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Kashmir: Pakistan, Pandits and Prospects for the Future

Posted by Kashmir Portal on June 14, 2009

By Ishani Chowdhury
Director of Public Policy, Hindu American Foundation
Capitol Hill Kashmir Briefing Sponsored by International Kashmir Forum and Hindu American Foundation

Tues., June 9th, 2009:
Ancient stories and modern science agree that the Kashmir Valley, lying 5,000 feet above sea level in the shadow of the Himalayas, was once a vast lake. According to ancient Sanskrit texts,
it was drained by the sage Kashyap Muni and came to be known as Kashyap Marg or the “Abode of Kashyap,” whence the name Kashmir is derived. Kashmir was the seat of Shaivite Hinduism and
Mahanaya Buddhism, but was eventually brought under Mugal rule in the 14th century, and later under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1819. Fast forward to 1947, the year of India’s partition. The ruler of then Kashmir, Hindu king, Maharaja Hari Singh, was given the choice to join India or Pakistan, failed to make a decision on the matter. Shortly after independence, on October 21, Pakistani backed tribals invaded Kashmir, prompting Maharaja Hari Singh to join India through the Instrument of Accession on October 26. The accession was also approved by the largest and most popular Kashmiri political party, the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. The Indian army was succeeding at pushing out the Pakistani invaders when a UN-backed ceasefire took hold, with the state divided along the “Line of Control” between the two armies.

The old princely state is now comprised of five regions: Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh, the socalled Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) or Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), and the Northern Areas. The overall population in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was estimated in 1981 at 7.7 million with Muslims (64.3%), Hindus (32.1%), Sikhs (2.16%), Buddhist (1.17%) and others, including Christians (0.26%).i Pakistan controls approximately one third the state. Constant hostility and occasional outbreaks of war have continued ever since. Today, approximately three million people live in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir and nine million in the India-administered area. The situation has only adjusted slightly since that time, most notably with China’s occupation of portions of region.
Since 1988, Islamic militancy has gripped Kashmir causing an expulsion of approximately 300,000 Hindus from the Valley into refugee camps. Militant groups, such as the Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM), Army of Mohammed, Laskhar-e-Tayyiba (LT), Army of the Righteous and Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HuJi) espouse violence against Kashmiri Hindus and have been banned by the United States and United Kingdom. Militancy has led to more than 42,000 deaths in the state since 1988, with 530 fatalities in 2008 alone.

As detailed in the Hindu American Foundation’s annual Hindu Human Rights Report, Islamic militants in Kashmir were recruited, trained, funded and given refuge by Pakistan’s military and powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. According to former scholar, and the current Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, the violence in Kashmir was, “rooted in the ideology of Pakistani Islamists, carefully nurtured for decades by the Pakistani military.”ii In fact, the founder and former head of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba affirmed that “killing Hindus” was the best solution to resolve the six-decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.iii These terrorists also have ties with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operating in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, which continues to be the center of terror networks, fundamentalism, drug trafficking, illicit trade in small arms and international terrorism.

Today, the selective slaughter of Hindus in Kashmir continues with kidnappings, grenade attacks at wedding parties, temple destruction, the targeting of Village Defense Committees, death
threats, and systematic torture. For example, the dreaded “butcher of Pandits,” Bitta Karatay of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was released from prison on bail in October 2006. He
was arrested in 1990 for the killing of more than thirty Pandits and creating such fear in the small Hindu minority community that it was one of the major triggers for the mass fleeing of Pandits
from the Kashmir Valley.iv Even recently, not much has changed in terms of human rights for the Pandit population. In August 2008, Islamic militants took eleven members of a Hindu family
hostage, including women and children, resulting in an 18-hour standoff with Indian army personnel. Five Hindus were killed and three were injured during the incident.

Religious sites and pilgrimages have not been spared. Since 1989, over 200 Hindu temples have damaged or destroyed in Kashmir, and over 100 religious sites illegally occupied. The annual
Hindu pilgrimage to the holy cave in Amarnath is heavily guarded by the Indian military due to the long history of violent attack by Islamist militants. While the Indian government has made
overtures to return the displaced Kashmiri Pandit population into their rightful homes, concrete plans to shift them from the dilapidated housing, poor water and sanitation services at the refugee
camps, have yet to be implemented.

With two nuclear armed nations whose large fraction of the troops patrol the Line of Control, the current tenuous state in Pakistan makes Kashmir even more relevant. Pakistan’s history and current situation of its miniscule 3% minority community, which at 1947 was 25% Hindu, is a testament of deteriorating human rights and law and order in that nation. Minorities live in constant fear with threats to their lives and property, destruction of places of worship and judicial onslaughts through the Blasphemy Act and religious identification on passports. Even as recently as April, Sikhs and Hindus fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after sustained threats from the Taliban and the imposition of jaziya (penalty tax) on minorities in area.v In Pakistan portion of Kashmir, the government has failed to provide basic rights and democratic representation to the Kashmiri people. The area is no longer entirely Kashmiri as the government has settled non-Kashmiris into the region and the remaining local Kashmiris are discriminated against, while Pakistanis are given preferential treatment.vi The operation of militant training camps in the Pakistan occupied area of Kashmir, as well as the ideological and tactical support by the ISI further fuels the tension in the region.

Effective and timely resolution of the fate of the state, as well as that of the Kashmiri Pandit population, can not occur until and unless there is a complete end to the Islamist militancy and the dogma that guides them. This radical ideology has resulted in what Pakistan is facing now on a daily basis – a rise in attacks by the Taliban against government personnel, hotels, shopping centers, the shutting of schools, and the strict imposition of Shariah law in the areas where it has gained control. While the Pakistani government has started a counterinsurgency campaign in many of these areas, there are still regions that it does not entirely control, and separate internal campaigns by Baluchis who have been fighting for independence from the country. The failure of Pakistan to counteract the Islamist ideology may likely further destabilize the region, including inadvertently dragging in China which is facing its own issues with Uighur Muslims.

It is incumbent upon India to create an atmosphere that allows from the safe return and resettlement of the Valley’s Hindu population. The state government must be able to provide full
protection and accommodation to Hindu pilgrims and pilgrimage sites. It is equally important that Article 370 of the Constitution be revoked, as it has allowed for the State’s residents to be
governed under a separate set of laws, thus preventing full integration into the Indian Union, and further segregating the Hindu population who have been forced to migrate out of the region.
The solution to Kashmir, and the region, lies in the end of Islamist ideology and propaganda, fueled and funded by state governments. The continuation of this conflict drains time,
money and resources that can be better used in fighting the ongoing battles in the country against the Taliban. If these factors are not controlled, then it will not be too long until there is a fullfledged conflict that may erupt into a greater international crisis.

  1. Paul Beersmans, “Jammu and Kashmir: A Smouldering Conflict and a Forgotten Mission of the United Nations,” Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir, January 2002, http://www.basjak.org/doc/jkNutshell.pdf
  2. Husain Haqqani, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military”, p. 235. 2005, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  3. “Killing Hindus better than talks: Hafiz Saeed,” Daily Times, April 4, 2003. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_4-4-2003_pg8_4
  4. Ishfaq-Ul-Hassan. “’Butcher’ of Pandits back in Kashmir hometown.” Daily News & Analysis. October 27, 2006. http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1060576
  5. 200 Sikhs Flee from Swat, Rediff, April 15, 2009, http://news.rediff.com/report/2009/apr/15/sikhs-flee-from-swat.htm
  6. Beersman, Paul, “The Kashmir-Issue: European Perspectives.” Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir. http://www.basjak.org/doc/jkind081warikoo.pdf

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