Analysis Kashmir South Asia

Victorious Movement in Jammu Kashmir: A Prelude to Revolutionary Tremors in the South Asian Sub-Continent

By Sajid Naeem

May 11 has become a day to be remembered for eons to come. That is the day when the working masses of PAJK (Pakistan Administered Jammu Kashmir) started to march towards Muzaffarabad, the capital city of the territory. The call for the long march was given by JAAC (Joint Awami Action Committee) which was formed in September last year during the ongoing struggle which had spread in June and July 2023 to the whole of area. The mass of the people was so gigantic and their enthusiasm so electric that on May 13 not only the state government but the rulers in Islamabad too had to bow their erstwhile stiff heads in front of the will of the people and accept their demands.

The narrow strip of 5000 square miles is stretched from Mirpur Division in the south to Muzaffarabad in the extreme north, while Poonch Division, the epicenter of the movement, is placed in between the two. Initially it was a scattered movement not engulfing even the whole of the Poonch Division, but its charter of demands and strategy was crafted by well prepared minds and were so touching that they gripped the hearts and minds of the common folk in no time. Three basic demands were to provide electricity at its cost value, sufficient supply of subsidized flour and an end to the lavish privileges of the state bureaucracy including higher judiciary. The strategy was to boycott, even burn, the electricity bills with protest calls of demonstrations, shutter downs and wheel jams. All this took the momentum of the movement to the level where the state government had to take it seriously and offered a dialogue. But before going to the dialogue table they resorted to repression, the method they usually use once they fail to weaken movements through their lies and propaganda campaigns. On September 29, they raided and arrested some of the activists, but instead of weakening the movement it further strengthened it. The following day huge demonstrations forced the government to release the captives and to come to the dialogue table on October 18. Then there was an unending series of negotiations for the sake of negotiations. The government verbally accepted the demands but did not take a single concrete measure. In fact, it was simply a delay tactic aimed at defusing the movement. From October 18 to February 5, the JAAC had given many protest calls and then withdrawn them at the last moments. February 5 was again declared as a day of protest. Officially this day is celebrated as ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ by the Pakistani state, one of the imperialist powers involved in the occupation and division of Jammu Kashmir, the others being India and China. So, the selection of this particular day for protest was highly disputable. The JAAC leadership had obviously provided the state authorities a chance to once more unleash their propaganda campaign of labeling the movement as pro-Indian. Meanwhile on the night between February 4 and 5, the JAAC leadership, leaving aside a few glorious exceptions, again went into the dialogue process and in the morning reached a sort of MOU with the government. A notification was issued in this regard by the Department of Services and General Administration. The MOU and the notification could, at best, be described as a farce. The masses rightly anticipated that their struggle had met with an absolute betrayal on the part of the leadership. They came out in huge numbers and out rightly rejected the MOU and the notification. Due to the mounting pressure from below the JAAC had to unilaterally withdraw from this understanding with the state. On March 1, the JAAC called for a ‘long march’ from Bhimber to Muzaffarabad.

It was, most probably, a desperate attempt to get rid of the forces the JAAC had awakened but now instead of controlling them they themselves were being controlled and forced to move forward. Under normal conditions, it was almost an unimaginable task. Not only the JAAC but also the state government and the administrative authorities were being led by sheer miscalculations. They were no dialecticians to understand the dynamics of the mass movements and this led them to commit one mistake over the other. During the first week of May, social media was flooded with notifications of deployment of FC and PC (Frontier Constabulary and Punjab Constabulary) for the maintenance of law and order. Instead of frightening the masses, this further infuriated them and provided a fresh impetus to the movement. Not visualizing the seething rage, on May 9 the administration arrested around 50 activists from Mirpur Division, the launching pad of the long march. In a quick response the masses came out in large numbers to protest against this state repression. In Dadyal this led to open clashes between the protestors and the police. To demonstrate their muscle strength, the administration had decided to disperse the peaceful protest by force but it all turned out to be a humiliating defeat for the men in uniform. After braving tear gas and baton charge, the protestors forced the police to flee the arena. The assistant commissioner of the area was thrashed after he had slapped some protestors. Videos of the fleeing policemen went viral throughout the world. This clearly demonstrated to the general masses that if they came out in sufficient numbers they would not only be able to defeat the forces of oppression but would also reach their destined goal. What the world witnessed on May 11 had very perfectly been described decades ago by the great revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz in his epic poem, “Hum Dekhenge”:

We shall see…
When the mountains of cruelty and torture
Will fly like pieces of cotton
Under the feet of the governed
The earth will shiver, shake and beat
And over the head of the ruler
The lightening will thunder
We shall see!

