By Nosheen Ali

“…While India continues with the worst kind of state terrorism to intimidate the Kashmiris into submission, Pakistan keeps on extending its all-out moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris in their just freedom struggle. The people of occupied Kashmir are once again on the streets, defying curfews and other restrictions following the extra-judicial murder of noted freedom fighter Burhan Wani on July 8th this year. They are staging massive demonstrations across the territory on daily basis at the moment…
“Indian troops have killed more than 100 civilians, injured 13,000, and blinded more than 200 by pellet gun to suppress the uprising. It is unfortunate that free and impartial plebiscite under the United Nations resolution remains unimplemented…Kashmiris reject its illegal occupation of their homeland and…they will continue their struggle till they achieve their inalienable right to self-determination promised to them by India and the international community” 
– City FM 89, radio ad in English, Karachi, 27th Oct, 2016

This is the text of a radio ad that has played in Pakistan over the last five months. Similar ads have played on Pakistani television, accompanied by extensive media coverage of Indian brutalities that have involved an unprecedented use of “non-lethal” pellet guns, maiming and blinding hundreds of civilians including children. The media campaign in Pakistan raises awareness about the plight of Kashmir, offers solidarity, and reasserts Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri haq-e-khud-iradiyat, i.e. the Kashmiri right to self-determination. 

Scholars writing on Pakistan often comment on the extent to which Pakistani nationalism is built on an anti-India posture. Hence, for example, sites where Pakistani nationalism is constructed (such as textbooks) emphasize the military machinations of India against Pakistan, and the Pakistani army’s valiant victories against such Indian moves. The recent emphasis on Indian atrocities in Pakistani media is part of this militarized ethos, in which Indian violence against Kashmir becomes the means to whip up anti-India sentiment as well as create support for the Pakistan military. Consequently, when some Pakistani intellectuals encounter any campaign on Kashmir in Pakistan, they roll their eyes at the assumed insincerity of such campaigns and the troubling ways in which these campaigns shore up state power. 

At the same time, however, the relationship between Pakistani nationalism and the Kashmir issue begs further inquiry. Both India and Pakistan claim the centrality of Kashmiri territory to their national being and create hatred for each other using Kashmir. Yet, in India, one witnesses a severe dehumanization of Kashmiri lives but in Pakistan one witnesses something quite another. I am struggling to capture what this other is. 

We might say that the place of Kashmir in Pakistani state-building is defined by a savior nationalism – a nationalism that is geared towards saving a community, place or people, which is not-yet wholly part of the nation. This saving could be seen cynically, because it ultimately seeks to win over more territory and people into the boundary of the nation. Yet, in the peculiar case of Kashmir, for historical reasons, this saving has a liberatory dimension and potential as it is predicated on advocating self-determination for the subject population. In discourse — and discourses are real and impactful — the official policy of Pakistan on Kashmir recognizes the region as a disputed territory and maintains the right of Kashmiris to a U.N. plebiscite. This is not just reiterated to the Pakistani public internally, but was also reinforced by Pakistani ambassadors internationally as India escalated its violence in the latter half of 2016.  

Of course, Pakistan gets a kick out of reporting Indian brutalities abroad, and itself has a record of suppressing dissent in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Yet, there is little comparison with the Indian state’s brutalities in the parts of Kashmir it controls. India has over 500,000 military personnel stationed in the region, and is seen as a tortuous occupying force. We should remember that Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population — this Muslim dimension and the phobic-derogatory imaginary of Islam in post-independence, Indian nationalism, is one aspect of understanding the differential attitudes of India and Pakistan towards the Kashmir question. 

When you have even the rhetoric of Kashmiri self-determination as an official position, it is easier to support and uphold Kashmiri rights. At the level of popular imagination, Pakistan’s saviour nationalism towards Kashmir has also achieved a deep humanization of the Kashmiri. When ordinary Pakistanis meet Kashmiris, there is an instinctive sympathy that emerges — a sympathy that ironically has been cultivated over decades of pro-Kashmiri solidarity in an otherwise exclusionary Pakistani nationalism. 

Recently, at the South Asia conference at Madison, a Kashmiri Ph.D. student I had met for the first time expressed the desire to come along to the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) reception, adding, “Pakistanion se warmth milti hai.” This understanding and support stems not from some communitarian Muslim-Muslim equation, but out of a shared understanding of occupation. The Kashmiri has experienced it and continues to bear it; the Pakistani has been sensitized to it. We must remain wary of militarized nationalism in Pakistan and its impact on Kashmir and the region, but we should also not underestimate what solidarity towards Kashmir means in times of deafening international silence as the region suffers the “world’s first mass blinding” campaign amidst ongoing violence. Indeed, we — the national and transnational we, the counter-border we — need to find new and creative ways to expand our forms of solidarity to Kashmiris, ways that strive to understand the multiple violences on Kashmir committed by patriarchal Indo-Pak bravado, ways that listen to Kashmiri aspirations and together ensure Kashmir’s haq-e-khud-iradiyat.