What is Kashmir Day?
Kashmir Solidarity Day, or Kashmir Day, is a national holiday in Pakistan and Pakistani administered part of Jammu & Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) on 5th Feb each year since 1990. Its widely observed in the Indian administered Kashmir which is referred to as “Indian occupied Kashmir” by Pakistanis and most Kashmiris. In Indian controlled Kashmir this day can see large gatherings and agitations and authorities are generally on guard to avoid any large scale hostilities.
Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, decided to mark ‘Kashmir Day’ in 1990, on the advice of the then Amir Jammat-e-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed
Kashmir day is also observed outside Indo-Pakistani sub-continent; mainly across United Kingdom where large Kashmiri communities are spread across cities like London, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham, Halifax, Luton and Leeds. On a limited level public expression takes place in Norway, Germany and Belgium where small communities of Pakistanis and Kashmiris live.
However today 65% of Pakistani are 35 or below in age. So someone who is 25 now, was only 9 years of age when the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto decided to mark this day as an expression of solidarity with the Kashmiri Muslims. Its only natural that few understand why Kashmir Day is celebrated. Pakistani newspaper, The Dawn, in Feb 2016, did a video survey to ask people the streets of Karachi as to what they make of Kashmir Day and answers were funny and sad -reflecting abysmal level of ignorance about country’s history.
How Kashmir Day was decided?
Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, decided to mark ‘Kashmir Day’ in 1990, on the advice of the then Amir Jammat-e-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed who remained at the helm of Jammat’s affairs from 1987 till 2008, a full 22 years. Then the nascent insurgency in Kashmir was at its full swing with Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) fighting Indian forces across the hills and ravines of the valley – insurgency was actively backed by Jammat-e-Islami and factions aligned with it.
Kashmir Day made great sense in the context of 1990. An active insurgency had rocked the Indian controlled Kashmir and the purpose of Kashmir Day was to express solidarity and alliance with the Kashmiri public and those who were fighting the Indian forces.
Jammat was then far more active and major component of Pakistani politics. It had played an important role in the Jihad-e-Afghanistan (before the rise of Taliban from Kandahar) where it maintained active links with its counterpart in Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan several movements for autonomy, freedom and separatism rocked Soviet Union, East Europe and other parts of the world. Kashmiri insurgency of 1989 was a direct inspiration from a world in great flux where suddenly all suppressed nationalities expected change. And thought that they will also overthrow the control of outside powers. 1987 elections in Kashmir that were widely rigged had provided a fertile ground for the insurgency that finally took off in 1989. Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah were the prominent faces of that insurgency.
After the elections of 1993, Jammat became a member of the newly formed All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) which promotes the independence of Jammu and Kashmir from India. Prior to this, JI had allegedly set up the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a Kashmir liberation militia to oppose the Kashmir Liberation Front which fights for the complete independence of the Kashmir region. Jammat was thus opposed to JKLF of Yasin Malik. These divisions between the secular nationalist factions of Kashmiri struggle represented by JKLF and more religious elements aligned with Pakistan ultimately became detrimental to the cause of Kashmir.
Original Objective of Kashmir Day
Kashmir Day made great sense in the context of 1990. An active insurgency had rocked the Indian controlled Kashmir and the purpose of Kashmir Day was to express solidarity and alliance with the Kashmiri public and those who were fighting the Indian forces. However once JKLF surrendered to the Indian forces and gradually Kashmiri insurgency started to rely upon the guerrillas which Jammat-e-Islami and its allied groups sent from Pakistani controlled Kashmir across the LOC then the whole meaning of struggle inside Kashmir changed. Attacks on Pundit community leading to their exodus was a sad part of this transition.
Kashmir Day continued to be observed with national holidays across Pakistan and Azad Kashmir but governments, educational institutions and media failed to keep pace with changing times. So increasingly few and few knew why it was celebrated. Within Pakistan several groups of civil society and media kept pouring contempt upon the very concept of Kashmir Day or Kashmiri struggle asking that: why we don’t forget Kashmir and focus on our own issues instead. So Kashmir is now increasingly seen in an a-historic context; as a problem, a headache, an issue without realizing that it has serious human dimensions due to nature of control exercised by Indian forces.
New Meaning due to martyrdom of Burhan Wani
However in Feb of 2017, Kashmir Day has again assumed a renewed importance. It is preceded by several months of agitation that started when Indian forces killed young freedom fighter, Burhan Muzafar Wani in August. He was declared a martyr by Kashmiris and subsequently by Pakistan as well, whose PM, Nawaz had to reluctantly use the term, ‘martyr’ for the Kashmiri freedom fighter at United Nations.
It was followed by unprecedented wave of civil unrest and disturbances across the Kashmir valley attracting attention of Indian, Pakistani and international media. This attention towards the plight of Kashmiris was diverted towards Indo-Pakistani tensions when a mysterious attack took place on the Indian post at Uri. India blamed Pakistan but Pakistanis believe that Uri was an Indian false flag to divert attention away from the perilous political situation inside Kashmir.
Indian authorities have reacted to Kashmiri stone pelting youth with massive force – killing around 150 innocent unarmed civilians. Brutal use of bird shots, pellets, blinded hundreds of young men and women. Even small children were not spared. Expressing solidarity with Kashmiris on Feb 5, 2017 thus assumes special importance.
Kashmir’s political unrest since Burhan Wani’s killing has changed the geopolitics of the region. Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif who was eager to court Indian PM Modi to advance his vision of closer regional integration, ignoring Kashmir, had to move backwards. Regional integration has also been increasingly advocated by the US administrations since 9/11 and PM Nawaz was eager to prove his credentials as a peacemaker. Arrest of Jammat-ut-Dawwah leader, Hafiz Saeed, on 31st January, just five days before the Kashmir day, by the government of Nawaz Sharif thus raises interesting questions.