"Naseema Akhtar, 30 and her daughter Shazia Anwar, 13 at their one-room house in the old city of Srinagar await the call to break fast. Naseema's husband, Syed Anwar, is among some 8,000 people who have disappeared in the restive region" (via Al Jazeera)

“Naseema Akhtar, 30 and her daughter Shazia Anwar, 13 at their one-room house in the old city of Srinagar await the call to break fast. Naseema’s husband, Syed Anwar, is among some 8,000 people who have disappeared in the restive region” (via Al Jazeera)

Today, 14th August 2014, marks the 68th Independence Day for Pakistan, with August 15th being the 68th Independence Day for India. Both days are usually met with patriotic celebrations to commemorate independence from Britain in 1947, and the subsequent creation of the two countries. The partition resulted in one of the largest human migrations ever seen, displacing some 15 million people, and sparked horrific violence with an estimated death toll of up to 1 million people on both sides. Some may argue that the mass human cost of partition brings in to question whether it is an event of celebration or mourning, and this is a debate within itself. But another key – largely forgotten – issue which always rises to the surface this time of year is the question of Kashmir.

Following independence, the princely state of Kashmir along with other princely states were encouraged to either accede to India or Pakistan. Given Kashmir’s shared border with Pakistan, and its 77% majority Muslim population, it was anticipated for Kashmir to form a part of Pakistan. The then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, delayed the decision of ascension – this, along with reports of communal violence against Muslims in the state, prompted Pashtun tribesmen from Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province to invade Kashmir with the support of the Pakistani government. With a break down in law and order and the killing and looting by the invading tribesmen, the Maharaja requested help from India, which subsequently led to the signing of the Instrument of Accession, acceding Kashmir to India, and the entrance of the Indian army in to the state. The signing of the Instrument of Accession attracted a lot of controversy and expectedly was neglected by Pakistan as illegal. Pakistan has argued that the Maharaja was in no position to sign the accession on behalf of his people as he had already fled the valley of Kashmir, which also brings the accusation of the signing taking place under duress. Indian troops repelled the Pakistani tribesmen, and drove them back from all but a small segment of the state. The Kashmir issue was taken to the UN, resulting in a ceasefire in January 1949, leaving India in control of a majority of the disputed territory, including the Valley of Kashmir which has a 97% Muslim population. ‘Azad (free) Kashmir’ fell under Pakistani control. A UN resolution called for a free and impartial plebiscite to determine the final state of Kashmir. However, no plebiscite or referendum was ever adopted, and Pakistan and India fought two further wars over Kashmir. The question of Kashmir remains to this very day just that, a question, with no answer in sight.

The 1990’s saw the beginning of an armed uprising against the Indian occupation in Indian held Kashmir, sparked by the Gawakadal bridge massacre in which 100 people were killed as Indian troops fired at unarmed protesters. The period which followed saw the darkest days for Kashmir, with at least 650,000 Indian security forces deployed to crush the uprising, leading to grave human rights abuses and the killings of tens of thousands of civilians. Death became a part of Kashmiri life, which brought with it a growing number of youth crossing the border over to Pakistan for training, and the taking up of arms. The initiation of the uprising also saw the killings of Kashmiri Pandits by armed groups, leading to the entire Pandit community fleeing the Valley. By 1996, the conflict saw 13 deaths every day. Human Rights Watch, along with many other human rights organisations have accused the Indian government and the Indian army of “massive human rights violations” including – but not limited to – the deliberate targeting of civilians, torture and summary executions of detainees, and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, mainly during search operations and crackdowns. Human Rights Watch in their report say, “There can be no doubt that the use of rape is common and routinely goes unpunished”. One particular case of rape which stands out is that of a young bride, Mubeena Gani. On the night of 16th  May 1990, on their wedding night, Mubeena, her husband Rashid and relatives, boarded a bus to leave the brides house after the nikah ceremony and wedding celebrations had taken place. The bus was stopped and attacked by Indian security forces, who pierced the bus with bullets. Rashid was hit with 5 bullets to his back, his cousin was shot dead, and Mubeena received 3 bullets to her shoulder, back, and hips. The passengers were then dragged off the bus, and a group of the security forces raped Mubeena and her bridesmaid. Kashmiri Journalist Basharat Peer in his memoir, Curfewed Night, met Mubeena some years later – she said, “I could not even remember how many there were, I had lost my senses”. The security forces responsible were never prosecuted. And this impunity was the story of every case of murder, rape, and abuse, in the blood-soaked Valley of Kashmir.

