Pakistan’s ‘azadi’ [independence] stratagem backfires

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All said and done, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF] did an excellent job in giving a head start to Rawalpindi’s plan of ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. However, despite being an obedient minion, this group soon fell out of favour with Pakistan Army’s notorious spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] – the nodal agency responsible for planning and executing a shadow war in J&K.

The way JKLF was initially pampered and treated as an esteemed ally, and then brusquely dumped as if it was a dispensable commodity that had outlived its utility, should have raised eyebrows. After all, wasn’t this a clear indication that the so called ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir was not at all about emancipating the people of Kashmir, but patently the Pakistan Army’s self-serving covert military operation against India. 

However, as ISI and its proxies had created an atmosphere of unbounded optimism in Kashmir Valley through a well-planned and concerted propaganda, no one seems to have noticed Pakistan’s brazen perfidy. Public apathy allowed ISI to convert Kashmir into a battleground for its proxy war in which human lives are being consumed even today!

JKLF had danced to the tune of its masters sitting across the Line of Control [LoC] with such servility that it even abandoned its pretense of being a secular group championing Kashmir nationhood. This is evident from its willingness to further ISI’s nefarious design of communalising the so called ‘Kashmir struggle’ by indulging in a killing spree targeting Kashmir’s minority pandit community to precipitate their mass exodus.

JKLF’s implicit subservience can be gauged by the fact that it didn’t even object to the killing of its own members by rival terrorist groups created by ISI! So, the obvious question that arises is, why did the wonderful ISI-JKLF ‘honeymoon’ end so abruptly? The answer lies in JKLF’s position as regards the so-called ‘armed struggle’ was concerned.

JKLF owed its immense popularity to the dreams of ‘azadi’ [independence] that it peddled and the practically unachievable assurance to gullible Kashmiris that “azadi was just around the corner.” Due to this, any compromise on the issue of ‘independence’ was fraught with the danger of public disillusionment, which was something JKLF didn’t want to risk.

Conversely, the idea of making J&K’s ‘independence’ the rallying cry for the so called ‘freedom struggle’ was not agreeable to ISI, since this could arouse similar sentiments in Pakistan occupied Jammu Kashmir [PoJK]. Resultantly, there was a serious conflict of interests, and ISI’s attempts at convincing JKLF to change the objective of the proxy war in J&K from ‘independence’ to ‘merger with Pakistan’ failed.

Having foreseen this possibility, ISI had already created an alternative proxy called Hizbul Mujahideen [HM] to replace JKLF. Led by a Kashmiri named Syed Salahuddin, this terrorist group univocally propagated J&K’s merger with Pakistan.  With ISI cutting off military hardware supply and finances to it, JKLF’s armed wing soon became defunct.

On the orders of ISI, HM virtually wiped out JKLF in a bloody purge in which Kashmiris killed Kashmiris. JKLF founder Amanullah Khan himself admitted that HM had killed more JKLF cadres than the Indian security forces. To save face, its wily chief Yasin Malik announced the end of JKLF’s ‘armed struggle’ and opted for following a peaceful approach to achieve its objectives.

Pakistan has introduced a slew of repressive measures to subjugate the people of POJK. Section 7[3] of AJ&K [PoK] Interim Constitution, 1974, states that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”

In his 2016 interview with DW,noted Pakistan born US based terrorism and Kashmir expert Arif Jamal accurately sums the prevailing situation noting that “although Pakistan claims there is an “azad” [free] government in its part of Kashmir [PoK], in reality it is pretty much a territory occupied by the Pakistani military.”

Jamal’s assessment is endorsed by the observation of Brad Adams, executive director of the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch that “Although ‘azad’ means ‘free,’ the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but free,” and that “the Pakistani authorities govern Azad Kashmir [PoK] with strict controls on basic freedoms.”

Rawalpindi’s attempts to intimidate PoK residents through draconian laws and by arm twisting have proved unsuccessful. Earlier, ‘azadi’ calls in PoJK were an adjunct to protests against highhandedness of the authorities and various deficiencies in basic services. However, clamour for ‘azadi’ has now become more nuanced and the central theme for protests.

In 2019, a case was filed against 19 JKLF leaders and activists of its students’ wing in PoJK for raising slogans fermenting “hatred against the state and the Pakistan Army” during the annual convention of JKLF.

On October 23 last year, political activists belonging to Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party [JKNAP] alongwith other regional parties’ organised demonstrations in Bagh, Ajira, Rawalakot, and Pindi to protest the Pakistan Army orchestrated tribal invasion in 1947.

According to a media report on this incident, “The protesters raised anti-Pakistan and anti-army slogans while calling out the lies and duplicity of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. The protesters held black flags and anti-Pakistan banners with “Black Day” written on them.”

And just the other day, videos of a discussion being disrupted by the audience collectively chanting ‘azadi’ slogans during the recent Pakistan Literature Festival in Muzaffarabad [PoK] have emerged. Is it mere coincidence that the tone, tenor as well as the content of these slogans bears a striking similarity with the ones heard on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi? Or is it a manifestation of the what goes around comes around syndrome?

The irony is that the ‘azadi’ myth created for beguiling the people of J&K has lost its charm thanks to the ISI’s absurd diktat that ‘independence’ for Kashmiris implies ‘merger’ of J&K with Pakistan. However, this ‘azadi’ Frankenstein seems to have found favour with residents of PoK as they rightly feel closeted by unnecessary restrictions imposed on them and want to get rid of their shackles.

 So, the spectre of ‘azadi’ has ultimately come to haunt Pakistan. Though Islamabad may try to portray burgeoning public opposition to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Kashmir as a conspiracy hatched by New Delhi, the world knows better.

And in a land where one is constitutionally debarred from questioning its accession that has been enforced through the force of arms without seeking the free choice of its people, the demand for ‘azadi’ by the impoverished residents of PoK is bound to increase- both in frequency and intensity!

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