Monday, 31 October 2011

Book Review: "Across the LoC – Inside Pakistan Administered Jammu and Kashmir" by Luv Puri

Luv Puri is a reputed journalist who has in the past worked for the Hindu and reported extensively on Pakistan and the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Currently a Fulbright scholar at the New York University, Puri has written a book which, like Puri’s first name, is compact and petite (though not as sweet) and seeks to ‘go beyond the official narrative and present an objective view of the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan Administered Jammu and Kashmir in particular and reconcile the contesting views of India and Pakistan’.

Puri succeeds to a large extent. The facts and statistics presented in Across the Loc are of the sort one doesn’t come across easily in the mainstream media. A fair amount of attention is paid to the demographics of J&K prior to 1947. Jammu and Kashmir were so different in many ways, not just in the percentage of Muslims in each region. We all know of Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference. How many of us know of the Muslim Conference and its relationship with the Muslim League in undivided India? Do you know how well Jinnah got along with Sheikh Abdullah especially after Jinnah’s visit to the state in 1944? In simple terms, the National Conference was pro-India and pro-Congress and the Muslim Conference was pro-Pakistan and pro-Muslim League. However, the Muslim Conference’s leadership in Jammu did not see eye to eye with its leadership in the Valley. So much so that the President of the Jammu group announced at a press conference on 28 May 1947 that it stood for independence. Less than two months later, Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, the leader of the Muslim Conference in Srinagar sought internal autonomy and accession to Pakistan in matters relating to defence, foreign policy and communications.

Puri’s account is very objective and balanced. He refers to India-held Kashmir as Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir or IAJK and Pak-held Kashmir is Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir or PAJK. The book is divided into six chapters and each of those chapters told me a lot of things I didn’t know earlier. For example, Puri tells us that after India recaptured lost territory during the 1965 War, retaliatory action was unleashed against the Muslims in the Mendhar area of Poonch district, suspected to have sided with Pakistan’s campaign. Apparently this led to large-scale displacement from IAJK to PAJK. The chapter on Mirpur and the role played by immigrants (to the UK) from Mirpur in the JKLF and other insurgent groups is very interesting. It is claimed that half the Pakistani immigrants in the UK are from Mirpur. Equally interesting is Pakistan’s attempt to show PAJK or Azad Kashmir to be an independent country, which is subject to an international dispute, and give it the trappings of a sovereign state with its own Supreme Court, President and Prime Minister, even though the Legislature of PAJK has to share power with the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council.

Where Puri fails to deliver is in the analysis department. Across the LoC is solid on fact, no doubt about it. However, the presented facts are not analysed and opinions put forth to the extent one would expect in a book of this nature. Much of the text consists of quotes from other books or from people interviewed by the author. Puri rarely puts forth a point of view and this can be immensely irritating. For example, when Puri talks of Darul Uloom, Asia’s largest Muslim seminary at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, he says that ‘till the 1980s, 25 per cent of the students at the seminary came from outside India.’ Apparently, the Indian government has now cut down the number of student visas given to international students and their numbers have dropped. Puri says that ‘many scholars at Deoband feel that a liberal visa policy will contribute to infusing the true Deobandi pedagogy in its true spirit that is neither incendiary nor extremist.’ Okay, so far so good, but does Puri think that a more liberal visa regime would make sense? You never get to know since Puri does not spell out his stand.

Despite this shortcoming, Across the LoC is an excellent (or even mandatory) read for anyone interested in the Kashmir dispute.

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