2010 saw the deaths of 117 young men as Indian forces responded to the stone-pelting youth with live ammunition, eerily reminiscent of Palestinian youth in the Occupied Territories being met with Israeli army bullets. Many Kashmiris have often linked their struggle for self-determination to that of the Palestinian cause, some even labelling Kashmir as ‘South Asia’s Palestine’. Whether the comparison is a strong one is perhaps debateable, however, what is certainly true is that the people of Kashmir have been denied their right to self-determination through international silence and state-repression, just as is the case with the Palestinians. Of course, although the vast majority of the oppression and human rights abuses has been carried out by the Indian state and army against the majority Muslim population, Pakistan is also not immune to this conflict. The now out-dated and vaporised UN demand for a referendum would require a third option of independence, if it was ever adopted, something which both India and Pakistan would not want to see as they both see the disputed territory as theirs.

Returning back to the original point of independence celebrations which will begin today – the question we should all ask is, when will we finally allow the Kashmiri people to determine their own independence, or ascension to either India or Pakistan if they wish. Of course this isn’t a black and white issue, given the demographics on the ground and different territories containing different religious groups, for example majority Hindu regions who may not wish to join Pakistan or even be a part of an independent Kashmir, if a majority referendum was to decide that fate. However, until the Kashmiri people are given a chance to vote in a referendum, we will never know what the majority consensus is, and they will continue to live in an uncertain condition which was promised to be ‘temporary’, 65 years ago.

By Hamzah Nurgat (@hamzah_1992)

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Today, Monday 28th July, marked the Muslim holy day of Eid Al-Fitr, and I like millions of Muslims across the globe spent the day with family and loved ones. There were smiles and laughter, children dressed in new clothes, there was food and games, but there was also an air of mourning, pain, and anger. Our bodies were present but our hearts were lost in the wreckage of Gaza.

After lunch as I kicked a ball around with family, children in Gaza attempted to scrape the last bit of joy out of this auspicious day, but were denied even that. Eight children were massacred as Israel bombed a playground in Al-Shati refugee camp. They died whilst playing on the swings – because of course they posed a threat to the nuclear state. An eye witness told Al Jazeera, “The kids were playing on the wheel…A rocket fell and cut them apart”. Having committed this horrific act, the IDF subsequently released a statement blaming ‘Hamas rockets’ for the massacre, as well as a separate bombing of the Al-Shifa hospital. This was then of course accepted as the official line by our noble, bastion-of-truth BBC. Eye witness accounts from Palestinians on the ground in Gaza are not as worthy as the IDF, who have so far in this ‘conflict’ (massacre) targeted schools, shelters, hospitals, ambulances, homes, cars, mosques, cafés, and cemeteries, with precision weaponry.

If even an ounce of humanity existed in those world leaders – both in the West and the Arab world – who have been complicit in this latest assault on Gaza, this one atrocity would have sparked outrage, condemnation, and action. But this isn’t an isolated incident, as the death toll currently stands at 1,085, including 251 children, as Israel continues to pound the densely packed refugee population of Gaza, from air, land, and sea. Still, the international community fails to act. Perhaps only a sea of dead children will touch their humanity.

On 16th July, four Palestinian boys were murdered on a beach as they played football, thought to be safe under the watchful eye of international journalists. An eye witness reported, “Even from a distance of 200 metres, it was obvious that three of them were children”. But Israel killed them anyway, and this is the price of international silence and complicity through decades of Israeli aggression. They know they can get away with just about anything.

If those in power truly believed in justice, they would put their full weight behind the Palestinians, and pressure Israel to comply with international law through sanctions and a complete arms embargo. As a British citizen I am appalled by my governments “staunch support” for Israel. As thousands pour out on to the streets of London and across the country, and across the globe from France to Kashmir, we say to our so called leaders – not in our name.

 

Hamzah Nurgat

Twitter: @hamzah_1992

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Eternal Rose

Birds scatter the vast pink sky
As the roaring sound of death approaches
The melodious call to prayer echoes

Come to Prayer
Come to Success

Motherly hands soothe the cries of lost children
No escaping the worlds cruel fate
The all too familiar sound of death
Closer
Don’t cry child, your mother lov-
In this fragile life, words are often left unspoken
Bombs rain down
Shattering the physical

The sky darkens
Explosions, debris, corpses
Souls intertwined, filling the air
A single rose stands still
Beautiful green petals flourish
Catching the tears of those above
Sending forth a heavenly fragrance
Thorns
Protect
Against
Evil
Firmly                     Beneath
Roots                    Placed                  The Land

Hope, love, and faith, are stronger than your bombs.

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Palestine – Love, Loss, and Hope

At 12 years of age, my life was about to fall apart.

I sat, uncontrollably shivering, huddled in to the corner of the room, clutching on to my mother and my baby sister, Safiyeh. Unimaginable stories of brutality and bloodshed had circulated from neighbouring villages only days earlier, however, we hadn’t enough time to flee – where were we to go? Would Safiyeh survive? How could we leave our home, our possessions? So we sat, awaiting our fate.

In the early hours of the morning we were awoken by father – he and other men of the village acting as guards and look-outs had spotted several Jewish militias heading towards our village. I will never forget the look on my father’s face that cold morning; helplessness etched in to the expressions of a man who prided himself on never showing any outward sign of weakness. Looking in to my father’s eyes I knew, and he knew, that we were saying goodbye. As father embraced us, our door smashed open to the sight of two young men, indoctrinated with an evil ideology, and empowered by the metal in their hands. One of the men stormed in and dragged my father away from us. I escaped my mother’s clutch and grabbed hold of my father’s ankle, pleading for them to leave us alone. Somewhere amidst the screams of father shouting me to let go, to the shrieking cries of Safiyeh, the second man booted my face, sending an excruciatingly painful sensation through me which left me unconscious. I never saw my father again.

Abdullah Khalil, now a 77-year-old man, sat peering through the car window at the modern neighbourhood which towered over him. A single tear trickled down his crusty skin, over the bumps and cracks of ageing, as the haunting recollection of his past looked directly at him. After 65 years, Abdullah was revisiting his home. With further hints of tears forming through his watery gaze, he turned to the man in the driver’s seat, and continued.

When I eventually regained consciousness, I first caught the confused look on my baby sister. She was just one month old, unable to comprehend the unfolding tragedy – weeping, but not knowing why. This inability to answer the question of ‘why?’, however, is not conditional upon age. To this very day, I still find myself asking this very question, with overwhelming difficulty in formulating an answer. Of course, I can absorb the outer surface of the question; what occurred all those years ago was done in order to expel us indigenous Palestinians to pave the way for a Jewish state. But, this isn’t a satisfying answer – it does not reach the core of the question. It is when I dig deep in to the inner surfaces, to claw out some reasoning as to why, and how, a human being can inflict such pain on to a fellow brethren, it is then that I crumble to unanswerable questions.

Sometime later, the men who had taken my father re-appeared, forcibly expelling me from the frail shackles of my distraught mother. As my kicking and screaming body was dragged to the outside surface, another man entered my home, after which I heard a single gun-shot, followed by the short-lived cries of Safiyeh, and the painful wailing of my mother. An indescribable, sudden ambush of grief mixed with raging anger rushed through me. I was 12-years-old, but I felt like an old decaying man dying from a lifetime of pain. Lost in a timeless conundrum of emotions and thoughts, it is only when I was hauled off the ground, did I see the extent of the occurring brutality. Fresh corpses of women and children – some so disfigured, identity was indecipherable – lay in heaps in a pool of their own blood; the same blood gushing through the vessels of their killers. The men led me to a wall and shouted instructions in Hebrew, signalling with hand motions for me to walk towards the wall and face my back against it. Many others from the village stood with me, horrified. Some pleaded with the militias who stood in an unwavering manner, others recited prayers, women covered their children in a motherly fashion, and the elderly looked on in dismay. Scattering bullets from all corners met with flesh, bones, and stone. Bodies twice my size had fallen over me, knocking me to the ground. As armed men searched through the pile of collateral damage, piercing further bullets in to those who had the audacity to grasp final breaths of air, I lay still, buried under soulless masses. I don’t know whether I am lucky to be alive today, or unlucky to be able to continue feeling. I am alive in the sense that my physical body remains, but dead in that I have been left lifeless.

