Virtual Homeland of Kashmiri Pandits

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Volume 1, No. 3 - August 2001

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It is Our Kashmir Too
Subodh Atal, Lalit Koul, Sunil Fotedar

The historical summit between India and Pakistan is an opportune time to reexamine Indian response to the Kashmir issue. Jammu and Kashmir was one of the princely states of British India whose accession to India has never been accepted by Pakistan, which supports a long-standing insurgency in the state.

While Pakistan settled millions of non-Kashmiris in parts of the territory that it occupied, India institutionalized Article 370, which prevents Indians from outside the state from settling in it, grants the state semi-autonomy, and confers on its Kashmiri Muslim leadership an unbridled hegemonic hold on the state.

Plight of the Pandits ignored
This resulted in decades of virtual segregation of the state from the rest of India, resulting in a growth of fundamentalism and Taliban-like atmosphere in the Kashmir valley by 1989.

Kashmiri Pandits bore the brunt of this phenomenon. They were discriminated against politically, economically and socially, forcing several hundred thousands to migrate to other parts of India between 1948 to 1989.

At the outset of the insurgency in 1989, they paid for their patriotism as Muslims targeted them with killings, rapes and torture. The vast majority of remaining Pandits (over 350,000) fled to squalid refugee camps in Jammu, Delhi and other cities. Rather than rewarding the Pandits for their loyalty, India is guilty not only of ignoring their plight but also of excluding them from negotiations on Kashmir, thus converting it into a Muslim-only issue.

Today India is a vibrant democracy rapidly on its way up the economic ladder. Pakistan is an economic and social basket case in constant need of IMF largesse. Pakistan shouldn't be able to sustain such an enterprise for a few months, let alone 12 years. Then what is it that sustains the Kashmir issue that has been termed a "nuclear flashpoint"?

Reward for terrorism?
The answer lies in Pakistani perceptions about India. There was a recent report about Pakistani cricketers believing that the Indian team was like a shaky wall - one last push and it would come down crumbling. The same is true for Pakistan vs. India politics.

Indeed, in the last 12 years, the Pakistan-Afghanistan jehad enterprise, in the wake of Indian meekness and western equivocation, has expanded to become the terrorist hub of the world. At this point the jehadi Pakistan mindset believes firmly that India is making concessions as a result of the 12-year long insurgency, and has willingly abandoned its Kashmiri Pandit population as part of its appeasement approach. Musharraf is not coming to Agra to negotiate a settlement, but to extract the rewards of 12 years of terrorism on behalf of the jehadis.

India's strategy - Panun Kashmir
So what should be India's strategy at the summit and beyond? A mere freezing of the LOC, as suggested by many Indians, will merely perpetuate the problems already described above. And of course the various forms of "independence" suggested for Kashmir will undoubtedly create a second Afghanistan, with severe ramifications for the rest of India.

There is a third way. The territory of Panun ("Our") Kashmir has been proposed by Kashmiri Pandits as a means to bring secularism, religious freedom and security back to the valley. As part of this framework, Jammu and Ladakh would become separate states, and a Panun Kashmir region carved out of the valley, with abrogation of Article 370.

Panun Kashmir would allow over 700,000 Kashmiri Pandits to return safely to their homeland. It would also become a magnet for Indians willing to work in technology and other expanding industries. The Panun Kashmir territory with returning Pandits, and other Indians, including pro-India Kashmiri Muslims, would create a buffer against further export of jehad into India, leading to rapid economic recovery and equal rights to all groups.

Thus the architect of the Kargil war should be told firmly that India believes Kashmir is "Ours", we are willing to stand by it, and will take tough, long term steps to stop the continued export of Islamic fervor and terrorist violence into the state.

The authors are expatriate Kashmiri Pandits located in the United States and head the executive board of Kashmir News Network, which manages many Kashmiri websites including: www.ikashmir.org, www.kashmiri-pandit.org, www.panunkashmir.org, www.kashmirherald.com, www.kashmirnews.org.

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