Indian and Pakistani bickering over Kashmir has meant that Kashmiris continue suffering in no-man's land. This is fostering a growing sense of Kashmiri nationalism driven by a yearning for independence.

Kashmiri nationalism predates the formation of India and Pakistan. However, its emergence as a significant force and as a challenge to dominant India and Pakistan linked nationalisms can be traced to the outbreak of a popular armed struggle in India-administered Kashmir in 1988, which was pioneered by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. 

The defining icon of Kashmiri nationalism was Maqbool Bhat, a revolutionary who was hanged by the Indian state on February 11, 1984.

In a 1969 speech at the Convention of the Plebiscite Front in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, Maqbool told his Kashmiri audience, “We have the example of Fatah, of the Palestinian people. You know that when Al-Fatah started its struggle, it was opposed by all Arab countries. They were opposed by Egypt’s president Nasir, King Hussain of Jordan and Lebanon. At one point, only one member of Fatah was in Israeli custody whereas some four hundred of its fighters, Mujahideen, were lodged in a Jordanian prison in Amman. But when a nation rises, governments are unable to create impediments in its path. The only necessary condition is that a nation must be willing to realise its aspirations and to fight its war of liberation.” 

In another speech in 1974 in Mirpur, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Maqbool asked Kashmiris "Whose nation is this?" and people replied, "ours". Then he asked people to proclaim "Who will govern it?” and they replied "we will". This has remained the rallying cry of Kashmiri nationalism ever since.

Some people have questioned the historicity of Kashmiri nationalism and argue that it is a more recent construct. Nationalism as a collective imagination is an ongoing project and over the years many people in Kashmir have been inspired by Bhat’s ideology. 

In recent decades most Kashmiris in both Pakistani and Indian parts of the land mourn and commemorate the death of Maqbool Bhat. During his struggle for independence of Kashmir he was arrested by both the governments of India and Pakistan and later hung by the Indian government.

There is a shared political position among most Kashmiris—whether sympathetic to Pakistani nationalism or Kashmiri nationalism—that they want India to quit Kashmir. India is seen as the “other”.

Origins

By the 1960s Kashmiri nationalism started emerging as a force, and gained traction on both sides of Kashmir after the eruption of the 1988 armed struggle in India-administered Kashmir. But a considerable educated political class in Kashmir has, right from 1947, advocated an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir, free from both the rival claims of the two neighboring countries.

While there is a segment of Pakistani well-wishers found in India-administered Kashmir, there is a simultaneously stronger wave of Kashmiri nationalism gliding within the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people – a desire which is more firm than ever.

There was a time when Kashmiris protesting against India, would primarily shout slogans like "Kashmir banega Pakistan" (Kashmir will become Pakistan) but now that's been overtaken by "Hum kya chahtey, Azaadi" (What do we demand, freedom) which originally meant freedom from both India and Pakistan.

According to a poll conducted by Reuters in 2007 the majority in India-administered Kashmir want independence. Many Kashmiris are happy about the fact that Pakistan stands by Kashmir which for them means standing for the independence, or self-determination, of Kashmir. The element of a shared religion gives them hope that Pakistan won’t betray them in supporting its independence.

The decolonisation of the Indian Subcontinent left Kashmir divided between India and Pakistan against the collective will of Kashmiris, one part of which was taken by Pakistan and the other by India. According to another poll from Chatham House in 2010, some 44 percent of Kashmiris of Pakistan-administered Kashmir wish to see full independence. The vast majority of others wants to see some degree of autonomy, either more powers within their state or combined with India-administered Kashmir.

There are different reasons that people in India-administered Kashmir don't want to buy into either India or Pakistan as their future. The reason they offer is if both India and Pakistan are already "nations" & underline nationalism through cricket, movies, music, literature so why is it wrong if Kashmiris aspire for a national identity of their own which may give them a better prospect of life? It is a rational position and a question which lies at the heart of every self-determination movement.

Disillusionment

In 1947, “Muslim” Pakistan for Kashmiris represented a place where their Muslim identity could be secured compared to Hindu-majoritary India. The split of Pakistan, with East Pakistan breaking away to become Bangladesh, became a reflection of Pakistani nationalism’s limitations.

On top of the split, sectarian violence in Pakistan further disillusioned many Kashmiris. Greater access to information meant that for the first time many Kashmiris had a more comprehensive view of Pakistan that managed to challenge their idealistic or romantic notions of Pakistan. The internet has further demystified both Pakistan and India in the Kashmiri mind.

Kashmir has a long tradition of religious syncretism, cultural uniqueness, and political resistance, but also an equally long legacy of feudal and colonial conquests. 

As Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities postulates: “The fellow members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of the communion... Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity or genuineness, but in the style in which they are imagined.”

Kashmiri nationalism has ideological roots in a community that has historically been oppressed and dispossessed of agency, an identity, sense of security, belonging, and of emerging as a collective nation. 

For those who posited the idea of Kashmiri nationalism, India is a bigger monster which militarily occupies Kashmir and transfers political power to New Delhi.

Many in Kashmir believe that Kashmiri nationalism—which has so far held them together—cannot be given up for another form nationalism. This would mean a loss of the identity, which is at the core of their being.

Changing tack

Pakistan’s failure to effectively intervene on behalf of Kashmiris has given rise to the realisation among Kashmiris that if they are the primary victims of the conflict, they should also be the primary actors – not India or Pakistan.

If Pakistan supports Kashmir, it's primarily for her own interests and likely not about Muslim solidarity. It has disillusioned some section of people in India-administered Kashmir that Pakistan potentially no longer supports independence for Kashmir, but restricts Kashmiri self-determination to a merger with Pakistan, which is hypocritical.

If the Kashmiri struggle for freedom was a pan-Islamic struggle then the rest of the Muslim world should stand and fight for Kashmiris. But that certainly isn't the case.

People also believe that it is part of Pakistani politics that Pakistan is seen through a romantic lens but when people from Kashmir go abroad they gain a different prism to look at Pakistani state and its society through.

People with limited access to information in India-administered Kashmir seem to be the most ardent supporters of Pakistani nationalism. It is no secret that Pakistan seems more attractive to Kashmiris, but people are now making a genuine attempt to see things beyond the India-Pakistan binary.

Nationalist tendencies have mostly grown through external factors but with a sense of political clarity, Kashmiris now realise independently that a free Kashmir with an Islamic orientation is a reliable solution. 

Kashmiri nationalism is an intellectually superior position because it can be sustained without the support and patronage of external actors – unlike Indian or Pakistani nationalism in Kashmir.

A free Kashmir with international guarantees to protect its sovereignty and integrity has the potential to create a secure region, giving nearly half of the world’s population a chance to make the world a safer place. Surely economic development doesn’t go well with occupation and violent conflict. The gap in our moral imagination has to be filled first. That gap is called freedom.

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