“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act”, George Orwell
Sardar Arif Shahid did not use the title Sardar. Where to begin with his story? A strange man, a mountain of emotions, a restless soul madly in love with Kashmir that was Arif Shahid. He was a voracious reader. I have met with many freedom loving people; some of them were my comrades. But Arif Shahid was a very true, a very courageous man who passionately loved his native land and its people.
My reminiscences bring 1982 to my mind. Liberation Front was floated in Pakistan and I was elected Chairman of the Organizing Committee. Once in Rawalpindi in the company of Sardar Mushtaq and Sardar Razzaq, I was introduced to a tall and corpulent person named Arif Shahid. He was stationed in Dhahran, and was a friend of Afzal Tahir. Arif Shahid met me with great warmth, sincerity and attachment. He was not well-versed in the history of Kashmir. Nonetheless, I found light in his eyes. I found how deeply he nursed love and affection for Kashmir and her people. He promised to talk to me in detail after he returned from home. Two weeks later, he returned to Rawalpindi, and we talked at length in the house of late Farooq Haider. We talked about organizational matters of Saudi Arabia also although that topic did not strictly fall within the ambit of Liberation Front.
He loved to learn, and collected and preserved whatever literature he could lay his hands upon relevant to Kashmir. In due course of time he developed taste for writing mostly about Kashmir. Take any if his writings, its theme revolve round Kashmir and the freedom of Kashmiris and their day to day problem. He wrote freely and forcefully against slavery and against hegemony, oppression and tyranny of Pakistan over Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan. He argued that occupational forces had divided our motherland in three parts. If we are true nationalists and want the entire homeland, then we should rise against these occupational forces in our respective parts of the State. If the people in Kashmir rise and fight against Indian occupation, this alone will not bring freedom to AK or GB. The people in each part shall have to rise against their respective occupational forces. People were surprised how a man could write so boldly against Pakistan while living in Pakistan and a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
Arif Shahid worked very hard in his life. He toiled in the hot sands of Saudi Arabia. He supported not only his family and kith and kin but also many unknown persons also, without making a show of it. He helped many people who were his relatives and friends to find work in Middle East. After a joining Liberation Front, he was in charge of entire Middle East chapter for the organization.
He provided huge financial support to Amanullah Khan who was stationed in London. He poured thousands of Pounds into the pockets of Amanullah Khan. He was fortunate in having a friend and comrade in Afzal Tahir who was an ocean of knowledge. Arif Shahid got attracted to him to drink deep from his fountain of knowledge. Apart from that, the two worked hard in raising funds for the organization and even donated their personal income and supplemented the funding to Amanullah Khan. They were also supporting Azad Kashmir in Pakistan zone. He even provided financial support to me and Rauf Kashmir because both of us were engaged full time for the Liberation Front work.
He was not only my political comrade, but was like a caring friend, and a brother. He often said with all humility that he was a student of Hashim Qureshi. He has authored half a dozen books whose contents put the protagonists of accession to Pakistan to shame. He wrote of ground realities and the truth about the people. Since truth exposes occupational forces, therefore, Arif Shahid provided fodder to the guns of his enemies who were of no small a number. Who were these detractors? Arif Shahid was a very friendly person, gentle and endearing. He was very modest and very hospitable. I know many people who were recipients of his largess even though they ideologically differed from him. His real enemies were those who were the enemies of complete freedom, self determination, honor and dignity of the people of Kashmir.
Arif Shahid was the inheritor of our thinking under the impulse of which many nationalist were opposed to taking money and arms from ISI to unleash armed conflict against India within Kashmir. We knew that under this kind of thinking no intelligence agency was capable of bringing freedom to any country. The example of Afghanistan is before us. Afghans were provided money and arms by CIA, ISI and Mossad to fight against the communists. But when Russia left Afghanistan, that country slipped into civil war.
Arif Shahid was of firm conviction that a revolution should be brought about in Kashmir based on the sentiments and revolutionary thinking of the people of Kashmir. That is how the Sate can be liberated from the clutches of occupational forces. Arif did not support fighting a war in Kashmir on the basis of religion. He made no secret of this line of thinking and this was the reason for him to separate from the line of Amanullah Khan and his Liberation Front. Afzal Tahir was among the foremost to make any kind of sacrifice in this behalf. Arif Shahid shunned dirty politics and politics of accusations and counter accusations. Amanullah Khan leveled vile charges against him but he never retaliated. He decided to take the difficult path and joined Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front headed by Showkat Maqbool. Later on it was changed to Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Council.
The tragedy and misfortune of the people on both sides of the dividing line is that they have not learnt to nurture love for their motherland, its mountains and rivers, its lush green pastures and bubbling springs, its snow clad mountains and its enervating breezes, its five-thousand years of history and culture.
Four hundred years of perpetual slavery has divided us into different religions and sects, thought perceptions and ideologies. Agencies across the dividing line have, for their self-aggrandizement, spent money like water to clinch their respective portions as strong as they could. Many leaders have been purchased along with their ideologies and thoughts. The irony is that anybody or any organization talking about full freedom of Kashmir and honor and dignity of Kashmiris is branded as Indian or Pakistani agent. The result is that in Srinagar, even if a cow or a bull is struck down by a military truck by accident, the so-called freedom fighters raise the issue of human rights. But not a word was expressed by pro-Pak or pro-freedom organization in Indian held part of Kashmir on the murder of Arif Shahid. Nobody condemned this brutal murder. Kashmir newspapers are replete with political gimmicks of politicos of various hues. But nobody even expressed even a word of sorrow on the killing of Arif Shahid.
