The Muzaffarabad Literature Festival fiasco

slogans at pak literature festival
Literature festival in Pakistan (Photo: Social Media)

Though not publicised as such, organising the Pakistan Literature Festival [PLF] at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Jammu & Kashmir [PoJK] on June 2-3 was Islamabad’s riposte to New Delhi’s holding the G20 Tourism Working Group [TWG] meet in Srinagar, Kashmir. While New Delhi used this event to showcase the exceptional tourism potential of Kashmir, Islamabad decided to use the Muzaffarabad Literature Festival to peddle its Kashmir narrative in a desperate attempt to woo the international community.

This was admitted by none other than President of Pakistan Art Council, Karachi and PLF organiser Ahmad Shah himself. In an interview with Geo TV, he disclosed that besides discussions on cultural and literary subjects, this event would have a “full-fledged session on the Kashmir issue, on 35-A and 370” to apprise the whole world about “what India is doing in Kashmir.” Though this involved navigating uncharted waters, yet it was definitely a novel attempt to resurrect a dead issue.

Those strategising Pakistan’s diplomatic Kashmir offensive must have assumed that raking up the Kashmir issue in PoK’s capital town would evince a massive emotional response from locals and thereby help reinvigorate Islamabad’s floundering Kashmir story. Alas! This was not to be, and Islamabad’s grand plans to revive the ‘K’ issue not only failed but once again ended in a humongous  embarrassment.

Prominent Pakistani journalist Wusatullah Khan was chosen to speak and share his views on “out of box solution of the Kashmir issue”, and he did due justice to this subject by deviating from the trodden path to nowhere that Pakistani speakers have been assiduously plodding along for more than seven decades. Instead, he expressed some harsh truths and raised a few basic questions, exposing fundamental flaws in Pakistan’s motivated Kashmir agenda.

Khan’s incisive observation that Kashmir “was not an issue but an industry” [emphasis added] drew a heavy round of applause from the audience. Elaborating on his issue, he went on say that “The livelihood of [Pakistan’s] Kashmir Committee is tied to this industry [and] the livelihood of Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and that of the entire political class of Azad Kashmir [PoK] is associated with this industry.” With so much at stake, he convincingly argued as to “why should I kick my own stomach [terminate my own livelihood] by looking for an out of box solution?” 

He went on to expose how “Because of this [the lingering Kashmir issue] industry, we get fleets of vehicles, hefty allowances and 90 per cent of our budget from the Centre [Islamabad]. And the Centre gets the business of enlightening Kashmiris in Bradford [UK} on the Kashmir issue.” The locals of PoJK applauded his honest exposé of the bitter ground realities that are preventing resolution of the Kashmir issue and the air was rent with slogans of “yeh watan hamara hai, iska faisla hum karenge” and “Chheen ke lenge azadi” [‘This [PoK] is our country and we will decide its fate’ and ‘we will snatch independence’].

That Khan was dealing with the subject under discussion in a purely professional manner and without any bias became evident when he admonished sloganeers, saying that “If you people have come here with a pre-determined agenda and you don’t want to hear us, we are going back.” He even got up to leave but was persuaded by the anchor not to do so; but he nevertheless admonished the sloganeers by saying, “You have been shouting slogans for 75 years. If you think that your slogans will free Kashmir, go on with your slogans”.

One had expected that as is its wont, Islamabad would dismiss Khan’s embarrassing observations as motivated ramblings but it didn’t, and there’s a reason for the same. While the distinguished journalist openly pilloried Islamabad for turning the Kashmir issue into an industry, by his “pre-determined agenda” rebuke on sloganeering by the audience, Khan exhibited his non-partisan approach to the Kashmir issue. Hence, any attempts by Islamabad to portray him as Indian ‘sympathiser’ or a ‘RAW agent’ would have boomeranged.

The Muzaffarabad Literature Festival has hit Islamabad with a double whammy. Firstly, instead of resuscitating the Kashmir issue as its planners had expected, this event has once again exposed how vested interests in Pakistan are surreptitiously ensuring that the Kashmir issue remains in a state of suspended animation. Secondly, the audacity with which locals defiantly aired anti-Pakistan and pro-independence slogans outrightly trashes Islamabad’s claim that people of PoJK are extremely happy and content, even though they are treated as second class citizens in their own land.

Politics aside, Khan’s plain-speak has raised some pertinent issues highlighting Islamabad’s inept handling of the Kashmir issue and as such one had expected that the same would be extensively discussed and debated. Surprisingly, there’s been a near complete blackout of this incident in Pakistan-both in the electronic and print media which only goes on to confirm the veracity of the worrisome observations made by Khan.

Islamabad may lose nothing by sweeping the embarrassing reality of Kashmir being ‘an industry and not an issue’ under the carpet. But the abject apathy of the media, civil society and activists on this disconcerting observation doesn’t bode well for the hapless people of PoJK, who by their constitution are unfortunately debarred from questioning PoJK’s so-called ‘accession’ with Pakistan! 

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