Being attached with the areas of migration and having material political and cultural links with the areas of origin are common amongst migrants – diaspora communities settled in faraway lands. Kashmiris are no exception. There are Kashmiris from different parts of the divided state settled in many countries around the world. This is about the Kashmiris from what is officially called Azad Jammu and Kashmir and their activism around the elections in Azad Kashmir.
Migration from Azad Kashmir to Britain was initiated in the last years of the nineteenth century when most of the world including what is to day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were directly and Kashmir was indirectly colonised by Britain. Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Paratab Singh whose grandfather Gulab Sing founded this modern state through controversial treaty of Amritsar which made him pay 7.5 million rupees for the state to be transferred in the independent possession of him and his male body heirs by Britain on 16 March 1846.
Until 1947 Kashmir existed as semi-independent country, as a princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. By this time a fairly diverse and strong democratic and popular politics had taken roots in the state with a constituent assembly with majority members elected through adult franchise. However, the state was divided in 1947 resulting from the invasion of Pakistan and India and many other contributory factors.
A government was declared in the areas just before the invasion in areas that were to become Azad Jammu and Kashmir on 4 October 1947 by a faction of Muslim Conference party with the aim of building a democratic people’s government. This government was reorganised on 24 October and the purpose of this government was to win rights for the rights of Kashmiri, which were perceived as not attainable within Maharaja System. It is for the government that elections are going to be held on 21 July 2016.
The campaign has been started for these elections not only in AJK but also in Britain. Actually I was really sad to see that on 5 June the screening of Khoon diy baarov (Blood leaves its trail) by Iffat Fatima was organised in a venue at the outskirts of Birmingham where an estimated of 100,000 Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir are settled only one Kashmiri turned up. For there were few events taking place to do with AJK elections including a public rally of Tehreek-e-Insaaf Azad Kashmir and a conference of the Pakistani workers’ party.
In Bradford with nearly 70,000 Kashmiris mainly from Mirpur and scores of other towns with significant Kashmiris particularity the first and second generation are part of this process in many different ways. Many of my friends are going to campaign and vote for their candidate others collecting money to provide financial support. The Urdu papers published in Britain including Kashmir Post from Birmingham, Jang and Ausaf have pages full of statements and articles about the AJK elections. Pages and pages of Azad kashmir on Facebook are becoming hot with comments for and against the participating parties. There is a real transnational Azad Kashmiri political space out there. This is great as it gives many people a sense of belonging and confidence to be part of a political process.
However, there is a sad and problematic part of this political activism. The Azad Kashmiri activist leaders and workers who are settled in Britain, some for over five decades and most for at least ten years, all are well aware of the fickle and feeble nature of the Azad Kashmir government and the corruption that is riffed in the whole of Azad Kashmir horizontally and vertically. However, they are not playing any role in using their position to bring about positive and healthy changes in the behaviour of the politicians and governance in AJK. Indeed, it seems that most British Kashmiri politicians have no problem with fanning the tribal associations and sentiments to mobilise people and get votes and completely ignoring the deteriorating material and immaterial infrastructure in this about 4500 of 4.5 million Kashmiris.
The AJK leadership and British Kashmiris have failed to win even such rights as 350mw of electricity needed for the entire AJK which produces 1200 MW electricity only from Mangla Dam or the 52 affairs of the AJK which are controlled by an unacceptable and democratic body Kashmir Council headed by the Pakistani head of the state. As Mr. Sohil ex-secretary of AJK eloquently captured in his article few weeks ago:
“Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council which is Kashmiri institution in name but in practice this institution has eroded the autonomy of Azad Kashmir. About half of the members of this constitutional legislature body are not the citizens of Azad Kashmir and Azad Kashmir have say in its internal affairs which are controlled by the provinces of Pakistan. While it’s a universal principle that revenue collection and the use of revenue is in the hands of the democratically elected institutions but the AJK assembly is deprived of that right. The natural resources of Azad Kashmir including minerals and hydel power of Azad Kashmir is also controlled by the Kashmir Council which has rendered Azad Kashmir ecomomically bankrupt. The council has handed over these resources through the Cenral (Pakisyani) government to the vested interests and the foreign East India like companies. The decisions about the candidacy of AJK elections are not made in Azad Kashmir but in the head offices of the mother parties in Islamabad, Larkana, Raywind and Bani Gala. If we compare the situation in Azad Kashmir which called ‘base camp’ with the dead bodies carrying people in the Indian occupied Kashmir we can say that on that side minds are the physically enslaved people are free whereas on this side the physically free people are slave in their minds.”
Don’t you think it is about time that British Kashmiri politicians who are supposed to have free bodies and minds, especially those who genuinely want for AJK to be empowered and developed to work out a workable strategy to condition their support to the AJK politicians of their choice with the improved governance and betterment of infrastructure in AJK. I am not referring to the freedom struggle here because the AJK leaders of electoral politics have little interest in that aspect of Kashmiri politics other than using the rhetoric to attract the attention of those Azad Kashmiris in there and here in UK who do have interest in the freedom of Kashmir. The pro freedom Kashmiris are in fact barred from participating in AJK elections which require for participants to pledge loyalty to the accession of state with Pakistan.
I think Kashmiri diaspora can do a lot for the development of AJK and the freedom of Kashmir. Only if there is a serious approach to politics rather than just using tribal card to attract vote and attachment with ‘back home’ amongst diaspora to attract financial support. Especially the British Kashmiris who have experience of politics in Britain and of local government system here can certainly play a crucial role in the empowerment and development of AJK only if they can form a Britain wide Kashmiri platform or at least region and tow wise platforms to develop and workable plan and strategy towards this end.
Without that the way things are with the AJK government and society in general it does not seem any better than the Maharaja system and many older people would even tell that actually Maharaja system was a lot better than what today exists in AJK.