Across the LoC and the Oceans: Rise of the ethno-linguistic narrative

As the concluding piece of the four-part series on the role of Jammu and Kashmir diaspora, the author talks about the narrative based on the ethno-linguistic affinity between certain groups, making some people or factions the outright villains in each other’s stories.

To many, even certain Jammuites, Maharaja Hari Singh is merely the ruler who received Indian military assistance to counter marching tribals that sought to annex Kashmir in 1947. Not for Sajjad Raja, President Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP), UK.

Raja finds it odd that the Dogra Dynasty hasn’t got its due. Although he respects Sheikh Abdullah and the way he presented his narrative during the Quit Kashmir movement, the “Kashmir chodo, Muhadia-e-Amritsar todo (Leave Kashmir, Break the Treaty of Amritsar)” stance is somewhat tenuous to him.

Without the Treaty of Amritsar, those trying to reunite the state Jammu, Pakistan Administrated Kashmir, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, and Gilgit-Baltistan wouldn’t have the foundation to do so. That too, regardless of whether one is pro-India, pro-Pakistan, or pro-Independence.

To Raja, the struggle of Jammu and Kashmir has never truly been a nationalist one. “If certain contingencies had retained the indigenous quality of the movement, they would have gotten somewhere. Proxies never get attention, only their masters do,” he feels. “We [JKNAP] are the only secular political organization in J&K, whereas others work around their religious affiliations. Also, we are the only nationalist party with membership in all five parts of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Sajjad Raja.

The JKNAP has its origins in a leftist student activist group, the National Student Federation (NSF), which engulfed many universities across mainland Pakistan in the 60s. Influenced by this trend, the third Prime Minister of Pakistan Administrated Kashmir, Mumtaz Rathore, founded an NSF chapter in 1966.

A decade later, during his days in the Government College of Mirpur, Sajjad Raja caught the eye of this student group after getting arrested by the Pakistani authorities when protesting against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s imprisonment.

Upon completing his degree, the first radical leftist party, the Jammu Kashmir People’s National Party (JKPNP) came into existence. The JKPNP and the JKNLF were courting the NSF to become their student wing.

Instead, a lot of NSF folks got together and formed the JKNAP. Though Raja couldn’t openly announce his affiliation to the party as he was an economics professor at a government college.

Only under the alias of Abdullah Kashmiri, did he write the Constitution and Manifesto booklets for the JKNAP. As per Azad Kashmir’s Interim Constitution, Act 74, any party against the accession of the state of J&K to Pakistan cannot contest elections.

Many from this party have tried to run as independents on the same planks as JKNAP, just to spread the ideology. Regardless of whether it yields electoral gains, the party is getting their message out to the public.

Raja feels that wherever he’s today, it’s because of the NSF.

“The NSF gave me access to books like Sahir Ludhianvi’s Talkhiyaan and other Marxist literature. They created a stimulating environment to discuss these works,” he lauds.

There clearly was a vacuum of spaces that deprived many PAJKians of intellectual and cultural enrichment – one that even exists to a certain extent today.

“It’s not that people on this side of the LoC are incapable but my land is still deprived of the atmosphere that is conducive to a child’s overall learning and grooming. I was one of the first BA graduates in Rawalakot,” deplores Barrister Hamid Bashani, a Kashmiri-born Canada-based lawyer.

The NSF filled this void.

Members of JKNAP during a protest.

But Raja certainly wasn’t the first NSF-JKNAP member who moved to the UK or even the US. Although he established himself as a healthcare professional in Leeds, he put together the first JKNAP-UK convention. The scarcity of industries and employment across Pakistan Administrated Kashmir as well as family members who had already moved to England only facilitated more immigration.

Javed Inayat, Raja’s old NSF comrade, coordinated activity between ex-NAP/NSF members who had immigrated to the West. He remarks, “Most of our comrades overseas can be considered economic refugees as there is little opportunity in Azad Kashmir. Social media has furthered more coordination among the NAP diaspora and message dissemination.”

Such activity has also revived old bonds with fellow Jammuites across the LoC down south in London with Voice of Dogras and the Dogra Sadar Sabha in Jammu City.

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It was through social media that the Dogra Sadar Sabha President Gulchain Singh Charak got hold of papers written by Sameena Raja, Sajjad’s wife.

