Wednesday 29 December 2010

What terrorises Kashmir?

What does Kashmir need to do to make it plain to the world that it's own ethos is based on tolerance and plurality, in absolute consonance with it's tranquil environment. It could even be argued to be an antecedent of Indian secularism. 

The idea for the title of this week's column comes from the title of a piece written in the Wall Street Journal by Sadanand Dhume on Monday the 20th of December entitled, "What Terrorizes India?" A somewhat provocative piece analysing the relative de-merits and threat posed to India by extreme right-wing/fundamentalist Muslim and Hindu groups, clearly incensed by Rahul Gandhi's comment that the latter posed a much bigger threat to India than the former.

It could well be that India has or will develop the capacity to contain radicalism (whatever be it's origin): what is absolutely unclear is how Kashmiri society will put a stop to the haemorrhage that it has endured for the past sixty-three years on account of India and Pakistan's competing national identities?

What does Kashmir need to do to make it plain to the world that it's own ethos is based on tolerance and plurality, in absolute consonance with it's tranquil environment. It could even be argued to be an antecedent of Indian secularism. Thus, integrating into an Indian national identity that holds itself out as an appealing alternative to Pakistan's uncouth Islamic radicalism holds little water. Indeed. The growth of Islam in Kashmir  has been markedly different from how it has developed in the Indian sub-continent. A healthy spiritual undercurrent in the shape of sufism found absolute harmony with Kashmir's cultural ethos. It is terrorising for Kashmir to be mired in a binary conflict with incessant push and pull tactics devised by India and Pakistan.

What exacerbates this onslaught of terror is how the 'international community' perceives the Kashmir problem. The U.S. and it's junior partner Britain, can not see Kashmir out of the context of their presence in Afghanistan, their reliance on Pakistan and their commmercial and strategic interests that depend on Indian favour. It is terrorising for a people who want to be immune from the conflict of their neighbours, to be faced with such heavy odds to attain the rights enshrined in the UN Charter. What is suffocation of civil space and repression of freedom for Kashmir, is the wrong end of a mere strategic calculation for the international community.

One is horrified to read America's reservations about an independent Kashmir: That it will become a bastion of 'Islamic terror'. It has made little effort to understand that all mechanisms of 'terror' have been imported or thrusted upon the people of Kashmir, they are certainly not indigenous or intrinsic. A neutral Kashmir would seek guarantees from the 'international community' that it's neighbours refrain from exporting conflict and it's associated ills to Kashmir.

Taking into account the limited change evoked by the India-Pakistan peace process and the international community's apathy, the consequent lack of incentive to 'shun the gun' is a terrorising thought. Further, that the 'international community' and global media give a celebrity status to activism for Tibet ( a la Richard Gere), give sustained focus to Tianenmen Square and find it expedient to devote personal attention to conflict in the oil rich gulf states. It is terrorising to think that oil (which is essentially replace-able) is given far more global attention than water (whch is essentially irreplace-able) and which can be easily foreseen to be the major source of future global conflict. Again, a neutral and responsible Kashmir could forestall such a scenario and save the world from un-ending strife.

Closer to home, our neighbours India and Pakistan are increasingly being accused by their respective civil societies of not working for their national interest. The presence of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese military on our soil is not just terrifying in terms of their presence, it is terrifying for their populations who make a direct connection of this phenomena with the paucity of resources left over - year on year - for their development. There are ample examples of Indian and Pakistani politicians grandstanding on the Kashmir issue in order to present a faux patriotic stance to their public. Misappropriation of funds earmarked by New Delhi and Islamabad for Kashmir's development by these very politicians (in conjunction with local lackeys) is a terrifying thought.

This stack of terror has a local dimension too. Realising that the attitude of many people (of the erstwhile Dogra State) hasn't changed an iota since the anarchy of October 1947 is foremost in one's mind. Debating on the relative 'merits' of Hindu or Muslim rule in Kashmir not only shows how much baggage we continue to carry from 1947, it highlights how little we understand what is needed for fulfilling our aspirations and potential for progress. The perennial 'religious identity' argument mires us deeper into an abyss.

Further fractures have been evolved by politicians, certainly on this side of the divide (viz. Pakistani-administered Kashmir) in the shape of caste (biraderi) based politics. It shouldn't be surprising that no party has ever proposed a political manifesto, let alone economic policy here. Those members of the public who resisted this superficial approach have been politically, economcally and socially ostracised, adding a direct layer of suppression and terror.

Yet another terrorising thought is the absence of a clear, unified and representative voice that could speak on behalf of all regions of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan have of course played their part in dividing opinion and their prevention of movement between the various regions from around 1948 to 2005 - despite no such prohibition imposed by UNCIP resolutions - is a glaring testimony to this view. 

A recent study by Robert Bradnock for Chatham House, not only confirmed a burning aspiration for independence (figure given was 43% overall but for some inexplicable reason ommitted various areas that are perceived to strongly support the notion of an independent Kashmir i.e The Neelam Valley), it also highlighted unemployment and corruption as the major concerns of the population on either side of the divide. It is terrorising to know that the public sector on both sides is heavily bloated, in an attempt to de-politicise the masses. Furthermore, minsicule support for Pakistani presence in Kashmir confirms the international community's blinkered supposition that India and Pakistan need to work together to resolve the 'Kashmir Issue'. Another terrorising thought.

