Wednesday September 22, 2021

Time to engage Kashmir diaspora

August 04, 2021

On 5th August 2019, the GoI-Government of India scrapped the special status of erstwhile J&K-Jammu & Kashmir State followed by a strict lockdown and communication blackout. Thousands of political activists and resistance leaders were arrested and shifted to far-off jails in India. J&K’s diaspora was quick to gauge the severity of the situation and hit the streets to inform the world opinion about the silence enforced back home. Kashmiri diaspora proved to be a well-placed political resource at hand that had hardly been utilized in the right manner before.

According to precise estimates, around 1 million Kashmiris from both sides of J&K are present in the UK-United Kingdom. Besides, in the influential Tristate area, in the European capitals, in the decision-making bodies at EU-European Union, and British Parliament, Kashmiris are present in a handsome number.

It is quite astonishing to note that despite being geographically distant from its home, this large section of people has maintained most cultural, social, economic, and emotional linkages with their homeland. Besides, the Kashmiri diaspora is different from other migrant communities in a unique aspect as even after 5 generations, it has to cater to the financial needs of dependents in the country of origin.

The burden to contribute back home is so huge that it has crippled the diaspora’s organizational ability and is a major impediment in the actualization of the diaspora’s political resource. For instance, AJK has a staggering 10.3 percent unemployment rate (according to the Planning and Development Department, AJK) and the diaspora takes this challenge as a responsibility towards its kith & kin. It’s largely due to the diaspora’s investment that AJK hasn’t been engulfed in an employment crisis so far. Oblivious to the needs and contributions of the diaspora, the AJK assembly has only one reserved seat for all the overseas Kashmiris (including diaspora).

Prime Minister of AJK, Raja Farooq Haider Khan engaged in an extensive international campaign to rope in the diaspora and lobby for Kashmir after India scrapped the special status of J&K. On his visit to UK and EU, he came across an unresponsive diaspora complainant of being poorly represented in the AJK government and its policymaking institutions.

During my field research in the UK, diaspora members revealed that their sense of belonging to AJK, particularly to its government, has weakened over time. Years of neglect have widened the gulf between AJK and its expatriates. AJK based political parties have their good offices in the diaspora circles but the relationship lacks trust and the diaspora feels misused at the hands of AJK’s political parties. On one hand, overseas Kashmiris act as a backbone of AJK’s economy and happen to be the natural ambassadors of the region but sadly, they are so pushed to the wall that they do not repose any faith in AJK’s political setup.

The challenge to engage and mobilize diaspora in a constructive manner is essentially one that requires political will and the understanding of diaspora as an entity on its own. The cultural evolution of this group hasn’t had a smooth ride because of the fewer spaces available for communitarian engagement in matters related to lifestyle. For instance, people in isolated pockets celebrate their language, festivals, folklore, and history but this process has not been synergised to a level where it can transform itself to constitute a composite national identity. This is where direct policy interventions are required.

These policy interventions must be able to cover the wide range of problems faced by the diaspora. A timely stitch in time would be enhancing the representation of diaspora members in the AJK assembly. It is convenient to locate the diaspora population centers as they mostly live in consolidated groups in particular areas. Kashmiri diaspora would account for at least a dozen of seats in the assembly based on the representation scheme followed by the AJK Government.

This nominal representation alone would not be sufficient to practically rope in the diaspora in matters of national importance. In addition, the government needs to reserve a particular portfolio for diaspora issues and set up working groups in important ministries to facilitate the exchange of ideas and specialized opinions between the two entities. These working groups shall be able to work on special initiatives to promote diaspora-led investment in AJK and utilize the capable human resource in the diaspora to benefit local education, entrepreneurship, and international lobbying efforts on Kashmir.

To fully harness the potential of the diaspora, it is high time that the AJK government facilitates and helps build a lobbying infrastructure in the world capitals. The diaspora has enough human resource, expertise, and well-placed individuals who can come together to take up the responsibility of being the political ambassadors of Jammu and Kashmir.

The writer specialises in Diaspora Studies and International Relations. Her doctoral research both at SOAS University of London (UK) and Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad catered to the role of Kashmiri Diaspora in conflict transformation. She can be contacted at [email protected]