Historic victory of mass movement in Pakistan-held Kashmir

On 13 May, more than 500,000 people gathered in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled, so-called ‘Azad’ (‘Free’) Kashmir, to demand cheaper electricity and wheat flour. The ruling class of ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Pakistan, despite having brutally attacked the protestors previously, have now partially accepted the masses’ demands. This is a huge victory for the masses in this part of Kashmir, where people have been protesting for more than a year for these demands. This victory has sent shockwaves through the halls of power.

Notices have been issued reducing electricity prices from a maximum of Rs. 35 per unit to a maximum of Rs. 6 per unit for domestic users and Rs. 15 for commercial users, and wheat flour from Rs. 3,100 per 40 kg to Rs. 2,000. Promises have also been made to take into consideration other demands, including an end to all perks and privileges for ministers and bureaucrats, the restoration of student unions, and others.

Apart from those gathered in Muzaffarabad, hundreds of thousands came out onto the streets in every village and town of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, welcoming the marchers, giving them food and drinks late into the night, raising slogans, protesting against the government and supporting the movement.

Though there was no participation of women in the main gathering, they played a key role in mobilising the movement. Most of the funding was organised and supported by women, who also organised collections of food, lodgings and other strategic supplies. Women even fought with the paramilitary Rangers when they tried to sneak into Muzaffarabad.

In fact, almost the whole population of ‘Azad’ Kashmir was involved in the movement in one way or another. There was a mood of jubilation and celebration. Even the bourgeois media had to report that in the course of this week, there was no administration or police in the major cities, and that the masses controlled everything. Power was in the hands of the people and the whole government and administration was hanging in the air. This shows the real strength of the mass movement and their power when they begin to move.

A huge victory

This is a huge victory for the masses in this part of Kashmir, where people have been protesting for more than a year for these demands. This victory has sent shockwaves through the halls of power in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad, with the ruling classes tasting a bitter defeat after throwing continuous insults at the protestors throughout their struggle; having used the police and security forces to brutally attack them; imprisoning them, and in the end killing three, when the Rangers opened fire on protestors in Muzaffarabad. The masses in Kashmir held their ground despite all these attacks, and fought for their basic rights under the leadership of the Joint Awami Action Committee (AAC).

On 11 May, after several protests and demonstrations numbering in the hundreds of thousands failed to get concessions from the government, the AAC put out the call for a long march to Muzaffarabad. In the last year, more than eight complete lockdowns, and transport blockages and strikes have been held in pursuit of these demands, as well as several protests in which hundreds of thousands across ‘Azad’ Kashmir participated. Although the majority of the 4.5 million population in this area have refused to pay electricity bills for the last year, the movement for an official deal persevered.

Fearing the mobilisation for this long march, on 9 May the ruling class began its attacks, arresting several protestors in Mirpur who were making plans for the long march, in which one young comrade of International Marxist Tendency (IMT) and student leader of Mirpur University, Ubaid Zulfiqar, was also arrested. Police also brutally attacked protests in the town of Dudyal near Mirpur, firing teargas that severely injured many young girls in a nearby school. This enraged the protestors and they resorted to pushing back the police, despite their brutality. In this battle, the local Assistant Commissioner was beaten by the protestors, and his clothes were later hanged on the main crossing of the town.

This incident immediately led to a call for a lock down across ‘Azad’ Kashmir, which was strictly observed by the masses. The central leadership of the AAC condemned this brutality and brought the whole of ‘Azad’ Kashmir to a grinding halt. But the leadership of the AAC in Mirpur asked for an end to the lockdown in order to follow the call for the long march, which would be a befitting reply to the attack of the ruling class. In answer, the central leadership of AAC ended the lockdown and resumed the call for a long march which again received an overwhelming response and hundreds of thousands started preparing to come out.

On 10 May, large numbers came out in all cities from Muzaffarabad to Kotli to Rawlakot, protesting against the heavy-handedness of the state. Many more battles with the police and security forces were held that day too, especially in Muzaffarabad, where a state of emergency was imposed. Nevertheless, the masses continued their protests. Six protestors were arrested in Muzaffarabad as well.

