Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Azad Kashmir or Pakistani Occupied Kashmir? Dr Shabir Choudhry

Azad Kashmir or Pakistani Occupied Kashmir? Dr Shabir Choudhry

It was pleasure and honour to be among prominent liberal, progressive secular and nationalist Pakistanis who gathered in London to discuss serious problems that encountered Pakistan. The Conference was organised by South Asia Against Terrorism and for Human Rights with the title of Pakistan: The way forward.


The SAATH team managed the Conference brilliantly; and all the participants were encouraged to speak and share their views. Among the objectives was to discuss alternative narrative, promote plural society and rule of civilian rule.


Whereas, I learnt many things in the Conference; and enjoyed the company of these learned men and women who gathered here from various parts of the world, I felt that participants were less interested about plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially living on the Pakistani side of the divide.


In other words, the Conference was Pakistan centric; and the participants were less interested about the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir which has embittered relations between the two nuclear rivals and nearly resulted in a nuclear clash. The participants also discussed proxy war, religious warriors, extremism and violence; but perhaps failed to note that Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a big source of recruitment of Jihadi warriors, proxy war, extremism and violence.

Faheem Baloch’s comments were very interesting. He said, CPEC will be a successful project. Pakistan will surely prosper because of the CPEC, because it has blood of thousands of innocent Baloch people. We continue to get dead bodies and are oppressed.

People appreciated his comments. No one appeared annoyed. However, when I finished my submission there were some upset faces. I said:

‘I am not a Pakistani. I come from Pakistani occupied Kashmir and live in London’. I explained how Pakistan violated the Standstill Agreement, attacked Jammu and Kashmir, killed innocent people, kidnapped women; and how this attack resulted in the provisional accession with India and the first India - Pakistan war. We are forcibly divided and suffer on both sides of the divide. I further said many of Pakistan’s current problems are directly related to their obsession of getting Kashmir.

My views were appreciated by some, especially who belonged to KPK and Balochistan; but those who were managing the stage during that session didn’t look very happy; and some others also appeared irritated. One citizen of Azad Kashmir also was not happy, and in his submission, he said we should call this region Azad Kashmir and not Pakistani occupied Kashmir. He also said, we should also not say, Indian occupied Kashmir.

In my second submission, I clarified my view point by saying:

Terminology is extremely essential to understand the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The area known as Azad Kashmir was attacked by Pakistan on 22 October 1947. They established a puppet government and called it Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government. Everything since 1947 is controlled and managed by Pakistan and GHQ.

Also, I added: Their narrative is that areas under India are occupied; and they should be called Indian Occupied Kashmir. The areas under Pakistan are Azad. My point is, if we call this area Azad Kashmir, which does not have any kind of freedom or azadi, then we are promoting the agenda of the GHQ. That is something we, nationalists of Jammu and Kashmir don’t want.

I further said, Kashmir dispute should not be seen with the lenses of GHQ. It should not be taken from defence, strategic and water point of view. It should be considered as human issue where families are divided since 1947; and we suffer on both sides of the LOC. The Pakistani narrative is wrong that only Indian bombs kill people during cross LOC firing. Trust me the Pakistani bombs are also lethal; and they kill our people on the other side of the divide.

In my final submission, I said:

·      Withdrawal of Pak army was demanded by the UNSC Resolution of 13 August 1948. It did not suit the military establishment so they refused.
·      India Pak friendship does not suit the establishment. If there is friendship many lakhs of people will become unemployed and powerless.
·      How there can be peace in the region when jihadi warriors are used as a foreign policy tool?
·      Please don’t regard Jammu and Kashmir dispute as a water and security matter. Regard it as a human problem. Families are divided and suffer on both sides of the divide since 1947.
·      LOC firing should stop as they kill people on both sides of the LOC.
·      Divided people should be allowed to meet.

The declaration was brilliantly drafted and presented. I stood up and congratulated the team which drafted the Declaration; but humbly requested them to add two points, where the draft says:

‘There are constant threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’; add Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan because our nationalists and human rights activists are also targeted by Jihadi warriors and secret agencies and people have lost their lives and some are in prison.

Second suggestion was about the financial awards. I requested them to add Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan as well because due to lack of development people are frustrated and some are recruited by extremists.

The final draft talked about rights of Baloch, Mohajir, Sindhi and Pashtun people; but sadly, my Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan was still missing.

So, what is the message for us? Am I correct to construe that even Pakistani liberals and progressive people are not liberal enough to regard us of deserving equal rights? Like the Pakistani elite, do they also think we are their colony; and do not deserve the same respect.

If this is tolerance level of highly educated liberal, progressive and secular people, imagine what will be the level of tolerance of those who are perceived as extremists and those who are uneducated.

The future looks bleak to me. May Allah help us?

