Pakistan Wary of Planned Kashmiri Border March
KASHMIRI activists on both sides of their partitioned country say they will crush the Pakistani-Indian cease-fire line on March 30, just as Germans destroyed the Berlin Wall two years ago.
Officials of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Srinagar, India, say they intend to mount a march from the border town of Uri in Indian-held Kashmir to meet up with a similar JKLF march from Pakistani-held Kashmir.
"There is no reason why the people of Kashmir cannot emulate the Germans," says Jeved Mir, chief JKLF commander in Srinagar.
A spokesman for the local government of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir has hinted that Amanullah Khan, JKLF leader in Pakistan, will be arrested before next month's march.
Mr. Khan's previous march, estimated at 6,000-strong, from the mountaintop town of Muzaffarabad ended in bloodshed. Khan's march forced Pakistani paramilitary police into the awkward position of having to shoot Pakistani citizens attempting to cross a cease-fire line that Pakistan does not accept as a formal border. According to ambulance drivers and local hospitals, 18 died and 350 were wounded.
Islamabad denies that its police shot anyone. Only four people had been killed, claimed Kashmiri Origin Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed; they had fallen down the mountainside or had been killed in road accidents. The government later told parliament that seven had died but did not give the causes of death. The opposition, led by Benazir Bhutto, accuses the government of misinforming parliament. Officials fear escalation
In private, Pakistani officials say they fear that another penetration of the line will lead to Pakistani Kashmiris being killed by Indian troops, thereby triggering another war with India.
For more than 45 years, Pakistan has supported the liberation of Kashmiris from Indian "occupation." In 1947, the Hindu prince who ruled Kashmir united with India even though a majority of his subjects were Muslims. Two subsequent wars left India holding two-thirds of the disputed state, and Pakistan one-third, an area known by Pakistanis as Azad or Free Kashmir.
Pakistan has argued ever since for Kashmiri self-determination, under Pakistani control. In a 1972 treaty, India and Pakistan agreed to negotiate the issue bilaterally without recourse to international arbitration, but no negotiations have taken place; the option of Kashmiri independence has never been discussed.
The Islamabad government denied permission for the Feb. 12 march, but in a bid to show Pakistan's solidarity with the Kashmiri cause, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on Feb. 5 for a national strike in his own country in support of Kashmiri rights.
Islamabad's paramilitary police erected barricades and dynamited roads leading to Azad Kashmir and the disputed border. The New Delhi government similarly put its troops on alert, mined the border area, and vowed to shoot anyone attempting to cross.
But marchers in Pakistan were undeterred. When they set off, the sun was shining. Most were on foot, some crammed onto motorcycles carrying three people each, the rest loaded into cars. There was even a contingent of women, clad in delicate sandals with veils covering their hair.
Khan, a former school headmaster and leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), led the march dressed in a sports jacket and tie.
On Feb. 12, the weather changed to freezing rain and snow. In a narrow gorge just three miles from the disputed border, 1,500 hard-core, unarmed activists approached lines of a Pakistani paramilitary police force. The police opened fire.
The JKLF has never been Islamabad's favorite among the 20-odd Kashmiri groups receiving Pakistani support. Its secularist philosophy and desire for independence differs greatly from the Mujahideen Party, an Islamic fundamentalist group that urges Pakistani control. This group is the principal recipient of Pakistan's support.
India has consistently accused Pakistan of "terrorism," arming the Kashmiri militants and sending them across the cease-fire line into Indian-held Kashmir.
The JKLF is one of the oldest Kashmiri liberation groups. But in the last two years since the uprising in Indian-held Kashmir gained momentum, the JKLF went into debt and lost support to the better-organized, and better-armed Mujahideen Party. JKLF rallies support
A sense of unease now pervades Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. After the latest Kashmiri march was fired upon, JKLF demonstrators marched in Muzaffarabad, chanting, "Pakistani dogs go home."
The local government, long associated with the ruling Pakistani Muslim League, now finds its credentials as a nominal Kashmiri government are under fire. A series of strikes has been called to protest the shootings; the elderly Kashmiri Prime Minister Bardar Qayyum was the target of a recent grenade attack.
Army officials have denied the unrest in Pakistani-held Kashmir represent the beginning of an uprising there.
"Four thousand people do not represent the beginnings of public agitation," commented one Army official, downgrading the size of the Feb. 12 march.
The question now being asked is whether the leadership of the JKLF will be able to capitalize on the upsurge in popularity they have enjoyed since the march. The group is poorly organized and currently operates from a tiny one-room office in Muzaffarabad.
Much will depend on what attitude Pakistan displays toward the option of independence. At present, Prime Minister Sharif will only say that the Kashmiris should be allowed self-determination. He does not say whether he would oppose independence. What he does say, however, is that he will not be able to exercise the "painful duty" of preventing Kashmiris from trying to march into Indian-controlled Kashmir.