Book Review: Between The Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan-administered Kashmir

Between the Great Divide,  A Journey into Pakistan-Administered Kashmir,  Originally published: August 7, 2018, Author: Anam Zakaria, Publisher: HarperCollins India, ₹ 599.00

Anam Zakaria’s Book, ‘Between the Great Divide: A Journey into the Pakistan Administered Kashmir’ brings together ten essays in three parts: Conflict, State policies and Beyond the cease fire. The work purely seems an ethnography of a significant part of Jammu and Kashmir now administered by Pakistan and mostly known as ‘Azad Kashmir’ by masses and called as PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) by the Indian Side. Today Jammu and Kashmir’s 65 per cent of the territory is with India and the remainder with Pakistan. The main objective or the central argument of the work as clearly explained by the author is to bring out how people of Pakistan Administered Kashmir perceive the ongoing conflict-The Kashmir dispute. This light weight and beautiful paperback collection features some interesting and historically significant events in a dense sociological framework written with a thick description and from a wide range of fields, including conflict analysis, gender perspective, history, political science, anthropology and sociology. Author describes the peoples’ perspective-an unsung, uncelebrated, unacknowledged and unobserved aspect of the Kashmir “conflict,” which is obviously less known globally whereas things get more highlighted from the Indian side of Kashmir owing to the armed insurgency, routine violence and bloodshed, active militant organizations and the presence of the massive Indian army in the region.

The author seeks to establish a new conflict paradigm through narratives of conflict situation, war or war like situation. Whereas a heap of literature today exists on Kashmir conflict and the turmoil going on especially since 1989, it remains a fact that the focus continues to be more on Indian side and the issues and challenges of instability, abnormalcy, state sponsored violence and peoples woes mostly remain untouched on the other (Pakistani) side. Also there are ample discourses that continue to generate debates on the situation right from 1947 till date with dozens of books  written on the contemporary Kashmir conundrum in which the PoK either finds no mention or a little mention or a few sweeping references. Anam Zakaria tries to bring out the Pakistan administered Kashmir’s socio-political perspective, which lies hidden like an unknown region but equally, faces the wrath of the political instability and continues to be claimed by both India and Pakistan and labelled a disputed territory by separatists’ in both the Kashmir’s.  Amid this all, the mass sufferings continue under the big labels of independent Kashmir or  Azad Jammu and Kashmir. What I call Anam Zakaria’s  perilous ethnography and field work as it is not a cake walk to conduct a field work in such disturbed zones, She explores Muzafarabad and the villages at LoC (Line of Control that  remains the de facto border between the two countries now) in Neelam valley besides Kotli, Mirpur and other vulnerable areas from 2014-16.She like a trained ethnographer describes her own awkward position being an etic (outsider) and finely narrates how she built rapport to gain a deeper insight while travelling in some parts of the field where the cease fire violations were going on.

Anam very succinctly analyses so called Azad Kashmir’s  label of freedom and succeeds in highlighting the actual unfreedom persisting, silent misery, muzzled voices, routine violence, deepening socio-political crisis, perpetual artillery exchange between the two hostile neighbours who keep destroying one or the other border areas of Kashmir either on the Indian or Pakistani side. She also talks about the whole sociology and mockery of ceasefire and how every ceasefire (thought brief and uncertain) brings respite to the shell shocked and uncertain lives near the border who face it every day and live with fear and chaos. As per the author thousands of people living near LoC have so far lost lives or are displaced and how their education and other activities get badly disrupted due to routine cross border escalations and massive artillery exchange.

Author mainly divides her work in three basic parts, in the first part she goes into the historicity of the prevailing conflict right at the time of partition and tries to understand it from the perspective of Kashmiri voices, she delves into tribal raids and the trail of victimhood due to such raids the then as well. She is interested in digging old themes from partition survivors and covers interviews of militants and refugees, women and children to make sense of what actually people think of it. The second part of her work presents a State prism of seeing the conflict. To debunk false discourses, state propaganda and myths she substantiates the state side arguments with interviews with high profile officials, political leaders and others. The third part of the book conceptualises post 2003 cease fire to understand the role of state and non-state actors. She creates a fine balance by bring out the narratives of both Kashmiri nationalists and pro-Pakistan supporters in PoK. She talks of the literature ban on pro freedom literature, media gag and other undemocratic processes going on in PoK and the plethora of issues afflicting masses there. She speaks of the pain of shattered lives of militants and refugees from the Indian side who now feel estranged and virtually belong to nobody. Even today many militants who crossed border in early 1990’s never returned and settled in PoK and continue to face a range of adjustmental and other livelihood issues. To them it is like they went to heaven and found the hell inside.

Author’s central argument and title of the book seems to suggest that Kashmir is not only geography or a land dispute or the Indian part or the Pakistani part, it is people who have been suffering for decades now and who need peace. However today democracy, free voices and development, have come to sound like words that have lost their meaning in both the divided parts of Kashmir, even the media has turned the whole Kashmir discourse into a nationalist project and things at grass roots hardly get reported objectively. Killings, insecurity, atmosphere of fear and scores of other Human rights violations continue and justice delivery is too poor or denied in majority of the cases. There is a trust deficit against the system in both Kashmir’s.

 In situating the woes of people of Pakistan controlled ‘Azad Kashmir’ Anam has fairly succeeded as a field worker however in case of Kashmir as an identity the stories or narratives have to be inclusive and not only policy based research deserves merit but applied and action research and humanitarian intervention of world bodies, big NGO’s and other influential agencies like UN, etc is required to assist the thousands of conflict bitten victims in both parts of Kashmir. Besides interventions can be made provided the political will is displayed and that will is still not there thanks to the lingering politics, ego clashes between the two countries and the deliberate politics of delay that has proved a setback to the resolution of the issue. Be it Azad Kashmir (Pak administered) or Gilgit–Baltistan or Indian side of Kashmir, the multiple and conflicting aspirations may be complex however the central problem of not addressing the core issues of confrontation between the two nations (India and Pakistan) is further alienating the suffering masses. Also Indian and Pakistan’s nationalist narratives and equal forceful claims over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan is not in any way building peace in the region but escalating more alienation and violence day by day.

Anam’s work is a tell all field work and cover almost all important aspects even themes like CPEC diplomacy, cross border life and routine cease fire violations, Hurriyat, militants and the cause of Kashmir’s self determination, UN reports, media and military adventurism, China’s rise and fatal advances, Trump’s Presidency and Kashmir issue, eroding democracy, choked voices and puppet governments in PoK along with rich and factual inferences on the Indian Side of Kashmir as well.

The unique feature of this book is author’s objectivity and no agenda based writing purely like a sociologist. The apt title and insightful and eloquent essays written like short stories without any use of jargon bring people at the centre of the debate and argue that it is these insignificant, ignored and silenced people who are the real stakeholders and real owners of Jammu and Kashmir. The cover of the book however is too much filled with advance praise for the book by a galaxy of big names and writers purely depicting the marketing strategy which I think such a dense, serious and rich ethnography doesn’t need at all. I call it a peoples’ book and a fact file of the peoples lived reality in Pakistan administered Kashmir as it is all about them and making ground for more insightful narratives, invoking fresh perspectives in Kashmir studies, raising valid questions and challenging the official existing knowledge systems and thinking of conflict cultures, people’s resilience amid prolonged suffering and victimhood. The massive field coverage and hard work invested clearly reflects that this work is Anam Zakaria’s labour of love.


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