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14 March 2011

Human angle of the Kashmir Tragedy



UNLIKE many other books on Kashmir, Luv Puri’s Across the LoC: Inside Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir, concentrates on the socio-economic side of the 63-year-old dispute, touching upon the geopolitical part of the story only briefly to provide perspective. The focus of the book is on matters which to a student of geopolitics would appear peripheral, but which deserve to be highlighted as they have been lost in the vast volume of diplomatic literature which examines Kashmir as a dispute between Pakistan and India.

Puri dwells at length on the ethnic, geographical and religious diversity of Kashmir, and the factions and sub-factions which not only cut across the Line of Control but also exist within India-held territory and Azad Kashmir. The author, being Indian, calls Azad Kashmir “Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir”.

Astonishing as it appears, regional loyalties had a profound bearing on the tragedy of Kashmir and on the Jammu revolt, which ignited the war. The majority of the British army’s Kashmiri soldiers were from Poonch and Mirpur, and the people, both Hindu and Muslim, were loyal to the local raja. There was an angry Muslim reaction to the maharaja’s decision to dismiss the local raja, who, the former thought, was not doing enough to de-weaponise the Jammu Muslims. The maharaja also imposed new taxes on the region.

Surprisingly, the “tiger of Kashmir”, Sheikh Abdullah, had no teeth when it came to the Jammu region and failed to control the situation when the people rose in revolt against the maharaja’s army and Pakistani tribesmen came to their aid after the Muslim community suffered appalling atrocities. The revolt then spread to Mirpur, Kotli and other towns, and soldiers of the state army rebelled.

The fate of women abducted, raped or forced to marry, the trauma of the children when mothers succeeded in escaping to the other side, local heroes and villains, and the enormous responsibilities that fell on the governments of the two newly-freed countries, especially Pakistan, to look after the refugees constitute the untold story of the Kashmir drama.

The pattern of migration or flight in Kashmir was different from that in Pakistan and India. In the two countries, millions fled both ways in one big stampede. In Kashmir it has been a steady phenomenon continuing for decades, each war adding to the number of the displaced.

Azad Kashmir’s internal situation — the dissensions within the liberation movement, the problem in government formation on this side of the LoC, and the human development indices — give us facts hitherto unknown to the lay reader. Puri’s research gives us an insight into the unique phenomenon that is the Mirpur diaspora. One fact must surprise all: thanks to home remittances, the living standard of the people of Azad Kashmir is higher than not only that of Kashmiris in occupied territory but also than that of the people of Pakistan itself.

While the implications of the constitutional relationship imposed on the Indian part of the Himalayan state — the abolition of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by the Shastri government and the change in nomenclature from Sadr-i-Riyasat and prime minister to governor and chief minister — are all well known, the constitutional relationship between Pakistan and Azad Kashmir and the change from the Ayub period’s electoral college system to direct adult franchise when Bhutto came to power is less known.

While narrating the events leading to Kashmir’s status, the author makes one big omission: the book doesn’t mention the stand-still agreement signed between Pakistan and the maharaja. This agreement by the de jure maharaja gave Pakistan the right to run railways and postal services, and Pakistan’s flag flew in Srinagar. The basis of Pakistan’s case rests legally on this instrument of accession signed by a de jure ruler; the moral case is, of course, based on the several UN resolutions which call for a reference to the people of Kashmir.

Across the LoC looks at the Kashmiri phenomenon from a basically non-geopolitical angle, and the economic, demographic and geographical details add to its value.

The human angle of the Kashmir story Reviewed by Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, The reviewer is a Dawn staffer. 

Across the LoC: Inside Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir book by Luv Puri
Penguin Books, India,  ISBN 9780670084357, 136pp
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