To aid in the repression, the government in ‘Azad’ Kashmir invited the assistance of police forces from neighbouring Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa province, further enraging the population, being a clear infringement of the sovereignty of Kashmir, which has a separate status and is a disputed territory between Pakistan and India.

On the evening of 10 May, the whole atmosphere was charged, which the ruling class used to try and intimidate the protestors, forcing them to back off from holding the long march. At this juncture, the AAC leadership announced that the long march would go ahead as scheduled on 11 May, and that everyone should descend on Muzaffarabad. Hundreds of thousands mobilised across ‘Azad’ Kashmir and began their journey to Muzaffarabad – not directly, but along winding routes covering every district. Meanwhile, police and security forces blocked the roads of this mountainous area by pulling down and laying trees, large rocks and mountain soil across the roads to block the march.

But these blockades were nothing before the determination of the population, who had decided to fight till the last for their demands. In many areas, people arranged excavators to lead their march, and the young and elderly alike set off on their journey, on foot or by car, to reach their destination.

On the morning of 11 May, all these caravans, from the different districts of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, set off to reach Poonch district. They had to fight state repression, road blockades, harsh weather conditions and other difficulties. But these were minute obstacles given their high spirits. Most of these caravans reached Rawalakot in Poonch district on 11 and 12 May.

Everywhere, these caravans were welcomed with warmth and class solidarity. In these tourist areas, all of the hotels offered food and lodgings to every marcher, free of charge. People opened their homes and offered everything they had to the participants. And after welcoming them, they in turn joined them, heading towards the next destination.

On 12 May, the long march set off from Rawalakot towards its final destination: Muzaffarabad. Passing through Arja and Dhirkot in Bagh district, the march eventually reached Muzaffarabad on 13 May, by which time numbers exceeded 500,000, whilst many still made their way to the capital along small roads and poor infrastructure.

This whole scenario – of revolutionary enthusiasm, class solidarity, defiance and determination – sent shockwaves through the upper echelons of power. The rulers, who were spitting insults at the masses and hurling threats towards them, had been humbled. Gathered in Islamabad, under Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahbaz Sharif, they announced the acceptance of the main demands of cheaper electricity and wheat flour.

Meanwhile, efforts were ongoing to turn this peaceful show of defiance into violence and bloodshed. For this purpose, the Rangers, a notorious paramilitary force of Pakistan, tried to enter Muzaffarabad through Kohala bridge, which the protestors prevented by blocking their entrance. In another attempt, the Rangers tried to enter the city using a less-used route consisting of narrow alleys and roads. A battle ensued with the local population including women, in which the Rangers opened fire, killing at least three protestors, and injuring six more.

This was dreadful news for the hundreds of thousands gathered in Muzaffarabad, which further infuriated them. Furthermore, the protesters objected to the notice that had been issued by the government, as not all the demands had been met, and so the people planned to continue the protest.

But despite the charged atmosphere, the plans of the ruling class to incite violence and label the whole gathering as one of ‘terrorists’ and ‘Indian agents’ was foiled, as the participants dispersed peacefully, although they have vowed to get justice for the three martyred by the Rangers and to continue the struggle for their other demands.

crowd Image fair useFuneral prayers were observed by thousands in Muzaffarabad / Image: fair use

Today, funeral prayers were observed by thousands in Muzaffarabad, and the bodies of the martyrs were laid to rest. One of the main opposition leaders in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Khwaja Farooq, tried to attend the funeral but was thrown out and refused attendance. This shows the anger among the masses for all the established parties and leaderships.

The central leadership of the AAC could have organised a protest for the martyrs today and asked for the immediate punishment of those involved in these murders, including the Prime Minister and other leaders of ‘Azad’ Kashmir who invited Rangers into the territory. But the leadership has shown weakness on this point, which needs to be addressed. The anger among the masses is still growing and they demand action against the criminals in the halls of power.

