Does Pakistan want an Independent Kashmir?

Pakistani flag during a demonstration by Dukhataran e Millat (who support Kashmir's accession to Pakistan) | Photo by Faisal Khan

"Those who surrender liberty for security deserve none."

Since 1995, various polls [1] [2] [3] have been carried out to find out what exactly do Kashmiris want. India? Pakistan? or an independent Kashmir? In Kashmir, the idea of an independent Kashmir has only gotten stronger with time but the support for a merger with Pakistan is massive too. But, does anybody from the neighboring countries really want an independent Kashmir? India clearly doesn't, what about China and Pakistan?

Although superficially, Pakistan has been a consistent friend of Kashmir. Pakistan has consistently raised the question of Human Rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir wherever it can. It has also advocated for our right to 'self-determination'. It has acted way better than the Government of India who is still unwilling to accept the problem and is ready to shoot anything that moves in Kashmir.

However, the government of Pakistan right from 1947 till now, has never really supported the idea of an independent Kashmir and has always tried to mould the public opinion in its favor with the help of politico-religious groups like Jamaat-e-Islami.

The idea of an Independent Kashmir was freely being debated by Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar and others even after the signing of accession by the Dogra Maharaja. On 16 February 1948, V. P. Menon (the same person who got the instrument of accession allegedly signed) accepted that 'An Independent Kashmir is not a taboo for India' in front of British High Commission in New Delhi. On 1 March, even Nehru favored plebiscite for an independent Kashmir based on the joint guarantee that both dominions maintain the independence of Kashmir. Nehru knew the idea of an independent Kashmir wouldn't find much acceptance back home but he was sure about getting it across as 'it would remove a great deal of the controversial matters arising from a plebiscite on accessions and would bring India and Pakistan into close harmony on other fields'. (The Kashmir Dispute, Vol II, Page 77)

When the President of the Security Council, Canada's General A. G. L. McNaughton, laid down proposals at the UN 'to determine the future of J&K by the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite, to take place as early as possible', Pakistan's first foreign minister, Zafrullah Khan realized that he couldn't openly oppose the idea of an independent Kashmir. In his reply of 28 December 1949, he proposed replacing the option of Independence with this phrase - 'The question of the accession of the State of J&K to India or Pakistan'. Military observers and other foreigners in Kashmir during this time say that Kashmir would have either chosen Independence or Pakistan as both enjoyed huge support even then. But Pakistan was not up for a gamble. (The Kashmir Dispute, Vol II, Page 75)

By 1952, Nehru was no more interested in any kind of plebiscite. He wrote a letter to Sheikh Abdullah while camping at Sonamarg saying that he no longer cared about what the Kashmiris really wanted and believed the UN was powerless against India and so was Pakistan (due to India's military might). He further advised Sheikh to banish any doubts he and his likes had about the accession of Kashmir to India.

The call of 'self-determination' through a UN-backed plebiscite has been echoing through the corridors of Geneva for the last 71 years because the same option of an Independent Kashmir is missing from it, one has to choose between India and Pakistan only. Pakistan cannot overtly deny the idea of an independent Kashmir fearing loss of support but plays with words to garner it. Pakistan's Prime Minister also recently made it clear that Pakistan will never advocate or accept an Independent Kashmir.

After the killing of an Indian diplomat by a group called Kashmir Liberation Army in United Kingdom (UK) and the hanging of Maqbool Bhat that followed, Amanuallah Khan was exiled from England and sent back to Pakistan where he was warmly welcomed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1986. For the next two years, General Zia-ul-Haq and Amanullah Khan planned a strategy on Kashmir. They started training fighters who would later cross over to Indian occupied Kashmir to spark a new era of the armed rebellion.

The first attack of the '90s uprising was on 31 July, 1988 when three Government buildings were blown up in Srinagar. Pakistan media was all praises for Zia-ul-Haq and his Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) friend for 'laying the foundations of an uprising in Kashmir' but as fate would have it, General Zia-ul-Haq died in a plane crash three weeks later. With his death, died the meager possibility of Pakistan supporting the idea of an independent Kashmir.

Soon, an important meeting was held in Islamabad to suppress the pro-independence sentiment in Kashmir, whose fighters were already armed and fighting the fight.

