The singer behind a popular resistance song Jaago says both Indians and Pakistanis have used Kashmir for their own purpose.
In the early 1990s, at the peak of an uprising in India-administered Kashmir, a young Pakistani band made a song dedicated to the Kashmiri struggle. It was called Jaago (Wake Up).
The disputed territory of Kashmir has been at the heart of the conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
They have fought three wars already and the latest move from New Delhi to strip the valley of its autonomy has raised tensions once again.
Back in 1992, it was the Kashmiris who came out on to the streets to demand their right to self-determination. It was in part an armed struggle.
“I was moved by the horrific stories that I read in a magazine, Kashmir Chronicles,” says Nadeem Nasir, lyricist and the lead singer of the band Jazba, which wrote the song.
“There was a story about a pregnant woman who was raped. There was a picture of an elderly man shot dead on a street in broad daylight, a big gaping hole in his stomach and you can see through it.”
The song was a depiction of that era. It was a commentary on the continuous suffering of the Kashmiri people and their mistreatment. The video showed the Indian army lining up men for identification and it ends with someone picking up a rifle - a final awakening.
It was an instant hit and propelled the band to fame. “We used to get thousands of letters from all over the country. It was unbelievable how much closeness people felt for Kashmir,” says Nasir.
Contrary to popular belief, the Pakistani state was not involved in the making of the song.
Jaago’s video was shot on a small budget in the back alleys of Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, and the band sold the rights for one thousand rupees ($28). “That’s the only money we saw as far as the sales of cassettes are concerned.”
The band ultimately released an album but was never comfortable making the kind of light romantic songs that studios demanded. The band members moved on to other professions within a few years.
Successive Pakistani governments had used radio programmes, television shows and songs to promote its national narrative, which included the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, says Rafay Mahmood, a Karachi-based music journalist.
“Jaago was different. It was a non-propaganda song and it didn’t carry the usual state narrative. It’s a general protest song,” he explains.
But in recent years, Kashmir has fallen out of the popular discourse in Pakistan. “We had too many problems to tackle after the 90s. Kashmir kind of became a beautiful location to film songs,” says Mahmood.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there was immense pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militant groups. The organisations focused on supporting Kashmiri militants, also came under pressure.
A generation of Pakistanis grew up listening to a dedicated news segment covering Kashmir on Pakistan’s state-run broadcaster, Pakistan Television (PTV). That changed with the onslaught of private channels, which vied for viewership with talk shows focused on internal politics.
“Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir has never changed. It’s just that it got diluted amid more than a hundred channels that we have,” says Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a well-known cultural critic.
While Kashmir might have fallen out of the popular discourse, it is once again getting the attention it used to.
“And that’s not because of Pakistan, it’s because of [Indian Prime Minister Narandra] Modi’s government. Everyone is talking about it since he was first elected in 2014,” says Paracha.
But Islamabad faces criticism for failing to push Kashmir’s case aggressively at international forums, especially against the backdrop of New Delhi’s recent move to take Kashmir’s remaining autonomy.
Nasir says he has watched Pakistani politicians with a mix of anger and disdain as they have used the Kashmir issue for their own narrow gains.
“No one has been fair with the Kashmiris - neither Indians or Pakistanis. What has been done for Azad Kashmiris? We have no interest in their welfare.”