He lives in the neighbourhood and works for the Foreign Office, but we never had a chance to discuss matters in this detail before. During my illness he came to visit me and we had a lengthy discussion on current affairs, including Kashmir. After he left I remembered Khalil Gibran’s words who said: “Pity on a nation which is divided into number of groups and each group calls itself the nation”.
He asked me what was the latest on the Kashmir front, and if I saw any light at the end of tunnel. I explained to him what was going on. I also told him that I was no longer part of the JKLF and explained to him why I left the party. ‘So that means another party in Jammu and Kashmir’, he said with a smile which was embarrassing to me.
He asked me to show him a map of Jammu and Kashmir, which I did, and explained to him how Kashmir was divided and which part is ruled by which country. He asked me which area I belonged to and how many parties were in that region, and what they wanted to achieve. I had no problem in pointing out on the map where I came from, but I had problem in telling him exact number of parties operating in Azad Kashmir.
When I told him that in this area – around four thousand square miles – had dozens of parties some wanting independence and others wanting accession to Pakistan, he was shocked. I accepted my ignorance that my knowledge on political parties in all regions of the State was not up to date. Some research afterwards showed that there are two groups of Muslim Conference, two groups of Peoples Party, Liberation League, five groups of JKLF, Peoples Muslim League, UKPNP, JKPNP, JKNAP, KNP, JKPF, JKNLF, three groups of NSF, MQM and branches of nearly all Pakistani political parties. Election Commission of Azad Kashmir has many more parties on their records and I don’t remember their names.
So even people of this small area do not agree what should be the future of this area, he asked me with surprise. I told him that some people living here think they are already independent and others think they are occupied, but most of them are more concerned about the plight of the people living on the other side of the LOC; and not about their own deprivation, lack of liberties and fundamental rights.
He then asked me about parties in the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. I told him that nearly all political parties of Pakistan have their branches there; and that they have the biggest say in the social, political and economic matters of the region. Apart from that there are local parties which include the following: Balawaristan National Front, Kakakorum National Movement, Gilgit Baltistan United Movement, Blor Research Forum, Blor Labour Party, Progressive Youth Front, Gilgit Baltistan Thinkers Forum.
Like in AJK, people here are also divided. Some want to be part of Pakistan; others want to be independent or part of State of Jammu and Kashmir. This area is most deprived area of the State, but despite that there isn’t an organised movement against the forces who control economic and political life in the area.
After my explanation about the situation in these areas he asked if the people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan were satisfied with the status quo. I told him that this was far from truth. People were not happy but they wanted their struggle to be peaceful. Also there are other factors at work, for example, collaborators who control the local people on behalf of the Islamabad government. The politics is based on tribal, religious and ethnic lines, and local leaders make them believe that they are enjoying better life than people in Pakistan; and furthermore because we have same religion and some cultural affinity we must not campaign against the Islamabad.
Apart from that they are led to believe that life of people on the Indian side is hell, and that we must make every effort to get them independent from clutches of India. Once that goal is achieved then we can decide our future and join Pakistan. They are told that Pakistan is fighting their war against India; and that we must not do anything to divert attention from the Indian side or create any problems for Pakistan.
Because media is controlled by Pakistan and we don’t have independent media or our own sources, so by and large people believe what they are told. He nodded his head as he was trying to understand the situation. ‘But collaborators and opportunists are there in every occupied country – are they not in Iraq and Afghanistan but people of those areas are showing their resentment by fighting back’, he said.
‘But situation with us is different’, I tried to justify our inability to demonstrate our anger and resentment against those who occupy us. ‘Situation is different in every country’, he said politely and changed the topic as he knew I was uncomfortable with this. His next question was about number of parties on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. Truthfully I didn’t know how many parties were there. I told him that like Pakistan has political parties in Azad Kashmir, India also has all major parties in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from that there are some local parties and APHC – alliance of about two dozen groups.
So in total there are more than 70 parties in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, he asked me. ‘Don’t you think this is too many? More parties doesn’t mean the Kashmir dispute is important; it shows people have wrong priorities and their ego is too big. Don’t get me wrong, I am speaking to you as a friend and not as a diplomat. I would not use this kind of language if you were sitting in my office. You need to ask yourself if you deserve to be independent. If your answer is yes, then you won’t get that independence with so many parties fighting each other and calling the other traitor or collaborator. To me you people are confused lot – your goals are not clear. You don’t know whether you want independence, accession or status quo. You people are not clear if your struggle is religious or political, whether you want to have liberal and democratic system or government based on Islamic Shariat’.
He paused for a moment to see my reaction and then continued: ‘More than hundred countries have got independence since the Second World War, and you have to look at their history and see how many parties they had when they were fighting for their independence; and if they fought each other and called each other traitor’.
What he said was not wrong – we are divided lot, and as a nation we have been unable to decide our destination; but despite that I was not happy with what I heard and it was visible from my face. He asked me not to take any tension and worry unnecessarily. ‘You need to look after your health, as that is more important at this stage. You can continue your struggle once you are fit, although in my opinion you are just wasting your time and energy’.
What he said was true to large extent and it didn’t help my morale. I decided to find out how many parties there were in various parts of the State. I contacted a constituent party of APHC, the person concerned was unable to tell me how many parties were part of APHC groups. I contacted few journalists in Srinagar and they didn’t know either. I contacted a Professor of Jammu University who teaches political Science to get total number of political parties, but I could only get names of about dozen or so parties.
Anyhow I checked the website of the Election Commission of India and found out that there were 43 parties which fought elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from that there were 26 parties which were part of united APHC; it is believed that the total number of both groups is now more than 26. And if we include parties of Gilgit and Baltistan and Azad Kashmir then the total number of parties exceeds one hundred.
These parties fall in to three schools of thought: pro India, pro Pakistan or pro Independent. Then within these disciplines there are parties which are religious, secular or democratic. So the question before us is, with this crowd of parties, can we formulate a united strategy to liberate our homeland from India and Pakistan; and establish a liberal and democratic form system in united and independent Jammu and Kashmir.