Robert G Wirsing, a specialist on South Asian politics and international relations writes that, "While the People's Party was yet in power, Pakistani leaders became aware of the need to assert more Pakistani control of the uprising.... In early February 1990, a meeting was held in Islamabad, with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the Chair and the Chief of Army Staff, General Aslam Beg and the President and Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir in attendance. They decided they had to curb the Azaadi forces, meaning they would not equip them and not send them into the valley." (Robert G, Wirsing in Charles Kennedy (ed.), Pakistan in 1992, Boulder, Colorado Westview Press, 1993. p. 150)

To do this Pakistan came up with another group named Hizbul Mujahideen. This group was and still is radically loyal to Pakistan and advocates for Kashmir's merger with it. JKLF and nine other pro-Independence parties were soon banned.

Amanullah Khan in an interview with Yusuf Jameel called out Pakistan for 'destroying the third option' supported by the vast population of Kashmir but nobody paid heed. He further said it was 'tantamount to denying them the very right of self-determination, a right which couldn't be limited, conditioned or circumscribed'.

Pumped with arms and money from Pakistan and local acceptance provided by the Jamaat propaganda, Hizbul Mujahideen was now on a mission. It provided intelligence to armed forces against pro-Independence groups and hundreds died of the result. Hundreds more were killed by the Hizbul Mujahideen themselves (Owen L. Sirrs's Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate talks about a press conference held by Amanullah Khan in December 1991 where he claimed that HM had not only been assassinating JKLF fighters but also informing the Indian army of their hideouts). Over-numbered, over-powered, disillusioned and on the verge of extinction and inevitable death, many pro-Independent groups started to surrender in front of the police and army. These groups were later used by the Indian state against the remaining fighters.

Massacred by both sides (India and Pakistan), cracks developed within JKLF, and the organization gradually became a minor player with little political standing.

Kashmiris who had dreamt of an independent Kashmir were being massacred. 'Guest fighters' and other Kashmiri pro-Pakistan fighters were pitted against JKLF, SLF, MM and others for Hizbul Mujahideen to gain prominence. Hizbul Mujahideen spared none; intellectuals, leaders, fighters and whoever advocated for an independent Kashmir or raised his/her voice against the high-handedness of 'guest fighters' was killed. As per Jeffrey S. Dixon & Meredith Reid's A Guide to Intra-state Wars, Hizbul Mujahideen neutralized and disarmed more than 7,000 fighters who did not toe their line. A famous saying of 90s was - “If the Indian army can’t get you, the Hizbul Mujahideen will.”

In Kashmir, the discussions over what lead to the creation of Ikhwan also touch upon the excesses committed by groups like Hizbul Mujahideen. While a former Ikhwan's words have to be taken with a pinch of salt but their experiences and what motivated them to join pro-government renegade groups cannot be discounted. The words of Liyaqat Ali Khan, who also became part of the dreaded Ikhwan, in an interview with Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society are revelatory:

HM had been created through ISI to counter JKLF. It was to establish pro-Pakistan thought for which Jamaat-e-Islami helped. Jamaat had been hurt before in the anti-Jamaat riots of 1979 after Z.A. Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan and so when they got power they started taking revenge. Plus there were directions from Pakistan. That was a big mistake from ISI....  To settle old scores the Jamaat directed HM to kill Kashmiris regardless of caste and creed. Ikhwan is the creation of high handedness of HM. Ikhwan would not have been there if HM had not done harm. (Structures of Violence)

The crimes committed by the Ikhwan cannot be justified at any level but one must at the same time try to understand the reasons why they turned against the Tehreek. Who pushed them to the wall?

This infighting was duly exploited by the Indian government, who was in desperate need of intelligence and men who knew how the insurgency worked from the inside. Ikhwanis did to Hizbul Mujahideen what Hizb did to JKLF, SLF, MM and their likes. They broke its back, and with it, the uprising changed its course. The Kashmir struggle met a blow. 

Ikhwan went next for Jamaatis who had been promoting Hizbul Mujahideen among the masses and hundreds were killed. Syed Salahuddin had to dissociate Hizbul Mujahideen from the Jamaat-e-Islami on 26 November 1997 to stop the bloodshed but the association between the two is an open secret. Indian army would also use renegades to silence journalists, human rights activists and leaders who would raise a voice against excesses committed by the state. In return, the army would provide immunity to them when they killed for money and sport.

