The Politics of a Struggle

People waving Pakistani flag during a demonstration in Kashmir.

Two Kashmir scholars look at the genesis and the development of pro-Pakistan sentiment in Jammu and Kashmir, or for that matter idea of independent Kashmir and argue how both political leanings cannot be understood without taking into account the internal politics of the Kashmir struggle in relation to the concept of the nation-state. In making a case for Pakistan in Kashmir, as the article underscores, one has to look at the formation of the Pakistan movement in the subcontinent and its interaction with the politics of Kashmir struggle.  

We are ghosts; we are martyrs. We don’t exist but we die. We make noise but our message is distorted! We think our politics is moral but they reduce us to criminals. And what about our sacrifices; they echo in writings no one reads. And who are we? We are creatures out of time. We live in past and in an imagined future. We are Muslims but disloyal to Islam. We are modernists but abhor modernity. We are somewhere in between. - Anonymous (a Kashmiri-Pakistan Supporter)

A significant vocal minority – or are they a majority now because it is so hard to tell from the point at which we locate ourselves – consider Pakistan’s relationship with Kashmir ‘distraught’. Let’s suppose we understand the meaning of the word ‘distraught’ but then shouldn’t we, as informed beings, revisit this relationship and the meaning of such word. The purpose of this article is not to entangle the relationship between Kashmir, Pakistan, and their supposed agents in Kashmir, but to surpass the arguments—facts are, of course, the first victims—that are put forward.

Every year, Islamabad reiterates ‘Kashmir and Pakistan are one soul in two hearts.’ This seems the official line of the Pakistani State and why not? If Pakistan’s formation is closely linked to Two-Nation theory as espoused by Muslim League and its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah (henceforth Qaid-e-Azam) then Pakistan would like to believe that a Muslim majority province, having closer geographical and economic ties with it should have been obviously a part of its territory. As for the princely states under British Paramountcy, they were given an option to join either of the newly formed nation-states. The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir opted neither of the two but signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan.

Looking at this moment, all seems fine except the correspondence between Vallabhbhai Patel and state officials (including Hari Singh) of the Dogra regime, interim cabinet ministers and military officials. The correspondence informs us about the military preparations of the Indian State that were underway to annex the region immediately after the partition. For example, the installation of wireless equipment at Srinagar and Jammu airports by the Indian State, arranging of military equipment and ammunition in large quantities, and preparations at Madhopur and Pathankot Tehsil for potential reinforcements (Sardar Patel Correspondence 1945-50: New Light on Kashmir, 1971, 36-68). An equally important event which needs to be put in perspective is the Poonch rebellion (popularized by Indian narrative as Tribal Raid) about which Christopher Snedden has written in detail. Snedden has also reflected not simply the logic of partition that adjoining Muslim majority areas would form a state for the subcontinent’s Muslims, but also patterns of transport, trade and cultural affinity (Snedden, 2015, Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris, 153-154). What is interesting about these two events is a possible linkage: Was Pakistani State aware of the military preparations of the Indian Army at the behest of Sardar Patel? If they were, then it is quite understandable why Pakistani military supported the Poonch rebels.

The genesis of the present Kashmir conflict can be traced to the politics associated with the Poonch rebellion. The Dogra kingdom lost its sovereignty and parts of its territory were now being ruled by India and Pakistan with both laying claims on the entire territory. In the popular imagination, at least on the Indian side, the map of Jammu and Kashmir has a particular shape and one needs to emphasize that the territory denoted by the map is a colonial construct. One also needs to emphasize that once we accept this territorial integrity then we have to accept the influence of British on Kashmir.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah with Jawaharlal Nehru | Picture: The Hindu Archives

This brings us to the question of whether Kashmir should be a part of India or Pakistan or even independent. What concerns us, as students of political history, is how much of the political opinion in the society was towards an Independent Sovereign Kashmir in the preceding decades up to the point when British left the Subcontinent and Dogra rule ended. And why there are so few studies exploring this? Most of the studies point out that Sheikh Abdullah’s views were closer to the Indian National Congress (INC) thus creating a situation for him in 1947 to join India. The studies also argue that Mr. Abdullah’s politics was devoid of any nationalist (read Kashmiri nationalism) meaning and he wanted to be assimilated in Indian Nationalism (INC version). The idea of an Independent Kashmir is thus very often conflated with National Conference’s (NC) idea about Kashmir. It is a false reading, of course. If one has to find a suitable coherent argument for an Independent Kashmir, it has to be in the politics of NC and how they wanted to inherit the Dogra Kingdom’s structures and impose their own. The imposition has been a bad dream for the Kashmiri society and continues to be.

