The government of so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir, what India refers to as “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”, the divided part of the disputed state across the Line of Control, last month banned the sale, purchase and the exhibition of 16 books published by National Institute of Kashmir Studies, written mostly by pro-freedom writers. The order was released on February 24 by the home department from Muzaffarabad.
This is not the first time that books have been banned by Pakistan in AJK or Gilgit-Baltistan – the two regions that were once part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Several books and newspapers have been gagged or banned in the past, and journalists and writers, who demand an independent Kashmir, intimidated and silenced.
The recently banned books also include the titles, Who am I? and The story of escape from Srinagar Prison, by Maqbool Bhat, who was sentenced to death and hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.
Generations of Kashmiri secessionists have held Bhat as the most authentic voice of the State’s secessionist movement. Bhat was the co-founder of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front, the fore-runner of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front
“We need to keep in view that both India and Pakistan have been integrating their controlled areas into their body politic,” said a veteran political analyst from the Pakistani side of the line of control, on the condition of anonymity fearing repercussions. “Identity is being eroded on both sides. However, on Pakistani side discontent is not as acute as in the case of Indian side. People here are affluent in relative terms and are able to vent because of mobility etc. The book ban is nothing but command performance, command that comes from the invisible government.”
Pro-Pak vs Pro-Azadi
The divide between the pro-independence sentiment for Kashmir and the merger with Pakistan lobby continues to persist.
Since Bhat did not support Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, and stood for its independence, he was always viewed with suspicion in Pakistan as an Indian agent after he tunnelled his way out of Srinagar Central Jail, where he was serving a death sentence, and made his way back to the Pakistani side in 1968. He was arrested for a few years by Pakistan before he escaped to the Indian side where he was imprisoned till the hanging.
Those Kashmiri nationalists who believe in Bhat’s ideology of “free Kashmir” see the ban on books as a continuation of Pakistan’s policies.
Shams Rehman, who lives in Manchester, and is the author of Maqbool Butt: The life and struggle, one of the 16 banned books, said that such books have been banned earlier as well. “The pro-independence politics and literature was always discouraged and curbed by the AJK government to please the Pakistani agencies and to show that they are doing the dirty work for them,” said Rehman.
“Both Pakistan and the AJK government are responsible for this. The actual control lies with Pakistan through several layers of occupation. The deepest layer is army that has final say in important appointments and election candidacies and results supported by a thick network of agencies penetrated deep in the society. They manipulate the local politicians through camaraderie, peers etc. and of course blackmailing and bullying. The AJK politicians are mostly willingly to do as they are told or what they think will please the Pakistanis to gain power or stay in power.”
The ban is as per the state policy. According to the article 7(2) of Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s Interim Constitution Act 1974, no person or political party in AJK “shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”
In Gilgit-Baltistan, another part of the disputed state under Pakistan control, situation isn’t any different. Newspapers, magazines and books have been banned by the government and even cases of sedition filed against writers who have pro-independence sentiments in common.
Manzoor Hussain Parvana, chairman of Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement, says that the press in Gilgit-Baltistan remains under the control of the administration. “There is no freedom of expression,” he said. “The print media is not allowed to even publish press releases and news of pro-independent parties.”
On November 4, 2004, the Northern Areas administration had banned a monthly magazine Kargil International, citing that one of its issues had criticism of Pakistan’s nuclear and Afghan policies, the “war on terror” and General Pervez Musharraf’s pro-American leanings.
Parvana was the magazine’s editor, so a case was filed against him but he secured a bail. Later on March 30, 2007, a local court indicted him and the publisher Ghulam Shehzad Agha in a sedition case. In his verdict, the sessions Judge Yar Mohammad had observed that by publishing an article, that may cause fear “among the public and incite them to commit offence against state or public tranquillity,” the editor and publisher had committed offences of sedition and defamation.
For the last 10 years, Parvana’s book Sach Likhna Jurm Hai [Writing truth is a crime] is also banned, including the publication and circulation of daily newspaper Bang-e-Sahar. Gilgit-Baltistan has strategically become a significant region for Pakistan since the country is working on a $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that has resulted in increased control over the region. Several reports have shown Pakistan’s intentions to make GB as its fifth province, a move opposed by pro-freedom groups on both sides of the Line of Control.