Muzaffarabad

by Shujaat Bukhari

It was amusing to know that people in that part of world know India through legendary film actors like Raj Kapoor. When I introduced myself to someone at a hotel as a journalist from India, he almost screamed “Raj Kapoor India”.

Likewise, people in PaK talk in abundance about Shalimar and Nishat gardens besides Gulmarg and Pahalgam. “We have seen your part of Kashmir only in pictures. It looks so beautiful,” said a student at “Azad Kashmir” University. ‘We are dying to see it. That is why everybody prays for Kashmir’s Azadi” she said with strong sense of belonging.

Looking at the socio-cultural linkages between two parts of Kashmir, there is hardly any strong feature to strike. Before partition, Muzaffarabad was one of the districts of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state. It was the route used by Dogra rulers to move the “Darbar”, which now goes to Jammu through Banihal. Being all weather road, this was the only link of Kashmir valley with the rest of the world. Because of that linkage Baramulla town was also a prosperous business centre and after 1947 it was pushed to an isolated position.

However, culturally and linguistically, the dividing line was short of Baramulla in Bijhama. Same was the case in Kupwara frontier. People in PaK, whose population is around three million, mostly speak Hindko, a version of Pahari language. Gojri is also spoken but Kashmiri speaking population is negligible with not more than five percent. Cultural traditions of people in PaK are also at a length with Kashmiris on this side. Their attire, though part of emerging mixture in South Asia is closer to Punjabis in Pakistan.

Cuisine is also close to what Pakistanis are comfortable with. Living standards are obviously same. Somehow one can find more similarities between Pak and Jammu region. This was my experience in 2004 also when I was part of a delegation taken by South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) with some of our Jammu based colleagues traveling with us. The journalists as also people seemed to be more comfortable with them since the language was the major binding force.

Notwithstanding this stark reality, the people of PaK are politically aligned to Kashmir valley. This is perhaps because of the religion as well, that plays an important role in finding a common ground for resolving Kashmir issue. For them the resolution only lies in seceding Kashmir from India, albeit there are divergent views on future of the state. My impression is that the division on, whether Kashmir should go to Pakistan or become Independent is even. But what they first want is “Azadi from India”.

“Kashmir is us and we are Kashmir’ said a local resident explaining how important Kashmir’s “Azadi” was for them (PaK) and Pakistan. That is why the discourse for the campaign of elections in Pak, scheduled for June 26, is dominated with resolution of Kashmir issue. From Nawaz Sharief’s Muslim League to Asif Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Altaf Hussain’s MQM, the thrust of campaigning is on the process of resolving Kashmir in “accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris”.  For ruling Muslim Conference the slogan is “simple”, “Kashmir Banega Pakistan (Kashmir will become part of Pakistan)”. The governance and development has taken a back seat and the political parties of Pakistan are trying to exploit every sensitive nerve to ensure victory. However, people are aware that so far the “stand” of these parties has proved to be rhetoric.

PRESS

Media in PaK is not vibrant but in last over seven years it has expanded a lot. However, the quality of news and debate in the columns is close to mediocrity. There are only two newspapers (in black white) printed from Muzaffarabad. But there are 32 with registration from PaK government and are printed from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. “Jammu and Kashmir” and “Dharti” are two leading newspapers among 32 and are published from Muzaffarabad and Rawlakot. Content and analysis in these newspapers revolves round the happenings in Pakistan but in last few weeks it was dominated by the elections in PaK.

Like in this part of Jammu and Kashmir, the coverage about PaK affairs in Pakistani mainstream media is less with an exception to Pakistan Tribune (published with an arrangement with International Herald Tribune) followed by Dawn from Karachi. There are, however, representatives for most of the leading Pakistani newspapers and TV channels based in Muzaffarabad. Azad Kashmir Radio and Pakistan Television, still have the larger reach among the public.

One can hardly match the strength and growth of Kashmir media with that of PaK, but the media fraternity is far more vocal and vibrant with Press Clubs established in almost every big and small town. This helps them to consolidate their views not only on issues related to media but also socio-economic politics. This part is surely missing in Valley.

(The author is a senior journalist with THE HINDU. He was recently in Pakistan and PaK)

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