The dream of an Independent Kashmir even in this period also saw takers from those sections of the society who had differences with NC. For example, Muslim Conference passed a resolution in 1946 for an independent Kashmir under the Presidency of Chaudhary Hameedullah, and Communists almost always supported such an idea.

What about the opinion that supported Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan? Its origins have to be seen at that precise moment when Pakistan Resolution was adopted by Muslim League in its Lahore Session in 1940. The inconsistent nature of Jammu and Kashmir politics did not deter the larger idea of Muslim State in the subcontinent. It is, though, quintessential to maintain that Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir supported, campaigned and suffered for the formation of Pakistani State. Not only did they imagine a country for the Muslims of Indian subcontinent but they saw themselves as part of it.

Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas of Muslim Conference became the first head of Azad Kashmir.

The Resolution provided a new lease of life to Muslim Conference (MC) which had been brazenly converted into National Conference (NC) by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a year ago. Many disgruntled workers of MC were still batting for the organization’s last vestiges and their failure to do so forced them into political hibernation. For example, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas went into such hibernation for two years. Among other things, the popular Jammu leader’s tilt towards Muslim cause in the Indian sub-continent was well known—something sourly despised by Abdullah and his party.

Interestingly, Abbas had earlier thrown his weight behind Sheikh Abdullah’s move of changing MC into NC under certain conditions laid down by both of them. With time, however, Abbas grew disillusioned with NC’s activities and understood how Sheikh Abdullah associated NC with the ideology of Indian National Congress. Nehru’s influence on Abdullah was a major point in changing the outlook and nomenclature of MC into NC. Abbas resigned and after two years returned back to the political scene and revived MC “under the name of Prophet of Arabia.”

To make MC strong, Abbas and other party members worked for the Pakistan cause in Jammu and Kashmir. Abbas, as MC President, made it clear during the party session in 1942 that the aim of their organization is to support the Pakistan Movement and thus they should make endeavours towards that cause (Khalid, daily official organ of National Conference, 12 January 1943). Back in the Valley, the Mirwaiz of Kashmir, Molvi Yusuf Shah, and another significant Muslim leader, Muhammad Yusuf Qureshi – sidelined by Abdullah – supported the move. MC’s revival on Kashmir’s political scene also clubbed with Qaid-e-Azam’s Kashmir visit in 1944. The visit dented the popularity of Sheikh’s NC and to salvage its image; the party resorted to propaganda in the Jammu region (Abbas, 2001, Kashmakash, 189-190). But Abbas’s sturdy support base in Jammu thwarted such attempts.

Fearing that support for MC and Muslim League was swelling, National Conference initiated one of the most progressive manifestos ever conceived called Naya Kashmir (though as some have suggested it was a replica of the Soviet doctrine). It was a populist measure taken by Abdullah and his men to undermine the politics of ML and MC. Equally important is to understand this document as a framework for nation-building.

Did this document conceive Kashmir as a modern nation-state? Did it answer the question that political theory poses about the nature of the state? If it did so, the politics surrounding Kashmir’s accession to India dilutes the impact of such questions. Kashmiri Nationalism was merged into Indian Nationalism.

At this moment, in British India, the political rivalry between Muslim League and Indian National Congress had become an un-ending fact. The resultant political atmosphere was going to impact the 560 odd princely states in the sub-continent. Congress leaders thought better to engage the people of princely states and enlist their support in the freedom struggle of India and launched All India States Peoples Conference in 1927 to disseminate their ideology and program. The Muslim League in reaction created All India States Muslim League to save the interests and rights of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent. Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung of Hyderabad was chosen as the President.

Back in the valley, NC was being criticized for shattering Muslim unity. Much of this condemnation would stem from the fact that not many non-Muslims had joined NC—the rationale that Abdullah and his coterie had floated in their defence to rebrand MC. For many MC diehards, Sheikh had ended the movement which had given them a collective voice against the oppressive Dogra regime.

Meanwhile, Muslim League entered the politics of Kingdom by forming their own unit All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim League (AJKML) in 1939. As expected Abdullah opposed the group, after which Kashmir Muslim Students Union passed a resolution on 22 March 1939, in Aligarh Muslim University in favour of Muslim League and also criticized Abdullah’s hostility towards Muslim League (Hussain, Mirza Shafeeq, 1991, Azaad Kashmir: Ek Siyasi Jayiza, 40). The Muslim League mainly drew its support base from the professional working class especially the teachers.