One is of the opinion that Kashmir needs to be discussed and resolved by the respective countries that control each part under their administration. For example, Pakistan needs to discuss Kashmir with stakeholders that reside in the part of Kashmir that they control and vice versa for India. One would further contend that India and Pakistan talks on Kashmir would never lead to a resolution; certainly not a resolution that would satisfy all the diverse ethnic, regional and political thought that aggregates the 'disputed territory'.

It is important to remember that Kashmir was a profitable State in 1846 (hence, Ghulab Singh's payment to the British) and 164 years on, it has been relegated to an economic basket case, supposedly dependent on Islamabad and New Delhi's magnanimity. The fact that Kashmir's economy has not only been prevented from growing organically, it is clear to see that India, Pakistan and China's presence here is an on-going ordeal of terror.


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 29th of December 2010

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Neele Gagan Ke Tale

Neelam or Kishenganga?

The binary system of one interest pitted against the other is played out between India and Pakistan on many fronts. Exchanging gunfire across the LOC is not quite passé yet but the war of attrition is now played out through a race to build hydro projects in the region. The net result in any event is huge human and ecological cost to Kashmir.

What started in Pakistani Administered Kashmir (PaK) as the 969 MW (Mega Watts) Neelam-Jhelum Hydro Project in January 2008 was 'countered' by the 330 MW Kishenganga Hydro Project in January 2009, a mere 70 kilometres upstream in Indian Administered Kashmir. The former with the assistance of American, Chinese and Norwegian firms whilst the latter is being built in conjunction with a British firm. Despite the Indus Basin Water Treaty of 1960 (without Kashmiri consultation - K.H. Khursheed was apparently sacked from the AJK presidency for his defiance) not permitting both projects to operate simultaneously, Kishenganga is set for completion in 2016 and Neelam-Jhelum in 2017.

Both projects were conceived more than twenty years ago (Neelam-Jhelum as early as 1982) and though ecological concerns are apparent with Kishenganga's proposed 103 metre reservoir submerging some parts of the Gurez Valley, the emphasis of this piece is to highlight some of the concerns of the AJK population and in particular the inhabitants of Muzaffarabad district. One would be eager to read something covering the same topic from the other side of the divide.

It should be made clear that Pakistan started this $2.16 Billion project without fulfilling basic environmental obligations required for such development projects. Neither did it consult the public of PaK or make any written agreement with the PaK Government. The project's Chief Executive is a retired General, Zubair, more attuned to firing bullets than presiding over a hydro-electric project. An environmental law enacted in 2000 has proved to be somewhat of a (belated) saviour for the people of PaK, as an NOC from AJK's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is required by law before the commencement of any infrastructure project in this territory, except that three years of work have been carried out before a public hearing to assess people's reservations has been conducted. The public hearing which took place this past Monday was requested by the EPA upon public demand last year.

It should be no surprise that the venue was packed with members of the public and lasted for over six hours. Each and every participant expressed serious reservations about the project and the panel of four Pakistanis (the General, an environmental analyst and two members of WAPDA- Pakistan's federal electricity board) was utterly inadequate in their attempt to appease the public. Even the South African Consultant (representing the American firm MWH) who they brought along to presumably give a colour of authenticity was evidently bemused at what he witnessed. His assertion that Rs 25 billion would be pumped into the AJK economy as a result of the project did little to allay people's concerns. 

The history of Mangla and the unfulfilled promises made by Pakistan in the 1960's is still fresh in people's minds. They understand that Pakistan is seriously deficient in meeting it's energy demands and that this project would be directly connected with Rawat or Gakhar Grid station (in Pakistan) through a 500KV double circuit transmission line. Free or subsidised electricity and zero load-shedding promised in the wake of Mangla Hydro Project looks to be repeated, albeit with some variations.

Persistent requests by the Pakistani panel to "trust us" ringed hollow, sounded clichéd and were bereft of rationale. They were startled somewhat by the level of awareness espoused by the public of PaK and the Kala Bagh Dam fiasco was cited as an example of Pakistan shifting its burden to a disputed territory, where it knew it had a pliant power structure ready to oblige it at any cost. What they under-estimated was the assertiveness of the public.

Pakistan's impression that the working models of old would suffice in pushing through their objectives have been repeatedly dashed in this age of communication technology, not just by Monday's public hearing but even by the reservations held out by the EPA. For example, when WAPDA initially submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report in February 2009, it was found to be prepared in 1996. Its revised report presented in July 2010 still left much to be addressed in terms of combating environmental hazards of the project.

At the public hearing, some members of the public staged a walk-out in disgust at the panel's inability to answer their questions. The general employed both 'carrot and stick' in his attempt to calm the situation down. He employed sweet language by waxing lyrical about the number of years he had spent in PaK and privately warned a Project affectee to, "Remember who the Sardar is, never take a panga with the Sardar." The Sardar, of course, is referring to the Government of Pakistan.

It should be abundantly clear at this stage that Pakistan has embarked on this project using a procedure which is not only inherently flawed but back to front. For example, the sequence if one were to employ universal and civilised norms would have been to first consult the public, obtain their approval via debate in the AJK Assembly, fulfill all criteria related to protection of the environment (incidentally, our most prized asset in Kashmir), subsequently obtain an NOC from the EPA and finally address social, economic and political concerns by guaranteeing benefit to the local population in the shape of employment, skills and technology transfer.

