistan have a moral obligation to set them free.
By evening, I'm getting a bit sick and tired of people telling me that the journey ahead was too difficult to complete, they feared that a constant incline would prevent me from proceeding. Each time I was at pains to point out that I had already completed almost 200 kilometres of similar terrain and that one should be confident and determined in achieving the most difficult of tasks. If people could climb snow and ice decorated mountains with as much as 50-60 kilos of luggage attached to them, my task was pretty modest compared to theirs.
People's limited outlook on the capabilities of human-kind is probably the achilles heel of this nation. If they cannot or will not push the boundaries of what is possible, then fulfilling their potential will always remain a pipe dream.