Some AJKML members even participated in the historic Lahore Resolution. In that session, Prof M.A. Hafeez was chosen as All India States Muslim League’s (AISML’s) J&K representative to carry forward the Pakistan Movement among Jammu and Kashmir Muslims. Both AJKML and AISML worked together to strengthen the idea of Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Shortly afterwards, an important development took place, the state unit of ML merged into Chaudhary Abbas-led MC and was strongly backed by Qaid-e-Azam. At this point, it is hard to imagine the politics of MC different from the politics of Muslim League (Khalid, daily official organ of National Conference, 18 January, 1943).

The Pakistan slogan became more popular after Madrasa students from different schools returned from India to galvanize support for it. Amid rising support for Pakistan movement, Dogra regime and NC workers started harassing Pakistan supporters in Kashmir. The state backlash became blatant on 6 June 1944, when Justice Ganga Nath, President of the Royal Commission, angrily told Agha Sher Ali in a public-sitting that “to talk of Pakistan in Kashmir is sedition” (Bazaz, 1954, The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir, 216). Since then, times have barely changed.

In April 1940, Muhammad Amin Shamim, General Secretary of Kashmir Muslim Students Federation (later on it became Kashmir Muslim Students Union) welcomed the Lahore Resolution and assured Qaid-i-Azam that “they’re committed to the cause of Muslims.” The Students body would observe 21 April every year as Iqbal Day and make fiery statements for the creations of Pakistan. They received both moral and intellectual support from leading educationists of the time. In May 1942, on Qaid-i-Azam’s appeal, KMSU collected fifty rupees to fund the cause of Pakistan. “We’re poor people,” wrote Ghulam Nabi, then KMSU’s secretary in a letter to Qaid-i-Azam. “We could not send more money towards a just cause. Hopefully, we’ll try our best to send more money for Pakistan Fund.”

Sensing the emotions of Kashmiris attached with the creation of Pakistan, Qaid-i-Azam took a hiatus from his busy schedule in wake of Quit India Movement to reply: “Why do you say that you are poor people? Keep your spirits and morale high. I appreciate your contribution towards Pakistan Fund and I pray for your success” (Hussain, Miza Shafeeq, 1991, Azaad Kashmir: Ek Siyasi Jayiza 43).

Soon on 14 July 1942, the KMSU leader K.H Khursheed—later private secretary of Qaid-i-Azam—made a speech in favour of Pakistan in the premises of S.P College and appealed for the collection of more funds for the cause and creation of Pakistan. In November that year, Khursheed along with Ghulam Rasool Zargar attended the annual day of Punjab Muslim Students Union. Qaid-i-Azam himself attended this ceremony along with Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas and other Muslim leaders. Later Qaid-i-Azam gave a green crescent flag to Khursheed as a mark of honour for KMSU’s work in Kashmir for Pakistan’s cause.


The failure of National Conference to create a strong independent identity of Kashmir (also reflected by Naseerudin, Munshi, 1971, Tarikh-i-Jang-i-Azaadi Kashmir, 138), the Lahore Resolution, and the support provided by Muslim conference and other parties to the Pakistan movement, the politics of Princely States under the British Paramountcy and finally, the Muslim character of the region added an option for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to merge with Pakistan. Such historical realities also need to be complemented with the internal politics that Kashmiri society has developed and engaged in.

Internal politics, as we would like to call it for lack of a better phrase, needs to be seen as a self-regulating independent entity that sustains itself irrespective of the pressures that the Nation-State as a hegemonic structure puts on it. Thus, when we categorize Kashmir society as a Pro-India or Azadi-parast, Secessionist or Unionist, Independent or Pro-Pakistan, Mainstream or Separatist is basically a flawed assessment. All these categories are easily identifiable when we assess Kashmir politics in relation to a modern nation-state. But what about our politics in the absence of such a structure?

The reliance on such convenient categories to explain our politics is possibly because of our tendency to locate it at a certain historical position. For example, in 1931 when Kashmiris rose against Dogra rule, in 1939 when MC was changed into NC, in 1947 when India occupied the region, in 1953 when Abdullah was arrested, in 1975 when Abdullah signed an accord with Indira Gandhi, in 1987 when elections were rigged and low-intensity insurgency of four decades transformed itself into a popular armed one, in 1997 when Jama’at e Islami formally distanced itself from insurgency movement, in 2002 when Mufti Mohammad Syed became Chief Minister, in 2008-10 when the nature of resistance against Indian rule changed, and in 2016 when resistance finally became an everyday reality. Emphasis on such historical events is to see a rupture in our progress and see our progress (or decline) moving from one point to another point.

