Every year, in the last week of October, Kashmiris living outside the South Asian region get together to observe a day that is largely forgotten by the world. They remember what happened on 22 October 1947, and call it a black day.
These locals say that on this day, Pakistan invaded into their sovereign territory with the help of tribal belt mercenaries it had promised the loot, in exchange of them bringing Pakistan the territorial control of the Kashmir region.
And looting, plundering and killing is what they did when they entered the Jammu and Kashmir Valley, at the behest of Pakistan, the country that today decries the violence happening in Indian-administered Kashmir. Women were made slaves, national treasures were raided, and Muslims were killed by these Pakistani mercenaries.
Why ‘Azad Kashmir’ Cry Rings Hollow
An event to highlight this bloodshed by Pakistan was organised in the city of Brussels (capital of Belgium), the capital of the European Union, on 22 October 2018, by a political party called United Kashmir People’s National Party, which comprises mostly of exiled Kashmiris living in the West – the only region where they feel safe.
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This reporter had the chance to attend it and meet with its leader Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, who told him how he was kidnapped by Pakistani military agencies for his activism to call for independence of his homeland. Once Sardar Shaukat Ali was freed, he left Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and is now settled in Europe from where he continues to raise his voice for his people, especially those living in the part Pakistan controls and calls “Azad Kashmir”.
Azad means independent in Urdu, but hearing tales from these Kashmiris of the atrocities they went through, exposes the hollowness of this term of reference by Pakistani policy-makers.
Pakistan’s October 1947 War on Kashmir
Pakistan claims that it went to save its Muslim brethren from Hindu occupation when it entered Kashmir in 1947, but this is misleading to say the least, as I learnt at the gathering organised by Sardar Shaukat's political movement. They also highlighted how Pakistan tried to capture Kashmir from an independent princely state run by a Hindu ruler Hari Singh, even though Pakistan had first agreed to let princely states decide their own fate – and the British, who were dividing South Asia between Pakistan and India in 1947, had agreed to the same.
Secondly, Pakistan had also signed a standstill agreement with the Kashmir region after coming into being, thereby technically recognising Kashmir’s independence.
A standstill agreement meant that all agreements that were in practice under the British rule before 1947 with the Kashmir region would continue, as they were with the newly-formed Pakistani state.
In response to this tribal invasion, Hari Singh asked for Indian help. The Indians offered it but with conditions – and one of them was that Singh should accede to India, to which he agreed. That is when the Indian troops arrived in the Valley to defend the region against tribal invasion.
It is unfortunate that the Indian military today commits human rights abuses against the very people it went to defend there but the role of Pakistan in initiating this conflict cannot be ignored.
Also, the world mostly knows what goes on in Indian-administered Kashmir, thanks to somewhat a relative free press there but very rarely do we get to hear about the abuses committed by the Pakistan Army which controls Pakistan-administered Kashmir from the shadows.
UN Report on Human Rights Abuse
This year, the United Nations launched its first report on human rights in both India-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. While it mainly focuses on abuses of the Indian military, it also calls out to Pakistan to end its “misuse” of anti-terror legislation to persecute peaceful activists and quash dissent. The report states that violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir “are of a different calibre or magnitude”, while decrying restrictions on freedoms of expression and association.
As the UN report suggests, independent journalism is almost non-existent in so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’.
Also local indigenous politicians are denied rights too, as Pakistan has imposed a condition on them that they can only participate if they sign an agreement of accession to Pakistan – a position that many Kashmiri politicians do not agree with, and thus, they have been left out of the electoral process. That is why the governments of Pakistan-administered Kashmir are almost always run by Pakistan-origin political parties.
This being said, publicly, Pakistan has portrayed a completely different image to the world whereby it claims that Kashmiris should be given the right to decide for themselves.
But since the reality on ground is very different, such calls appear to be just rhetoric, intended at riling up Kashmiris living on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC), the militarised border dividing the Kashmir region into two halves.
Also, Pakistan not only captured half of Kashmir when it invaded it in 1947; since then it has also actively tried to divide the Kashmir region it controls into further smaller divisions by carving out a separate Gilgit-Baltistan region, and the district of Chitral, both of which originally were under the Jammu and Kashmir state.
Pakistan has also given some of Kashmiri land to China in an agreement in 1963 through the Sino-Pakistan Agreement.
The agreement had led to China ceding over 1,942 to 5,180 square kilometres to Pakistan, and Pakistan recognising Chinese sovereignty over hundreds of square kilometers of land in Northern Kashmir and Ladakh. This further weakened Kashmir state, and ensured that if tomorrow, Kashmir does get independence, it will not be able re-claim these regions, which Pakistan has tried to re-label or give away.
Pakistan’s Role in Kashmir Conflict
It is unfortunate that such information remains hidden from the public eye, even in the region where they occurred, i e, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and except for those like the exiled Kashmiris that I met in Brussels (who are on the run due to threats to their lives), no one dares to talk about these facts.
To understand the true nature of the conflict, it is imperative that Pakistan’s role in it is studied too. Instead, Pakistan not only censors this truth and those who speak it, but it has also tried to hide its aggressive designs in Kashmir repeatedly even after 1947.
An example of this is when it launched a military operation in Kashmir in 1965 under the name of Operation Gibraltar, and in 1999 during the Kargil conflict.
Both times, Pakistan was unable to achieve its objectives. And instead of introspection and ending this, or even acknowledging this policy of interference, Pakistan continues to allow militants that commit terrorism in Indian-administered Kashmir to flourish on its soil. This, while shutting down voices like Sardar Shaukat’s which are using peaceful political means to call an end to violence, abuse and injustice on both sides of his divided homeland.
(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist and founder of safenewsrooms.org. He tweets @TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)