Saturday, 8 February 2014

‘My struggle for an independent Kashmir’, autobiography of Dr. Shabir Choudhry, book review, by Junaid Qureshi

‘My struggle for an independent Kashmir’, autobiography of Dr. Shabir Choudhry, book review, by Junaid Qureshi

In my early twenties while studying Law, I read Karl Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’, although it was not part of my studies and after reading it, I went back to one of my professors saying that I think I failed to understand Marx’s vision. My professor said that it was too early for me to read such a book and that I should first complete my studies and read a lot of other books which will broaden my vision and only then read ‘Das Kapital’ again in my mid-thirties. He said that in order to understand the true spirit of such a book, one has to have a certain maturity based on experiences in practical life and a considerable knowledge of topics like world history, politics, civilizations and economics.

I think the same goes for the autobiography of Dr. Shabir Choudhry. In order to understand the true spirit of the book, one has to have a certain acquaintance with the history of Kashmir, its freedom struggle, its culture, complexities and sensitivities.

‘My struggle for an independent Kashmir’ by Dr. Shabir Choudhry is the story of an eye-witness who closely saw and even experienced the birth, youth and eventually the death of a formidable political force like the JKLF, caused by narcissism of some its most senior leaders.

The book gives an insight into the political life of the author, his struggle with discrimination and stereotypical thinking and tries to explain the merits of his political ideology. It describes how he, due to disdain from some of his close relatives and in order to enhance the Kashmir freedom struggle intellectually, vowed to study and complete his degree. It is intriguing to read the transformation of a somewhat emotional and rebellious boy, who gets into a fight on the first day of school in Britain, into a highly educated political activist and intellectual.

Although the book lacks a strict chronological order, it is not difficult to read. The book contains a lot of chapters and some are overlapping whilst some contain references to the future and past, which can be confusing. I found some chapters unnecessarily too detailed, while some  leave the reader guessing for more.

Dr. Shabir Choudhry is one of the very few Kashmiri political activists, who has courageously introspected his own role and acknowledged his and his party’s errors of judgement which were based on the information available at the time of those actions. The author uses the phrase ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’ a few times in his book and admits that with all the information available now, his decisions to certain actions would surely have been different.

While introspecting, the author also takes on ‘holy cows’ of Kashmir politics with convincing evidence. He for example describes how he met the then Chairman of JKLF, Amanullah Khan in a vulnerable state, just minutes before his operation due to lung cancer, where he confessed a murder which arguably led to the hanging of Maqbool Bhat. Page 134 of the book states: “…..Amanullah Khan was no different from other people. He was also worried about his health and his life. It is normally at this stage when one is vulnerable. It is at this stage when mistakes of the past come to haunt people. It is at this stage people generally speak honestly. Amanullah Khan also spoke honestly to me. He confessed that he ordered Musarat Iqbal to kill Mhathre, as danger was that the Police could have reached the house where he was kept hostage”.  

The book is full of such revelations, some disturbing and others eye-opening. It narrates how the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Agha Shahi, in a meeting with the author and others bluntly opposed the idea of an Independent Kashmir and said,“…We don’t trust Kashmiris…… We cannot risk Pakistan’s security…”. The author also  describes how an ego-centric, Amanullah Khan sabotaged the unification process of different factions of the JKLF and violated signed agreements. The author analyses the arrest of Amanullah Khan in Belgium in minute detail and proves that it was staged by Amanullah Khan and the Pakistani intelligence agencies in order to sabotage the Round Table Conference on Kashmir and boost Amanullah Khan’s declining fame. The author quotes the Pakistani Ambassador, Rifat Mehdi, who conveyed a message of Amanullah Khan to the author, while he was trying his best to get the JKLF Chairman released from jail. Rifat Mehdi said, “Amanullah Khan thanked you for your efforts and concern. However, he wanted you to relax and not to worry about his arrest, and let him stay in prison; and continue with political and diplomatic work”.

