In a first major pro-independence demonstration, a large number of men, women and children marched on the main thoroughfare on Monday, calling upon both India and Pakistan to quit the disputed and divided region of Jammu and Kashmir.
The rally, which had participants from five or six groups or factions of the organisations advocating complete independence of Kashmir from both nuclear-armed neighbours, began from the press club and concluded outside a military installation that houses the camp office of UN Military Observers.
While only anti-occupation and pro-freedom slogans including “Kashmir Banega Khudmukhtar” had been chanted at all previous protests and rallies since Aug 5 when India moved to annex the disputed region, the Monday’s rally was different in that the emotionally charged participants said they wanted both India and Pakistan out of their motherland to pave way for an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Apart from men, participants included the elderly as well as young women, some even holding their babies.
“One slogan one flag, foreign forces go back,” they shouted, holding flags of their respective organisation and Azad Jammu and Kashmir as well as placards inscribed with different slogans.
“If Pakistan is sincere to the Kashmiris, it should make Azad Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) one unit,” read one placard.
The participants had also brought a document, authored by the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Peoples’ National Alliance (JKPNA) Zulfiqar Ahmed, to be delivered to the UN observers.
However, they became angry and started chanting “Shame on UNO” when they were told by the administration that the UN observers were not present at their camp office at the moment. They also torched copies of the memorandum at the barricade set up by police and army personnel before the entrance of military installation.
Roohi Arshad, one of the participants, said they had staged the rally to give a message to New Delhi and Islamabad to vacate their parts of Kashmir to bring an end to the sufferings of Kashmiris. She said India had been torturing and killing Kashmiris, but Pakistan was merely paying lip service to them.
JKPNA leader Sardar Liaquat Hayat maintained that the narrative of the Kashmiris was missing at the moment when the narratives of Pakistan and India were being propagated on both sides of the divide.
“If we want the international community to support us, we will have to advance our own narrative,” he said, asking the Kashmiris on both sides of the divide “to neither associate themselves with Pakistan nor with India. Instead, they should strive for their emergence as an independent nation”.