Occupational forces have given different names to our thinking, our ideology and our struggle. This helped them create doubts about the persons who are dedicated to the service of their country and their nation, and are committed to making all sacrifices for its unity and its freedom. The irony is that those who want to make Kashmir a slave of one or the other country, are shown the highest degree of respect and they are labeled as die-hard patriots. This interpretation of patriotism is not to be found anywhere in the world except in Kashmir. On the Face book of Arif Shahid we find these words: “If you want freedom from India you will get the bullets and bad names. If you ask freedom from Pakistan you will get bullets and fatwas in return.” By sacrificing his life, Arif Shahid has proved practically that on demanding freedom of Kashmir one gets nothing but bullets. Of course bullet is the destiny of only those who raises the voice of rights against the occupational forces.
In 1990, Arif Shahid visited me in Holland. Those were the days when I was in great financial difficulty. My eldest son Junaid was eight years old and was demanding a Nike jacket which I could not afford to provide him. Arif Shahid took him along and bought him a jacket of his choice. Today my son Junaid is an analyst in ING Bank. He is drawing his salary in +6 figures. On knowing about Arif Shahid’s murder, he cried loud. He still remembers that Arif had bought him a jacket.
Arif and I were not bound only by political bondage. We were in a pious relationship of love, affection and sincerity. In 1993 Afzal Tahir and Arif Shahid invited me to visit Saudi Arabia. All the three of us were unhappy with the Liberation Front because we did not like Liberation Front having anything to do with ISI. We were fully aware that by hobnobbing with ISI, Liberation Front would be working for the destruction of Kashmiri youth, We had reasons to say so and what we find today is vindication of our perception. History has proved that alignment between Liberation Front and ISI was a disaster. However, notwithstanding that, we were always ready for contributing to the movement, ideology and vision of freedom of Kashmir. Afzal and Arif arranged two month Saudi visa for me.
It was issued to me on the recommendation of Prince Bandar bin Sultan who is the son of the ruling monarch and the son-in-law of Shah Faisal. This special visa authorized me to visit any part of Saudi Arabia. We visited Riyadh, Jeddah, Dhahran and many other cities in Saudi Arabia. We met with lots of Kashmiris in these cities. The two month tour gave me enough opportunity of understanding the problems of Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir. I found that a hardworking Kashmiri labourer was working in the burning deserts of Saudi Arabia and thereof was remitting foreign exchange worth billions of rupees to Pakistan. In return, they get just a pinch of salt and a morsel of bread or some elementary constructional material for raising a shelter back home. Mangla Dam generates 1500 MW electricity and the consumption of entire Azad Kashmir is just 400 MW. Despite this there is 10-12 hour load shedding in electric power supply in Azad Kashmir. No royalty is paid to the people of AK for utilization of water source belonging to them. It is just like India on this part of the dividing line using all water sources of Kashmir for its consumption. Last year in the month of June, there was a call for Long March up to Keran. Our Party, Democratic Liberation Front was also invited to join the march. We had realized the significance of the proposed march. But unfortunately I was detained for two days and we were not allowed to join the march to Keran. A few days before his assassination, Arif Shahid had sent me an email and also a telephone call to join his All Party National Alliance. After discussing the matter at the Party level, we decided to join it. Our acceptance was conveyed to him by email. But before we would move further in this direction, Shahid Arif was martyred.
But Arif is not dead. The forces responsible for his martyrdom thought by liquidating him his thoughts and ideas would be dumped. They are wrong in their judgment. They should have tried to learn some lessons from the martyrdom of Maqbool Bhat. By executing him and burying him in Tihar jail, India has help build a tomb of Maqbool Bhat’s memory in the heart of all freedom loving people of Kashmir and world.
Arif Shahid, you are fortunate that in reward to your love for your people, your land and its freedom, you have earned the coveted status of a martyr. You are fortunate to have inherited the status of martyrdom from Ghazi Chak, Sabz Ali and Maqbool Bhat. The people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan deserve three cheers that they have introduced another Maqbool Bhat to Kashmiri nation. Arif Shahid had the capacity and ability to bring 22 groups of nationalists into one alliance. The day is coming when every son of Kashmir will prompt all nationalists to unite and this will be the biggest tribute to you, Arif Shahid the martyr.
My eyes are wet in your memory. I bow to your courage and greatness. You are not dead and you will remain alive in the hearts of those who have the quality of courage, bravery, patriotism and acute sense of self-respect. Let me cite these lines of a poet:
“Mere karvan main shamil koi tang nazar nahin hai
Jo na mit sake watan par mera hamsafar nahin hai
Kisi sangdil ke dar par mera sar na jhuk sakega
Mera sar nahin rahega mujhe iska da nahin hai”
This article was published in various Pakistani and Kashmiri newspapers.