This is an apt description of the scenes from May 11, with the only difference that it was not a matter of “shall” but the world could already see the earth literally shivering under the feet of the oppressed. The mountains of cruelty, when faced with the enraged and furious but determined and enthusiastic protestors, proved even lighter than the flakes of cotton. In Islamgarh, Mirpur, a police sub-inspector was killed under highly suspicious conditions. The killing was orchestrated most probably to let loose a reign of terror against the marchers, but even then the march could not be halted. In the Kotli District the marchers at Khuiratta easily overcame the police resistance, removing the barricades and moving on. So was the case at Broyan, Sehnsa, with the difference that here we witnessed a replica of what had happened the day before at Dadyal. It was a brief but fierce struggle between the marchers and the police, where the later was first forced to flee, then captured and beaten, and then set on their way back. The most decisive and the hardest battle was fought in the jungle area of Reyan village, situated in between Kotli and Tata Pani. Here the number of state forces was much larger. Further, it was the last desperate attempt on the part of administration. The forces did not face the marchers. They had hidden themselves behind the trees and had already occupied the privileged heights of the mountain. In spite of all that, after initial injuries to the protestors, the masses overpowered the state forces, inflicting a humiliating defeat on them. The lightening thundered over the rulers. The victory was complete as Mirpur Division was considered to be the weaker link in the chain of protest movement, and even here the authorities completely failed in their objectives. From here onwards, the jurisdiction of Poonch Division started. Poonch has been a time tested battle ground of protest movements. The authorities decided not to obstruct the marchers any more and as the caravans entered the Poonch Division, a warm emotional welcome was awaiting them with hot touching scenes of hospitality and fraternity. The following day all the marchers gathered at Rawalakot, where the authorities once more offered a dialogue process, which soon met with failure. There was enormous pressure on the JAAC leadership not to give any concession to the government, and the authorities displayed reluctance to accept the charter of demands in its letter and spirit. So, the marchers moved onwards to Dhirkot for the night encampment. On May 13 at about 4 PM the Prime Minister Mr. Anwaar-ul-Haq appeared on the TV screens, defeated and humiliated, accepting two of the basic three demands, regarding electricity tariff and flour prices, while pledging the formation of a judicial commission for suggestions to end the privileges of the state bureaucracy. But, this historic victory, which could have resulted in an unprecedented jubilation and festive coloring, was marred by the martyrdom of three youths at the hand of the rangers almost simultaneously with the PM’s press conference. It happened in Muzaffarabad, the capital and the ultimate destination of the long march, where tens of thousands of youth were successfully resisting the entry of the paramilitary forces. Here too, like Poonch Division, the long marchers (whatever number of them was able to reach the city at this point in time) were warmly welcomed with hotels, restaurants and other businesses offering free food, accommodation and additional needs.

Despite this tragic loss of human lives in the final moments, it was a marvelous and victorious movement of the working and exploited masses. From the beginning to the end, it moved along the class lines, shattering the reactionary prejudices of the past and consigning them to the dustbin of history for a long period of time if not forever. Throughout, the cultural level remained at the highest. During the period of whole one year, there has not been a single untoward incident despite the fact that the authorities tried their best to introduce violence and chaos into the movement in order to crush it. No force was ever used by the leadership or the rank and file of the movement to move the shutters down and to bring the wheels to a standstill. Yet the success rate of such calls was more than 90%. The campaign to boycott the electricity bill, which at its peak reached about 80%, was also on a totally voluntary basis. The chain of protest sit-ins in different cities and towns was also a spectacular creation of the movement. They were almost on day-to-day basis and signaled the continuation of the protest movement, especially when there was no bigger activity.  The initiative of the long march, which overall mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, was in the hands of very young people, who as a generation are not accustomed to defeats and compromises. Owing to the youth bulge in South Asian countries, they were not smaller in numbers. It is they who defeated the state forces and not only paved the way for the march to move on but also paved the way for the movement to victory.

Since the reactionary partition of the South Asian Sub-Continent, Jammu Kashmir has been used by the imperialist rulers of both Pakistan and India as a tool to divide, to rule and to exploit the millions and millions of the toiling masses. They have always diverted the attention of the suffering masses from their real issues like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, inflation and lack of healthcare by overplaying and exaggerating this issue, and, at times, stirring war hysteria in an outright manner. Two out of three major wars between India and Pakistan were fought over Jammu Kashmir. Even the rise of BJP and the black reaction of saffron movement in India is, to a considerable extent, due to the dispute over Jammu Kashmir. On the other hand, it also has served as a breeding house for Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. But as the great Marxist theoretician Dr. Lal Khan had predicted years ago, the role of Jammu Kashmir in the region seems to be dialectically turning into its opposite. Movements similar to the aforementioned one are already going on in Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit Baltistan. The current victory will not only embolden its sister movements but can also help link them together on class lines. In any case, the hundreds of millions suffering souls both in India and Pakistan can take a direct lead from this movement, and the tremors of rising class struggle will be felt throughout the region in coming days.