By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, Jun 8: The first ever literary festival held in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad on June 3-4, 2023, went counterproductive for the organisers when a former BBC journalist Wusatullah Khan blasted Pakistan's Kashmir Policy right in front of a hostile audience.
The President of Pakistan Art Council, Karachi, Ahmad Shah, who is organising the series of Pakistan Literature Festivals (PLFs) across the country, had asserted in an interview with Geo TV that the Muzaffarabad LitFest would, among cultural and literary subjects, have a "full-fledged session on the Kashmir issue, on 35-A and 370" which, he believed, would enlighten the world opinion about "what India is doing in Kashmir".
One of the most prominent journalists of Pakistan, who has also covered Jammu and Kashmir's elections for BBC, Wusatullah Khan blasted Pakistan's policies, in 1971 on East Pakistan and in the last 75 years on Kashmir, in the very beginning of his speech. Khan was supposed to speak on some "out of box solution of the Kashmir issue". As he asserted that Kashmir was "not an issue, but an industry for a larger political class", his plain speaking prompted sloganeering from a section of the audience.
"Excuse me, Kashmir is not an issue. You are an industry. The livelihood of (Pakistan's) Kashmir Committee is tied to this industry. The livelihood of Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and that of the entire political class of Azad Kashmir is associated with this industry. So why should I kick my own ass by looking for an out of box solution?" Khan asserted in his typical style.
"Because of this (Kashmir issue) industry, we get fleets of vehicles, hefty allowances and 90 per cent of our budget from the Centre (Islamabad). And the Centre gets the business of enlightening the Kashmiris on the Kashmir issue in Bradford (in the UK)", Khan added. His straight attack on the Pakistan Government's Kashmir Police in the last 75 years triggered the slogans of "yeh mulk hamara hai, iss ka faisla hum karenge. Chheen ke lenge azaadi" et al from the crowd.
"If you people have come here with a pre-determined agenda and you don't want to hear us, we are going back", Khan, along with eminent television journalist Hamid Mir, got up and began leaving in protest. With a great deal of cajoling, moderator Asma Shirazi pacified the audiences and persuaded Khan to stay and speak. "You have been shouting slogans for 75 years. If you think that your slogans will free Kashmir, go on with your slogans", Khan addressed the protesters.
"Don't make a mistake in reading our (Pakistan's) Kashmir narrative. It's crystal clear. This State's Kashmir Policy is well prescribed. We are supposed to endorse it and go ahead without making any attempt to find alternatives or out of box solutions. I don't know how many of you are aware of what happened with K.H. Khursheed. I believe he was the most genuine person among all leaders in this region. He served as Azad Kashmir's President," Khan went on.
"He (K.H. Khursheed) attempted to suggest an out of box solution. He suggested Pakistan recognise the Azad Kashmir government as a Government (of the Kashmiris) in exile. He said the Kashmiris themselves would take their case to the international forums and Pakistan should provide only moral support. But, since our childhood we have the habit of becoming a Mama (maternal uncle) in every issue. We (Pakistan) said 'how do you know what you want'. We said only we will tell you what you want. This is Pakistan's Kashmir Policy for 75 years. And whenever Mamaji poked in his nose, the Kashmir issue slipped backward by 20 years," Khan said sarcastically.
PLF-Muzaffarabad, according to Ahmad Shah, included a session on "Kashmir's resistance literature" in addition to different discussions on the literary irons of Kashmir and the Kashmiri origin like Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander, Chirag Hasan Hasrat aka 'Sindbaad Jahazi'.
Journalists Wusatullah Khan, Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Mazhar Abbas, author Mustansar Hussain Tarar, writer Suhail Aziz and prominent poets Iftikhar Arif and Kishwar Naheed were the key invitees to the LitFest.
Ahmad Shah said that the Pakistan Art Council had chosen 'Azad Kashmir' (PoK) as a venue for the LitFest as the Kashmir region had the distinction of a great civilisation including a university of learning at Sharda 2500 years back.