The uprising of 1989 alarmed Pakistan as much as India. If a Muslim majority state of J&K would seek independence, what message would it send to restive Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP? - The Kashmir Dispute, Vol II, p. 192 by AG Noorani.

Pakistan's big brother, China has its reason to oppose the idea of an independent Kashmir, making it further hard for Pakistan to support it. As per a paper India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute by Rajat Ganguly:

Beijing is particularly concerned about the 'demonstration effects' of Kashmir's independence on the Xinjiang autonomous region (which also includes China administered Kashmir). In 1993, Chinese troops had to quell an armed uprising in Xinjiang and the continued army presence may well engender further resentment and separatist sentiments among the region's 10 million Muslims. Signs of orthodox Sunni practice are steadily increasing in Xinjiang, and developments in Kashmir and Central Asia are being watched closely, feeding hopes for a successful independence movement. Secessionists in Xinjiang could also influence other separatists among China's Tibetan and Mongol populations and threaten China's hold on the Tarim Basin, an oil-producing area essential for the PRC's economy. Acting on these fears, China indicated to Pakistan that while it would like to see a negotiated solution to the Kashmir dispute, it would not accept any form of independence for Kashmir. 

What happens in PaK stays in PaK

In Pakistan administered Kashmir, the elected political leaders remain as mere puppets while the real powers rest with Islamabad. All major civil and police administrative posts are assigned to Pakistani civil and military officials who are “on deputation” from Islamabad. Islamabad has sacked and forced PaK Prime Ministers to resign multiple times in the past. As per UNCIP resolution of 13 August 1948 Part 2 A(3) (accepted by both India and Pakistan). "Pending a final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of a Commission". Is anything administered by the local authorities in PaK? No.

Sardar Karamdad Khan, a Muzaffarabad based lawyer, summed it up for Human Rights Watch in these words:

The Pakistani bureaucracy is the real administrative power, the ISI and the Pakistan army exercise coercive power. And under the constitution, the elected representatives are subservient to the Kashmir Council controlled by Pakistan. High Court and Supreme Court Judges can only be appointed by approval of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad. The Minister of Kashmir Affairs can dismiss the PM, as can the Chief Secretary—another Islamabad appointee. Under Article 56, the President of Pakistan can dissolve the Legislative Assembly. Surely, this is a truly unique form of self-rule.

Pakistan also keeps a tight grip on freedom of expression in PaK. Circulation of pro-Independent literature is banned (A compilation of Maqbool Bhat's letters Shaur-e-Farda being a part of it) but all other propaganda material can be circulated without any hassle. 

You cannot be appointed to any government job or run a newspaper unless you express loyalty to the concept of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan in PaK. Almost every journalist interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2006 complained about harassment faced by them from Army, ISI or other agencies. But this isn't new. Even in the 1960s many Kashmiris from PaK, who advocated for an independent Kashmir and published papers (which were also sent to our side) were duly punished and imprisoned.

Another Journalist spoke to Human Rights Watch in 2005 on the condition of anonymity saying:

You will go away. We have to live and work here. Our families live here. The ISI is very powerful. It is also very unforgiving.... I know freedom of expression is important but not important enough to die for. They force you to create and kill news according to what suits them. Things are bad.

No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan. - Part 7(2) of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974

Isn't it hypocritical stance on part of the Pakistan state to raise the issue of Kashmir at United Nations and lecture the world about listening to the voices of suffering Kashmiris and then shutdown pro-independence Kashmiri voices in their own backyard? Its case on Kashmir depends on two resolutions of United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) dated 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949, which have been accepted by both India and Pakistan. Had Pakistan been serious about them then it would have treated PaK as a provisional state, which is pending a plebiscite, but instead it has disallowed all political choices to Kashmiris except to those who support PaK's accession to Pakistan.