In an effort to understand what drives such disasters, the war of attrition played out between India and Pakistan in Kashmir must be focused on and conscientious civil efforts must be devised by the public of Kashmir to immunise us from this conflict. Whether the Neelam-Jhelum Hydro Project will attain fruition is still far from certain.

Is it a matter of sacrificing our ecology and natural habitats for Pakistan's energy needs? or is it a matter of 'national interest' (viz. Pakistan's) where the Neelam-Jhelum project will give Pakistan some leverage in the Indus Basin arbitration process and forestall India's alleged attempts to divert the upstream river flow for it's own needs?

During the forum, this writer made it clear that the panel had provided an inadequate response to people's questions. The question of legality of Pakistan's activity was also raised. Where members of the public couched their criticism of the project by a feigned allegiance to Pakistan, one has always had the privilege of saying what he feels, unconstrained by any associated interest. In an attempt to define 'national interest', which was the underlying current of the Pakistani panel's response, nothing was forthcoming.

In response, yours truly requested the panel to ask major stakeholders in the Pakistani power structure (be they the military, bureaucracy, politicians or anyone else who stood responsible for Pakistan's decisions) to come to Muzaffarabad imminently and face questions from the AJK public in a similar hearing. Our region needs to move forward with a clear definition of our national interest and the direction that we need to take.


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 22nd of December 2010

This article was re-titled as "Power Politics" on December the 23rd 2010 by Vijay Sazawal, a Kashmiri Pandit living in the USA and running a website named

He also commented that:

"Tanveer says in the battle for hydro-electric power, Pakistan has ignored environmental impacts"

The article can be read at the following link:

This article was also referenced in:

 'The Indus Equation' by Strategic Foresight Group - Mumbai in 2011

Thursday 16 December 2010

A ringed rail and road network

The future can only possibly be bright if we are immunised from the conflict of our neighbours. Despite it's heavy toll on our national expenditure and engineering prowess, it would pay dividends in the shape of easy mobility for citizens of the State, re-invigorate the concept of integrity, ease our custom/immigration process and - subject to a treaty with our neighbours and the international community - ward off external military intervention.

A circular rail and road network that juts the periphery and links each and every city of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. This network would not only identify the contours of what - to date - is described as a disputed territory but it would re-unite the geographic entity that existed till the 22nd of October 1947. Thereby, simplifying the national question of what direction citizens of a disputed territory divided by the physical presence of three neighbouring countries should take; on their path to progress and competition with an ever shrinking world. This would indeed constitute a re-development or a continuation (post-disruption) on what the British either deliberately or inadvertently facilitated between March 1846 and October 1947.

Indeed, the Indian Independence Act of 3rd June 1947 gave full cover for the continuation of a 'mulk' or in post-renaissance European parlance; a nation state, namely Jammu & Kashmir. Urges by Moundbatten, Gandhi and Jinnah to commit to one or the other dominion notwithstanding.

Before we embark on this new phase of existence which should be characterised by economic development and backed by a lucid structure of govenance, we need to understand the background to as well as the events which transpired in that fateful month of October (1947). How, in the space of five days (between the 22nd and the 27th), the adamantly independent-minded Maharaja's State was swamped with Indian and Pakistani soldiers, under the close watch and command of the remnants of the British Raj.

Unravelling what really happened in that month of ill-fortune is an immediate task of seekers of genuine history. It is equally possible that a clean narrative exists. In which case, yours truly needs to pull his socks up.

The question and indeed theory propounded by many a keen researcher, invariably points fingers at a selfish British motive to contain Soviet advancement into the Indian realm. It is questionable whether the cold war really involved such forward-planning at such an elementary stage, that it precipitated the split of what was essentially North India into West and East Pakistan. Simultaneously, the remainder of what was North India was 're-connected' administratively with South India, in continuation or rather an upgradation of how British India's governance functioned, minus the headache of princely states and the bulk of the muslim population of the region.

Others perceive partition to be a cunning diversion away from a possible backlash against the outgoing British and an accomplishment of British policy - post 1857 - to emphasise the seperate identities of Hindus and Muslims in the region. Utilising those fissures to subsequently divide the State of Jammu and Kashmir and give each of the dominions a share of the 'cake': thereby facilitating high budgetary expenses of both countries on defence (at the cost of development) to 'defend' the parts of the State (of Jammu and kashmir) under their control. It can be further argued that both countries -  post-independence - have bought a fair share of their military hardware and facilitated military/economic expansion of the 'West' in this region.

It is important at this juncture to not disclude the rights movement during the Dogra era which erupted at times during the 1880's and is most noted by the events in Srinagar on July the 13th 1931. Despite a majority of 80% Muslims throughout the State, Hindus are alleged to have been given preferences in jobs, business opportunity, education and land holdings. It is further alleged that the life of a Muslim was not equal before the law to that of a Hindu. There is certainly evidence of Muslim government servant's pay being lower than that of an equivalently placed Hindu. To use a proverbial cliche, the final straw that broke the camel's back could be Hari Singh's decision to dis-arm all Muslims once he got wind of an impending tribal attack from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province in October 1947.