It is important to argue that there is a definite continuity in these historical anecdotes and this continuity is informed by our internal politics. What does internal politics mean? It is where we locate ourselves on the ideological spectrum. What constitutes our values, ethics and our general worldview? Do they lean to the left or to the right? What are our notions of Justice, Economic Liberty or Freedom? These questions, we strongly believe, are not concerns that came to us after we began to understand the Nation-State. These questions would have been with us from the moment we structured ourselves as social beings, and of course, later, political beings. What modernity did to us is that it provided us with an agency, a means to package our social and political beliefs in a more profound and eclectic manner.

Reading poetry of Kashmir’s pre-modern era, one sees these questions/concerns of primary importance to thinkers and intelligentsia of that time. They evoked fear of God but also His principled justice; they wrote about oppression and talked about imaginary beings who would free them from Zaalim rulers. Talking about zulm revealed their ideological positions—possibly they were leftists (to which degree would remain a mystery) of their own era. But then there would have been people around the same period who would have held socially conservative ideas, supported the establishment and would have also invoked God to support their positions.

As we progressed into the twentieth century, as the ideas of communism reached us, as we began to learn religion on our own and began to understand its power to liberate us, the ideological spectrum began to be defined in neatly ordered categories. On one side are the secular-moderns and on the other side are traditional religious elite. Both united and with the help of ordinary masses took on the oppressive regime in the events following July 1931. Fissures developed again and a group was created to reflect the ‘national’ ethos of the region. The other group stuck to the religion. Though, there is no intention to create a binary between the secular and the religious, because the distinction is so feeble. This dichotomy is true for a particular religion in a particular region but in Kashmir, there is too much overlapping and neither modernity nor religion threatens each other per se. Rather they complement each other and help us to understand the oppressive regime, the hegemonic powers and the role of religion to confront such attitudes.

Mobilizing people formed the core of the politics at this stage for these two groups (NC and MC) and it was at this moment, as already noted above, the political opinions which were sympathetic to the idea of nation-state began to be formed. Political practice was increasingly becoming an art to shift the balance. It is in the light of this assertion that the land reforms initiated in 1948 should be seen. We are not undermining the progressive nature of these reforms but one has to think of political effects, as well. One observer Wolf Ladejinsky, after a field trip he made to Kashmir in October 1952 to study reforms, writes “the Muslim religion of the farmers doesn’t loom any longer a serious issue in the final disposition of the Kashmir problem.” He goes on to further argue that from the point of view of India-Pakistan difficulties over Kashmir, people will support Abdullah’s stance.

“When the real test comes of whether or not Kashmir should opt permanently for India, the majority of Muslim farmers of Kashmir along with the Hindu population including the Hindu landlords will in all probability vote for Sheikh Abdullah and his preference. Therein lies the political consequence of the land reforms in Kashmir.”

But who knew land reforms would initiate a different kind of internal politics in Kashmir. It was the emergence of Jama’at e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir who subsequently took up the core constituency of MC. Where does one locate the politics of Jama’at e Islami at this juncture? It was an Islamist organization so it didn’t believe in the modern idea of nationalism. Due to land reforms a middle class had begun to emerge and education had become their top priority. Focusing its energies towards this middle class, it started propagating its ideology through literature. Because of its core Islamist leanings, it continued with a strong Islamic vocabulary very similar, and at times more radical, than MC. Its political position was clear, essentially if we look at what its founder Abul Ala Maududi believed in. In 1966, he appealed to the Muslim world to support Kashmiris in their Jihad against the Indian rule. It is very hard to tell what he meant by Jihad—in his writings, Jihad merely seems a dissent—but in the case of Kashmir the militaristic nature cannot be overlooked. By this we mean we have to contextualize his positions on Kashmir and place them properly in his appeal to the Muslim world. Maududi made it clear that Jihad should create an environment in which people of Kashmir can use their Right to Self Determination. They should be free to explore their ideological postures, which, Maududi emphasized, should subsequently reflect the polity they wanted to build.

The above discussion suggests that Jama’at e Islami supported Right to Self-Determination, but there is another question that needs to be simultaneously engaged with. It is about the Islamicity of the State of Pakistan; until that state was not Islamic enough, Jama’at e Islami (Pak) decided that it won’t support and endorse it. But as the Objectives Resolutions and the Constitution adopted in 1956 made God (or the more preferred term Allah) the sovereign, Jama’at charted into a different territory. It accepted Pakistan and started a slow Islamization drive. Such things were not lost on Jama’at e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir as they tried to Islamize the law by joining Legislative Assemblies. Further, Sa’ad ud din Tarabali, the first Amir of Jama’at in Kashmir, conceived election rallies as Ijtimas—the annual congregational meetings usually associated with the organization.

Since Jama’at had inherited its core constituency from MC and Maududi had accepted Pakistan with open arms, the opinion of merging with Pakistan became a strong non-official narrative for the organization. Close to Jama’at’s position on the ideological spectrum was Plebiscite Front. After the events of August 1953 when Abdullah was disposed, the politics of NC was transformed into the politics of Plebiscite Front albeit more leftist and heterogeneous. In 1975, when it was dissolved, many joined the establishment with Abdullah.

Also Read: Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute

A few events on the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir provided another agency for those who specifically associated themselves with Plebiscite Front. The emergence of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and London tried to fill the vacuum created by the dissolution of Plebiscite front. JKLF took up the politics of Front but with a different grammar. Logically, Jama’at and JKLF should have been on the similar side of the ideological spectrum, even if separated from each other by a big gap, but the Islamic resurgence of 1980’s created a schism that deeply affects Kashmir even now. In this decade, Jama’at became united more than ever after the 1979 Black April attacks orchestrated on it by the Abdullah regime; the Iranian Revolution, which occurred around the same time, emboldened its cadre and they began to imagine carrying out such a revolution in Kashmir; and the Afghan War played a vital role in how Kashmiris think about Ummah and with Jama’at e Islami of Pakistani actively engaged in the war, Jama’at in Kashmir believed they were in for a superior moral cause.

With the elections of 1987, the ideological spectrum that we are talking about seemed to lead us to a certain point in which Kashmir’s internal politics was homogenous—much like 1931. The ‘other’ was the foreign, not on our own. Of course, to believe and argue so is naive. The first fissures came before the elections when Abdul Gani Lone was stopped from joining the Muslim Mutahida Mahaz—a coalition of pro-freedom parties. Shortly after the elections, which were massively rigged, other fissures started developing. As if every point on one side of that ideological spectrum line denoted politics and they had to confront each other.

This confrontation is symbolized by the relationship between Hizbul Mujahideen and JKLF. Did Hizbul Mujahideen actually kill, at the behest of Pakistani State, JKLF insurgents so that Pakistan could have a better control over the situation in Kashmir? There are two important points which need to be properly contextualised. First, why was there rivalry between the two groups or what they represented; and second, why Pakistan supported a certain group over another group?

Also Read: Does Pakistan want an Independent Kashmir?

The answer certainly lies in our internal politics: From Muslim Conference to Jama’at e Islami to Hizbul Mujahideen was one such transformation and on the other side was the transformation of National Conference to Plebiscite Front to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. Of course, because of the popular insurgency, the rivalry between these groups was amplified and even bloody. One has to de-emphasize the influence of external factors and focus more on how groups and ideologies have formed in Kashmir. Second is the support provided by Pakistan to the two groups and how it shaped their political and armed trajectories? It is a fact that Pakistani State did favour JKLF in the first few years of the popular insurgency but later on moved to support Hizbul Mujahideen. More than anything it was the organic link that Hizbul Mujahideen had developed with the society, and the knowledge of the terrain that led Pakistan to do a strategic shift towards them. However, that does not reduce JKLF as a disposable identity and surely, it was not.

One could look at this confrontation also through the lens of hegemony where the two groups (representing historical forces), finally emboldened by the presence of the gun, sought to tilt the balance in their own favour. Empirically, one cannot prove it thus conjectures have been used to create public opinions about the co-option of the freedom movement by Pakistan. As if freedom only meant Independence. When we sing Azadi songs, when we talk about freedom it means our right to decide our future. In our lexicon, Freedom should mean Right to Self-Determination in the absence of Indian State.  

The relation of the internal politics with the idea of nation-state became more profound in the last thirty years. One assumes and also sees that this has affected identity assertion. Either there is strong support for Independence or there is support for Pakistan. The ideological position that JKLF had inherited has manifested itself in different groups, and interestingly with different religious affiliations from Ahle Hadith to Barelvi school of thought and even Islamic State. The politics of erstwhile MC is manifested in groups like Tehreek e Hurriyat or even in Asiya Andrabi’s politics. One can see how religious interpretations influence the whole spectrum. But the remarkable thing, as this article repeatedly pointed to, is that our whole internal politics is on the ideological spectrum line toward a certain side. On the other side is the big bully, the establishment, the Indian State (in the current times). ♦


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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