Anam Zakaria’s book brings together ten essays in three parts: Conflict, State Policies and Beyond the Cease-fire. The work is an ethnography of a significant part of Jammu and Kashmir now administered by Pakistan and mostly known as ‘Azad Kashmir’ by the masses and called PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) by the Indian side. Today Jammu and Kashmir’s 65 per cent of the territory is with India and the remainder with Pakistan. The central argument of the work as clearly explained by the author is to bring out how the people of Pakistan Administered Kashmir perceive the ongoing conflict—the Kashmir dispute. This paperback volume features some interesting and historically significant events in a dense sociological framework written with a thick description and from a wide range of fields, including conflict analysis, gender perspective, history, political science, anthropology and sociology.The author describes the people’s perspective, an unsung aspect of the Kashmir ‘conflict’, which is obviously less known globally whereas things get highlighted more from the Indian side of Kashmir owing to the armed insurgency, routine violence and bloodshed, active militant organizations and the massive presence of the Indian army in the region.
The author seeks to establish a new conflict paradigm.Whereas a great deal of literature today exists on the Kashmir conflict and the turmoil going on especially since 1989, it remains a fact that the focus continues to be more on the Indian side and the issues and challenges of instability, abnormalcy, state sponsored violence and people’s woes mostly remain untouched on the other (Pakistani) side. Also, there are ample discourses that continue to generate debates on the situation right from 1947 till date with dozens of books written on the contemporary Kashmir conundrum in which the PoK either finds no or little mention. Zakaria tries to bring out the Pakistan administered Kashmir’s socio-political perspective. Her ethnography perilous as it is not a cake walk to conduct field work in such disturbed zones. She explores Muzafarrabad and the villages at the LoC (Line of Control that remains the de facto border between the two countries now) in the Neelam Valley besides Kotli, Mirpur and other vulnerable areas from 2014-16. She describes her own awkward position being an etic (outsider) and narrates how she built rapport to gain a deeper insight while travelling in some parts of the field where the cease-fire violations were going on.
Zakaria very succinctly analyses the so called Azad Kashmir’s label of freedom and succeeds in highlighting the actual unfreedom persisting, silent misery, muzzled voices, routine violence, deepening socio-political crisis, perpetual artillery exchange between the two hostile neighbours who keep destroying one or the other border areas of Kashmir either on the Indian or Pakistani side. She also talks about the whole sociology and mockery of ceasefire and how every ceasefire (though brief and uncertain) brings respite to the shell shocked and uncertain lives near the border who face it every day and live with fear and chaos. As per the author, thousands of people living near the LoC have so far lost lives or are displaced and how their education and other activities get badly disrupted due to routine cross border escalations and massive artillery exchange.
Zakaria divides her work in three basic parts. In the first part she goes into the historicity of the prevailing conflict right from the time of Partition and tries to understand it from the perspective of Kashmiri voices; she delves into tribal raids and the trail of victimhood due to such raids then as well. She focuses on old themes from Partition survivors and covers interviews of militants and refugees, the women and children to make sense of what actually people think of it.
The second part presents a state prism of the conflict. To debunk false discourses, state propaganda and myths, she substantiates the state side arguments with interviews with high profile officials, political leaders and others. The third part of the book conceptualizes the post 2003 cease fire to understand the role of state and non-state actors. She creates a fine balance by bringing out the narratives of both Kashmiri nationalists and pro-Pakistan supporters in PoK. She talks of the literature ban on pro freedom literature, media gag and other undemocratic processes going on in PoK and the plethora of issues afflicting the masses there. She speaks of the pain of shattered lives of militants and refugees from the Indian side who now feel estranged and virtually belong to nobody. Even today many militants who crossed the border in early 1990s never returned and are settled in PoK and continue to face a range of adjustment and other livelihood issues.
The author’s central argument and title of the book seem to suggest that Kashmir is not only geography or a land dispute or the Indian part or the Pakistani part, it is people who have been suffering for decades now and who need peace. However, today democracy, free voices and development are words that have lost their meaning in both the divided parts of Kashmir, even the media has turned the whole Kashmir discourse into a nationalist project and things at the grass-roots hardly get reported objectively. There is a trust deficit against the system on both sides of Kashmir.
In situating the woes of the people of Pakistan in controlled ‘Azad Kashmir’ Zakaria has succeeded as a field worker. However, in the case of Kashmir as an identity the stories or narratives have to be inclusive. Not only policy based research but applied and action research and humanitarian intervention of world bodies, big NGOs and other influential agencies like the UN deserve mention. Be it Azad Kashmir (Pak administered) or Gilgit–Baltistan or Indian side of Kashmir, the multiple and conflicting aspirations may be complex; however, the central problem of not addressing the core issues of confrontation between the two nations (India and Pakistan) is further alienating the suffering masses. Also Indian and Pakistani nationalist narratives and forceful claims over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan is not in any way building peace in the region but escalating more alienation and violence day by day.
Zakaria’s field work covers almost all important aspects, even themes like CPEC diplomacy, cross border life and routine cease-fire violations, Hurriyat, militants and the cause of Kashmir’s self determination, UN reports, media and military adventurism, China’s rise, Trump’s Presidency and the Kashmir issue, eroding democracy, choked voices and puppet governments in PoK along with rich and factual inferences on the Indian side of Kashmir as well.
The unique feature of this book is the author’s objectivity and no agenda based writing. I call it a people’s book and a fact file of the people’s lived reality in Pakistan administered Kashmir.
Adfer Rashid Shah is a Sociologist and Associate Editor, Eurasia Review (for South Asia) and Associate Editor at Women’s Link. His publications include Kashmir: Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political History of Uncertainty and Chaos, 2016, Social Science Research in Conflict Zones, 2017 and Tibetan Refugees in India: Struggle to Survive, 2018. firstname.lastname@example.org