The psyche that accompanied the two-nation theory definitely played it's part in formenting the genocide that took place in this territory (on all sides of the religious divide). Whatever may have been the inspiration or passion that instigated mob rule was consolidated by the military presence of India and Pakistan on either side of the political divide. To this day, depending on which territory (or even religious affiliation) a citizen of this State resides in, opinion is still sharply divided as to whether foreign military presence is a protector or destroyer of civil liberty. One could argue with conviction backed by ample evidence that the net result of military presence here is a stifling of civil space.

It is equally important to cite some positive attributes of Dogra rule - which if allowed to evolve unhindered by outside influence would in all likelihood, have transformed this State from autocratic rule to fully-fledged and functioning democratic rule. Indeed, Hari Singh's decision to construct a Praja Sabha in 1934, the prior formation of the Muslim Conference in the wake of events in 1931 and the Maharajah's pledge to relegate himself to that of a titular head and thus transfer all powers to the assembly in early 1947, were all indications of political evolution under an administrative structure that had all the ingredients of a modern nation-state. Except, that events largely out of the control of the Maharajah or his subjects, were thrust upon the State.

Returning to the title of this opinion piece, in order to allay allegations of 'wishful thinking', it has been important to re-visit aspects of our shared history which have been 'brushed under the carpet' by the sustained exigencies of Indian and Pakistani national identity. The future can only possibly be bright if we are immunised from the conflict of our neighbours. Despite it's heavy toll on our national expenditure and engineering prowess, it would pay dividends in the shape of easy mobility for citizens of the State, re-invigorate the concept of integrity, ease our custom/immigration process and - subject to a treaty with our neighbours and the international community - ward off external military intervention.

Preventing our religious affiliation from falling prey to the supposed honour of our neighbours is a first step to reducing militaristic presence on our soil. It is only then that civil space can be re-vitalised and the scope of economic opportunity widened. Arriving at an integrated opinion on our shared history would only surface in such a scenario. Those, who have pushed for a kashmir solution over the years - irrespective of their political affiliation – have paid scant regard for this imperative.  

Remembering that rule of law, infrastructure planning/implemetation, environmental integrity and meritocracy (in spite of evidence of Hindu-Muslim discrimination) were of a much higher standard than what we've witnessed post 1947; it maybe useful to put in context the high levels of endemic corruption in India, Pakistan and China. Our history since 1947 is replete with examples of how the most venal politicians (legitimised by India and Pakistan) have shrouded themselves with the tricoloured tiranga or the star and crescent, whenever their misdeeds necessitated. This is evidence of how genuine public representation that subscribes to the modern demands of 'good governance' can not emerge in this State, under the prevailing structures on either side of the divide.

The difficulty here is this: political and military organisations in this region have been designed to de-politicise and suppress. Otherwise, with an abundance of water resources, sunshine, clean air and open space; our population's intellectual curiosity  and drive for competing with the world would have been nourished. If the proposition of Hindus and Muslims not being able to co-exist was considered to be a disease, the cure in the shape of India and Pakistan has created much deeper problems. To cure the common cold, we in AJK - at least - have contracted political pneumonia. 

The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 15th of December 2010

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Identifying Azad Kashmir

Even the concept of funding research is difficult to grasp for most people. It is little wonder that most information relayed in society relies heavily on hearsay. The administration either doesn't have a clear picture itself or it deliberately hides
or obfuscates data.

In contemporay times, it is widely believed that Pakistan's standing in the eyes of Azad kashmiris fell after 9/11. Especially after the scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's 'arrest'. This era bizarrely co-incided with perhaps the most noble, productive, incorruptible and scrupulous visionary of a president in India, who also happened to share Abdul Qadeer's profession.

For a territory that is immersed in legal ambiguity (According to U.N. resolutions in 1948, Azad Kashmir is neither a sovereign state nor a province of Pakistan, but rather a "local authority" with responsibility over the area assigned to it under a 1949 ceasefire
agreement with India), it follows that independent research, writers and books are thin on the ground. This furthers the increasingly prevalent notion amongst people of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, that they were betrayed and silenced by their own for the larger (unproductive) interests of India and Pakistan.

The prevailing structures on both sides of the divide where obligations of livelihood have stunted creative thought and aspiration, most people are forced to distance themselves from the truth. It is only in rare moments of contemplation or frustration that what ought to be reality; surfaces. Consequently, what most people of the State have little stomach to listen to, others working for that dream have to work that bit harder, day in - day out.

'Azad Kashmir' is no exception. This makes productive research work so arduous. In the first instance, State funding is unavailable for such endeavour. One only needs to look at the Geology department of AJK University in Muzaffarabad or the Agriculture department in Rawalakot to understand that a superficial, pliant society does not produce the fruits of modern day progress.

Even the concept of funding research is difficult to grasp for most people. It is little wonder that most information relayed in society relies heavily on hearsay. The administration either doesn't have a clear picture itself or it deliberately hides
or obfuscates data.

One can widen the picture of visible 'output' by taking a cursory glance at the health sector where they'll discover a plethora of counterfeit drugs in the market. Education in the public sector has long been considerable undesirable by the public, where many
a teacher blames children and their lack of application for the pathetic standard.  It's alternative - though a booming industry - is characterised by rote learning and massaging academic results according to commercial imperative. This writer, in his direct experience of teaching at a private institution, found that creative learning techniques were impossible for students to digest. It is little wonder that the most widely spoken language in the world viz. English, far from aiding in the progress of AJK (Azad Jammu Kashmir) is considered an insurmountable hurdle to overcome and few citizens speak it competently, even less have the courage to write it.

