Why they killed Arif Shahid

Published: May 30, 2013

On the evening of May 13, an assassin stepped out of a car that had just driven to the doorstep of Sardar Arif Shahid’s residence in Rawalpindi.

He waited for the 62-year-old Kashmiri leader to arrive. After pumping four bullets into him, the killer calmly got back into the car and was whisked away.

A major Kashmiri nationalist leader, chairman of the All Parties National Alliance (APNA) and president of the Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Conference (JKNLC), had just been silenced. Mysteriously, a press that thrives on crime reporting was mum the next day. The murder still remains unreported.

My first meeting with Arif Shahid was just a few days after the October 8, 2005 earthquake. It had nothing to do with the politics of Kashmir. A team of teachers and students from Quaid-e-Azam University, using money raised by the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation, were engaged in a relief operation that was to last many months.

There were already 90,000 dead, and thousands of houses had been reduced to rubble. Winter was around the corner and countless more people would die unless they could be protected from the snow and bitter cold nights to come.

For our team, Arif Shahid was a gift from heaven because of his close familiarity with the villages around the earthquake devastated towns of Rawalakot, Bagh and Muzzafarabad. The number of shelterless families in dire need was staggering.

But how could strangers like us separate the needy from the scores of hucksters swarming around? We had enough wherewithal to construct 2,000 corrugated tin-roof shelters — a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but still significant if apportioned properly.

With perspicacity and determination, Arif Shahid set about the task of separating the needy from the greedy and patiently walked us around the worst-hit areas.

Gruff only in appearance, he was warm, caring and friendly. We noted with some amusement that, although Islamabad was just a few tens of miles away, he would invariably introduce us to groups of survivors as honourable guests from Pakistan!

Who killed him? As in the case of Saleem Shahzad, fingers will inevitably be pointed but there will be no closure. At the same time, the mystery is not impossible to fathom.

Family members, and others close to Arif Shahid, say that he had long been under observation and books that he had authored were seized.

As one who had successfully brought together fractious groups from both sides of Kashmir, he was considered especially effective as a mediator. In 2009, he had therefore been placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) and his passport had been confiscated. It was later returned after he won a court battle.

Speakers at a small protest meeting that I attended in Rawalpindi a few days after the murder said that he had received threats that, for now, he had decided to ignore.

Significantly, this appears to be the first instance where a major Kashmiri nationalist leader was actually eliminated. Arousing suspicion is that there has been no condemnation of the murder by Pakistani political and military leaders, nor a demand that an investigation be launched. Instead, Amer Shahid, Arif Shahid’s son, has been threatened with dire consequences if he attempts to place the blame on any agency. He has been instructed to attribute the murder to a family feud.

Hounded by both the Indian and Pakistani establishments, the position of Kashmiri nationalists is a difficult one on both sides of the divide because they espouse the belief that Kashmir must seek equal distance from both Pakistani and Indian control. While outsiders sometimes dismiss their dream as quixotic, they have gained growing traction in the last decade.

While India’s record on human rights in Kashmir is abysmal and rightly worthy of criticism, Pakistan has squandered the moral advantage it once had in international fora. By supporting jihadists and targeting nationalists, it has alienated world public opinion — and the Kashmiris. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Kashmir has turned into a dead cause. For this, Pakistan’s military and civil establishment can have no one but themselves to blame.

The writer retired as professor of physics from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • mahmood
    May 30, 2013 - 10:36AM

    As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Kashmir has turned into a dead cause. For this, Pakistan’s military and civil establishment can have no one but themselves to blame.

    Agreed. Unless Pakistan declares that it will abide by what ever the Kashmiri people want – their own country, joining India, or joining Pakistan – Kashmir will remain a dead cause. And I do hope that our deranged Generals have let go of the idea that they can win Kashmir through another war.

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  • Feroz
    May 30, 2013 - 11:13AM

    Civil society is in awe and fear of the Agencies, so the tools of violence can snuff out dissenting voices. Anything or anybody who questions a particular ideological orientation, will remain in grave danger. Institutions of State are very much responsible for this state of affairs, as every individual pursues their own interest, in the guise of national interest. Killings in the cause of national interest are reaching a crescendo, peace and harmony being the casualty.

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  • Manju
    May 30, 2013 - 1:22PM

    @mahmood:
    And I do hope that our deranged Generals have let go of the idea that they can win Kashmir through another war.
    With all due respect brother, brain damage is a permanent and irreversible injury…

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  • May 30, 2013 - 8:23PM

    Justice 4 Arif Shahid Campaign appreciate your contribution in highlight the plight of a noble soul silenced by ignorant state actors. Please support the Justice 4 Arif Shahid Campaign by signing on-line public petition available at: http://chn.ge/10le9G4

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  • someone
    May 30, 2013 - 8:29PM

    our people must remember india has policy from nehru’s time that they wont give up an inch of Kashmir.

