At a time when Jawaharlal Nehru University in India has run into a bitter political controversy for observing the anniversary of hanging of Afzal Guru and for debating Kashmir’s Azadi, the government of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has banned sixteen pro-independence on Kashmir, two of them by Maqbool Bhat, founder of JKLF to which Guru also belonged.
The development has shocked Kashmir including separatists who want the bans overturned. The secessionist leader who has been most offended is the JKLF supremo Yasin Malik, the champion of Kashmir’s liberation from both India and Pakistan.
“This is the denial of right to expression,” Malik said. “Whether you like the views of these writers or not, common people should be allowed to read them. It is undemocratic to ban books”.
Similarly, the leaders of the two Hurriyat factions Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have also criticized the ban. While Geelani called for revocation of the ban, Mirwaiz termed it “unreasonable”.
The books that have been banned are: ‘The story of escape from Srinagar prison’ and ‘Who am I’ by Maqbool Bhat, ‘Wounded Memory’, ‘Kashmir and Partition of India’, and ‘Kashmir Issue: Bitter Facts’ by Dr Shabir Choudhry, Maqbool Bhat: The Life and Struggle’ by Shams Rehman, Guide Map of Poonch Division and Map of Jammu and Kashmir State by Mohammad Saeed Asad, ‘The Issue of Jammu and Kashmir’ and several Urdu books.
Sudden ban on the books has left people in Valley wondering as to the reason for this extraordinary step. “It is difficult to explain this,” said Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “The impression that it conveys to the people in Kashmir is that Pakistan which is a party to Kashmir issue is against the political aspirations of Kashmiris”.
The notification issued by the Home department of the PoK Government reads:
“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 23 of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council Registration of Printing Press and Publication Act 1991, the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has been pleased (sic) to accord approval to impose ban on purchase, sale, import and exhibition of following books in whole Azad State of Jammu and Kashmir with immediate effect and all the copies of the same be confiscated from the market under above mentioned law if founded (sic) anywhere in AJ&K”.
The notification makes it clear that the order has been issued at the behest of Kashmir Council, a constitutional body chaired by the Pakistan Prime Minister and operated by Pakistan minister for Kashmir and Northern Affairs. The powerful body is the “highest linking forum,” between PoK and Islamabad and in effect has a decisive say in the governance of PoK. The Council has clearly defined executive, legislative and judicial sphere enumerated in the third schedule of the PoK Constitution.
Does it mean Pakistan is out to come down hard on the pro-independence politics and its propagation in PoK? It appears so. In recent years, the popular support for Kashmir’s independence from both Pakistan and India has grown. In 2010, a poll conducted by the London-based Chatham House revealed that nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country: 44 percent of people in PoK compared with 43 percent in Indian part of Kashmir.
Earlier in 2007, a poll by Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies found that nearly 90 percent of people living in Srinagar, J&K’s summer capital, want their state to become an independent country.
Over the years, this popular yearning for Azadi has recast the discourse about the ongoing conflict in the state away from both India and Pakistan. But between New Delhi and Islamabad, if there is any consensus on Kashmir, it is to not allow the state become independent.
Islamabad has often said that United Nations Resolutions on the state only allows J&K the two options: to join either India or Pakistan.
But over the past 25 years, Islamabad has maintained close ties with Valley’s pro-independence leadership. JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been consulted during the periods of Pakistan’s engagement with New Delhi. Malik has been allowed to hold rallies in PoK and elsewhere in Pakistan.
What is more, in 1989, it was JKLF which Pakistan armed to help launch a militant movement against New Delhi’s rule, with Malik one of its front-running commanders. But now PoK has banned the two books of Maqbool Bhat, JKLF founder who was hanged at Tihar jail on February 11, 1984. His mortal remains are buried in Tihar jail.
“We don’t know what triggered the decision to ban the books,” said a separatist leader. “We hope and expect PoK government to review the decision”.