Spark from the ‘quake wreckage’

By K.N.Pandita – Second week of April 2006 saw unprecedented unrest and mass protest rallies in almost all parts of “Azad Kashmir”. A section of Pakistan print media tried to play it down but others gave the events adequate coverage.

Commentators and more conservative sections of print media called it an expression of dissatisfaction of ‘quake victims with relief authorities (ERRA) for their callous treatment of the suffering masses. Obviously the incident provided a rare opportunity to the general public to put their fingers on other irritants that need to be explained in some detail.

‘Quake sufferers were given a relief of US $ 416 or 25,000 Pakistani rupees per family, which they considered too small to bring them any relief. They were later promised 1,75000 rupees per household for building a shelter for themselves. However, before this amount would be released, the authorities ordered re-checking the credentials of the applicants before actual disbursements took place. This caused panic among the people lying on the roadside and fearing that they might have to spend another harsh winter out under the open sky. Thus disbursement of relief has been delayed indefinitely.

This is a genuine grievance and authorities should not have allowed it to happen. Nevertheless, the sufferers’ patience has been taxed and with this one particular grievance, the entire plethora of their deprivations has now been opened layer after layer.

AK and Pak authorities may try to underplay the unrest. That doesn’t, in any case. lessen its significance as the beginning of a long and serious confrontation between the rulers and the ruled in “Azad Kashmir”. Perhaps this confrontation has been delayed too long.

The control of “Peoples’ Right March in AK” is taken over by the United Peoples’ Front (UPF), a leftist group of the AK youth, which has been able to align with itself like-minded groups namely, The Revolutionary Youth Alliance (RYA), Students United Front (SUF), Pakistan Trade Union Defence (PTUD), and local PPP cadres. It has the symptoms of becoming a real mass movement determined to demonstrate peoples’ power.

Significantly, the call for mass rallies was warmly responded by activists in almost all major towns and regions in AK. Apart from important towns where broader political activities go on as usual, disgruntled people in Neelam Valley, Jhelum Valley and other hilly tracts came out in large numbers to make the Peoples’ Right March a complete success. There were also some minor clashes with the police but without much damage to any side.

Noteworthy is the fact that activists in some specific places like Bagh, Hajera, Chotagala etc., which were the main base of Islamic fundamentalists after armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir valley, joined hands with the rallying crowds and promised to shift to the general cause of the people of “Azad Kashmir”.

It is quite normal for such mass rallies that some firebrand speakers try to whip up the suppressed sentiments of the people. That apart, we shall focus on the core demands of the protesting crowds and examine their seriousness.

The cry of ‘revolution’ was heard in all rallies and without a pause. This is a significant word, which indicates desire for a total change of the present political structure of the part of J& K State administered by Pakistan. The undertone was to rekindle the revolution of 1968-69.

Islamabad’s division of the part of the State under its control into two, namely the Northern Areas and “Azad Kashmir” is one of the main irritants causing intermittent protestation and resentment among the people in the region. Subversion of the AK High Court verdict on Northern Areas’ status is one of the main issues on which the masses of people continue to show their resentment. Integrating NA into the ambit of Pakistani territorial sovereignty remains a challenge.

Secondly, it is the administrative structure according to which real administrative authority rests in the hands of the Pakistan’s Secretary for Kashmir Affairs and not either in the authority at Muzaffarabad or in Gilgit. They are only show -pieces. The right of self-rule remains subverted.

Thirdly, the disgruntlement of the people springs from discrimination and denial of civil and political rights. Why should an MLA contesting election to the AK assembly take an oath of AK acceding to Pakistan? Why should an applicant selected for a government job take a similar oath? It is ludicrous especially in the background of denial of educational, health and other civic facilities to the people in a befitting manner.

Yet one more area of resentment less expressed overtly but more discussed covertly is the presence of terrorist training camps in AK territory where training in terror and subversion is imparted to the indigenous and guest youths. When educational and job opportunities are stonewalled upon the youth, they are left with no option but to joint these camps (to the sadism of their sponsors), receive indoctrination and training in subversion against a paltry sum and, at the end of the day, get killed or arrested by the Indian security forces on the other side of the LoC to which they are pushed to join hands with the “jihadis”. In the name of religion, hundreds of families in AK as well as the Kashmir Valley have been destroyed and made destitute. By arresting and oppressing the protestors, Pakistani authorities will be helping them forge closer unity of purpose and of action.

Last but not the least is the unpardonable negligence of economic and industrial development in the whole of Pakistan controlled part of J&K State. This was testified by international relief groups who had volunteered to provide relief to the people in far off and inaccessible areas in the region.

This being the ground situation in Azad Kashmir, the Marxist guided Peoples’ Right March is the first and largely determined effort on the part of the masses of people to initiate a non-violent movement for wresting their rights from the hands of those who have been exploiting them for last six decades. Beware let not the spark from the ‘quake wreckage leap into sky.

The End

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