Abdullah walked out of the car and stood in an angulated posture, staring more intensely at his surroundings. His feet met the ground on which his family were erased – erased, in every sense of the word. To those living in the lavish houses where he once played, ate, and slept, there was never an Abdullah. The history which defines the plight of Palestinians rotting in refugee camps was blotted out, moulded and re-written. The screams of his mother being raped were fine-tuned and edited in to sounds of bloodless celebrations of the great Jewish return to their biblical homeland – an uninhabited land. His memories of running in the fields under his father’s loving watch, eating deliciously fresh-grown fruit with his mother, playing with his Jewish and Christian neighbours, was all a myth. Such a Palestine never existed.

A gush of wind blew against Abdullah, lifting slightly the keffiyeh wrapped around his head, sending a chilling, yet warm sensation down his spine. He shut his eyes, inhaled deeply, and thought – the air of the land had witnessed the horrors and felt his pain. People may have forgotten, but the memories of the land will forever remain ingrained deep within its earth, and share his grief. He inserted his hand into his pocket, guiding his fingers delicately along the outlines of a long metallic key, with a feeling of love, loss, and hope lingering over him as he stood amongst the houses in which this key once functioned. After absorbing his view a final time, Abdullah stepped back in to the car, signalling the driver to head back to the refugee camp.

The lifeless remains of an old man can still cling on to a thread of hope.

Authors Note: Although this is a short piece of ‘fiction’ in its technical term, in reality it is a story of non-fiction; a historical account of the Nakba (The Catastrophe). The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and the depopulation and destruction of their villages. This tragedy is not merely a piece of history, but a continuing theme even today. If we want to truly understand the present situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with real honesty, then we must address and educate ourselves upon the historical facts of this conflict – which date as far back as the late 19th century – and the injustices which followed.

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'War on Terror' montage

‘War on Terror’ montage

I was 9-years-old on this day, 12-years-ago, when terrorists crashed two hijacked commercial airliners into the North and South towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. A third hijacked airliner crashed in to the Pentagon, and a fourth in to the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was a Tuesday afternoon – 1:38PM UK time, when the first airliner crashed – so most children my age were at school, however I was off sick that day. I recall eating my lunch and watching cartoons, which suddenly switched to breaking news, and there I was, watching the twin towers disintegrate. It is an image I vividly remember, and one which I’m sure is ingrained in to the minds of all of us today. It was a truly horrific and terrifying image. Of course, I was old enough to appreciate the shock and horror of what was happening, but too young to understand the significance of what had occurred, and the ensuing repercussions – the ‘war on terror’ – which would unfold. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the world I lived in had changed forever.

Almost 3,000 innocent souls fell that day. All those aboard the four hijacked planes perished. Thousands trapped in the towers were killed through smoke inhalation, by the collapse of the building, or by jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning towers – at least 200 people died in this dreadful manner. 411 heroic rescue workers sacrificed their lives to help rescue the victims of the terror attack, including fire-fighters, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and a chaplain. To this day, many of the bodies of those who died remain unidentified.

The mass human cost of that cold September day is a tragedy which must never be forgotten. However, if we truly believe that the death of any innocent human life is tragic, it would be a great injustice to ignore the human suffering caused by the resulting ‘war on terror’, which will also be seen as terrorism, to those standing under the bombs in Afghanistan, those who were sexually assaulted by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib, those born with devastating deformities and cancers from war-chemicals dropped on to them, fatally polluting their environment in Fallujah, those running in fright from the buzzing sound of American drones hovering over their homes and families in Pakistan, those blindfolded and rendered off to undisclosed locations to be tortured in the most brutal of ways, by dictators who are today our ‘enemies’, or those perishing in the cells of Guantanamo with no hope of freedom.

Today, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries on this earth having endured decades of war at the hands of power-hungry hawks, from the former USSR to America. The merciless destruction and degradation of Iraq is something which is difficult to put in to words. July 2013, during the holy Islamic month of Ramadhan, 1,057 Iraqi’s were killed in sectarian violence – this is the state of Iraq today. As Iraq descends in to a sectarian blood-bath, those who once informed us of their intention to invade the country due to their care and compassion for the Iraqi people, now turn a blind eye to the blood spilling in Baghdad, as their interests have already been secured – oil, and a puppet in power who hides behind the façade of ‘democracy’. The crocodile tears no longer fall.

The question I believe we should ask ourselves, but more importantly, the question which the war hawks who orchestrated and continue to operate this ‘global war on terror’ should ask themselves, is this: If those 3,000 innocent people who were killed on September 11th 2001, were to see the corpses of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people killed in their name, how would they react? What would they think? Would they approve, or would they weep?

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