Across the Line of Control

Source: By Luv Puri: Deccan Herald

In a continuing trend of the government’s Kashmir policy to focus on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Defence minister Rajnath Singh in a video-conference recently stated that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, J&K will touch great heights and “people from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) will wish they were part of India.” Sometime back, the State-owned broadcasters were asked to broadcast weather reports on Mirpur, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit in their prime-time news bulletins.

The battle of air waves is an old one as Pakistani state broadcasters also broadcast the weather in Srinagar and Jammu. There is a 1994 Parliamentary resolution which declares that “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.” In the context of repeated statements made by various members of the Modi government post-August 5, 2019, a granular understanding of the nuances related to areas across the LoC (not included in this piece is the area of Gilgit-Baltistan) will have to be factored in for any future strategy, including raising public expectations within India of wresting PoK one day.

The 1947 “tribal attack” through Muzaffarabad alone does not explain the multi-layered history. It is true that many Kashmiri-speaking young men were trained across the LoC after 1989 and some remained there. But many interviewed across the LoC, including by this writer, have given detailed accounts of dislocation and frustration in a place where they don’t speak the local language. Linguistically, PoK is far closer to Pakistani Punjab and to Jammu region as compared to the Kashmir Valley as different versions of Pothwari language, which is considered a variant of Punjabi, are spoken in that area. In undivided Jammu and Kashmir, as per an estimate, the Kashmiri-speaking population is 38.5%, which is less than the population speaking Pothwari, Dogri and Gojri languages. The three languages are de facto close as a speaker of one can understand the other.

Jats, Rajputs, Gujjars inhabit the southern part of PoK, which is similar to Gujrat and Sialkot areas of Pakistani Punjab. The central PoK, particularly the area of Rawalakot, inhabited by the influential community of Sudhans, has a high representation in elite Pakistani institutions. For instance, Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, who was involved in the Kargil war and colluded with General Pervez Musharraf’s overthrow of the civilian government in 1999, hails from this area, Similarly, the present president of PoK Sardar Masood Khan comes from this area. He was also Pakistan’s Ambassador to China and a Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

The split of the princely state was largely framed in a political, linguistic, ethnic and religious context. A vast corpus of available reliable evidence in the public domain indicates that the then popular leadership of Kashmir Valley supported efforts to push back the Pathan intruders. Internally, the Valley remained free from Partition-related migration and violence.

A different reality prevailed in the more populous and religiously heterogenous Jammu division, including a large part of the area across the Line of Control and the Jammu plains. Poonch jagir, which had a semi-autonomous existence till 1936 in the princely state of J&K, was one of the prime catchment areas for the British Indian army. Some of these ex-servicemen and active servicemen revolted against the last king Hari Singh. Poonch jagir, which is central PoK, forms a substantial part of the territory of PoK across the LoC. Hindus and Sikhs were the victims of the Partition violence in PoK and there was complete migration. The Muslim populations were the victims in the Jammu plains, where they were the minority, resulting in mass-migration to neighbouring Sialkot district and other parts of Pakistani Punjab.

That is why; Jammu region has the bulk of the divided families. According to the 1948 West Punjab Refugees Census, the number of Muslims who migrated from J&K, most of them from Jammu, was 2, 02,600, the highest outside East Punjab. These past events, along with the constant turbulence in J&K politics, are selectively interpreted by Punjab-based, Kashmir-centric terrorist outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to recruit and fundraise. In his seminal book Pakistan: A Modern History, British historian Ian Talbot wrote, citing Pakistani academic Mohammad Waseem, that “the five million migrants [from the Indian side of the border] have both provided a major support for Islamist parties and shaped the Punjab province’s strong anti-India and pro-Kashmiri leanings.

Exchanges, courtesy initiatives such as the start of cross-LoC civilian movement on April 7, 2005, could have challenged one-sided societal narratives exploited by extremist groups in Pakistan. Significantly, a day before the start of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad bus service, terrorists had attacked Srinagar’s Tourist Reception Centre. The background was that both countries accepted publicly that they cannot militarily change the status quo. There were statements from Gen. Musharraf that the sentiment in Kashmir Valley is not for accession with Pakistan, overturning a traditional stand of Pakistan.

The lessons of the last decade from a more liberal exchange of civil society interactions between the two sides of the LoC are noteworthy in this respect. Civil society members from Mirpur area of PoK visited New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and Jammu’s Bakshi Nagar, the areas where a large number of senior citizens who came from Mirpur area of PoK in 1947 reside. This struck an emotional chord between the people speaking the same language in contrast to more formal encounters in the Valley. A greater societal dissemination of the political, ethnic and social realities across the LoC started taking place among the Valley’s younger generation. The slogan of unification of “two Kashmirs” was confronted with facts on the ground. The divided families came mostly to Jammu plains or its hilly Muslim majority districts of Rajouri and Poonch.

The 2008 Mumbai attack, followed by other developments, prevented using cross-LoC exchanges in a more creative and scaled-up manner. However, the movement of ordinary civilians and civil society members continues to be an effective complimentary strategy to address societal roots of violent extremism in Pakistani Punjab, which is exploited by a toxic mix of non-state as well as state actors. A greater internalisation of facts may incentivise varying influential domestic stakeholders in both countries to give up maximalist positions.