Having spent over 28 years of my life in Britain from the age of 4 as a 3rd generation immigrant, I decided to venture out to my roots at the age of 33 to Pakistani-administered Kashmir (Azad Jammu & Kashmir or AJK for short – described in English as the free part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir) for what I thought would be a month’s break from my role as chief correspondent/editorial writer for a weekly newspaper in Britain and an increasing role conducting features for the BBC. My work had covered the British Prime Minister’s press conferences as well as stints as an embedded journalist with British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My purpose for visiting the region in April 2005 was solely and simply to re-unite my naani (maternal grandmother) in Pakistani-administered Kashmir with her siblings about 60 kilometers away in Indian-administered Kashmir, cruelly separated since October 1947.
The Indian High Commission in London had earlier refused to grant a visa to me before my arrival here stating emphatically that, “When it comes to Kashmir, we don’t deal in humanity”. Subsequent refusal by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to grant me a visa, the Pakistani State’s blunt indifference to my 20 year old quest for family reunion and understanding that the cross-LOC travel initiated by the two countries between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar earlier that month – was a long-winded process typically taking years to process – invoked an unrelenting passion in me to maintain my presence in the region and independently research the region’s history and how it had come to rely on an inhumane structure of governance for its existence. Furthermore, my naani here and her siblings across the LOC were in the later stages of their life. I didn’t want to regret not doing enough to re-unite them before they departed from this world. I persisted and they eventually met after 62 years and 8 months in June 2009. Two of the three separated siblings died the following year.
When I had arrived in the region, my knowledge of Indo-Pak relations and the associated ‘Kashmir Issue’ was relatively modest and thus I had no specific viewpoint to articulate. My professional work in journalism had revolved mainly around the troubled relationship between the Western and Muslim Worlds, notably since the horrific events of September the 11th 2001. The first 2 years here were spent mainly in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad with a particular focus on back-door diplomacy between the two nuclear neighbours, then subsequently from 2007 to date, I’ve been concentrating on helping to create an indigenous road-map (sans external interference and democratic means) to solve the seemingly perpetual dilemma otherwise described as the ‘Kashmir Issue’.
I have no affiliation with any party, organization, movement, agency or institution. From April 2005 to date (roughly 10 and a half years), my first 8 years have been financed through whatever resources I and my family had, most of whom live in the UK. The public of AJK through an annual public document that I publish every year has financed the past 2 and half years for which I am deeply grateful. I am barely a couple of months away from making public a proposal that will lay out a road-map for an indigenously created political process, which as its first hurdle will seek to obtain consensus from all sections of society in AJK.
This proposal is contingent on me completing a ‘National Survey’ of AJK begun in 2011 which randomly samples 10,000 citizens with a 10 question public policy pro forma, proportionately distributed according to the estimated population of each of the 32 sub-divisions of AJK. My work has evolved slowly but markedly over the past 10 years and 4 months, where the overall public interest capacity of our citizens has always been factored in while utilising their collective wisdom. This as suspected has proven to be anathema for Pakistan’s clandestine agencies whose existence in AJK depends on their ability to control public opinion here. This is no coincidence that our children from primary age to adulthood and beyond being introduced to the politically loaded slogan of ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ (Kashmir will become Pakistan). In other words, that Kashmir’s identity will be submerged into Pakistani identity once the ‘unfinished agenda’ of partition is realised.
My incarceration in Leepa police station last month on the 10th of July for 6 days, apparently by the local AJK police but certainly under the instructions of Pakistan’s clandestine agencies, has been the 3rd such attempt to disrupt my work in public interest since beginning the survey in 2011. A report written on the first incident where I was kidnapped by Pakistan’s agencies in district Bhimber can be found here
The second incident was in the winter of 2012 in Muzaffarabad, when a couple of Pakistani agency operatives disrupted my survey in a restaurant and aggressively attempted to question its legitimacy with respect to Pakistani state interest. A local citizen of the same agency intervened an hour later by recognising the survey’s significance in light of our denied basic right to determine our future since 1947.
As my work has been lengthy and painstaking since April 2005, even a summary of my research work may be inappropriate here. Suffice to say that I have generated over 2000 GB of public interest data including photos, videos, audio and text to date. A certain percentage of that output is publicly available through links on my blog at sahaafi.net while the latest annual public document that I publish and distribute to the citizens of AJK – at home and abroad – is directly available for reading here.
