This book is about Arif Shahid and his struggle. The man is no longer with us because those who did not like his struggle eliminated him; but his struggle must continue not only to pay tribute to martyred leader; but also for the sake of oppressed and enslaved people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Like most people of Azad Kashmir, he also knew that his occupied and forcibly divided country could not provide any opportunities to him and his family. Pakistani establishment ensured that people of Azad Kashmir remains fully depended on Pakistan; and, by and large, they have conditioned their minds that Pakistan is their saviour and without their help, people will starve to death. This is not true. We were self-sufficient in food before the occupation and forced division of the Princely State. Even now we have ample resources to provide everything to the people, provided we control our resources.
Anyway, most Azad Kashmiri people have no choice but to go to various cities of Pakistan, and work there in hotels, shops or wherever they can get a job; or go to various countries of the world including Europe, America, Middle East, Hong Kong etc. In other words, majority of people of so-called Azad Kashmir have to migrate from their homes in search of a better life and new opportunities or remain there and face injustice, inequality, denial of fundamental human rights and many other forms of social, economic problems.
Arif Shahid belonged to a brave Sudan tribe. He was born in a village called Koyian near Khai Gala, and which is about 17 kilometres from Rawalakot (Pakistani Administered Kashmir). Like his other fellow countrymen, Arif Shahid also went to Saudi Arabia and worked in Dammam for many years. During his stay there, despite problems of employment and restrictions on political activities he motivated his countrymen to organise themselves and play some part in educating people about history and miseries of the oppressed people of Jammu and Kashmir.
At that time JKLF was the most prominent and active Kashmiri party. He became part of it and helped to organise a branch in Dammam, and was elected President. As Arif Shahid was a thinking man he soon realised that everything was not right in the JKLF and the Kashmiri militancy supported and directed by the Pakistani secret agencies.
He soon became convinced that that the JKLF under the leadership of Amanullah Khan was protecting and promoting interests of Pakistan under the guise of Kashmiri nationalism. He wrote a number of letters to Amanullah Khan complaining about different issues and seeking clarifications about dubious activities and links with the secret agencies of Pakistan. Of course, he didn’t get satisfactory replies, if anything he was perceived as a trouble maker and a threat to Amanullah Khan’s little kingdom. The JKLF leaders groomed by Amanullah Khan and the agencies treat such people with suspicion and project them as ‘agents’ of the enemy.
Soon a vicious campaign ensued against Arif Shahid that he was having contacts with people like Shaukat Kashmiri and Afzal Tahir; and that he wanted to harm the JKLF and the Kashmiri struggle. They conveniently forgot the fact that people like Afzal Tahir made an enormous contribution to the JKLF. Arif Shahid was not prepared to take any of this nonsense. He decided to say goodbye to JKLF group of Amanullah Khan and joined another group of JKLF known as Rauf Kashmiri Group.
However, he soon realised that no matter which JKLF group it was, the politics of JKLF or their struggle was not his cup of tea, as they were all, in one way or the other, aligned with the secret agencies of Pakistan. All of them wanted to liberate parts of Kashmir under India and only paid lip service to the plight of people living under Pakistani control.
Arif Shahid believed in democratic and liberal society; and despite strong opposition, he actively promoted secular ideals. During his time in the JKLF groups, he criticised JKLF policies, which he thought were advancing interests of Pakistan. He was also very critical of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy which he thought was hypocritical and causing huge problems to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. He tried to correct these policies of JKLF and tried to reason with them, but those at the helm of affairs were not interested in improving the JKLF’s image and formulating such policies that represented true Kashmiri nationalism.
During all this time he had interaction with progressive and like-minded people of Azad Kashmir. When he returned from Saudi Arabia he became more active because he wanted to cut out a role for himself that he could promote Kashmiri nationalism and speak for the people deprived of fundamental human rights. He faced a dilemma of either joining one of the existing progressive Kashmiri parties or set up something new.
With the help of some friends, he formed Jammu Kashmir Republican Party. However, he soon realised that it was difficult to run a new party and that it was better to work as a team with like-minded people. After some discussions, he established a good working relationship with Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front and eventually decided to merge his party in the NLF.
Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front was presided by Shaukat Maqbool Butt, son of martyred Kashmiri leader Maqbool Butt. Arif Shahid was elected Secretary General of the JKNLF, and actively promoted Kashmiri nationalism based on ideas of tolerance and coexistence.