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  • abc
    May 30, 2013 - 9:13PM

    @ Author: You have been partial as far as your comments on Indian side of Kashmir are concerned. Will you like to quote any human right violations in that part before 1989 when Pakistan started sending Jihadis? Has India ever stopped even Kashmiri separatists visiting Pakistan? Has any Kashmir leader been killed by Indian agencies? Indian army sits in Kashmir purely because of Pakistan created problems.

    India is pumping billions of dollars into Kashmir. Kashmir has got a railway line and many more are in pipe line.

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  • ashar
    May 30, 2013 - 9:26PM

    Dear moderator I am sure it would have been very hard to digest my comments.

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  • Mushtaq Ahmed Khan
    May 30, 2013 - 9:47PM

    We are thankful to Dr Pervaiz Hoodbhoy that he has raised voice against killing of Sardar Arif Shahid.

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  • mumtaz khan
    May 30, 2013 - 10:59PM

    A lone reasoned, enlightened and genuine progressive scholars Pervez Hoodbhoy has ventured to write on a very important but sensitive issue of alleged target killing of a prominent Kashmiri leader Sardar Arif Shahid by Pakistan security agencies known for eliminating the reasoned voices in Pakistan and its controlled Kashmir. I am shocked over the criminal silence of Pakistani media, civil society, intellectuals political leaders and 180 million population of Pakistan over the gruesome murder of Kashmiri leader right in Punjab Rawalpnidi which went unreported yet. This attitude of Pakistani media and society should open eyes of Kashmiris who always supported Pakistan. Arf Shahid was killed because he opposed militancy, extremism and violence in Kashmir and demanded rights of people of Pakistan controlled Parts.

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  • Nauman
    May 31, 2013 - 10:24AM

    Let’s solve the Kashmir issue another way: which ever country has the lowest poverty and illiteracy rates by year 2020……gets to keep Kashmir.

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  • kashmiri
    May 31, 2013 - 12:37PM

    @Manju:
    Typical sentebce when you dont hve any justification for your acts

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  • Jamil Khan
    May 31, 2013 - 9:26PM

    I am very glad that Hoodbhoy has spoken up about this issue. And he is correct in what he says. However, with respect to a more global point, I find that Dr. Hoodbhoy has an opinion on every hot topic, but has contributed nothing to the field of physics. I recently watched him give a lecture in the US and debate a professor from Berkeley. It was embarrassing how uninformed Hoodbhoy was. This worries me in trusting his positions on other matters.

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  • Jamil Ahmed
    Jun 4, 2013 - 12:36AM

    Actually solving Kashmir problem is very easy. Only if Mr. Hoodbhoy could convince “world’s largest democracy” to abide by UN resolutions and hold plebiscite in Kashmir and give Kashmiris whatever they decide then there is nothing Pakistani establishment could do to undermine peace.

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  • jack
    Jun 4, 2013 - 2:56AM

    @Jamil Ahmed

    First read the UN resolution on Kashmir with all the clauses and then comment.
    Knowing by half is more harmfull than total ignorance.

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  • Rashid
    Jun 4, 2013 - 2:59AM

    Even more surprising is the fact that the Indian Kashmiri leaders are also silent about this condemable act.

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  • Jami Ahmed
    Jun 4, 2013 - 10:57AM

    Hi Jack

    I know what the UN resolution is. Do you know what it is? Nehru promised to hold plebiscite and then refused when realized India will loose. The partition plan allowed ruler of the state to join either India or Pakistan but in keeping with the wishes of the people. Rulers of Hyderabad and Junagarh were muslims and they opted for Pakistan. But India occupied them as the majority of population was Hindu. But applied a different yardstick in Kashmir and didn’t consider the wish of the people.

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  • jack
    Jun 10, 2013 - 5:37PM

    @Jami Ahmed
    Hi Jack
    I know what the UN resolution is. Do you know what it is?

    You may think you know the UN resolution, but let me try again.
    “Nehru promised to hold plebiscite and then refused when realized India will loose (sic).”
    There were a few conditions attached to the plebiscite under the UN resolution. Most importantly, 1) Both country will withdraw there army from the respective area under their occupation i.e
    India leaves IOK and Pakistan leaves AJK. Pakistan didn’t comply so didn’t India. 2) There would be no demographic change in Kashmir by means of allowing people from outside to settle in Kashmir. India has to date complying to this under a constitutional decree. Pakistan violated it almost from the day one. 3) Pakistan unilaterally gave away a part of Kashmir to China without
    Consulting India, one of the parties to the dispute. What is ironical is that they didn’t ask for the opinion of the Kashmiris (on both sides) for whose freedom they shed tears all day long.
    “The partition plan allowed ruler of the state to join either India or Pakistan *but in keeping with the wishes of the people.”*
    Don’t you see the apparent contradiction in what you’re saying. If the ruler’s decision to join one or the other is to be dictated by the wishes of his people then he is not allowed anything but simply being told what to do. And if the ruler is allowed to join whoever he wishes to, then there is no need for him to consider what his people want. In truth, The rulers were given a free hand to choose their alliance but was advised to keep the wishes of their people in mind. It was an advice, not a legal binding.

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