On a visit to Srinagar last year and noticing the abundance of english newspapers and periodicals, this writer couldn't help commenting on the dearth or rather absence of such in AJK. Meanwhile, the urdu media is a continu-um of the three organs of the State with information pimps and artful extotionists featuring prominently.

Many a lawyer, academic, government servant and not forgetting politicians (including the Member of the Legislative Assembly that has represented this writer's constituency since 1996) exercise influence in society and earn their livelihood via fabricated degrees.

The critical fields of politics and media are where entry-level people have to work - for free - or worse, invest their own resources to position themselves in society. Once they are through the door, the structure of governance is designed to avail them of a multitude of opportunities to recoup (sic) their investment. This writer, after a series of lengthy discussions with Sardar Qayoom Khan in April 2008, found this tactic echoed in his recommendation.

Whilst reading this, many a resident of the Kashmir Valley may find stark similarities to how governance is run by the Indian-administered side, except the scenario is distinctly more dire here. It is compounded by the lack of awareness of modern means of governance, assisted by an opaque environment and the absence of a 'Freedom of information Act'.*

Ambiguity exists not only in the origins of how Azad Kashmir became a political and geographic entity. Perhaps by necessity of creation, it developed legal ambiguity over who is and isn't a government servant. The distinction between staff who are permanent and who are ad-hoc is such that, the former are at times in wonder as to whether they are bona-fide officials or the latter lurking in the shadows are. In the observation of one public sector official, "No-one knows how many staff are employed in the public sector, not even the Finance Minister's Secretary - who authorises payment of wages - has a clue!"

On the private front, extortionate and sub-standard quality of foodstuff from Pakistan has compelled many an aggrieved to consider investing in local agriculture. What hitherto had been considered as a vocation of a bygone era is rapidly coming into vogue.
The merits of plentiful and pristine water and air solidify the temptation.

In the dark days of a closed society, AJK rulers in their thrust to reclaim the Kashmir Valley, unashamedly and countlessly claimed that development will be such that other Kashmiris will wish to be like us!

The last local elections took place in 1991 and were abandoned in 1996. Thus, even if one were to assume there to be a genuine will amongst the 'powers that be' to nourish democracy, it's absence from it's roots at the local level is a clear indictment of their
intent. This has enhanced the local MLA's (Member of AJK Legislative Assembly) ability to reap benefit from a dysfunctional administrative structure, manipulating it according to their sweet will. Thus, along with holding the puppet strings of the Policeman and Patwari and far from legislating in the assembly (there being hardly any matter to legislate on with virtually all matters of governance dealt by a 'Kashmir Council' presided over by Pakistan's Prime Minister), they also control funds for rural development and local infrastructure.

Many people are unclear as to whether the last population Census took place in 1998 or 1999. For the record, the latter is the correct answer. Taking all the above into account and remembering that the current leislative assembly term (2006 - 2011) witnessed three different prime ministers, little room is left for doubting the forthcoming general election in June 2011, to be a malafide exercise to determine public will.

Just as New Delhi is deemed to have a collaborator coterie in Srinagar, so does Islamabad. With the current incumbent in the Prime Minister's chair, namely Sardar Attique, considered by many to be par excellence in that dubious respect. It is lamentable that to date, virtually all segments of nationalist, independent or progressive thinking have focused on India, Pakistan or the International Community rather than civil society in AJK, as their target for activism. Thus, giving Islamabad a clean sweep to deflate their aspirations for the re-unification of Kashmir. The majority of people here still fail to connect the dots between military control of governance and lack of freedom to develop transparent institutions, thereby disabling the possibility of positive political change that could reflect people's needs.

It is perhaps apt that one should observe the following poignant tale from across the line as something to ponder over till next week:
 "Sheikh Abdullah convened a Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ convention at Mujahid Manzil on October 12, 1968, and on June 8-13, 1970. Many a paper read in these proceedings advocated independence. Those from 'Azad Kashmir' who sent papers advocating independence were duly punished with imprisonment by Pakistan."**

Right To Information Act J&K - 2009
Prof. Manzoor Fazili’s compilation of the papers is very useful (Kashmir Predilection;     Gulshan Publishers, Srinagar, 1988)


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 8th of December 2010


I then received the following message:

Dear Mr. Tanveer Ahmed:

If you do not mind, I would like to include your article, "Identifying Azad Kashmir" in the December 11 issue of our daily bulletin "Kashmir News & Views." Its old issues can be accessed at 

Best wishes,
Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA) &


Tuesday 30 November 2010

Gilgit Baltistan senses its potential

The level of awareness is such that many cite American and Chinese competition in the region as a major influence on their present as well as future. While the Chinese are ubiquitous in terms of infrastructure building i.e roads, tunnels, bridges etc. as they pave the way for uninterrupted access to the warm water port of Gwadar in Baluchistan, the Americans were not shy in competing with the Chinese to provide relief to affectees of the Attabad land-sliding disaster earlier this year.