Pakistan has at the same time tried to detach Northern Areas (also know as Gilgit-Baltistan) from Kashmir again and again. When the case of Northern Areas not being a part of the dispute (or PaK, so that it could be integrated) was taken to court by the Pakistan Government, the court considered 38 evidences based on documents and references (including The Census of India 1911 and 1941 both of which included Northern Areas as part of Jammu and Kashmir) and gave the obvious judgment stating that "all the aforesaid factors lead to an undisputed conclusion that the Northern Areas have been a part of Jammu and Kashmir State". It further lectured Pakistan saying, "Allowing integration of Northern Areas to any province of Pakistan would tantamount to negation of Pakistan's stand at home and at the United Nations". Pakistan Government replied by saying, "It is admitted true that the Northern Areas do not form part of the territories of Pakistan as defined in the Constitution of 1973. However, it's explained (that) on account of that omission, it may not be concluded that the said areas are part of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir either". It went further with its process to integrate Northern Areas into Pakistan.

On 3 June 1982, even Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, the founder and first President of Azad Kashmir) scolded Pakistan saying, "Northern Areas and Kashmir are disputed territories and we accept them as such. Period. We do not accept them as part of Pakistan, otherwise the whole battle is lost. How can we talk about Kashmir and the UN and things like that?". Zia replied as, "Maybe it was Kashmir when Kashmir was Kashmir but now we don't accept it as such". Pakistan then announced that it would grant Northern Areas representation in both houses of the parliament in spite of protests from all political parties in PaK. It was later termed as a de facto province.

In 2017, to provide legal cover to a multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan hinted at its interest in fully absorbing the Northern Areas into it, ignoring how destructive it would be to the Kashmir cause at large.

Pakistani strategic analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told Dawn:

The move could also signal Islamabad’s desire to end the Kashmir conflict by formally absorbing the territory it controls — and, by extension, recognizing New Delhi’s claims to parts of the region it controls, such as the Kashmir valley... If we begin to absorb it so can India. It legitimizes their absorption of the Valley.

“We see no protests or unrest in Pakistan Administered Kashmir as all their leaders are dead, probably by the powerful ISI. Sardar Arif Shahid being a recent example.” - Mirza Waheed

Pakistan needs Kashmir for its water. Indus river system crosses over to Pakistan through J&K. It distributes about 115 billion cubic meters of water to Pakistan of which over 70% is used for irrigation. This irrigated land produces about 90% of Pakistan's food grains and contributes about one-fourth of its GDP. Indus river-dependent agriculture provides employment to almost 45% of Pakistan's labor force and supports, directly or indirectly, three-fourths of the population. 

If Kashmir should accede to India, Pakistan might as well, from both the economic and strategic point of view, become a feudatory of India or cease to exist as an Independent state.Pakistan's first foreign minister, Zafarullah Khan.

Farooq Bajwa, a Pakistani Lawyer and Historian whose book Pakistan: A Historical and Contemporary Look is a compulsory read for all O Level Pakistan students, told BBC in 2016 that, "I have spoken to senior Pakistani officials. They can live with an Independent Kashmir but they want to hang on to PaK (with Northern Areas) at all costs".

In a letter to Azra Mir, daughter of Ghulam Muhammad Mir, the then President of National Liberation Front, Maqbool Bhat clarified that the people of Pakistan have and will always support Kashmirs’ demand for freedom. However, the ruling class of Pakistan had played politics of interest over Kashmir and by tagging people like us (Maqbool Bhat) as agents, they had actually helped India. He termed Pakistan’s attitude towards Kashmir as “mere lip service” which should not be trusted.

One should understand that Pakistan never has nor will ever support us unconditionally. It can only hoodwink us into believing so. The only way for an independent Kashmir to become a reality is when we (Kashmiris) take the center stage. As Maqbool had once said:

The war of liberation cannot be fought by beggars or by those who seek aid from others. Freedom fighters are characterized by the grace of the Mu’min... If you think that Kashmir’s freedom struggle can be fought with the help of Pakistani money, Indian money, American money or any other country’s resources, then you are only deluding yourself. Kashmir’s is a war to reclaim the home of Kashmiris and it must be run with our own money. We cannot fight our war of freedom if we rely on the resources of others. Because finance is the lifeline of any resistance movement and if your lifeline is in the hands of others then you are completely dependent on them. They can sever your lifeline anytime and cripple your movement. . . whatever the requirements of Kashmir’s freedom struggle, be it tools or financial resources, they must be generated by Kashmiris. We must furnish the resources by the dint of our physical and mental efforts. Everything must come from our own resources. And unless we are ready for this, we cannot fight for our freedom.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine. 

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