Workable Solutions

By Nadya Chishty-Mujahid | October 2020

Although Javaid Hayat honestly professes, early in this academic endeavour that he is not a scholar, his personal erudition and deep insight in Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s history and dilemmas stand him in good stead when it comes to handling the subject for the purposes of an Oxford University Press monograph on the topic. The bibliography is detailed and diverse, including highly respected scholars such as Christopher Snedden and worthy postmodern journalists such as Gibran Peshimam. Taken in conjunction, the collective views and opinions of several experts on the subject help to create a panoramic scholarly picture of AJK’s deep-seated problems and Hayat’s well-meant potential solutions to them.

In his detailed foreword to the book, Hans Geissmann, executive director of the famous German Berghof Foundation, comments on how timely the book is, given that the sensitive region of AJK is delicately poised, both geographically as well as geopolitically, between two relatively hostile nuclear regimes in South Asia. Hayat himself acknowledges that many efforts have been made to establish peace in the region, chief among those being the firm United Nations plebiscite ruling that underscores the need for determination of self-governance by the Kashmiris insofar as chalking out their political identity is concerned. Hayat laments over the point that the identity of the people of AJK is still not firmly anchored within the twin realms of statehood and nationhood; indeed, early in the book he gives a very detailed analysis of what precisely the concept of nationhood entails, globally and internationally.

Hayat then goes on to frame his general analysis by placing the issue of AJK in the context of power relations, more specifically power-sharing. Over the course of his narrative, it becomes evident that the relations between the capital cities of Islamabad and Muzaffarabad have been far from ideal over the course of decades, in spite of the vital Karachi Agreement that was laid down and formalized as far back as 28 April, 1949. Following partition, indeed just a couple of months later, the Poonch uprising created further tensions in an already fraught area. It seems as if this jinxed region was plagued by conflict as far back as the First Anglo-Sikh War of the 1800s, when the Sikhs were forced to concede Kashmiri land to the British (specifically the East India Company) as part of costs incurred when they lost ignominiously to their colonial masters. Hayat highlights the important point that the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846 created well-defined boundaries for Jammu and Kashmir, although the state’s governance and autonomy were less stable than its boundaries, both at that juncture and onwards.

Ironically, and somewhat surprisingly, the role of India in the AJK matter, while naturally touched upon, is not heavily emphasized over the course of the book. It is refreshing to make note of this, because a fair-minded historian that he is, Hayat lays the blame for a lot of AJK’s present sufferings at the door of the dominant Pakistani government itself, as opposed to stating that an external threat such as the Indian government is strongly responsible for most Kashmiri woes. This does not mean that Hayat is sympathetic to the Indian position; he is too astute a scholar to take a polemical view on that question. He rather views the Pakistanis as being majorly responsible for retaining control over key economic, financial, and political sectors of AJK, which have gradually turned into something of an unfortunate stranglehold over the region which, though it boasts its own symbols of government, does not retain any true power in a fair sense of the word.

It is delicately implied that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s ceding East Pakistan at the international level bears some similarities to what might happen to AJK were some strict reforms (such as those suggested by Hayat himself) not put in place soon to enable the Kashmiris to consolidate their human rights and develop the sense of identity that they sorely lack at this point. Hayat dwells extensively on the role played by the ARJK (Association for the Rights of Jammu and Kashmir) in helping him shape his personal stance towards political reform.