Whenever I introspect on how and why I’ve managed to remain consistent and focused on my self-initiated task, my thoughts always conclude into a web of local citizen’s paralysis in navigating out of this imposed occupation of their souls, minds, conscience and physical space combined with the sheer abundance of beauty in our natural environment. If the Swiss could exist and fabulously prosper as a neutral entity locked between powers much mightier than them in the heart of Europe for over 200 years, that precedent should facilitate a similar procedure in the heart of Asia. That much aspired for stability in Europe and civilisational advance should be emulated in Asia through transforming Kashmir from a rigidly structured conflict zone – prone to infinite intrigue at every layer of society – to simply a territory where its inhabitants determine a neutral future immune from regional and global conflict. Civilisational dividends for Kashmir and the rest of the world would follow. I strongly suspect that any alternative to this aforementioned scenario spells doom for humanity, whether it resides in Kashmir or not.
A Diary of Events
The immediate background to Pakistan’s agencies third and most recent attempt to stall my public opinion survey can be found here
Friday 10th of July
Having arrived in Leepa the previous evening from Chinari, as planned and customary in every subdivision that I visit on this survey tour, I proceeded to the local Government College to interview students and teachers alike. After the survey, the teachers and I were mutually complimentary in accolades with one gentleman considering this representative public opinion exercise to be no less than a nuclear bomb in significance for the rights of the hapless citizens of J & K.
After Jum’a (Congregational prayers on a Friday) I took my wife and two children to the outskirts of Leepa, rich in rice paddy fields set below snow-capped mountains in Naukaut. Incidentally, this particular tour has been the first time in a decade that I’ve been able to take my wife and children on a holiday of sorts whereby I could continue completing my sample target while my family could enjoy what they had hitherto only seen in photos or videos.
Little did I sense the trauma that was looming for them……
As my children and I walked towards Channian, I remembered a place where on my previous visit to this region in 2012, I imagined bringing my family here to sample its delights. Gradually I sensed tension in the air. There was now an army barrier leading to this place, namely Kaiser Kot. I came across a plain-clothed man who described himself as a Pakistani soldier originally from Okara in the Punjab. “You can’t go beyond that barrier”, he said in stern Urdu. In response, I exclaimed how ironic it was that a citizen of this territory is prevented from movement within it by someone from a neighboring country. I talked myself out of going through the barrier for the sake of my children. If I was alone, I would most certainly have ventured through the barrier on account of being a stakeholder to ownership of this territory. A claim India, Pakistan or anyone else cannot make without attaining consent through the free will of the citizens here.
As I walked my children on an alternative scenic route to a summit at Naukaut village, I remembered a piece of advice given to me a day earlier by an old friend in Chinari. “The (Pakistani) army in Leepa is applying a lot of restrictions on the movement of civilians these days and I think you should postpone your trip there for a while”, he advised. I had explained that I was keen to complete this national survey in the next couple of months and may not get the opportunity to complete Leepa subdivision’s quota in time. Judging from my decade-long experience of working on or near the LOC, there were always only two reasons to restrict civilian movement in these areas: When cross-LOC militant infiltration was being conducted or when firing between the two nuclear adversaries got out of hand. The latter was not the case in this instance.
As iftaar (evening breaking of fast in Ramadhan) approached, my children and I descended back to the beginning of Naukaut village where my wife had stayed behind (to wash our clothes) in a house belonging to a co-citizen whom I had met on my last trip here in 2012 (He was in Lahore but his family were equally welcoming). I noticed a couple of armed local policemen waiting for me by my vehicle. They politely explained that they’d been ordered to escort me and my family out of Leepa subdivision and back to district headquarters in Hattian. Upon inquiry I understood the ‘orders’ to have come from higher up, which is local parlance for Pakistan’s clandestine agencies. I decided to accompany the two armed members of AJK police in my vehicle to Leepa police station where I would be able to get a better grasp of the underlying circumstances from the Station House Officer (SHO), while my family would firmly stay put in Naukaut.
Upon meeting the SHO Rizwaan Daar of Muzaffarabad stationed in Leepa, I quickly understood his strategy of evacuating me and my family from what he called ‘unseen but sure danger’. The other side of the story is that I’ve been working in my motherland for the past decade – precisely to increase civil space and work for public interest – irrespective of the conditions imposed on us. If I were to compromise on my personal but basic right to research and ‘escape’ like a criminal; that would be setting a very bad example for my co-citizens who have been living in a state of paralysis for the past seven decades.
Returning to the limitations of the police, who on one hand are compelled to follow orders given by any Pakistani civil or military institution; to the extent that AJK Police’s Inspector General (IG) is always a ‘lent officer’ from Pakistan. On the other hand, when they are given such orders to arrest civil rights activists, their normal routine of dealing with ‘small-time’ criminals is disrupted to the extent of frustration. The longer they have to detain, the deeper their frustration. Thus, the local police are always keen on winding up matters as swiftly as possible. The problem is, they compromise public interest for personal economic security but expect all citizens to act likewise.