This is the summation of what I gathered on my recent trip. I've gathered copious notes and have hours of audio, a neat array of videos and a basket of photos to boot. Never have I witnessed such a closed society to the outside world, a 'secret file' as one local politician aptly put it. Being behind a 'wall' for the most part of Pakistan's existence has generated such a pent up desire for progress amongst the people of Gilgit Baltistan, that at times it seemed, their mere intent would suddenly transform 'dead mountains' into pits of sapphire and uranium.

Superlatives aside, Gilgit Baltistan is that part of the Dogra State (1846-1947) that along with Ladakh holds least attention, whenever the 'Kashmir Issue' is discussed. This is despite (along with Ladakh – administered by India) being geographically by far the largest part of the erstwhile kingdom. If you put a knife to the State as if you were cutting a cake that resembled the shape of Jammu and Kashmir State - as it was known until the last third of the month of October 1947 - you would slice most of what is north and east, barely leaving a fifth of what is left remaining of the southwest.

Along with it's issue of lack of proximity to the highly centralised capitals of Islamabad and New Delhi, it also lacks in manpower what the rest of Kashmir (using the word generically) makes up for with a population of c. 15.5 million (Jammu, the Valley and AJK combined) compared to Gilgit-Baltistan-Ladakh's c. 2.5 million. The proportion of land-mass to population is bizarrely inverse if all the aforementioned parts are considered as two units of one whole.

Marginalisation in terms of opportunities for education and upliftment that were apparent during Dogra rule continued beyond 1947 as the area that became known as the 'Northern Areas' of Pakistan was neither constitutionally a part of Pakistan (thus, no representation in the latter's national assembly) and neither was it considered a part of Kashmir or what became known as AJK (Azad/free Jammu Kashmir – otherwise referred to as Pakistani-administered Kashmir). India's legal claim and subsequent inactivity to enforce that claim has only added to the confusion.

The urdu proverb "na teen me na teraa me" (neither counted amongst the 3's or the 13's) is oft-cited to give a nutshell depiction to an outsider.

Indeed, political awareness in the region has had a latent element to it. Agreements between the Mirs of Hunza and Nagar or between the Muslim Conference and the government of Pakistan (Karachi Agreement of the 28th of April 1949), all raise questions about the public legitimacy of these decisions, amongst the increasingly politically aware Gilgit Baltistan population. Further, the manner in which Pakistan cajoled the 'liberators' of this territory from Dogra Rule in November 1947, to surrender their gains to Pakistan and their subsequent humiliating demotion, is the basis of many a 'chai-ki-dukaan' (coffee-shop) discussion to this day. For the record, the chief of the liberated territories Shahrez Khan was demoted to a civil supply officer whilst his second-in-command Col. Hassan Mirza was asked to undertake an entry test to rejoin the army.

As with many other disputed parts of the world, information-sharing, awareness gathering and subsequent political activism for basic rights has been a steep uphill task.  It wasn't until 1967 that some semblance of a political rights movement took root in the shape of Gilgit-Baltistan-Ladakh Mutahhida Mahaz under the leadership of Johar Ali Advocate. Subsequent attempts by the government of Pakistan to placate or address people's grievances or needs are widely considered to be too little, too slow and in some cases too late.

As with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s directly elected council in 1974, the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1994, Musharraf’s re-hashing of the latter in 2007 or the currently in
focus 'Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment Ordinance of 2009: the only people in support of these initiatives have been those who have directly benefitted from them. This leaves out most of the population, who not only have to make do with endemic institutional corruption and unavailability of a single medical, engineering, technical or other post-graduate college in the whole territory. They also have to endure taxation without representation; last year's newly-formed assembly does not possess the right to legislate on it’s natural resources, including water and minerals and for all intents and purposes,  Pakistan’s executive in the shape of it's Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) deals with all issues of governance. 

Whilst anger and frustation with Pakistan's inability to deliver good governance to the  public of Gilgit Baltistan is clearly apparent, reservations about 'Kashmiris' and resentment for being an 'unheard' component of the 'Kashmir Issue' are also inescapable. Some who have interacted over the years as students and businessman with Kashmiris in the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Multan and Quetta have explained a persistent negative propaganda campaign against Kashmiris coupled by the closing of traditional routes within the pre-1947 state; such as Skardu to Kargil, Astor to the Valley via Minimarg or Shonter Pass to Muzaffarabad.

A lack of interaction between people of the various parts of the erstwhile state have dented historic relationships as much as they've created an air of inquisitiveness and yearning to re-kindle old ties, not to mention a fresh vigour to initiate trade links.

The repression that the people have undergone since 1947 signified by restriction of educational/economic opportunity and their liberty being subordinate to the geo-political priorities of others, has led many to envision an independent country free of Pakistan as well as Kashmir. Many a historic name is invoked for this state including Bolore, Balawaristan, Karakoram and Dardistan. What is clear is that those who consider themselves politically progressive in approach are open to ideas as long as their region with all it's various ethnicities, languages, natural resources and trade routes are not subject to hegemonic design by others; including Kashmir. What many are not clear about is the exact geographic definition of their territory and likewise don't possess a road-map for their political future. Nevertheless, whatever their future political shape or association may be, they would be keen to ensure an opt-out clause that could prevent them from entering into another morass.   