The book throws light on other important issues and details of the Kashmiri freedom struggle for example how the author prevented a group known as ‘Black Panthers’ from kidnapping Dr. Nazir Gilani and cutting of his right hand, true predictions of Hashim Qureshi regarding JKLF and Amanullah Khan, Raja Muzaffar’s visit in the night to the author’s room while carrying a Kalashnikov, the author’s refusal to meet an ISI Colonel, Azmat Khan’s dream of becoming the president of JKLF Britain, Yasin Malik’s opportunism, his ‘training’ by Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies and his ‘launching’ as a Ghandian leader of Kashmir by Indian intelligence agencies during the Delhi Kashmir conferece, Amanullah Khan’s numerous unconstitutional actions and his obsession with publicity and the Chairmanship of the JKLF, the author’s visits to Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Indian Administered Kashmir and dirty and internal power struggles within the JKLF. As mentioned above, the author backs his perspective up with solid evidences (testimonies of people who are still alive, letters, articles and news items) and does not shy away from accepting his own role and errors.

While reading the book, one cannot refrain from concluding that internal power struggles, opportunism, undemocratic and unconstitutional actions and Amanullah Khan’s lack of leadership qualities and short-sightedness turned the JKLF - which had the potential of becoming the ‘Kashmiri PLO’ - into a plaything of agencies.

Readers will undoubtedly get the feeling that the author focusses too much on the role of the JKLF and should have written more in depth about other parties and events and the larger Kashmir issue and its (geo-) political dimensions. While it is understandable that the author has centred his book around his and JKLF’s role in Kashmir politics, as it is an autobiography and the author has been a senior member of the JKLF for a considerable time of his political life, it would have been ameliorable if the larger Kashmir issue would have been elaborated more thoroughly.

While advocating an unified, secular and democratic independent Jammu & Kashmir, the author also acknowledges that the Kashmiri nation requires introspection and unity among nationalist parties in order to achieve their desired objectives. He calls for a parallel democratic and non-violent struggle across the LoC and strongly opposes concentration of the struggle on only specific areas of Jammu & Kashmir or against only one oppressor.

The book is informative and thought-provoking, although it might leave the reader with a lot of unanswered questions as it describes events only until the year 2000. It is unclear why the author has stopped there and whether he will write a sequel. In my humble opinion, the author must write about the Kashmiri struggle and his role beyond 2000 as the younger generation has lived those years and can more easily relate to recent political history of Kashmir. Besides that, the Kashmir ‘issue’ and the struggle for an Independent Kashmir has evolved considerably since then and has made a transformation from being violent to being somewhat non-violent. Events on the international stage like 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, uprisings in the Arab world and mass usage of internet and social media have also changed the political dimensions on the world stage and shaken contemporary narratives. It would be interesting to see how the author views Kashmir and the struggle of Kashmiris for self-determination in this ‘new’ world.

The book consist of total 632 pages. 466 pages are the author’s autobiography and the rest consist of appendixes which include letters, speeches and news items. It has a few photos of the author’s political activities and the book’s cover is graced by a pair of chained hands which hold up a map of Jammu & Kashmir at the backdrop of a picture of Kashmir’s highest peak, K-2. The quality of the paper is good. The book has been published by the Institute of Kashmir Affairs and can be availed at a price of £ 20,- or PKR 800,-.

‘My struggle for an Independent Kashmir’ is an enthralling story of deceit, power, but above all it is about surviving hardships while still summoning the bravery to live according to one’s ideology and convictions.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the Kashmiri freedom struggle, JKLF and who wants an answer to the question; “Why did the Kashmiris fail to form a formidable force on international level in order to propagate the Kashmiri viewpoint?” I think it should be compulsory literature for the young generation of Kashmir as it describes events truthfully and clears a lot of misconceptions about Kashmir's Freedom Struggle. Very informative and thought-provoking indeed.

Amsterdam, 08 february 2014.     

No comments: