Thursday, 29 May 2008

Historic importance of 5th February

Historic importance of 5th February

By Dr Shabir Choudhry 10 February 2003

On 5th February 2003, outside Indian High Commission there was a demonstration to show solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle. This demonstration was organised by International Kashmir Co Ordination Committee, known as Rabta Committee (there is another name for it as well but it won’t be prudent to mention it in papers).

Leaders of the Rabta Committee claim that they represent the Kashmiris in Britain. Also they claim that the Rabta Committee is a platform of more than dozen parties, and that they are leaders of the Kashmiri struggle. This claim is made repeatedly, they get more than their due share of projection, and always have some ‘official’ backing as well.

Many weeks before the event a meeting was organised for these leaders where it was decided that they should have demonstration to show their strength and solidarity with people of Kashmir. It was learnt that there were 19 people who joined the demonstration, and journalists who have revealed this should be commended for reporting accurately and exposing power bases of these leaders.

I have also received some phone calls about this demonstration. One caller asked me about the historic significance of this day. He wanted to know why Pakistani government declares holiday, and why people hold demonstrations on this day.

One caller showed concern over apparent increased strength of these parties. He didn’t know exact number of organisations on this platform, but his argument was that which of these organisations have recruited members to make up the total of nineteen, or were these ‘extra’ people were ordinary Pakistanis or Kashmiris.

That apart I want to focus my attention on 5th February, and tell my readers what, if any, is the historic importance of this date. The present Pakistani government demonstrated solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle by declaring a public holiday. Kashmiri people and Pakistanis held rallies in different places in support of Kashmiri struggle and condemned Indian actions there.

Pakistani governments are known for inconsistency in their policies, and they have not been consistent with the 5th February either. Events become historic and get national recognition when something important happens which ultimately affects the nation. For example, Treaty of Amritsar (1846) is important because it was through this treaty Maharaja of Gulab Singh purchased Kashmir from the British. 4th October (1948) is important because it was on this day Provisional Government of Azad Kashmir was declared. But some people ignore significance of 4th October, and only celebrate 24th October (1948), the day when in the name of ‘reorganisation’ a new government was set up. Similarly 27th October is also important because it was on this day Indian forces moved in to Kashmir.

There are also other important dates, for example, 13th August (1948) when first UN Security Council resolution was passed which had implied option for and independent Kashmir. Similarly 5th January (1949) could be important for those who want Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan as this resolution limits Kashmiri peoples choice to either joining India or Pakistan. For records this change was made on the request of Pakistan.

Other UN resolutions are also important but resolution of 1957 is particularly important, as it was in this resolution the UN unequiviquely declared that no election could substitute a referendum. Indian claim was that the Provisional accession of the Maharaja Hari Singh was ratified by an ‘elected government’, and the Security Council rejected this.

Similarly war of 1965, whether it was to liberate Kashmir or not, has its importance and so does subsequent Tashkent Agreement. This was a start of taking Kashmir out of the United Nations, and the Shimla Agreement completed that process. In Shimla Agreement Pakistani government practically abandoned UN resolutions on Kashmir and decided to settle it through bilateral talks.

Kashmir dispute was put on the back burner and Pakistani government was strongly criticised for abandoning the Kashmir dispute, and converting the Cease – Fire - Line in to Line of Control, clearly indicating that Pakistani government, for at least time being, has settled for whatever Kashmiri territory they had.

In order to counter this allegation and ease pressure, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as Prime Minister of Pakistan, asked the Kashmiri people to protest against Indian rule in Kashmir. Kashmiris never shy away to show their emotions against India, and had very successful strike.

It happened that the strike was held on 5th February 1974, and that is the back - ground to this date, but after this Kashmir dispute was put safely in a fridge, and this ‘historic date’ was forgotten too. But when the Kashmiri struggle was at its peak in early 1990s, and mood of the Kashmiri people was clearly in favour of an independent Kashmir, and this unnerved the Pakistani establishment.

Many strategies were considered to counter this ‘threat of an independent Kashmir’, and one such strategy was to ‘revive’ the 5th of February. This task was given to Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan who was heading the Kashmir Committee formed by Pakistan. In a press conference he asked people of Kashmir and Pakistan to show solidarity to the Kashmiri struggle and hold a strike.

Another theory is that the establishment wanted a strike on 5th January. They knew whatever the date, under the situation, the Kashmiri people would hold strike to show their anger and opposition to India; and Islamabad could cash that as a support for accession to Pakistan because it was on this date resolution was passed in the Security Council limiting Kashmiri peoples choice between India and Pakistan.

But in the press conference Nawabzada Sahib made a mistake with the month and called the strike on 5th February, but this also suited the establishment. 11th February is the date when Shaheed –E - Kashmir Maqbool Butt was hanged in Tihar Jail of Delhi, and Kashmiris hold a national strike on this date. As noted above, in early 1990s, Pakistani establishment was disturbed with the rise of support for an independent Kashmir, as success of strikes every where on this date demonstrated support for Maqbool Butt’s ideology of united and independent Kashmir.

So to counter this ‘threat’ they decided to give call for a strike six days before the day when Maqbool Butt’s martyrdom is commemorated, making it difficult for Kashmiris to hold two big strikes within a week. With help of people and organisations across the border, if big demonstrations are held and complete strike is observed on 5th February, then that makes it very difficult for the people to repeat the exercise again after six days.

This is the history or significance of the 5th February, and Kashmiri people, especially the British Kashmiris have rightly decided not to pay too much attention to this, and 19 leaders without any workers went to the demonstration. Anyhow spirit of these leaders should be commended, as they made an effort to show up on the day.

Even after the ‘revival’ of 5th February, not all Pakistani governments have paid same attention to this ‘historic date’, but tendency is to call a strike on the day to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir. Some governments put their full weight behind the strike, and others give nominal support.

It is debatable if this show of solidarity, in any way, helps the Kashmiri struggle but it is certainly enjoyed by people as a holiday. Some Pakistani leaders and writers are not in favour of this strike and holiday because of its severe affect on already meagre economy of Pakistan; instead, they argue, it is better to give half of the money to the Kashmiri struggle.

It is up to the readers and especially the people of Kashmir to decide which date has more importance, 5th February, decided by a man who signed the Shimla Agreement, which is considered by many as a stab in the back of the Kashmiri struggle; or 11th February, the date on which Maqbool Butt was martyred - the man who gave new thinking and new ideology to the people of Kashmir, and got hanged for this.

Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir.

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