That I couldn’t do and thus I was detained, albeit in the retiring room of the second officer-in-charge of the police station. In my overall experience, the police have always been courteous to me and understood the ‘genuineness’ (I dare say) of the cause that I’m working on. That is except for one incident in April 2013 which I’ll not delve into on this occasion.
As the moon’s radiance descended on the room I was detained in, my thoughts shifted to my family. These 6 days would prove extremely traumatic for my wife and children who, having sampled for the first time in their lives – the northern version of AJK’s breathtaking nature with each waterfall and scenic vista invoking shrieks of delight from them – the desperate action of Pakistan’s agencies to halt my work would leave a horrid indelible mark on their otherwise exhilarating experience.
The date of my arrest also coincided with the death of Sardar Qayoom earlier in the day. There was perhaps no AJK politician as loyal as he to the political slogan of Kashmir becoming Pakistan. More importantly, the octogenarian’s death meant a few public holidays ensued. This was a factor delaying my release as I was to learn.
Later in the evening, the Assistant Commissioner for Leepa (Also originating from Muzaffarabad) accompanied by an ISI Subedar (rank below Major) came to interview me. I remonstrated that I couldn’t possibly answer any questions put to me by Pakistan’s clandestine agencies, due in part to their illegal and unaccountable status here and the harm that it would cause to public interest in AJK. In his place, another gentleman was introduced to me as a member of local civil intelligence in Muzaffarabad.
The gist of the questioning was why I wasn’t faithful to Pakistan and perhaps more crucially, queried as to whether I could bring a halt to the survey that I was conducting throughout AJK. The latter point ‘let the cat out of the bag’ as far as I’m concerned, by exposing Pakistan’s false and misleading stance on Kashmir: that it has never made a claim on Kashmir (unlike India), rather that it morally and diplomatically supported Kashmiri’s right to self-determination. Furthermore, that it tirelessly advocates UN resolutions on a plebiscite to determine Kashmir’s future according to the unfettered will of Kashmir’s inhabitants. Then why the fuss over an independent survey conducted in AJK to ascertain public opinion?
Saturday 11th of July
Worse was to follow as Pakistan’s agencies forcefully entered the house where my family was staying in Naukaut and insisted on my wife answering personal questions about her family. They also ensured that her trauma was intensified by spreading a rumour that I had married 15 times! For my children, their despair was equally chilling. Their father captive 5 kilometres away in a police station for collecting public opinion, while they waited in an unfamiliar house a couple of dozen mountain ranges away from home.
By the afternoon, I decided that if I am not released by iftaar in the evening, I would maintain my fast until release. I felt it diabolical to waste time undergoing a few public holidays and then putting myself through a tortuous bail procedure, which could subsequently be used as an instrument against me by Pakistan’s agencies. They not only controlled the police but every institution in AJK, including the judiciary.
About an hour after iftaar, the police gathered from the untouched food on my table that I was serious in carrying out my threat. They tried for an hour to politely but firmly talk me into eating but when this tactic failed; they called in a few notable citizens of Leepa. Who in turn, engaged in a long discussion with me and convinced me to break my fast. Their reasoning was that they would fulfill all the necessary legal conditions to ensure my bail, that no time or resources of mine would be needed or utilised. Furthermore, that I should relax and plan for the future with ease and clarity. “The journey to freedom was full of thorns and that I shouldn’t let this issue sap my energy”, they advised.
I was informed late in the evening that an FIR (First Information Report) had been lodged against me and that all my possessions would be confiscated.
FIR dated 11/07/15
Charges: 123A, PC 419/420, 3 Foreign Act
In a nutshell, I’m being accused of waging war against Pakistan!
Of the many counter arguments to these allegations I’ll just provide one for the moment:
In a telling verdict by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Justice Hamoodur Rehman opined, “That Azad Kashmir territory which does not constitute a part of the Republic of Pakistan as defined in the Constitution of Pakistan is a foreign territory”.
Ref. PLD 1966 SC88
Sunday 12th of July
My wife and children came to visit me at the police station. She informed me that she had tried contacting the British government but in light of all communications being tapped, through the same phone line she was warned by the Pakistani army manning the local exchange not to call the British High Commission’s number in Islamabad. Prior to the warning, the call had been cut each time she tried dialing. My own requests to contact the British government were always politely turned down.
Hence, I wrote a hand-written letter which I passed to my wife who in turn faxed it to the British High Commission. A typed copy can be read below:
Wording of Scanned Letter written to British Government in confinement at Leepa police station
Statement to the British Government on 11/07/15
Also visit sahaafi.net
During the past few weeks I have been conducting a national public opinion survey in the Northern districts of AJK, namely Neelam, Muzaffarabad and Hattian Bala.
On this tour, I have been accompanied by my wife and two children. On the 7th of July in Chakothi, we and our hosts received our first bout of harassment and intimidation from Pakistan’s notoriously un-accountable ISI, who treats the territory of AJK as its own despite this legally not being the case. Since the early 1950s they have assumed responsibility for controlling public opinion in AJK. Therefore, my activity is intolerable from their point of view. Despite seeing our local citizenship credentials which trace our history back 700 years, they repeatedly threatened to kidnap and/or evict us from Chakothi. However, we left on our own terms.
Since beginning the survey in 2011, this was the 3rd attempt by Pakistan’s agencies to prevent me from collecting public opinion. Soon after, on the 10th of July in Leepa, I had collected public opinion from the local Government Degree College for Boys. Late in the afternoon I was apprehended by armed police in Naukaut and asked to leave Leepa forthwith! I decided to come to the police station and find out who is actually behind this drama (of ordering a citizen to leave his own territory!). It became clear from the SHO’s frustration that Pakistan’s ISI put him up for this task. In principle, I refused to leave and have been confined to a room in the police station for the past 22 hours without due process.
An ISI Subedar tried to interview me last night and I flatly refused to answer any questions put to me by an organisation belonging to a country with no legal basis in AJK. These intimidating tactics by the ISI are causing great distress to my wife and children, testing my resolve and most certainly making a mockery of Pakistan’s claim to support Kashmiri’s right to self-determination. Their agencies are doing exactly the opposite.
It is important to note that there are no mobile networks in Leepa (another deliberate ploy by occupying forces). It is a secluded valley adjacent to the LOC that can only be reached via Reshian, after which the road ascends to a summit at Birthwar Pass which is roughly 11,500 ft above sea level, before descending into Leepa valley at roughly 6,000 ft. In winter this valley is totally cut off from the rest of AJK as snow accumulates to more than 10 feet. For over 40 years the local people have consistently been demanding the construction of a tunnel but alas.
Meanwhile, in my meeting on this day with the SHO, he insisted that I give him the completed survey forms from those that I completed at Government College Leepa on Friday. I calmly explained that the integrity of my research was based on me maintaining confidentiality of data, otherwise the whole exercise of interviewing 10,000 citizens throughout AJK could be compromised. Further, that I haven’t endured this extremely pain-staking exercise over the past few years to ultimately submit it to Pakistan’s clandestine agencies. After much haggling on his part and balancing the economic security of a citizen who happens to be a police officer with his limitations, damage limitation was exercised by handing him 10 completed survey forms of students from amongst the many that were surveyed that day.
Monday 13th of July
Another public holiday but warranted in this instance as this date commemorates the 21 martyrs shot dead outside Srinagar Central Jail in 1931. The agitation that followed proved to be a watershed in the constitutional development of the State of J & K as the Glancy Commission set up in its aftermath, ushered in the State’s Legislative Assembly (Praja Sabha) in 1934. Not perfect by any means but a start it was.
The ample time on my hands is distributed between soul-searching, strategy revision, book reading and extra sleep. In the afternoon, much like on other days, many local citizens visit me, most bring food and fruit for iftaar, some ruminate on the idea of freedom, others offer to sacrifice everything they have if a clear road-map to freedom materialises (which is precisely what I’m trying to prepare). Another citizen came in the evening to offer 3 lakh rupees (close to 1900 British pounds) to secure my release. I explain that not a single rupee is required as I am hardly a criminal seeking to negotiate my release. Rather I’m a public activist who is merely going through a traditional phase of detention, my release would transpire sooner or later as the grounds for detaining me were flimsy to say the least. His alternative offer was to provide my iftaar the following day. I promptly agreed.
Tuesday 14th of July
Numerous reports filter in that many of my co-citizens throughout AJK as well as those residing abroad (particularly in the UK) have given an ultimatum to Pakistan’s agencies for my release. Much of the AJK administration has received a barrage of calls inquiring about the reasoning behind my detention. The plainest answer they received was that I was conducting a survey which was against the state interests of Pakistan.
While contemplating in captivity, I repeatedly question the notion of how a non-state agency that is neither accountable to the people here nor was it created in consultation with the people here, impose orders on local state institutions like the police. Effectively, infringing the basic rights of citizens here who – constitutionally speaking – are not citizens of Pakistan? In particular, of such a citizen who is working on his own initiative in exercising the right to self-determination of the people of this territory, deprived of this right since 1947.