Voice of Dogras and Dogra Sadar Sabha do have a pro-India stance. Nevertheless, the fact remains that all PAJK districts, besides the Neelum, Muzaffarabad, and Jhelum districts, and the Jammu province were under one provincial unit before 1948. Although a lot remains to be done to realize their vision of a socialist, secular, and independent Jammu and Kashmir.

The UK branch of the JKNAP became a registered British party in 2016. Rather than lobbying this cause to the existing British parties, the NAP plans on fielding their own candidates. “If we don’t contest as our own entity,” Raja warns, “many people will use our cause as a vehicle for their ambitions to become councilors or other officeholders here.”

While the Jama’at-associated Mirpuris also commemorate the death of Burhan Wani, the JKNAP-UK has hit the streets for a pro-independence Azad Kashmir politician, Arif Shahid. Also present at one of these protests outside the Pakistani High Commission in Knigtsbridge, London, was another pro-independence proponent, Junaid Qureshi.

He didn’t attend the protest as representative of his think tank but as a family friend of Shahid’s. Although he tries to influence policy mostly through research, he does engage with Europe-based independence parties, such as the United Kashmir People’s National Party, whose chairman is living in exile. He has spoken at the UKPNP’s events and been on panels with JKLF’s former leader from Mirpur, Shabbir Chaudhry.

ALSO READ: Across the LoC and the Oceans: First Movers – The Mirpuris

On the surface, the UKPNP and the JKNAP might have similar aspirations but the latter feels that the former is only tough on Pakistan concerning human rights. The UKPNP considers Sardar Ibrahim Khan’s rule as first President of Pakistan Administrated Kashmir, whereas JKNAP folks consider him purely as a Pakistani Agent.

Along with the biradrism that seems to have engulfed the Muzaffarabad factions, there are clearly fissures on both sides of the LoC. These splits abroad are usually the result of fragmentation back home. The JKLF has been branded and de-branded many times and the NAP split about two years ago. Qureshi divulges, “There are so many parties whose manifestos show immense overlap in their agendas and ideologies.”

Like any other organization, many of them aren’t exactly immune to the crab mentalities and egos. After all, Amanullah Khan remained supreme chairman of the JKLF till his death.

With Europe being an epicenter of all these conferences, former Research and Analysis Wing chief AS Dulat recalls an annual Pugwash conference in Berlin.

“The Pakistanis are usually all over the place with their presence. I attended an annual Pugwash Conference in 2012 in Berlin. There were many Pakistanis who attended and three of them were from the Embassy. The Russians, Chinese, and Afghans were there too. A couple of Indians were invited but there was nobody from our Embassy. We are bad at listening and we are better at talking. When you listen, you always learn something,” he said.

Many feel these overseas conferences are being put together by intelligence agencies behind the scenes. The current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval very much represented the Indian agency perspective after the Ghulam Nabi Fai controversy. He pulled no punches in describing the Kashmiri American Council, World Kashmir Freedom Movement, and the International Council for Human Rights as the brainchildren of erstwhile ISI Director Asad Durrani.

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The ex-RAW chief who co-authored The Spy Chronicles: India, Pakistan, and the Illusion of Peace with Durrani affirms, “As far as we were concerned, we knew where the money was coming from and if it was facilitated by Asad Durrani, whom I’ve written a book with, there are certain things regarding our activities we won’t reveal to each other.”

Likewise, there are those who believe people like Junaid Qureshi and Shabbir Choudhary are beholden to certain state’s agendas. The latter has been tagged as a RAW-backed saboteur of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Throughout these different narratives, one thing is apparent: Despite different methodologies or aspirations within their narratives, there is an ideological or ethno-linguistic affinity between certain groups. Naturally, some people and/or factions are outright villains in each other’s stories.

The cauldron of conflict that is the subcontinent doesn’t fully attune mainland Indians, mainland Pakistanis, Jammuites, Azad Kashmiris who were Jammuites before 1948, and Valley Kashmiris to each other’s perspectives. Barriers like the Line of Control don’t really help in facilitating interactions between these diverse entities either.

Ironically, only in the land of imperial cartographers who drew these borders in the first place does one get to grasp such diversity with these perspectives.

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