He believed people of Azad Kashmir and people of Gilgit Baltistan were deliberately kept apart by the policy makers of Pakistan. This segregation and policy of divide and rule resulted in misunderstandings and lacked a sense of belonging. He thought it was absolutely crucial that people of both regions must come closer to each other and work as a team to oppose the illegal occupation of Pakistan.
For this purpose, he together with other true nationalists worked hard to establish All Parties National Alliance known as APNA, a platform of Nationalist parties of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistani establishment and pro-Pakistan Kashmiri parties, and even those who were wearing a nationalist hat were not happy with activities of APNA. These parties, generally perceived as proxies of the Pakistani establishment, on instructions of their political masters started a vicious campaign against APNA and leaders like Arif Shahid.
Tried and tested weapon is, so and so is an ‘Indian agent’, American agent, Jew agent, or so and so is a traitor, and ‘anti movement’. Or so and so is anti Islam or in some cases that person is Kaffir, non Muslim. So on instruction from the quarters that did not like activities of APNA and Arif Shahid, a consistent campaign was ensued to discredit Arif Shahid and APNA.
Many thinking people did not give much credence to these allegations as it is in the political culture of Pakistan and Kashmir to accuse political opponents and ideological opponents as ‘agents’ of India, ‘traitors’ and Kaffirs. However, with consistent propaganda the Pakistani establishment corrupted minds of some people who thought maybe there was some truth in this; but all true nationalists highly regarded Arif Shahid and supported his struggle.
Pakistani agents and pro Pakistan Kashmiris created many problems for Arif Shahid, but he continued with his mission. His books were banned by pro Pakistan and subservient Azad Kashmiri government; but that did not deter him and he continued writing articles and books to expose Pakistani designs on Kashmir.
He was also given warnings and put behind the bars many times, but they failed to intimidate Arif Shahid. His name was put on the exit control list that he could not travel abroad to attend meetings, conferences and seminars to expose Pakistan’s illegal occupation and abuses of human rights. Those who occupy this territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and don’t want the world community to know facts about deteriorating human rights situation, forget that in the age of technology people could not be kept ignorant, as information about the ground reality filters out.
Anyhow, despite all the efforts and oppressive tactics, the authorities failed to crush his determination and enthusiasm. His messages were not only reaching in various parts of so-called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan but also people living on the other side of the Line of Control, especially ethnic minorities were also keen to listen to what he had to say.
Those powers which worked hard for decades to create a rift and spread hatred among different ethnic and religious groups got alarmed, as they wanted splits and intolerance because that helped them to justify the division of India on religious lines and maintain the status quo. Tolerance, peace, harmony and coexistence did not suit their agenda; and it is strongly believed that they eliminated Arif Shahid.
Arif Shahid is no longer with us, but his mission must continue because enslaved and oppressed people are still deprived of fundamental rights. They are still forcibly divided and denied rights they deserve to enjoy. I pray Almighty Allah to grant Arif Shahid a place in Heaven.
Lastly, something about the book, which Abbas Butt requested me to write? It was his idea and credit should go to him for encouraging me to write on Arif Shahid, a man who I have shared platform many times but did not know him too well. I had to gather information from various individuals, and in this regard, Shaukat Kashmir was also very helpful. Abbas Butt said the book should be completed within two months that we can get it printed after Ramadan, as we wanted to take it with us to the next session of the UN Human Rights Council scheduled to take place in early September in Geneva. In order to accomplish this task, I had to put other projects on hold, and give priority to this project. I must acknowledge, it was not an easy task to find the time and write, especially because of Ramadan and fasting.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with different titles and subtitles. I thought it would be better to include in the book what other people said on the brutal killing of Arif Shahid. So I have included sentiments expressed by various notable individuals. Also, I have included what the BBC and the Asian Human Rights Commission had to say on this sad occasion.
It was depressing to note that no one from the Indian controlled Kashmir, apart from Hashim Qureshi and KN Pandita, said a single word on the killing of Arif Shahid, who was a prominent national leader on this side of Line of Control. I have included a statement of Hashim Qureshi and an article of Pandita Sahib.
I hope readers will appreciate my humble effort to pay tribute to the martyred leader Arif Shahid and continue to work for unification and independence of the forcibly divided State of Jammu and Kashmir.