Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Migrants of the Kashmir Valley and Pakistan

What triggered the mass exodus of youth from the Kashmir Valley in the late 1980's? An exodus arguably unparalleled in the history of the Valley. One may have to go back to the famines of the nine-teenth century to find any resemblance of similar movement.

Many commentators describe wide-spread rigging of the 1987 Assembly Elections in Indian-administered Kashmir as a water-shed moment and the 'final straw that broke the camel's back'. This migration of youth from the Valley in droves was accompanied with a high amount of zeal, some climbing as high as 15,000 feet to reach the 'base of Islam'. It also co-incided with the final embers of the Cold War battleground in Afghanistan, with it's associated hangover of unutilised weapons and unemployed manpower. Another emergence was that of an indigineous agency, namely the JKLF, that begun to find it's activities enjoying large-scale mass support before everything warped into internecine conflict - amidst conflict of interest between different 'players' in the insurgency - allied with vigorous allegations of targetting of non-Muslims of the State.

How many came and how many have returned is yet unclear, although they remain in size-able number in the metropolitan areas of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and closer to home in Muzaffarabad. There are also many who eke out their existence in refugee camps on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad.

Much of the information that is needed in terms of numbers of migrants appears to be a closely guarded secret of clandestine agencies. Who remain forever vigilant of this group of people, irrespective of where they live and what they do for a living. There is no way around this research dilemma unless one has a mutually beneficial relationship with representatives of these agencies. A proposition utterly untenable for yours truly. Much as is the case with other matters of research, first-hand research is not only difficult, it can be argued that the system is designed to confuse and obfuscate the diligent seeker of first-hand detail. Thus, one is at times forced to rely on anecdotal evidence and hearsay which could have a thousand different motivations, possibly coated with an equal number of exxaggerations, deliberate or otherwise. Figures vary widely from person to person and despite an air of authority professed by some narrators, one has to reconcile different figures quoted and still remain uncertain. Just as we are not clear as to how many Kashmiri Hindu Pandits emigrated from the Valley to Jammu and further south in the early 1990's (figures vary between 100,000 and 400,000), It is similarly unclear as to how many Kashmiri Muslims left the Valley for training and later settled in Pakistan or Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

There are at least three types of refugee. One realises that the word refugee is also not free of controversy. Describing someone who has migrated from one part of the divided State to the other as a refugee is offensive to some. It probably also gives an indication of the 'limbo' status most of these find themselves in. When they initially arrived, they were without exception given a rapturous welcome and referred to as 'hamarey mehmaan' (our guests). There is also a common argument that most of the people that crossed over in the early 1990's for arms training were to put it rather crudely, from the less integrated sections of society. Many hadn't fared well in education, even less belonged to any recognised profession and some even had a criminal record in the Valley before they left.

Of the three categories, a certain minority has benefitted immensely in economic terms from the 'freedom struggle'. Needless to add, they have little incentive to return. The second category consists of mainly professional working people who have adjusted and integrated with life in Pakistan, albeit forlornly. They are terribly bitter about their experience and rationalise their predicament by exclaiming that they thought they had entered the 'Land of Heaven' where proverbial milk and honey flowed; only to be rudely awakened to the reality of hell. For them, if life was simply about a career or profession, then they would have been far better off doing the same at home in the Kashmir Valley. The harsh reality of life in Pakistan, where they found that people were not particularly religious, rather that religion was used as a recruiting tool for Pakistan's own national interest. This reality disturbed them immensely and troubles them incessantly. They had sacrificed themselves in vain.

This second category of migrants have a sense that their own gentle 'sufi' ethos was disturbed and jolted in what seems an ill-calculated moment of passion. They had become extreme. It should be made clear that India cannot abdicate from it's responsibility for this metamorphisis. The supposed Messiah (Pakistan) turned out to be another Jailor. What this writer found of particular interest was their empathy for the Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community. In the words of one such Muslim Kashmiri of the Valley in Muzaffarabad, "We understand what they've been through because we have also been deprived of our motherland. It is as important for them to return as it is for us."

The final category of people are those that are littered throughout refugee camps and who heaviliy depend on the 1,500 (PK) rupees per person per month package that Pakistan - again through her clandestine agencies - provides them for basic living expenses. It is ironic that the largest such 'refugee' camp is in Ambor, just a few kilometres south of Muzaffarabad. This is the very camp where Hindus and Sikhs of the State were kept in late October 1947 onwards, in a supposed bid to protect them from persecution before transporting them (away from their motherland) to either India or Indian-administered Kashmir.

One has heard through the grapevine that many of those in the second and third category of Valley refugees have persistently demanded that Syed Salahudeen of the Hizbul Mujahideed (and Chairman of the United Jihad Council) take issue over their plight with the Pakistanis. It is understood that on one occasion he lambasted his fellow Kashmiris in frustration, "If your willing to starve, then I'm willing to lead you in rebellion against the Pakistanis!"

An important conclusion that one draws from this whole phenomena is how dejected and pessimistic the vast majority of these hitherto youth and now men in their forties feel about the future outlook of our region. It appears that even genuine work on civil society development is too difficult for them to visualise. The riches that some of their compatriots have amassed in the name of the 'Kashmir Issue' combined with the torture, arrest and humiliation that many of them have endured here, has worked like a double-edged sword, that continues to pierce their spirit for humanity with constant regularity. How or what can be done to restore hope in them is difficult to imagine.

Their daily recurring dilemma is that they know they can't genuinely support Pakistan and neither can they run away from Pakistan.

Author 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 12th of January 2011.

1 comment:

  1. A few days after the publication of this article (on the 18th of January 2011) I received the following email response from a leading European think-tank which has closely followed the 'Kashmir Issue' for decades:

    You say you are a writer and a civil society activist, but did you talk to anyone of the migrants?
    Did you take their interview?
    Or is it your own interpretation?

    These are just some simple questions,

    Looking forward for your response

    My response:

    Many thanks for your response and glad tidings to you.

    I am slightly surprised that you're surprised, judging from the length of time you've spent on this region.

    Yes, I've interviewed them, lived with them, traveled with them and have more or less done business with them.

    Although I've spent most of my life in Britain, I have lived here in this region (initially in Pakistan and then in Pakistani-administered-Kashmir) since April 2005.

    Their follow-up:

    Wonderful you respond so prompt, thank you for that, I appreciate

    My surprise is about the conclusions your draft and categories you identify, and the lack of context analyses.

    Maybe it is good to read the book on Migrant camps, published last year (in March 2010), by Mass Welfare Foundation (MWF)?

    Being based in PaK/AJK, is you indicate, is very important and very good for a professional journalist/author like you, this is really the best precondition to write on the very region. But unfortunately the sentiment on self determination of the Kashmiri migrants 'from across', and their deep emotion about their beloved homeland is still too often underestimated by Pakistan- or AJK born people, if I, as a foreigner, may say so.

    My final remark therefore would be that writing about migrants and not touching the deep sentiment on RTSD means that something is missing in the article, however long or short is might be. Maybe in a next article you can touch this?

    My response:

    Yes.........the underlying political context of RSD and their love for their homeland is understood well enough by most residents of Kashmir on either side of the LOC and in the Kashmiri diaspora: which makes up most of the readership of Rising Kashmir.

    I suppose what you're really saying is that I should syndicate the article with other networks around the world and include data (and analysis) that would give them a more nuanced understanding of the 'Kashmir Issue'.

    I think that's important and I am working on that. Alas, it's one of the many things that I must do.

    I'm glad to make your acquaintance and receiving continued guidance from you would be an honour.

    end of conversation....


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