Despite all this, it is a huge victory for the masses, not only in Kashmir but in the whole region. In Pakistan, the majority of the population is facing unprecedented inflation, price hikes and unemployment. However, not a single political party or group is calling for protests on these issues. The prices of electricity and fuel have risen several times over in recent years, and a unit of electricity now costs Rs. 70 or more due to ever-increasing taxes. But this victory in Kashmir has sent a wave of fresh air across Pakistan. Everyone is talking about protesting for their rights and defying the dictates of the ruling class. The whole mood of dejection and demoralisation has been transformed into one of defiance, with big protests being planned for the coming weeks.

Funeral Image fair useOne of the main opposition leaders in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Khwaja Farooq, tried to attend the funeral but was thrown out and refused attendance / Image: fair use

This whole revolutionary mass movement has also exposed the impotence and obsolescence of the established political parties, all of which supported the ruling elite. The demand for a minimum of Rs. 3 per unit of electricity was dismissed as absurd, impractical and impossible, by these parties. The leadership of the movement was mocked and insulted for raising such ‘utopian’ demands. But in the end, these demands now look small given how much more could have been achieved by such a powerful movement, including free electricity and wheat flour, if only it had had better organisation.

All the established political parties in Kashmir, including the nationalist parties, opposed this movement from the very beginning and used every tactic to derail it. That is why the leadership of the movement had to clarify that we cannot trust these parties and leaderships, and that the masses must rely on themselves alone and their own organisations in order to move forward. This is why all attempts to include the parasitic leaders of the different parties were blocked, and any hint of reliance on such traitors was immediately rejected by the leadership.

This victory has now sent the same message to Pakistan, where the bankruptcy of the ruling parties, like the PML(N) and the PPP, as well opposition parties like Imran Khan’s PTI, has already been exposed. None of them took a stand against the imposition of regressive tax and price hikes. This victory will pave the way for new movements and new parties in the coming period in Kashmir and Pakistan.

In fact, this victory is the biggest in the whole region since the historic battle of the farmers’ movement in India against Modi a few years ago. The victory in this part of Kashmir will send a message of encouragement not only to the masses of Indian-occupied Kashmir, but will extend further to the working class in India, which is also being attacked by the Modi regime, and which yearns for a revolutionary struggle against the brutality of the Indian ruling class.

The tactics used by the ruling class of Pakistan are no different to those used by the Indian ruling class. Here, the ruling class labelled the protesters as Indian agents and said that they wanted to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere at the behest of the Indian state. In fact, police agents themselves pasted many posters bearing Indian flags in Rawalakot and other cities in order to incite hatred and turn public sentiment against the movement. But on this occasion, it didn’t work. In fact, it further enraged the masses, bringing them out in big numbers to disrupt all these manoeuvres of the ruling class.

During the farmers’ movement in India, Modi and his agents likewise labelled the farmers as agents of Pakistan, declaring them anti-nationals in order to incite public hatred against the movement. But they couldn’t break the unity of the farmers, who defied all these tactics to achieve ultimate victory.

This movement has put the question of basic needs and livelihoods back on the political arena, which itself represents another defeat for the ruling class. The ruling class of Pakistan and Kashmir has always tried to limit politics to non-issues, including religious sentiments, national hatred, and personal insults towards the opposition. It has always tried to ignore basic issues like bread, price hikes and unemployment. The media loyally follows these petty debates, ignoring the burning issues faced by the masses.

But this movement has put the real issues on the agenda once more. All over Pakistan, this movement, which was previously unknown to most, is now being discussed everywhere, and everywhere the population is drawing inspiration from it. Some have said that this year’s summer season has not brought floods from the mountains, but rather has brought inspiration from the mass movement, which is eroding all the prejudices and politics of the past and sowing seeds of new struggles everywhere it goes.

Finally, this whole process is a big blow to the nationalist parties of the region, which always ignored the economic issues, only to play around with nationalist hatred, basing themselves on outdated bourgeois nationalism, which is clearly rejected by the masses. The movement has clearly exposed the limitations of the capitalist system and the bankruptcy of the ruling class. It has shown the huge potential contained in the movement of the masses, and has ignited a belief in wide layers that a revolutionary overthrow of this system is possible, which alone could end the national oppression of Kashmir. The only way forward is to build a revolutionary party and take the message outward that the fundamental reason for all the ills of society is the capitalist system, which must be overthrown through a socialist revolution.

