Tribal raids helped India and Pakistan to sideline people of Kashmir

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Christopher Snedden whose book Kashmir: The Unwritten History was published by Harper Collins India is an old Kashmir expert. Before flying to Hong Kong from New Delhi, the Australian academic spoke to Kashmir Life about the book, his thinking on the governance in J&K and PaK. The interview was done through telephone and the line intermittently broke down. Excerpts from the interview:

KL: The book could not be published in India with the same title its first edition in US had. What does it mean?

CS: It was fairly possible to publish the book with the same name but we decided not to because the Government of India does not like the words Azad Kashmir. It was easier to change the title. But the decision of changing the name of the book was mine in consultation with my publisher. In the book, however, we continue to say Azad Kashmir and not Pakistan occupied Kashmir because there are two other areas in Pakistan, Gilgit and Baltistan, in addition to Azad Kashmir. PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) makes it quite unclear and it is really confusing.

KL: You have studied the entire chain of events that preceded division of the state. Why do you think tribal raids were made to dominate the narrative about the creation of Kashmir issue?

CS: I think there were number of things involved. It made India’s position stronger and the position of Pakistan weaker. Since the tribals came from various territories in control of Pakistan, it suggested that the governments in Karachi or Peshawar might be involved. At the same time, indirectly, it helped both India and Pakistan sideline the people of Kashmir. After the tribal raids were projected as an outside intervention that instigated the crisis, it was India and Pakistan that were talking and the people of Kashmir were nowhere. There was Poonch uprising and Azad Kashmir was created well before Maharaja acceded to India on October 26.

When Pakhtoons raided Baramulla, Muzaffarbad and Uri and resorted to pillage and plunder, it did embarrass Pakistan. And then, the communal violence in Jammu had embarrassed many people in Delhi as well because a lot of Muslims were killed. It was easy to say that Pakhtoons instigated the crisis as they were outsiders.

KL: What is the net difference that unveiling of the real story that Poonch uprising was the real instigator of crisis and creator of Kashmir dispute will make in the contesting official narratives on either side of the Redcliff divide?

CS: What I am saying in the conclusion of the book is that India and Pakistan will not be able to solve Kashmir problem. They must encourage the people of the erstwhile state from Azad Kashmir, Gilgit, Baltistan and from Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir to cross the LoC and discuss as long as it is OK. Let the people came up with a resolution or resolutions. People of Kashmir are third party to the dispute and they need to be involved. That is the net difference the book must make.

KL: You have studied the Kashmirs on either side of the LoC. How different do the governance systems operate on the two sides?

CS: My PhD was on the comparative study of J&K and Azad Kashmir. There are Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir though not in many numbers. After Azad Kashmir came into being, they said they are the real representatives of Kashmir and neither Maharaja represents Kashmir nor does National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah. Most of the significant figures were either from Azad Kashmir or from Kashmir.

As for the differences in governance structure there are many. The stark one is the legislative assembly of Azad Kashmir which is more like a municipal body. It does not have the powers, the way the legislative assembly in Indian side of Kashmir has. There is Azad Kashmir Council which has 13 members and of them seven are from Azad Kashmir and six from Pakistan including the Prime Minister of Pakistan who chairs it. He is in-charge really. Pakistan governs very strongly because Azad Kashmir is a deficit area and Islamabad pumps in lot of money.

Azad Kashmir assembly is taking care of Azad Kashmir only but the assembly in J&K is taking care of all the regions. Elections are influenced in Azad Kashmir.

The Upper House in J&K and Azad Kashmir are almost similar. There are seats for the refugees who have migrated in 1947. While there might be 6000 Kashmiris (refugees), those migrated from Jammu are more than 80000. But the Kashmiris have disproportionate representation.

There are not many political parties in Azad Kashmir. At the time of elections, they have to make a pledge that they will make efforts of merge Kashmir with Pakistan. There is no possibility of saying Azad Kashmir can be independent and contest elections unlike J&K where it is being permitted.

In Azad Kashmir, you do not have local newspapers published directly either in Muzaffarabad or in Mirpur. There is no freedom of press unlike in Kashmir and Jammu.

KL: How do you see efforts of Islamabad in encouraging the Gilgit Baltistan area as a new province?

CS: They (Pakistan) are very clever with that. They say (erstwhile) Gilgit Agency is not part of the Kashmir dispute. They see J&K, Azad Kashmir and part of Baltistan as disputed and not Gilgit. This is not correct because it was returned to Maharaja by the British. But Pakistan is making certain efforts. It has started legislative assembly and a council that is like the Azad Kashmir Council with members from Pakistan. They have done away with state subject issues and now anybody can go and purchase land. It is heading towards integration with Pakistan.

KL: How practicable was the Musharaf formula in which he suggested identifying regions on the two sides and offering them autonomy?

CS: Well, I think it was practicable. There were two things very significant. Firstly, General Musharaf was referring to Kashmir but he never qualified what it was all about – whether he meant Valley or Azad Kashmir? Secondly, he had not consulted the people of J&K. Had it happened, it would have been a solution imposed on the people, which is never a good way of doing things. And finally, India and Pakistan should ready their people before going for anything. It is not possible that all of a sudden they will be wake up and a solution is imposed on them.

KL: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been increasingly emphasizing over the need of using LoC as a line of commerce. Will it help undo the past?

CS: It is good that the people from both sides talk, interact and trade with each other. But I do not think it will undo the past. There could be many things that could be done. There should be no requirement of having many documents for crossing the LoC. State subjects should not have that problem and they must be permitted by the deputy commissioners on the basis of their state subject.

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