70 years on: Kashmiris want long-lasting peace


HISTORY: Aamir Peerzada with Mohammad Sultan Thaker
HISTORY: Aamir Peerzada with Mohammad Sultan Thaker

REPORTER BACK IN VALLEY ON STATE’S ACCESSION ANNIVERSARY

 by AAMIR PEERZADA

BBC Hindi journalist

I COME from a family in the Kashmir Valley, which suffered a double loss. My father was killed by militants and my uncle was “disappeared” by the Indi­an army.

All our stories are complex. Nothing is what it seems on the surface. For the BBC’s coverage of the 70th anniversary of Kashmir’s accession to India, returning home to report on what hap­pened here all those years ago was exciting and at the same time unsettling, to say the least.

I had to get right the facts that have been contested for seven decades. I also wanted to show that we Kashmiris can report ac­curately and fairly on their state.

From the outside, it looks like a “straightforward” dispute be­tween India and Pakistan. From the inside, people feel used by both sides. They feel that their voice is never heard.

It is a historical fact that there were pro-India celebrations when Jammu and Kashmir ac­ceded to India.

Pakistani tribesmen had in­vaded the independent princely state. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession agreement with In­dia, and a day later, on October 27, 1947, Delhi sent its army to push the tribal army back.

I unearthed fascinating British Pathe footage from 1947 and 1948 showing Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah holding mass rallies in favour of India. Inde­pendent India’s first prime minis­ter Jawaharlal Nehru is often by his side. When the Maharaja left, Sheikh Abdullah became Jammu and Kashmir’s first prime minister.

Those are the facts, but then there’s the interpretation. Histo­rian Dr Abdul Ahad said Sheikh Abdullah was “power hungry” and wanted to be the “sultan of Kashmir”. Professor Siddiq Wa­hid said the circumstances sur­rounding the accession were “ambiguous” – but there was a “pro-India mobilisation”.

Kashmir police in Srinagar

I am faced with this same am­biguity seven decades later while trying to persuade people to talk to the BBC. People who initially seemed open to an interview suddenly turn off their phones and stop responding.

But the two eyewitnesses I speak to about the invasion of Pakistani tribesmen, which was followed by the accession, are more open.

A wiry mountain man de­scribed the Pakistani tribesmen as “looters”. Mohammad Sultan Thaker, 85, was working at Jam­mu and Kashmir’s only power station when the tribesmen at­tacked. He ran into the forest and only returned days later, when the Indian Army arrived.

The Pakistani tribesmen blew up one of the turbines as they retreated. Writer Ferozuddin Beigh lives just 40 kilometres away by road from the Line of Control. He was also a teenager in 1947. He says the Pakistani tribes­men looked and acted like bandits.

“They had one trouser leg pulled up and the other one rolled down,” he says. “They just pounced on anything new and took it.”

Seventy years on, both men recognise that India has developed the state. But the heavy Indian military presence saddens them.

As I speak to Mohammad Sul­tan Thaker in the grounds of the abandoned Mohura power house, an Indian army convoy drives by. There is a soldier stand­ing upright in the driver’s cabin in each truck keeping a watchful eye on the road and the people.

Protesters pelting stones at a police vehicle

This area saw some of the worst violence in the 1990s be­tween armed separatists and the Indian state. In 2010 Kashmiri youth took to streets with stones in their hands, angry with the presence of the Indian Army, which they think is there not to protect but to suppress them.

Things are calmer now, but there is still an undercurrent. A business student, Faizam Islam, says it is possible for India to win back Kashmiris even though its forces treated him like a “terror­ist” while he was growing up. “It [India] has to reach out more to the people of Kashmir and show a good faith is needed,” he says.

Everybody I speak to wants a long-lasting peace. People here want India and Pakistan to talk to each other – but they don’t want them to decide Kashmir’s fate among themselves. They want to be at the table too.

A senior Indian government official tells me how he hopes to develop tourism in the area.

Kashmiris have big dreams. But how can they be fulfilled?