Awami Action Committees

An important feature of this movement has been the emergence of Awami Action Committees (AAC) across ‘Azad’ Kashmir. These committees have not only created an alternate platform to the established political parties, but have given organisation and structure to the movement. Only by establishing these committees via a democratic process, through which the masses have campaigned for and organised several protests and lockdowns, has the movement finally achieved victory.

It was through these committees that the boycott of electricity bills was successfully organised for more than a year, and the state repression and attacks of the police were resisted. In some places, these committees acted as the embryos of a new state structure.

In the last week, when brutal attacks of the police intensified after the incident in Dudyal, some AACs started organising as defence committees, with youngsters organising themselves to push back the attacks, and to defend the movement and the public from state repression. This was also key to keeping the march to Muzaffarabad peaceful. Despite the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, the protests remained safe in the face of attacks by miscreants and police agents provocateurs, who aimed to disrupt the march and provoke violence.

The original impulse for forming these Action Committees came more than three years ago, when comrades of the IMT took the initiative of establishing such a committee in a small village near Rawlakot, during a movement against the ending of flour subsidies. In the following months and years, these Action Committees spread to more villages, then to Poonch district including Rawlakot, and then on to other districts. One year ago, a representative Joint Awami Action Committee of all 10 districts was formed in Muzaffarabad, in which three representatives from every district were included.

This Joint AAC then started a campaign for cheaper electricity and wheat flour, as well as other demands, and led many demonstrations and protests, including more than eight ‘Azad’ Kashmir-wide lockdowns and transport-blocking protests. The majority of the population of ‘Azad’ Kashmir participated in these actions, with some gathering hundreds of thousands across cities and towns, protesting for their demands.

In another significant historic achievement, the AAC announced a women-only protest in October last year, the first of its kind in the history of this backward and conservative area. Even many members of the AAC opposed such an idea, but the comrades of the IMT fought a battle against reactionary prejudices towards women and made efforts to organise the protests.

The results surprised even the comrades themselves, as thousands of women came out on the streets all across the territory, raising the most revolutionary slogans ever heard in these valleys. Women, from teenagers to some as old as 80, came out and defied not only state repression, but the prejudices of this backward area, where women are not even allowed to pass through main bazaars on a normal day, and must instead walk through narrow paths in the dark alleys behind the main markets. But on this day, women shouted slogans with their full voices, and came out in large numbers on the main roads to express their anger against the ruling class. This changed the whole dynamics of the movement, and the very same day, the ruling class decided to open negotiations with the leadership of the AAC.

protest Image fair useWe foresaw the emergence of mass movements in the region / Image: fair use

The role of the communists of the IMT

The communists of the IMT have played a key role from the beginning of the movement until the present. As previously mentioned, the movement started almost three years ago with small protests against the ending of flour subsidies in a small town near Rawlakot, in which comrades of the IMT established a new platform, the Awami Action Committee, in order to organise the protest.

A young comrade of the IMT was elected as the first coordinator of the AAC and was tasked with building this platform in other towns and cities. In the following months, this movement grew and achieved its first success as flour subsidies were partially restored. Through the hard work of comrades and other members, AACs were established throughout the region, leading to the formation of the Joint AAC.

Underlying all this was the analysis and perspective of the IMT in Pakistan, which we have put forward for almost 10 years now. We have clearly explained that a completely new objective situation has emerged, in which the people are increasingly rejecting all the established political parties, and are looking for alternatives.

We foresaw the emergence of mass movements in the region and the need to build platforms to organise these movements. We also predicted the bankruptcy of the state institutions and collapse in the economy, which is now evident to all. Comrades of the IMT not only developed these perspectives but continued to build their forces in Kashmir and in Pakistan in order to intervene in the coming struggles. This has given the IMT huge political authority in the movement.

Above Image fair useAt every crucial juncture, the comrades put forward a concrete analysis of the situation and pointed the way forward / Image: fair use

At every crucial juncture, the comrades put forward a concrete analysis of the situation and pointed the way forward. They fought against all the manoeuvres of the reactionary elements that tried to sabotage the movement from within or without. In fact, all political parties, including nationalists and so-called ‘leftists’, looked upon the AACs as a threat to their political hegemony. They tried to sabotage them and to channel the movement through established political structures, alliances of these rotten parties, and similar routine tactics.

