ISLAMABAD: Taking the day off for trivial commemorations is one of the few things we do collectively in Pakistan.
So it was this past Wednesday for the annual incarnation of the “Kashmir cause”. Given that Kashmir is, as per Jinnah, Pakistan’s “jugular vein”, we hear about it more than just every Feb 5.
Yet, when the annual holiday comes around, one is reminded of just how significant an impact the issue has had, and continues to have, on our body politic.
It is worth remembering that the phenomenon known as the Taliban is deeply linked, both sociologically and politically, to the Kashmiri “mujahideen”. What is less known is that before the soldiers of Islam came to dominate the Kashmiri nationalist struggle in the 1980s, it was secular, left forces that represented the aspirations of the region’s long-suffering people.
The Pakistani state has attempted to manipulate the Kashmir issue since the beginning; the first “Indo-Pak war” was waged not by regular military personnel but by Pakhtun tribesmen encouraged to take up an “Islamic” cause by a newly constituted ruling class.
However, Kashmiri nationalists were mostly able to maintain relative autonomy from the state’s machinations – until the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that began in 1988.
The Pakistani establishment then decided that jihadis surplus to requirements in Afghanistan could come in handy on our eastern frontier. In a nutshell, the bleeding strategy that worked so effectively against the Soviet Union would now be tried upon arch-enemy India in the mountains of divided Kashmir.
Until that point, groups such as the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, and those even further to the left were the face of Kashmiri nationalism.
This segment of nationalists was, and still is, committed to securing independence for Kashmir from both Pakistan and India. Needless to say, this was a stance that never suited Pakistan (or India).
When the opportunity presented itself, GHQ wasted no time in altering the Kashmiri political map.
In the subsequent years, the political economy of jihad has transformed Kashmir, alongside Pakistan and the wider South Asian region.
Thousands of young men have sacrificed their lives in the name of direct entry at the gates of heaven. Kashmiri society has been politicised along religious lines and become much more cynical.
Yet, Kashmir is no closer to being unified or set on the path to normalcy than it was before the influx of the so-called mujahideen.
Prior to 9/11, government functionaries harped on regularly about “moral and political support” to the Kashmir cause.
The changed global environment since George W. Bush announced the start of the “war on terror” has made it impossible for the Pakistani state to maintain any public association with jihadi groups operating in Kashmir. And so “business” has been forced to shift underground.
Yet Kashmir’s fate – at least the part controlled by Pakistan – is not just moulded by the state. Out-migration of youth and working-age males has changed the face of society.
This migration has, on the one hand, integrated a wide cross-section of Kashmiris with Pakistan, and, on the other, facilitated greater economic and political independence vis-à-vis the state and traditional elites.
Still, Kashmir is one of the most brutalised regions in the contemporary world. Women in particular bear the brunt of a war that ebbs and flows, on both sides of the so-called Line of Control.
Meanwhile, the claims of both Pakistan and India to have granted the region’s people substantial political rights belie the fact that both Kashmirs’ constitutional status makes Kashmiris second-class citizens.
The suppression of secular Kashmiri nationalist forces in Pakistan and their attendant fragmentation has led, in recent years, to growing friction between Kashmiris and progressive in Gilgit-Baltistan.
As a result, both tend to view each other with suspicion rather than recognise their symbiotic connection in opposition to the state.
This is indeed the story of ethno-nationalism in Pakistan at large.
While the challenge to monolithic state nationalism has arguably intensified in recent years, in the form of the Baloch, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Gilgit-Baltistani and Seraiki causes, there is also far less coherence in this challenge compared to a bygone era because the various nationalist movements have no (leftist) ideological thread linking them together.
It is thus that the Pakistani state’s “holy crusades” in Kashmir have, alongside the disastrous plan to simulate Afghanistan as the country’s fifth province, culminated in the rise and increasing intransigence of the so-called “emancipatory” politics of the Taliban.
It has been a freedom farce like no other, and it is in the interests of Kashmiris and all of the other nations that together make up Pakistan to say it exactly in those words. - Dawn/ANN
> The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.