Akbar Jehan: An Intimate History of Kashmir

Khan, Nyla Ali. The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation. New York: Palgrave Pivot. NAKhanHardcover: $70.00. Ebook: S49.99

Many of us in the Sub-continent who grew up with an awareness of the history of Kashmir do not usually realize that the histories we receive are highly motivated and are presented to us with the traces of the preferences and prejudices of the historians and their respective governments and nations. History is never unmotivated, but it offers itself as fact and truth. We on the Pakistani side grew up with a certain view of shaikh Abdullah and his family. In our distorted narratives he is the great “traitor” who sold Kashmir to the Indians for personal gain. But even those of us who know this distorted history of Shaikh Abdullah will have no clue as to who Akbar Jehan was.

Not a female figure in the shadows working behind a patriarchal barrier: she was rather at the center of the Kashmiri struggle and remained its driving force even after her husband had passed away. This brief volume is, thus, an act of retrieval as well as abrogation: it retrieves the silenced history of Akbar Jehan not as a supporting wife but a s a leader in her own right and it also abrogates the patriarchal male-centered history of Kashmir and the Kashmiri struggle. For Pakistani readers, the book also provides a rare glimpse into the life and struggles of Kashmiris on the Indian side of the line of control and the importance of Akbar Jehan to the rise of the National Conference as a viable and pragmatic Kashmiri political party.

Stylistically, this is not just a simple memoir. The book, instead, weaves through the personal and the political without ever hegemonzing or homogenizing a universal Kashmiri identity. The author announces this complex nature of the text, this interplay of the personal and political, particular and universal in the introduction:

Although the weaving of my personal voice into the narrative makes this work auto/biographical . . . my memory and historical interpretation aid theact of writing political events and crises in the life of Akbar Jehan, which is very much the story of modern Kashmir. (3)

This, I must admit, is a very instructive passage as it guides us not only about the authorial intention but also about a plausible way of understanding the book. In simple words: this is not just a memoir written by a privileged author about her privileged grandmother, even though that is how the less generous and more cynical amongst us would like to read it. The passage enlightens us that even though this text is part biographical and that while access to Akbar Jehan’s life was given to the author simply through an accident of birth, the authorial figure inscribing this text is also a historically constituted subject who is also engaged in a complex historiography in the process of composing the text. Thus, in other words, while the access to Akbar Jehan—the subject of this text—was a given in the life of the author, what the author does with this access is deeply discursive and made possible only through the author’s scholarly training and her grasp of history as well as historiography. What comes out at the end is not simply a nostalgic engagement with childhood memories of the author about this larger-than-life female subject, but a deep understanding of Akbar Jehan and her accomplishments as a living breathing human subject of a particular spatial and temporal politics. Thus, the narrative, despite being biographical, becomes an act of historical retrieval because the author performs her authorial identity as a scholar and not just, as some would have us believe, as the privileged granddaughter of an illustrious Kashmiri woman.

For the Pakistani readers, the text can be extremely useful in complicating the received, and prejudiced, knowledge about the Jammu and Kashmir history. Not only would the text introduce them to this hitherto unknown figure of Kashmiri history (I am pretty sure that not many Pakistanis are aware of Akbar Jehan’s role in Kashmiri struggle) but also the struggles and trials of the National Conference and its leadership in the post 1947 era. As I mentioned earlier, In Pakistani popular circles Shaikh Abdullah and his family is often remembered as the sell-outs who harmed the cause of an independent Kashmir. This brief book, in a way, tells us a story of their struggle on the other side, a narrative not dependent upon Kashmir’s connection with Pakistan or India but rather of Kashmir’s struggle and survival and fight toward self-determination as an autonomous place inhabited by an autonomous group of diverse human subjectivities. Furthermore, we learn that in this entire struggle  Akbar Jehan played a central role! Thus, in the end, this is not just a story of how Akbar Jehan impacted the life world of the private sphere but rather a narrative of her role as a subject of politics whose actions impacted the possibilities and future of the Kashmiri people and the nation!

Just as Akbar Jehan needs to be read and remembered as an individual subject in her own right, so does her grand daughter. Nyla Ali Khan is a scholar of immense depth and profound grace. In this lyrical, poetic, and incisive account of Akbar Jehan as a political figure, Khan has given us a gift, an offering into the very soul of the Kashmiri struggle. While it would be absurd for her to excise the privilege of being born into the family, it would be equally inane on our part to read her as an extension of her illustrious family. Khan is an autonomous, as autonomous one can be in this postmodern world, enunciating subject: Her work is informed by a deep understanding of history, philosophy, and philosophies of subject-formation. We should, therefore, read her as the formidable scholar that she is and value her work accordingly!