It was encouraging to see efficient utilisation of their land for agricultural output, with cherry and almond trees commonly visible in most regions. That is despite their weak wholesale bargaining position i.e. as they could only sell to Pakistani buyers, they had little control over the price they were paid. In a similar manner, their lack of educational facilities couldn't hide their keen-ness to learn. Further, the multi-tude of intelligence agencies watching every public move didn't deter them from expressing themselves. What was less encouraging was the sight of old Hindu and Buddhist temples in ruins and the lack of apparent public will to restore them to their original state.

The level of awareness is such that many cite American and Chinese competition in the region as a major influence on their present as well as future. While the Chinese are ubiquitous in terms of infrastructure building i.e roads, tunnels, bridges etc. as they pave the way for uninterrupted access to the warm water port of Gwadar in Baluchistan, the Americans were not shy in competing with the Chinese to provide relief to affectees of the Attabad land-sliding disaster earlier this year. The latter are also busy in sending out expeditions to locate many an untouched mineral and precious stone deposit, in those 'dead mountains' that have often characterised Gilgit Baltistan.


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 1st of December 2010


I received a response on this article from a Kashmiri Pandit journalist, based in Delhi. Here are his remarks:

Dear Mr Sahaafi Sahib

I read ur piece on GB. It is really a matter of concen for the people like us. World is progressing but our regions are going to stone age.

As mediapersons it is our duty to raise the issues at any available platform.

I shall be obliged if u could mail me ur pictures along with the GB area so that we can highlight the issue more prominently. 



New Delhi (INDIA)


Sunday 19 September 2010

Towards a neutral Kashmir

Intent in English

Intent in Urdu

A neutral Kashmir – a natural equilibrium

This was the first of what were a series of weekly opinion pieces for the Srinagar-based English daily 'Rising Kashmir'..........The weekly opinion title was later described as 'Across LOC' in January 2011... independent and neutral Kashmir must find appeal and objectivity not only with the masses of India and Pakistan but with the global community at large.

Glasnost fueled by youtube, facebook, blogger, twitter and others has brought us to a point in history where the people of Kashmir can either grasp a well-laid opportunity to dictate their own political future or continue languishing in the almost un-interrupted existential angst that has dogged them since the Moghul emperor Akbar's conquest in 1586.

Events in the past year - in particular – have contained all ingredients bar a road-map for governance and a clear definition of our national question. The attempt here is to do just that; or at the very least, give a pointer to the direction that the generic Kashmiri community (looking beyond the Vale too) must face in order to fulfill it's collective aspiration of making it's free will paramount in the whole scenario. 

The following adjectives come immediately to mind: neutral, independent, integrated, transparent and engaged. 

Neutral so that our territory is not subjected to the needs of others. That we don't become the proverbial pawns on a geo-strategic chessboard. An Independent status is absolutely necessary for us to take full responsibility for our actions and the fate of our destiny. Defining our territory necessitates that we remain united and integrated. The requirements of modern day good governance insist that our public representatives are transparent in what they do in our name. Engagement of all our citizens in the development of our territory within and with the global community - to meet our current human resource deficiency as well as to explore opportunity - is similarly indispensable. 

What our most direct occupiers viz. Pakistan and India have proved on ample occassions throughout their occupation since October 1947, is that they cannot simulate their security mind-set with the increasing urge of our population for civil space. Their fascination with the 18th and 19th century nation -state of Europe has not withered over time. While they exploited communal chasms within our community and thus laid the basis for our division, they utilised whatever energy and resources they could muster (enfeebling their own masses as well as ours in the process) to sustain their occupation. It's a zero sum game. Our needs and objectives cannot possibly tally with theirs. Pakistan's use of the territory they refer to as AJK (Azad Jammu Kashmir) as a forward military position (and launchpad) and India's response to subsume the Vale of Kashmir into a giant military cantonment - with it's inherent repression - left virtually nothing for a 5,000 year old civilisation to grasp onto.

Discussing and mapping out our future necessitates underlying where the battle-lines should be drawn. On one side of the barrier are the perils of brute military force and their roving clandestine agencies, Machiavellian realpolitik and local opportunistic facilitators of the occupation. On the other side are the genuine students of our integrated history, the public activists hell-bent on creating civil space and those working day and night to bring to life a format for transparent, accountable, representative, non-discriminatory and meritocratic governance.

Furthermore, Kashmiris should realise that drawing our roadmap involves conceptualising a vision of re-shaping the region from the Trans-Karakoram Tract to Trivandrum. The public of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be instant beneficiaries of an Indo-Pak military withdrawal from Kashmir. The phase of concealed governance allied with exhorbitant defence expenditure would give way to a relocation of resources towards human development. The tragedy of the Kashmir imbroglio has been a net disaster for the whole region save a small section of the total population: which now amounts to close on 1.5 billion.

While the suggestion for our southerly neighbours would be to move towards small federations (for ease of representative governance), it would also by logical extension require the re-integration of Punjab and Bengal. After all, the partition of 1947 not only vertically split hitherto integrated territories in two, it also gave authenticity (sic.) to the two-nation theory. A theory that has proved a bane for us in Kashmir and which many of us still cannot see beyond.

