Saturday, 1 October 2011

Un-freezing public opinion (in AJK)

I'm approaching six and a half years of an un-interrupted existence in the Indo-Pak region (which I adoringly refer to as Hindustaan). The first two years were spent mainly in Pakistan's capital whilst the rest has been primarily in the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir (specifically AJK). I've effectively spent a little more than a tenth of the period of this lingering dispute (between India and Pakistan at the cost of 'Kashmiri' aspirations) witnessing day-to-day a cloak of falsehood permeating our collective existence.

Notwithstanding the general civilisational trend of humanity to engage in democratic processes (to utilise the free will of public opinion to build consensus in any given society), the general response of the international community to Kashmiri aspirations - which desperately wants to engage in this process - has been lukewarm at best.

Bearing that in mind and recognising that the powers-that-be (in our case, Pakistan) have done everything to suppress this process; provides the raison d'etre behind my activities here in AJK. I've recognised our problems to be two-fold - addressing our unresolved national question and adopting the norms of good governance – integrating an outer and inner dimension if you will. To use a metaphor, freedom is our destination while good governance is our machinery; to arrive at that juncture where our aspirations can be fulfilled.

To borrow adjectives from senior activists who've engaged themselves in the pursuit of our national goals decades before I have, the following come to mind in relation to Pakistan's control over our society: stringent – stifling - selfish - crude – ad-hoc – instituting a paymaster culture – malevolent – – pay as you go - death of merit at every stage to boot. My assertion that Pakistan has kept our whole community (including Gilgit Baltistan) ignorant of it's history as well as prohibited institutional reform, particularly on matters related to our abortioned transition from 'Shaksi Raaj' (autocracy) to 'Awaami Raaj' (democracy); begs public scrutiny. One such example should suffice to emphasise my point: If any government servant wishes to introduce reform or a positive initiative into his or her department, they are threatened with dismissal, transfer to a remote location or worse.

Pakistan has had an 'easy ride' in controlling our society. It has linked our welfare to it's national security, it has cultivated the two-nation theory relentlessly at the cost of our society's creativity, development and progress. The people who have unquestioningly supported it (on the basis of Muslim brotherhood) are still stuck with a mind-set more appropriate to the 1940's. Our economy has been deprived of economic opportunity to the extent that virtually each and every individual's freedom of expression is compromised for fear of reprisal. An example from the government sector was cited above. Meanwhile, the extremely limited private sector in AJK is resigned to buying goods/services from the only market it has access to viz. Pakistan. Ostracism on the part of Pakistan is simple and swift.

Given the above scenario, it is little wonder that our society's ability to recognise 'force/s' for positive change is limited beyond reason. For example, last year (from June 2010) I had sent out a document to over 200 citizens of AJK (local and diaspora) via physical contact as well as email. I requested rs1,000 (from working locals) and the equivalent of £20 (from the working diaspora) for the development of civil society and an independent institution. Only thirteen people reciprocated.

If stakeholders do not recognise the urgent need for remedial measures to re-align and categorise our national objectives, yet more creativity and I dare say panache is in order.

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