Raja Jahangir Akhtar: Hunger Strike, Part 2

ISLAMABAD: Raja Jahangir Akhtar, a renowned   political and social worker, who has announced to go on hunger strike unto death to press for acceptance of his demands, has written an open letter to all political leaders of Pakistan. Some of his main demands include:

  • All headquarters of defense forces situated in civilian areas may be shifted outside the domain of civilian population so that in the event of war valuable civilian lives remain safe. Hiroshima is the worst example. It was GHQ of Japan’s defense forces when America used nuclear weapon   during World War II.
  • Every district in Pakistan may be provided with infrastructure for education from primary to intermediate level. Children of marginalized sections of society be provided with free education.
  • A network of new engineering universities may be set up to help all students who secure 900 marks in F.Sc seek engineering degree.


Following is the text of his open letter:-

“An open letter to all political leaders

In my capacity as a humble political and social worker, I have been waging struggle for the past 48 years to express my views on the economic situation of Pakistan. For my candid views on country’s economy, I have been put behind the bars many a time, and once a military court sentenced me to one year’s imprisonment and 10 flogs’ punishment.

I feel totally disappointed over Pakistan’s current critical economic situation. And more disappointing for me is pathetic and insensitive attitude of our national political leadership about this grave economic situation. Therefore, as protest against apathy of the national political leadership, I have decided to go on hunger strike till death from 12 September 2011 at Super Market Islamabad.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that in fact our national political leadership is solely responsible for the current economic crisis. Majority of our political leaders believe that our army is facing an external threat and is duty-bound to defend our geographical (and according to some our ideological) borders. I have an opposite view. I firmly believe that Pakistan faces no external threat. Whatever threat we face is from within. We need to divert all our resources to end poverty, promote education and improve public health.

I claim with full confidence that India and Afghanistan, though never so friendly to Pakistan, never ever had any aggressive designs against Pakistan from 1947 to 1965, the period during which our country’s economy was at its peak. Pakistan’s currency was 1: 1.25 stronger than India’s. We must also keep in mind the fact that the 1965 War against India started after we launched Operation Gibraltar in Occupied Kashmir.

I dare claim that both the government and the opposition political parties have no practicable solution to resolve our current economic crisis. Therefore, I humbly suggest that we can salvage our economy by cutting the size of our army, which is not required in its present strength as we face no external threat. Therefore one way to meet our current economic challenges to end our confrontation with India and Afghanistan like the Soviet Union did against America and other western countries. We can do this by maintaining the strength of our army at a level which existed before the 1965 war. We should give a golden shake hand to the rest of the army which can serve the country in a better way.

Therefore, I request the national political leadership to support me if they agree with my viewpoint; and if they don’t, they should convince me about their views and solution (if they have any) for Pakistan’s economic survival”.


Your’s sincerely,

Mahmood Ali Hamdani

Media Coordinator


Enhanced by Zemanta

Review, India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms, By Amit Ranjan

India-Pakistan: Coming to Terms. Ashutosh Misra. Palgrave Macmillan Publications: New York, 2010. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-230-61937-1.

Lots of books, research articles and editorials focusing upon the need for good relations between India and Pakistan have been written, but the two South Asian, nuclear-armed neighbors are still adamantly hostile to each other. The root cause of their conflict is their claim and counter claim to the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir. They have even fought three full wars, one limited war and a series of proxy wars but are yet to resolve this issue. No formal or informal talks between India and Pakistan can be concluded without raising the subject of ‘Kashmir’. Thinking rationally, one feels that the two countries, for the time being, should put this issue into political cold storage and focus on other bilateral conflicts between them. In the event they resolve those issues they could apply the same mechanism and methods to address Kashmir. Ashutosh Misra’s work is a step in
that direction. Unlike others, he has tried to cautiously avoid the Kashmir issue and focuses upon the negotiations and dialogue process over resolved and nonresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan.

Leaving aside a detailed analysis of the Kashmir question, the author has talked about the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, the Siachin dispute, the Sir Creek dispute, the Rann of Kutch and the Tulbul/ Wular barrage. On the basis of his research, Misra has described the conflict between the two as an “enduring conflict,” a term used by many, including T.V. Paul, to describe India-Pakistan dispute. But despite such disagreements, on certain issues both countries follow the defensive neo-realist dictum that even traditional rivals cooperate if they find that cooperation is in their mutual interest. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is one
such example.

The author has taken into account the theoretical aspects of negotiations, and talks about how negotiations proceed, about ripeness of the dispute, pre-negotiations, negotiation and agreement. India and Pakistan have followed this process but the
relationship is so delicate and complex that one untoward incident negates all the hard work done by an individual or group of individuals. Mr. Vajpayee’s and Nawaz Sharif’s intentions were mowed down by the Kargil episode, then Dr. Manmohan Singh’s and Pervez Musharraf’s step forward faltered due to Mumbai carnage. Once these types of incidents take place the relationship goes back to zero and for any further political engagement one has to start from scratch. There is an absolute lack of continuity in bilateral dialogue, which is a must for resolution of any ensuing conflict. . . .

(For the full version, please visit Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies)