Aman Zakaria’s Between the Great Divide is not about ‘Azad’ Kashmir as a political project, but the human and existential realities of life in Pakistan Administered Jammu and Kashmir (PAJK).
A complex tale, it is a mosaic of numerous displacements and disavowals, uncertain borders and nation-splitting recounted with sensitivity, even if it lacks high quality scholarship at times. Despite being one of the most high-profile territorial disputes in the world, not much is available on the political, cultural and social aspects of PAJK, making it somewhat of an ‘insignificant other’ in the Kashmir issue. The only other book that comes to mind is Luv Puri’s Across the Line of Control: Inside Pakistan-administered Kashmir .
For those of us who grew up in the Valley of Kashmir in the ’60s and ’70s, ‘Azad Kashmir’ was a serious political construct — yet without a corresponding intense emotional attachment. Unlike Punjab, where the two sides still share the love lore of a Heer Ranjha, the two parts of J&K, especially the Valley, have limited joint cultural moorings. The two Kashmirs don’t connect even linguistically.
While Zakaria shows awareness of the identity, ethnic and linguistic diversity of Greater Jammu and Kashmir, her focus is on the human suffering. She highlights the costs and consequences of this political contest on the people, no matter which side of the line of control they live. Despite serious differences in ethnicity and language — the majority of the population of PAJK is non-Kashmiri speaking — they have a strong sense of Kashmiri identity that takes precedence over linguistic identification with closely related groups outside of Azad Kashmir, she says.
This is an important observation that should pave the way for further analytical research on ethnicity and identity formation in J&K. It may also trigger a rethink on the whole issue of identity dilution in Kashmir politics if the two parts are joined since Kashmiri-speaking Kashmiris will be in a minority. It is no coincidence that the Line of Control pretty much overlaps the line of linguistic separation.
After reading Zakaria, it is impossible not to think that the two parts are now bound by their suffering.
The political class of Greater Kashmir must read it to draw insights while building strategies to resolve the Kashmir issue. It is not just a line to be drawn or redrawn but human lives that are impacted.
Between the Great Divide: A Journey into Pakistan-administered Kashmir ; Anam Zakaria, HarperCollins, ₹599.