Two points have invariably emerged during the survey throughout AJK:
1) The system of governance in AJK has been imposed without consultation and certainly not created indigenously.
2) The citizens here do not enjoy equal suffrage. You can only engage in political activity, become part of the judiciary or administration by pledging to be loyal to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, though my bail was due today, the case has been transferred from the subdivision courts in Leepa to the district courts in Hattian Bala.
Wednesday 15th of July
Intimation of my bail order arrived in the afternoon. Now, the police wanted me to leave Leepa immediately, which brings me back full circle to square one on fundamental rights. I remonstrate that I can’t leave without my laptop, phone and working documents. The police painstakingly tried to convince me that I’m on a ‘weak wicket’. That Pakistan’s agencies were lurking everywhere and hence they might find some other pretext to order them (the local police) to re-arrest me. Eid (Festival after Ramadhan) was now only a couple of days away (Friday) and my wife along with my children were keen to go home. The reason I was adamant on retrieving my possessions (initially they had wanted to confiscate my vehicle as well but local citizen intervention preempted that move) is because through experience I understood how difficult a process it is. While I tried engaging various avenues in the bazaar including phone calls to my lawyer in Muzaffarabad to retrieve my laptop etc. I was re-arrested!
Nevertheless, about 20 minutes later, a large crowd of over a 100 local citizens converged on the police station to demand my immediate release. I wasn’t on a weak wicket after all! As I complete writing this report today (Sunday the 23rd of August) I am still without my laptop and other possessions confiscated at Leepa). Hence, one can perhaps understand my thinking that day.
It wasn’t until close to iftaar (corresponding with sunset) that we (My wife, children and I) departed from Leepa but not before thanking the large crowd of local citizens for everything they had done in public support. I promised that I’ll be back very soon.
Thursday 16th of July
Torrential rain had accompanied us on our 10,000 ft ascent and it wasn’t until close to midnight that we reached the (Pakistani) army check post at Reshian. They in turn kept us waiting for over an hour while they thoroughly checked our luggage. They made little sense of the paperwork but unfathomably rummaged through my wife’s clothes repeatedly.
Further down towards Hattian, I was constantly phoned by the police there to check my progress (mobile signals work from Reshian downwards). The SHO in Hattian even wanted me to stop by at the police station. However, with my wife and kids aboard, while passing through Hattian towards Muzaffarabad at 3am, the last thing I was going to do was just that. We reached Muzaffarabad at 4am for my first rest out of detention. As this was the last day before Eid, I wanted to confer with a few co-citizens in Muzaffarabad including my lawyer Mahmood Baig, before I left for another 6 hour journey towards home in Sehnsa district Kotli. Meanwhile, my wife wanted to complete her shopping duties for Eid.
In some of the conversations conducted with co-citizens, the suggestion of compromising with Pakistani authorities was put to me. Though I thank all suggestions from co-citizens, this is an option that I’ve stayed well clear of since April 2005. While I understand the limitations and paralysis of local citizens, I’ve sacrificed everything in the UK and elsewhere precisely so that I can arrive at a genuine conclusion with respect to ownership of the hapless territory we reside in.
Hiatus for Eid ————————————————————————————————–
Wednesday 12th of August
After a few days in Muzaffarabad and consultation with my lawyer Mahmood Baig, I proceeded to Hattian District Courts. The latter had referred me to a local advocate Asad Chugtai who had been involved in my bail application last month. Upon meeting him he promptly wrote an application to the court and obtained directions in reference to reclaiming my confiscated possessions at Leepa. Coincidentally, the SHO of Leepa was there in Hattian too. However, despite the fact that I already had a document itemising my possessions from Leepa police station signed, stamped and dated by the admin at Leepa when I was released on bail, the SHO of Leepa wrote on the application that I should get written confirmation for the same from Leepa police station. In other words, he was telling me to do something that was already done.
In any case, at 3pm I parked my vehicle at Naili check post and proceeded to trek with my rucksack uphill towards Leepa via Lumnian and Reshian. I had no money on me, the diesel in my jeep would not get me to Leepa and not for the first time was I relying on the goodwill of the public to surge my work forward. Earlier, Advocate Chugtai done whatever legal task he did pro bono. Indeed, after a couple of kilometres, a local taxi driver plying uphill insisted that I travel free with him up to Lumnian! From there I resumed walking uphill briskly till I arrived at Reshian at about 7.30pm. One cannot describe in words the sensation felt on cupping one’s hands in front of a roadside fountain gushing straight out from the mountain above, having climbed uphill for a couple of hours or so!
