Friday, 30 May 2008

New thinking in British Kashmiris

New thinking in British Kashmiris
Shabir Choudhry

Although eggs are essential part of healthy diet, but not every one likes them. Apart form eating, people have found many other uses of eggs as well, and I am not aware of all such uses. I personally like eggs, and majority of other politicians also like eggs, but only on a dinner plate.

People in public life are sometimes attacked with eggs, and this experience is very annoying and disturbing. People facing the barrage of eggs sometimes retaliate and fight back as British Deputy Prime Minister, Presscott did during the last General Election campaign. But in majority of the cases, politicians try to duck and endeavour to get away from the scene as quickly as possible.

A few weeks back the Pakistani High Commissioner visited Birmingham, which hosts a large Azad Kashmiri population. It was perhaps for the first time that people of Azad Kashmir welcomed a Pakistani High Commissioner with a demonstration in which eggs and tomatoes were generously used. Some reports suggest that he was subject to other forms of abuse as well. My intention is not to stir up anything or highlight the issue, but to analyse why a serious incident like this has taken place, and how to avoid incidents of this nature in future.

Relationship between Kashmiris and Pakistanis has been extremely cordial and friendly. In fact it is no exaggeration that majority of Azad Kashmiris settled in Britain still regard themselves as Pakistanis from Azad Kashmir. People of Azad Kashmir have always played an important role whenever Pakistani governments asked for help and support; and it is the people of Azad Kashmir who take a leading role in welcoming and holding dinners for visiting Pakistani dignitaries. Both communities are so close that at times it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

But over the years relationship between Pakistanis and Azad Kashmiris is deteriorating, and there are many reasons for this. People of Azad Kashmir had many complaints, and Pakistani government’s role in Kashmir dispute over the years have further disappointed and disillusioned Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir and on the other side of the border as well. And the issues of ID cards and upraising of Mangla Dam has only added fuel to simmering anger and resentment.

People of Azad Kashmir feel that Pakistani governments have failed to build Kala Bagh Dam, because they don’t want to annoy their ‘own people’, but it is okay to uproot the people of Mirpur for the second time. Initial planning for both Dams were made at around same time, in late 1950s, and tragedy is that Kala Bagh dam is still on papers despite many plans and feasibility surveys carried out by international experts with huge costs to the treasury.

And we all know that Mangla Dam has played an important role in development and success of Pakistan, and has lived its ‘natural life’. People who were uprooted in 1960s are still not settled yet and still face enormous problems, and promises made to them were never honoured. Pakistani authorities have plans to uproot more than one hundred thousand people of Mirpur again, and the reason for this is that they want more water and electricity for the Pakistani landlords and industrialists.

Even though the original construction of the Mangla Dam was also against the public will, nevertheless it was built and people by and large accepted that, but new plans of upraising have opened old wounds. People are challenging construction of the original Dam, in their view it was built in a disputed territory, and Pakistan had no right to build a Dam in Kashmiri territory as it is against the law of the State according to which non-Kashmiris have no right to buy any land in Kashmir.

It was anger and frustration of people of Azad Kashmir which manifested in Birmingham. Personally I am against upraising of the Dam, and I am in favour of all sorts of protests to highlight our concerns; but I am not in favour of insulting and attacking Pakistani officials in Britain, or any where else for that matter. We Kashmiris have more complaints against India, and we all know what has happened to the Kashmiri people on the other side of the LOC, and yet not once an Indian diplomat has been attacked or mishandled in any part of the world.

Politicians are sometime showered with eggs and tomatoes but as diplomats fall into different category, it is very rare that they get this kind of treatment. In my opinion it is against the diplomatic norms that a diplomat of country is abused and treated with disrespect. We can disagree with them, and criticise the governments they represent, but still respect them as honourable officials.

I spoke to a leading Kashmiri activist about this unfortunate incident, he agreed with me that it was uncalled for, and that incidents like this are not going to help build confidence and friendly relationship which is need of the hour. He further said that even if Kashmir becomes an independent state we will still need support of Pakistan in every walk of life, and incidents like this will be counter productive.

Another Kashmiri activist said that when people feel they are losing their lifetime earnings and their beloved homes just because Pakistani landlords need water and electricity, and they themselves are not even prepped to make any sacrifices to meet that need, then it is not always easy to control sentiments of young people.

He further said that when people are denied their basic rights then it is expected of them to be angry. And when their rights are denied for too long without any attempt to provide them any remedy then they rebel, as the people of East Pakistan did. People of East Pakistan campaigned for a separate homeland in the name of Pakistan, but they did not campaign for Bangladesh. They only asked for their basic rights and when those right were denied, they were resentful; but to make matters worse they were insulted and authorities continued with disrespectful attitude and oppression. And we all know outcome of that policy.

We don’t want to be violent or hurt genuine interests of Pakistan, but if we are pushed against the wall then desperate people always take desperate measures, then anything could happen. Already there is a group of people who have started a small campaign to dismantle Mangla Dam, as they regard it as a symbol of ‘Pakistani imperialism’ in Azad Kashmir. This campaign is small at present, but all campaigns are small to start with, and who knows what shape it might take in future.
He pointed out that there are other signs which suggest that British Kashmiris are disappointed with Pakistan and their anger is witnessed by recent past statements of British Kashmiri leaders. He also mentioned nationalist Kashmiri groups who have formed a platform in Britain to project their cause, and that they are unanimous in their determination to ask both India and Pakistan to leave the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

This in a way is a new thinking; otherwise people of Azad Kashmir have, in many ways, shown more loyalty and sincerity to Pakistan than some Pakistanis. People who matter need to analyse the situation, and take appropriate measures to build confidence between the two communities. I hope that people at the helm of affairs will not brush aside this matter by saying that it was an act of some trouble - makers or an act of some people who are ‘anti Pakistan’.
Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books andbooklets on Kashmir.

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