In our pursuit of defining our national question and developing a structure of good governance, it is imperative that we begin by defining and agreeing on the outlines and contours of our territory. Does it refer to the oft-cited 84,471 square miles of territory quoted by nationalists? Is it the Treaty of Amritsar defined east of Indus and west of Ravi? Does it include Shenaki Kohistan? Chitral? Hazara or even Murree? Obviously, far from the writer deciding, this point must be discussed through public forums and a conclusion drawn, based on the will of the people in all the areas aforementioned.

The suggestion for structure of governance involves organising the territory (confederation) into three units. Jammu in the south (which could include the superficially demarcated territory currently referred to as AJK – upto Poonch), the Vale in the centre (which could include the districts of Muzaffarabad, Neelam and Hattian in it's jurisdiction) and the Northern Territories (re-naming it appropraitely if they so desire) comprising of Gilgit to it's west, Baltistan at it's centre and Ladakh in it's east. 

The three units of the confederation would each have an assembly (suggestion is Jammu, Srinagar and Skardu respectively) which would exercise full fiscal control, first right over their natural and human resources and in all other matters of governance. Each unit would also have an independent judiciary, including a higher appellate court. Only those matters which are of collective concern to the whole confederation would be decided by an Upper House (Council) that would have proportionate representation from each unit (based on a combination of land mass and size of population). This Upper House would rotate it's sitting throughout the confederation i.e four months of the year in each unit.

At this point it may be appropriate to describe the caveat (or more pointedly) subterfuge periodically exercised by India and on rare occassion by Pakistan vis-a-vis defence, communications and foreign affairs. This is an outdated ploy and totally irrelevant (autonomy minus 3 if you will) to our current predicament. The people of Kashmir (the term is used generically to refer to the whole territory. Jammu and Kashmir is a legacy of Dogra rule, as they belonged to Jammu. This term discounts the Northern Territories from it's title, is slightly complicating and by using Kashmir, we not only simplify our name, it gives ownership to the rest of us who don't hail from the Vale). It is important to note that this caveat was introduced by the outgoing 'British Raj' doled out for the purposes of not inviting a whole deluge of sovereign States to announce their independence in the wake of the 3rd of June 1947 - Indian Independence Act (announcement). A different time, place, context and rationale, utterly untenable in our scenario.

Meanwhile, the genuine concerns of the non-muslim minority which includes Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs amongst others, could best be addressed (as well as the schisms between Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis and NoorBakshis. Not forgetting the differences amongst Sunnis viz. Barelwis, Deobandis, Salafis, Ahle-e-Hadith etc.) by not including any reference to Islam in the constitution. It is crucial that every sect, denomination and religious group feels free to exercise their faith un-hindered. It is equally important that no preference or discrimination occurs in matters of justice, economic opportunity and delivery of security. Scope for positive discrimination would be provided for those marginal groups or classes of people that have been historically marginalised or neglected.  

In order to bring ourselves to the point where serious re-integration and re-definition of our territory is concerned, it is important that activism continues to penetrate through the suffocating structures imposed by our occupiers. This must be done in a civil (orderly and peaceful) manner, taking cue and inspiration from the young Valley-ites that donated their life for this cause, throughout this summer. Taking communal or sectarian positions or partaking in concealed activity that emboldens our occupiers is a clear no-no.

For those amongst us who facilitated the occupiers - and by consequence - who have benefitted from the diabolic structures put up by the latter, must be prepared to face a new environment of transparency and introspection, albeit in a civil manner. They should realise that honour, dignity and respect of a people (nation) is directly related to their conduct and integrity amongst their fellow citizens as well as with the global public at large. They should also bear in mind that their anxiety about slim economic opportunity is a direct consequence of the occupation. When we are free, accountable and responsible, we will come to realise the abundance of economic opportunities awaiting us.

The final part of this commentary should focus on geo-politics and the harsh reality of Chinese insecurity, American anxiety, Indian fear, Russian timidity and Pakistani foolishness that acts as a collective stumbling block to our freedom. This is what public power (via peaceful agitation) has to overcome. Furthermore, an independent and neutral Kashmir must find appeal and objectivity not only with the masses of India and Pakistan but with the global community at large.

Whilst understanding that the most important geo-strategic stumbling block to our path to freedom is the economic tussle between China and the U.S.A in our midst (India and Pakistan have a secondary role in that respect), it is with determined hope that this writer - in various deliberations with important stake-holders in the international community - has found mild favour with the concept of a neutral and independent Kashmir, nestled in the middle of Asia.

The difficulty is in the implementation of course. Our people would do well to study the similarities between Switzerland and Kashmir, particularly it's role as a facilitator for conflict resolution in war-ravaged Europe.

In short, balancing and harnessing the needs and potential of Asia with the addressing of our historical exposure to foreign military forces by forming a neutral Kashmir would lead to a natural equilibrium. 


The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 24th of November 2010

This article was re-titled as "The United Federation of Jammu and Kashmir" on December the 3rd 2010 by Vijay Sazawal, a Kashmiri Pandit living in the USA and running a website named

He also commented that:
"Tanveer’s sense of idealism may be a bit unrealistic, but his love for motherland is unquestioned."

The article can be read at the following link:


Further reading:

- A Modest Proposal for Kashmir

Specially invited presentation at the Kashmir Panel of the
UN Hague Appeal for Peace Conference, May 11. 1999

by Kathy Arlyn Sokol


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