LAHORE: Kashmiri leader Shaukat Maqbool Butt sees an end to religion-based militancy inside the valley and states that Kashmiris are reviving their secular values which can be gauged by the fact that they have picked up stones against occupying forces in the area, referring to recent protests launched by the people of Indian-held Kashmir.

Shaukat is the son of famous Kashmiri revolutionary leader Maqbool Butt who died during the guerrilla struggle against Indian occupation of his motherland, on the footsteps of Che Guevara, and his other predecessors from the left. His son Shaukat and his companions continued their struggle facing challenges after challenges on both sides of the border.

Currently, Shaukat is leading the National Liberation Conference (NLC), a left wing pro-independence political party, and is also founder of a consortium of different nationalist parties called the All Parties National Alliance (APNA) and said that the Kashmiris were facing the brunt of the enmity between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory, which is a matter of life and death for both archrivals.

However, Shaukat has a different point of view on the issue and during an interview with Daily Times on his recent visit to Lahore, he said, “Religious extremism was never part of a Kashmiri lifestyle and people from all religions were peacefully living in the area for centuries despite the fact that they were suppressed by different imperialist forces at the same time.”

He said his father, regarded as the founding father of the current independence movement for the formerly princely state, started the strongest-ever freedom struggle in Indian-held Kashmir, which has now turned into a more sophisticated one by the locals who actually desire an independent state out of the influence of both Pakistan and India as well as any other foreign powers and the struggle is still going on.

He said Indians tried their best to crush this struggle and the Pakistani establishment also launched militancy inside the disputed territory in the name of religion, but it could not succeed because Kashmiris never believed in religious extremism and now do not even believe in any armed struggle, but want to secure their freedom through political dialogue and campaigning across the world.

Shaukat said Kashmiris had got sick and tired of living under the influence of both Pakistan and India because they had faced physical and mental loss throughout history during the tussle between both the countries. He said his party welcomed the friendship initiatives taken by both sides, yet they believed that the inter-Kashmir bus service as well as trade was heavily controlled by the intelligence agencies and bureaucracy on both sides of the border and they were only allowing selected people to visit their relatives of trade across border.

He said that most Kashmiris were still deprived of the facility of moving across the valley and especially those who had differences of opinion with Pakistani or Indian establishments were still barred from moving around. Shaukat said he himself had tried to visit his relatives in IHK but was not granted permission. He said an independent Kashmir was in the best interest of all stakeholders, but Pakistani and Indian establishments did not understand this.

He said that a free Kashmiri state would definitely end the bloody rivalry between both the countries, as it remained a bone of contention and the root cause of so many wars and bloodshed in the past between the two countries. He said both the countries were keeping a stranglehold on natural resources in the region, which actually belonged to the people of the soil.

“Pakistan faces a major water crisis and blames India for the phenomenon as it has control over the origin of the water resources. This will not be the case if there is an independent Kashmir as the Kashmiris sympathised with their Pakistani brothers and don’t believe in persecution after facing it themselves at the hands of foreign powers,” he explained.

He said the Pakistani establishment also had a hold on the Kashmiris’ resources and pretended to be feeding the Kashmiris while they were actually utilising their resources. He added that he and all other Kashmiris believed that the government of Pakistan violated their own constitution by declaring Gilgit-Baltistan a separate province when the territory was declared a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir state under the same constitution.

Shaukat said those who migrated from IHK to AJK were still facing an identity crisis as the Pakistan government was hesitant in issuing them identity cards. He said the recent peaceful protests against Indian occupation and its army’s role in the valley following an intifada was a clear indication that the Kashmiris had strongly rejected religion-based militancy.

“We never wanted to kick any Kashmiri out of their homeland on the basis of caste, creed or colour. We have been living with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and people of other faiths peacefully for centuries and want all those who were kicked out of the state by religious fundamentalists back,” Shaukat asserted.