Upon reaching the Pakistani army check post at Reshian, I was informed that I couldn’t proceed to Leepa. I reasoned that I was merely following court procedure to retrieve my possessions which my work heavily depended on. Ignoring my stance, they began frantically checking my rucksack and on this occasion paid particular attention to my paperwork. This made me livid! I demanded an explanation as to what possible interest or concern can a military/agency have with paperwork that is concerned with ascertaining the opinion of local citizens about their future. They retorted that this very check post was severely reprimanded for allowing me to pass through on the 9th of July. That I had committed a serious ‘offense in Leepa last month and that, they couldn’t let me proceed without permission from their Brigade in Muzaffarabad.
While they were conducting their ‘interview’, I was busy making notes in my daily diary. When they asked to see it, I decided enough was enough! A heated exchange of words followed. “We’ve been tolerating you for almost 69 years because your country initially professed to act in the best interests of Muslims in the sub-continent, but your cover has been blown so many times that if you don’t relocate your energies away from Kashmir, you may soon not even have a country to protect. Your country has escaped international criticism and condemnation for far too long. What on earth do you think you’re doing preventing the people of Kashmir from deciding their future, on their own terms? This cloak and dagger approach must stop!” I demanded.
Subsequently, they backed down from their wish to see my diary and inexplicably mellowed their tone drastically.
Thursday 13th of August
The conversation overlapped beyond midnight before they began itemising all that was in my rucksack. An old Sony Ericcson phone was missing. These military representatives of Pakistan displayed embarrassment at this loss and repeatedly asked me to re-check my rucksack. There’s obviously a limit to how many times I can confirm that my phone is missing. To ease the headache growing on me due to their repeated manifestations of innocence, I insisted that they forget about it.
At around 2am they finally hand me over to a local policeman linked to Hattian police station, who took me to his quarters in Reshian bazaar to retire.
In the morning, I phoned the emergency consular desk of the British government in London and explained my situation. They responded by informing me that a representative at their embassy in Islamabad will contact me in due course. An hour or so later, a gentleman by the name of Hanuk phoned me from the British High Commission in Islamabad and took detailed information on my current status. He explained that he would discuss the matter with senior members of the political and consular sections of the embassy and get back to me with an update.
About four hours later, I received another call from Hanuk at the British High Commission, who explained that after much discussion, they decided that they cannot intervene or play any sort of role in resolving this matter. However, they invited me to the Embassy for further discussion (upon my release) at which I cited my problem encountered in August 2011 in Bhimber (Cited above in Overview section on page 2) and duly apologised for not being able to do so. He then suggested that I write a letter in reference to my plight and send it to them at the embassy. This was an interesting juncture whereupon I felt the sense of immunity enjoyed by Pakistan’s military and agencies in Kashmir was indeed perhaps more than they would enjoy in fighting a war with a foreign force.
By 4.30pm Hattian police had arrived with a vehicle to take custody of me and my rucksack – a handover in effect – and I was duly driven down back to Hattian. Upon arrival at the police station a couple of hours later, the public prosecutor was waiting to interview me upon perusing my paperwork. After he was done questioning me critically though presumptuously about my work, I was taken to SP Hattian. Hailing from an area not too far from mine in AJK, the superintendent explained that he totally understood my line of work but matters had gone way beyond their frontier. His advice was that I should return to the UK. Anyhow, I was kept in a room at Hattian police station overnight and informed that I would be taken to DIG (Deputy Inspector General) Muzaffarabad in the morning.
Friday 14th of August
Eventually at 11.30am, I was taken to DIG Raashid Naeem’s office in Muzaffarabad but wasn’t actually presented before him. Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s agencies were lurking there too. Much cross examination of me by a number of policemen of varying ranks engaged me for the next few hours, which I quite enjoyed frankly. I went to great lengths to explain the motivation behind what I’m doing, as after all it is my duty to ensure that as many citizens of this territory are acquainted with my work as possible. I also clarified that much difficulty in terms of technology, transport, diet, living and weather are endured in this pursuit of rights but I didn’t want to delve in detail until the work was complete, lest I alarm anybody or be considered an opportunist.
Meanwhile, though the lurking Pakistani agency operatives didn’t attempt to question me directly, they did remain busy in taking mobile snaps of my personal documents!
By 6pm I was informed that I’m ‘clear’, upon which Hattian police brought me back to Hattian police station where they returned all my possessions that were in the rucksack. Meanwhile, my confiscated possessions at Leepa police station had also arrived at Hattian! However, the latter were not returned to me as a court order was necessary for doing so. The additional SHO Mr. Azaad at this station took the court application – in reference to retrieving the possessions in question – from me and assured that in the next few days, I would be able to recover them too. In any case, as it was too late to go anywhere, the police offered to put me up again for the night.
Saturday 15th of August
In the morning, the police drove me to Naili check post where I had parked my vehicle a couple of days ago and explained that I must leave Hattian and not conduct any surveys here, as Pakistani agencies were on the prowl. I was re-assured that my possessions that had arrived from Leepa, would be returned to me through a court order and that they, the police would do all the necessary paperwork. Further, that I would be informed by the following Tuesday or Wednesday.
Irrespective of what the police advised me (due to their limitations as already discussed above), I continued to conduct surveys on the Jhelum Valley Road back to Muzaffarabad. En route at the police check post at Dhanni Bakaala, the staff stationed there also nervously re-iterated that I should rapidly proceed towards any direction away from the jurisdiction of District Hattian!
When I reached Muzaffarabad in the evening, the dilemma over my confiscated laptop and phone dawned on me. How could I write up what’s been happening in this past month or so without my laptop? Despite my long list of citizen acquaintances, it took me a further 48 hrs to locate a laptop that I could use.
Monday 17th of August
After a short break at almost 10,000 feet in Pir Chinasi yesterday, I continued with my survey work at various government departments, while waiting for my laptop of course.
Tuesday 18th of August
I continued conducting surveys in various departments including the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
At around 4.45pm I encountered my third interference since my arrest in Leepa on the 10th of July. I received a call while still interviewing a senior government officer in one of the departments adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. A local policeman inquired of my location and when I came out to meet him, about half a dozen members of AJK Police including an SHO asked me to accompany them to SSP Syed Riaz Haider Bukhari’s office in the Old Secretariat Muzaffarabad.
Upon meeting the SSP and after some small talk, he wanted to confirm whether my wife was a Hindu. I explained that he was terribly misinformed with faulty intelligence, though that can’t surely be an offence, I queried.
Shortly afterwards, he explained that the reason I was asked to see him was to verbally ‘order’ me to discontinue seeking public opinion. He refused to put it in writing despite my stress on the need to avoid subsequent confusion. As I pressed him on the issue while in my mind wondering how desperate Pakistan’s agencies can get in their effort to control public opinion in AJK, he tried to qualify his ‘order’ by suggesting that I should seek the permission of the District Magistrate in each district that I want to conduct the survey in. I responded by stating that I cannot conduct a public opinion survey related to critical unanswered questions since 1947 in such a controlled manner, especially when our citizens have been denied that very right. It would compromise my whole effort and subject me to the whims of Pakistan’s agencies, not to mention compel citizens to answer questions in a manner sanctifying Pakistan’s presence here.
SSP Bukhari even confiscated a book on AJK’s Planned Budget for 2015-16 from me, saying that it was not for public consumption!
I only want to do what is democratically sensible and the craving collective need of our citizens since a whole series of rapidly occurring events overwhelmed them in October 1947, turning their world upside down by causing widespread death, destruction and displacement.
Initially, I was waiting to reclaim my laptop before I filed this detailed report but I’ve been prompted into action by the above mentioned SSP’s ‘Order’ that I stop conducting this national survey. The simple motive behind which is to establish for the first time in 69 years, a representative sample of public opinion in AJK: A necessary precondition to presenting an implementable road-map for an indigenously created political process in my opinion. This could assist in navigating us out of the constitutional ambiguity that we find ourselves in and perhaps eventually create a reference model for resolving the Kashmir dispute as a whole.
As indicated earlier in this report, the amount of information generated in the past decade and more is way too much to summarise and I am also conscious of publicly sharing certain findings, for want of compromising my activity before completion of the national survey. I work by myself for the very simple reason that Pakistan’s agencies threaten and disrupt the lives of anybody who works with me.
I can state with clarity thus far, that our citizens abhor violence and conflict as it has damaged our society almost irreparably. The institutional problems related to governance here are vast and too long to list. The citizens here want to take ownership of their public affairs and be accountable to their own institutions. They want to live with dignity, livelihood, justice, security and to fulfill their potential as human beings in a positive environment.
I’m going to end with some relevant observations of parliamentary debates in the UK, which I analyse to have evolved (or even mutated) gradually towards recognising the central role that Kashmiris need to be allowed to play in conflict resolution.
Before that, I want to provide a final link (or two) to my concept of ‘ownership’ or OBMs (as opposed to CBMs) as I described them in my article. This concept was quoted by a noted British academic in a round table meeting in the House of Lords, chaired by Lord Qurban Hussain on May the 11th 2011.
Though the original article was published in April that year in Srinagar’s English daily ‘Rising Kashmir’, my articles are no longer accessible there for some inexplicable reason. I’m glad somebody, someone posted the article here.