Writer is a political analyst, and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Chairman South Asia Watch, London and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Declaration of SAATH Conference 2017

Declaration of SAATH Conference 2017
Reaffirmation for a Liberal, Democratic, Secular, Progressive Pakistan
 London October 14, 2017
Several prominent liberal, progressive and nationalist intellectuals, human rights and social media activists and public figures from Pakistan gathered in London for a conference on ‘Pakistan: The Way Forward’, organised under the banner of South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), co-hosted by US-based columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi and former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.
The gathering had to be arranged, like last year, away from Pakistan because of the threats to the security of free thinkers in the country. Participants (list attached) expressed grave concern on Pakistan’s continuing crisis-ridden trajectory, of which the increasing threat of global isolation as a consequence of the continuation and expansion of proxy wars in our neighbourhood holds centre-stage. There are other equally important areas of worry.
The widening circle of repression of critical, dissenting voices to the state’s narrative have led to shrinking space for liberal, secular, progressive ideas and pluralism. There are constant threats to democracy and to nationalists in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. NGOs, human rights defenders and individuals are being victimised. Major political parties are demonstrating an inability to prioritise protection of human rights and social justice. Attempts to mainstream extremist and terrorist organisations is a particularly dangerous development and a threat to the democratic polity. State support for, and tolerance of, groups considered terrorist by the rest of the world remains a serious concern. Unelected institutions of state challenging the democratic mandate of the elected government, in keeping with a persistent pattern, continues to be a serious source of apprehension.
To establish a true democracy in Pakistan, which is a multi-national state, the federating units must be given not only maximum political autonomy but also control over their natural resources.  The National Finance Commission Award should be revisited giving more weightage to underdevelopment of the provinces and their contribution to the national exchequer.
This forum recognises that one of the reasons Pakistan’s democracy has remained tenuous is that while the Centre has denied rights to the provinces, the provinces have failed in the devolution of power to the local governments.
Therefore, this forum demands that the provinces should activate the Provincial Finance Commissions and allocate maximum resources to the local governments. It also demands that the local governments should be given 25% of the royalty and the profits of natural resources exploited from their respective areas.
Participants decided that Pakistan needs a new national narrative that is based on the consent of its people rather than on religious hatred, militarism and militancy. Participants of SAATH will set up two secretariats, one in Pakistan and the other abroad for the diaspora, to help wrestle the idea and identity of Pakistan away from the obscurantist forces.
Participants further agreed that:
·       Pakistan faces the risk of global isolation because of its continuing proxy wars in its neighbourhood, widespread obscurantism, growing intolerance, lack of rule of law, along with official support for extremism and general disregard for human rights.
·       Pakistan ranks 147 out of 188 countries in UN’s Human Development Index and 143 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report. It is the world’s sixth largest country by population with the world’s sixth largest military but its economy is 26thin the world by size of GDP on PPP basis and 42nd in nominal terms. Pakistan lags behind most of its neighbours on the Human Development Index and the Human Capital Index.
·       It is sad and disconcerting that instead of dealing with these issues with the help of fresh ideas espoused by broad-minded Pakistanis, the Pakistani state continues to appease or nurture religious extremists, propagate or allow the propagation of religious extremism and allow it free spread in society, and persistently misinform the people of Pakistan about the realities of our country.
·       Instead of facing these harsh realities, the Pakistani people are fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories and exaggerated threats to national security from other nations and countries.
·       The Pakistani state, regrettably, expresses a continued willingness to engage with religious extremists and terrorists, and sometimes even talks of formally inducting Jihadi terrorist groups into the state’s paramilitary structure and lately, mainstreaming extremist and terrorist organisations, but remains hostile to liberal, progressive and nationalist groupings within Pakistan.
·       Political parties representing the Baloch, Mohajir, Sindhi and Pashtun segments of Pakistan’s population have been targeted by both state repression and hostile propaganda aimed at delegitimising them even when they have won clear electoral mandates from the people.
·       The state also pursues repressive policies towards the population-wise smaller provinces and nationalities and their elected representatives.
·       It is time for Pakistan’s rich and powerful ruling elite to own up and take responsibility for the failed policies of the past instead of promoting conspiracy theories through manipulation of the mainstream mass media and increasing repression of the social media.
·       Participants of today’s conference are a diverse array of people, united by the desire for a pluralist and tolerant, liberal, secular and progressive Pakistan that abides by internationally recognized human rights, allows full and free debate, treats all its people and nationalities fairly and is no longer seen around the world as an incubator for terrorism.
·       Only a pluralist Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours, fully respectful of human rights of all, including religious minorities, would be able to gain international respect, have a positive global and local image and avoid further descent into chaos.
·       We resolve to stand with and assist each other to protect a pluralist, liberal, secular and progressive vision of Pakistan and to let the world know that such a vision exists and offers hope for Pakistan’s future.
·       We resolve to protect the legal rights of all non-extremist groups and political parties, notwithstanding our disagreements over details and minutiae of policies or personality differences with individuals and leaders.
·       Questioning state policies is a legitimate right of all Pakistanis. We stand together to oppose the tendency to label dissident voices as traitors or ‘kafirs’in an effort to shut down debate and discussion of alternative policies.
Dissent is patriotic.