[Opinion] DIVIDED BROTHERS
BY: SIDDHARTHA GAROO
As someone who is part of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir and as someone who has been interacting for a while, with the people of the largest chunk of this princely state, a huge region that comprises of Gilgit Baltistan ( former Northern Areas ) in Pakistan and Ladakh in India, a region of immense cultural, linguistic and religious diversity but which is ignorantly called as the “other Kashmir”, I can see the same blood brothers evolving in two different societies in almost parallel ways without any meeting point, whatsoever neither in today nor in foreseeable future.
This so called “other Kashmir” has got nothing whatsoever in common with Koshur speaking people of Kashmir valley and yet, their destiny is stuck with the irresolvable “Kashmir dispute”. Unlike Himalayan Kashmir region, this combined region is “trans-Himalayan” containing many of the highest peaks on the planet earth. The culture of the region is a mix of Pamiri, Dardic & Tibetan cultures, sharing very little with the Indo-Aryan cultures of vast Punjab plains (and hills) that this region abuts.
The colonial ambitions of Dogra royal family from these Indo-Aryan Punjab hills combined the geography of this region with that of the Kashmir valley, but the tumultuous events of 1947-48 saw the dissection of this region between India and Pakistan. Most people think that it is Kashmiri people, who are divided between two nations, but the fact is that it is the non-Kashmiri people of the state of J&K, who remain significantly divided between two nations.
So, on the eve of the celebrations of independence of India and Pakistan, a thought came to my mind as to how has this partition affected the people, especially the younger generation of this vast region of Gilgit Baltistan & Ladakh, who are now located in two ideologically different nations ?
I recently made a weeklong visit to Kargil town, which is the largest city of the Kargil region of Ladakh and one thing that struck me the most was that almost everyone in Kargil, referred to Gilgit Baltistan as Pakistan. There seemed very little sense of familial attachment in Kargil with the region of Gilgit Baltistan, which is in effect a part of the extended blood family. There are many families in Kargil, who have relatives in Skardu and yet, the “other side” remains just a neighbouring country of Pakistan. I must add that most of the people who I interacted were youngsters, born in post Kargil war era and unlike their elders, they are bound to share far lesser emotional attachment with the “other side”. However, once we scrap the surface, we realize that things are much more complicated than this mere generational detachment.
This shifts the focus to the “other side”. So how exactly have things really developed on the “other side” ?
Without going into Gilgit Baltistan’s constitutional arrangements with the state of Pakistan, anyone who interacts with the people of Gilgit Baltistan can see that by and large people of Gilgit Baltistan have over all these decades since independence, developed deeper economic and cultural bond with the mainland Pakistan, just as the people of Ladakh ( both Kargil & Leh ) have developed the same with the mainland India. There is an obvious disgruntlement at the ambiguous nature of their region within Pakistan but at the same time an entire generation of Gilgit Baltistan has now been born in Pakistan. Many of the youngsters of Gilgit Baltistan have studied and grown up with other Pakistanis and developed cultural, economic and friendly bonds with them leading to a level of comfort. But all this has also not exactly been a fairy tale either. Since 1980s, the region of Gilgit Baltistan has seen its own share of tumult. A region once known for crime free society has seen introduction of sectarian strife as well as intolerance towards political dissidents, human right activists and indigenous nationalist parties and many activists, nationalists and political dissidents continue to remain in prison on dubious charges.
But what does all this mean for the relations between blood brothers across the border? It is here, that the things start getting complicated and some of the incidents of recent times have had a very important influence in shaping up the nationalist perspectives of people in Gilgit Baltistan & Ladakh.
Kargil and Leh regions have evolved very differently since independence. While the educational and economic development of Leh region has proceeded with much speed, Kargil has for various reasons remained lesser developed. Kargil also remained under the shadows of its far more developed cousin city Skardu, for many decades. But everything changed in 1999, when both India and Pakistan found each other battling over mountains of Dras and that too as newly established nuclear nations. The Kargil war however was devastating for the people of Kargil region as they lost lives, homes and property in an unending and indiscriminate shelling of bombs from the “other side”.
The Kargil war was landmark in the sense that not only did it give impetus to the development of Kargil region, it also cemented rather unfavourable perception of the “other side” amongst the people of Kargil. The people of the Kargil region, who were already used to discrimination from Kashmir valley and favourable treatment given to Leh, got reconciled to the fact that at least the “other side” was really not even an option. The people of Kargil viewed and continue to view the attack on their region from the other side as something which was deliberately unleashed upon them from the “other side” due to their adherence to minority sect of Islam that has long lost favour in Pakistan.
The year 1999 was also landmark in the sense that it not only raised the profile of Kargil region and opened it up for economic development, it also improved quality of school education and with that emerged an educated generation, which pursed it’s higher education from different parts of India. Just as the younger generation of Gilgit Baltistan started making their presence felt in some of the top educational institutions of Pakistan, so did the student community of Kargil in some of the top universities of India.
This new era of enlightenment also helped Kargil to finally emerge out of the shadows of Skardu and develop an independent cultural and religious identity of its own. Anyone who visits Kargil today will say that Kargil is culturally by far the most free and vibrant Shia society outside Iran.
All this inadvertently places the younger generation of this combined region against each other to deal with conflicting national narratives that ideologically divides blood brothers on nationalistic lines. Things become more complicated as a generation of youngsters from Gilgit Baltistan has grownup studying toxic hatred towards non Muslims in their school text books and like many gullible Pakistani students, they also invariably look at India from the “two nation” prism, which puts them against much more secular younger generation of Kargil region. The contemporary Kargil society is staunchly secular, where Sunni minority and other non Muslim religious minorities like Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs live together amicably.
This sadly leaves a little scope for common grounds where youngsters from both regions can have a meeting point. But at the same time, the hope for a new era of connection and reconciliation also rests on these youngsters, who can now avail of the opportunity provided by the internet to interact with each other and understand each other’s perspectives in an unbiased way.
Who knows, perhaps these “blood brothers” of this combined region may actually end up becoming bridge of peace between India and Pakistan.
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