But the clarity of perspectives and methods from the comrades defied these manoeuvres and defended the formation of a new platform, in which individuals from any party could air their views without prejudice, and attempt to convince the masses, but would not be allowed to mislead through deception. The democratic nature of AAC was abhorred by these leaders who had maintained an iron grip over their own parties, and would continue to do so even if left in a minority of one.

The perspectives of the IMT started materialising after the incidents of August 2019, when Modi, following his massive victory in the general elections, ended the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir and changed the Indian constitution to serve his interests. This transformed the status quo in the whole region. The hypocrisy of the Pakistani ruling class was also exposed, as it was clear to everyone that it had betrayed the cause of the struggle for freedom for Kashmir once again.

At this juncture, the IMT produced a concrete analysis through a new book titled Kashmir: a socialist solution, written by Yasir Irshad from Rawlakot. The book explains not only the development of a new situation in Kashmir and the region but also argues that only a socialist revolution can end the national oppression, not only of Kashmir, but all other oppressed nationalities in the region.

The IMT also organised many successful Marxist schools in Kashmir, in which Marxist theory was discussed in detail, including topics such as Das Kapital, the Russian Revolution and dialectical materialism. This all prepared the communist forces in Kashmir for these battles on solid ground, which went on to intervene at every juncture with full strength and established their political authority.

The correct perspectives and methods of the IMT allowed us to become a revolutionary point of reference for the struggling masses. Videos of comrades of IMT raising slogans and making speeches reached tens of thousands on social media, and our slogans became popular throughout the movement. Every comrade became a beacon of revolutionary ideas, which inspired thousands to carry the struggle forward.

The correct perspectives not only enhanced our comrades’ political authority but also guided them and the leadership of the movement to a better understanding of the situation, meaning they could counter the attacks and conspiracies of our enemies. Similarly, understanding the real character of AACs as an alternate political platform made them easier to defend from those who tried to dismiss them as temporary phenomena, and who tried to sabotage them. In fact, the correct understanding of this whole process unfolding at a huge level, where 4.5 million people were directly involved, was a key to the success of the struggle, without which the movement could have been sabotaged on many occasions.

Comrades also appealed to the organised unions of Kashmir and of Pakistan several times to extend solidarity with this movement, and always insisted that this movement should eventually link with the working class of the whole region. In the final phase, the Red Workers’ Front (our labour organisation in Pakistan) sent solidarity messages from various union leaders in Lahore, Karachi and other areas, which openly extended solidarity with the masses of Kashmir. Indeed, a socialist workers’ school organised by the RWF in Karachi in December last year saw a detailed report of the Kashmiri movement presented to hundreds of workers, who all gave their solidarity. This also raised the morale of the movement.

In the end, it was the will and determination of the masses to fight and change their lives and their circumstances that led to ultimate victory. The revolutionary potential of the masses has been vindicated once again. This is a big slap on the face to all the demoralised and dejected intellectuals and so-called ‘lefts’ who had lost all hope of any revolutionary developments, and were openly telling the masses that they should accept the dictates of the ruling class and never struggle because they would always be doomed to defeat.

In fact, the masses have even surprised the most optimistic and revolutionary elements with their courage and determination, and have shown that they are more revolutionary than the most advanced revolutionaries.

A new situation now opens up. The consciousness of the masses has been transformed by this victory. The class balance of forces has changed significantly. The ruling class will try to counter-attack, but this victory will give strength to the masses and they will resist with more force. They will try not only to keep the balance in their favour but to wring more concessions out of the elites.

This is a finished recipe for intensified class struggle in the coming period. The situation is already impacting the working class in Pakistan and has stirred the whole of society. In the coming period, the entire region will move in the direction of big movements and revolutionary upheavals that will further transform the situation.

In this situation, the communists in Kashmir and Pakistan are planning to move forward under the banner of the Revolutionary Communist International and to launch new offensives on the political front, to intervene in these movements to build the revolutionary party and move forward towards socialist revolution.

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