Observations of UK Parliamentary Debates
I begin with an example of the consistent British Government Stance on Kashmir, which perhaps – not incidentally – is similar to the line taken by the UN and USA.
“The long standing position of the UK is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator”.
Ref. Written Answers — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Kashmir (13 Jul 2015)
My observation and experience would suggest that the above stance would almost certainly ensure that the conflict remains eternal. Some space, somewhere, somehow has to be created and that initiative is highly unlikely to come from India or Pakistan. In my opinion, the wishes of the Kashmiri people should not be dependent on India and Pakistan finding a lasting resolution. 69 years of hindsight show that stakes of certain quarters in both countries view the status-quo in Kashmir as existential. UN resolution 47 of the 21st of April 1948 was, I would suggest totally in line with the UN’s charter but subsequent resolutions gradually digressed from giving paramount importance to the subjects cum citizens of Jammu & Kashmir.
Having read through and analysed much of what has been said in the British parliament, I acknowledge some of the reservations about Britain involving itself but on the other hand taking into account that Britain drew these lines on the map in 1947, the consequent powerlessness of the citizens of J & K to change their fortunes peacefully (all routes closed as amply described above), I feel requires Britain to be pro-active in a solution and restore hope in Kashmiris which after 69 years of experience is close to zero. Becoming part of a global ideological conflict is the last thing Kashmiris want or need to be embroiled in. A neutral Kashmir has a historic precedent in the shape of Switzerland, which shares an abundance of similarities with Kashmir.
Other points noted shall be presented as bullets for brevity:
– The frustration of Kashmiri constituents has been much cited in parliamentary debates which David Ward, Lib Dem – former Bradford East MP described as, “An anguish that burns within and never leaves”. Ref. Westminster Hall 11/09/2014
– British MPs recognise that human rights violations occur on both sides of the LOC and crucially that the citizens within do not enjoy basic rights.
– Debates on Kashmir in 1999, 2011 and 2014 had the parliamentary galleries packed, perhaps testament to the level of interest and concern by constituents.
– Bob Blackman, Conservative – Harrow East also confirms knowledge of Pakistan’s role in infiltrating people, arms and resources across the LOC. Ref. Westminster Hall 11/09/2014
– That peaceful elements in civil society should be supported. The Kashmiri people acknowledge the support of British taxpayers in funding rehabilitation of earthquake affected, other humanitarian efforts in education, health and infrastructure just as much as the British government acknowledges the socioeconomic contribution of the Kashmiri community to British society.
– Jason McCartney, Conservative – Colne Valley as much as recognised the distinction between AJK and Pakistan while describing his visit to the region thus,”We crossed the border into AJK” (from Pakistan). Ref. House of Commons 15/09/2011
Before I end this report with a few relevant quotes (of British MPs) that strike a chord in relation to my work, I want to borrow a few words of President Obama from an interview he gave to the BBC, broadcasted on the 25th of July: Although talking in the context of Africa, his words are just as indicative of the aspirations of Kashmiri citizens, thus representing universal ideals viz. That people seek opportunity rather than charity, want control over their own destiny and require an opening up of civil space.
Gerald Kaufman (Labour)
“…We should take the side of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have the right to decide their own future”.
Ref. Parliamentary Debate – ‘Britain in the World’ – 1st June 2015
Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale
“I was reminded that the rights and freedoms that we now enjoy here were not given to us by chance. They were fought for and won by people who campaigned for what is right and did not give up—people like Parveena”. (He was referring to Parveena Ahangar –a female civil rights activist in Srinagar who deserves a far more comprehensive introduction than this)
Ref. Back Bench Business — Kashmir – in Westminster Hall on 11th September 2014
Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe
“…..Ghosts of empire have left us with an inescapable paradox”.
“I accept that the situation in Kashmir can only, and must, be resolved by Kashmiris, India and Pakistan, but we must acknowledge in this place the absolute moral, legal and political equality of the Kashmiri people and take whatever steps are appropriate to secure demilitarisation, democratic self-determination and a prosperous and secure future for Kashmir”.
Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham Ladywood (Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)
“A resolution is needed, desperately and urgently. The world, and especially the people of Kashmir, cannot afford for India and Pakistan to be engaged in perpetual dispute over the region. The human cost is too great”.
“….too often the rest of the world sees only India and Pakistan as the main contestants in the dispute. It is my contention, however, that the Kashmiri people themselves are the central party and should be treated as such, as it is their future that is at the heart of the dispute”.
Ref. Back Bench Business – Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent – in the House of Commons on 15th September 2011
The author is a journalist and an activist based in Azad Jammu & Kashmir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.sahaafi.net