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‘Save Gilgit Baltistan’ protest in London

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Members and supporters of Jammu Kashmir National Independence Alliance protest in front Pakistani High Commission in central London …..A special report by Dr Shabir Choudhry

On Tuesday 11 April 2017, there was a demonstration held outside Pakistani High Commission, London. It was called ‘Save Gilgit Baltistan’. Prior to that Jammu Kashmir National Independence Alliance arranged a conference in Bradford with a similar name.

I reached there on time; and at that time there were 5-6 people standing there. Later on, the crowd swelled to around 80 people; and considering that it was a working day in London it was a good gathering (stalwarts of Pakistan sometimes can only manage 20-25 people outside the Indian High Commission). The parties which took part in this demonstration were as follows:

1/ United Kashmir Peoples National Party; 2/ JK National Awami Party; 3/ Kashmir National Party and 4/ Kashmir Freedom Movement. As I have formed a Think Tank, South Asia Watch, London, I don’t ascribe to any political party, and Professor Ejaz Pracha and I presented SAW, London.

I can understand that pro Pakistan political parties and pro Pakistan individual activists didn’t get permission from the political masters and they thought it was a futile exercise to join a protest to save Gilgit Baltistan. Perhaps in their view, Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Islam and many other countries can only feel safe in Pakistan, hence no need to protest.

Perhaps the JKLF groups also did not get a green signal on time and they also felt it was not important to join ‘Save Gilgit Baltistan’ protest. Or maybe they felt, Gilgit Baltistan is already safe because it is the resting place of their political guru, late Amanullah Khan. Other nationalist parties of Azad Kashmir must have had other good reasons to stay away from this protest, these reasons could be personal or political.

 Why there was no one there from Gilgit Baltistan?

One thing is clear all the participants of the ‘Save Gilgit Baltistan’ demonstration belonged to so called Azad Kashmir; or more appropriately Pakistani occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Whether it is to do with human rights abuses in IOK, or issues related to Gilgit Baltistan, it is people of Azad Kashmir who take lead in arranging public meetings and protests in various parts of the world; and yet it is these people who are discredited and accused of not doing enough.

I know there are not many people from Gilgit Baltistan in Britain. However, last November, in one function, arranged by students of Gilgit Baltistan to commemorate ‘Independence Day of Gilgit Baltistan’ they managed to muster around 25 people. It means, they have some presence in Britain. They have different reasons for not attending any function arranged by people of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. They don’t even interact or socialise with people of Jammu and Kashmir belonging to other regions.

I can think of the following:

1/ Some of them feel they have to go back, and why endanger their lives and lives of their families;

2/ Some feel they are not part of Jammu and Kashmir;

3/ Some hold other regions responsible for their miseries and suffering at the hands of Pakistani establishment;

4/ Some have been advised not to associate Gilgit Baltistan with rest of Jammu and Kashmir, as they on their own stand a better chance of getting independence or some kind of autonomy. If they remain ‘stitched’ with the Jammu and Kashmir State, they will never get anything, as people with vested interests don’t want to resolve the dispute. Their interest is to manage the dispute that it doesn’t get out of control and remains within certain geographical boundaries.

PAKISTAN-ISLAMABAD-INDEPENDENCE DAYSo, one can see why no one from Gilgit Baltistan expressed any interest in this move initiated by people of Azad Kashmir who are also occupied by Pakistan. Does it mean people of Gilgit Baltistan do not care what we do to ‘save them’? Some people of Gilgit Baltistan even say we create problems for them. How many people even expressed their support on social media or in local media?

I know some people will claim that they are not expressing their resentment because they are frightened of ISI and the Pakistan army. What about people of the Valley of Kashmir? Don’t they express their resentment and bitterness; and resist despite bullets, tear gas, beatings, imprisonment and human rights abuses?

Why there was no one there from IOK?

 A sizable community from the Valley of Kashmir live in Britain, which includes Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims of the Valley don’t want to take part in anything which exhibits Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory. Vast majority of them feel it is part of India, and they feel safer with India; and what Pakistani backed militancy has done to them they cannot forget and don’t want to be associate with anyone remotely associated with it, either now or in the past. They feel very bitter because they were targeted in name of religion and were forced to leave their homes.

Result of this ‘jihad’ against non-Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir is that many of them don’t want to trust Muslims again. In view of this, why should they take part in any demonstration organised by Muslims and which is about issues of Muslims. When I was in Kashmir National Party, we managed to persuade some Kashmiri Pundits and Jammu people to express solidarity with us and they took part in a demonstration; and they also participated in a Conference in London.

Some Muslims of the Kashmir Valley are active in Britain. However, they also decided to stay away from ‘Save Gilgit Baltistan’ demonstration. There can be more than one reasons why they did that. Perhaps, the organisers of the demonstration did not invite them in a manner which they expected; or they could be busy in their work and with other commitments.

We all know that some are ‘soldiers’ of Pakistan and are programmed to only speak against India; and serve interests of Islamabad. Their task is to promote extremism, hatred and intolerance in name of religion. They only go to the Pakistan High Commission when they are summoned; or when there are some meetings with senior Pakistani officials. In view of that, why should they stand on the other side of the barriers and risk their rewards and perks?

Apart from that, sadly, some people feel that until all problems of people of the Valley of Kashmir are not resolved in accordance with their demands, no issue, no matter how grave, should be raised because that diverts attention away from their miseries and suffering.

We people of so called Azad Kashmir have always stood up for the rights and struggle of the people of Kashmir, sadly, they have miserable failed to reciprocate it. All they demand is ‘do more’; and minus a few we know personally, others do not even care to speak about problems we face under the occupation of Pakistan.

What India does to people on the other side of the divide, we have always opposed it and condemned it. A country that occupy us, exploit us, deprive us of our fundamental rights on this side of the divide is Pakistan, and not India; and yet Muslims of the Valley of Kashmir wave Pakistani flags and sing laurels for them. Don’t they feel that they are rubbing salt in our wounds? I am sure if people of Jammu and Kashmir State living under the Pakistani control wave Indian flags and praise India, knowing full well what is going on there, you people will be angry and feel hurt. I request you to consider us as human beings too. We also have feelings. We also feel pain. We also get hurt when let down by friends and colleagues.

Situation of nationalist parties in POJK is not any better. We pay more attention to personal rivalry, point scoring and ‘leg pulling’. With this strength and attitude do we really think we will be in a position to deter Pakistan in declaring 5th province of Pakistan?

(Writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Chairman South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs)

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