Wednesday, June 02, 2004

More on Kashmir (debating a Kashmiri Pandit)

After my post on Kashmir yesterday I received long responses from reader Kumar (the friendly one), who is himself Kashmiri. Many of Kumar's points expand on things I brought up in my short original post. Some of his comments do mischaracterize what I was saying, though generally not in ways that bother me too much. I'll respond to at least some of his claims after posting his emails (with permission):

First, let me tell you where I'm coming from (as I'm told Americans used to say): I'm a Kashmiri Pandit, born in Srinagar but raised in America. [...]

I don't share your rather wistful fondness for the Kashmiri Muslims touting independence, i.e., the JKLF. Their reputation as secularists in some Western precincts is belied by the facts on the ground. Too many people believe what they say/said, and pay no attention to the actions of its 'tanzims'. Simply put, the JKLF cadres aided and abetted the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri pandits. If secessionist Kashmiri Muslims ever had a 'cause clean to fight for', they dirtied it--beyond repair--in those days. And it's gotten only worse since then. You will want evidence for it, I'm sure. All I can offer you is the testimony of those who were there, and lucky enough to escape. Some of this testimony can be found at

The plans you cite have various failings, both moral and pragmatic. First, the pragmatics of J&K. Most Kashmiris (and here I mean those who speak Koshur as their mother tongue) do not want a dismemberment of Kashmir. And this most definitely includes the JKLF (as well as many members of the Hurriyat, e.g., the Lone family, the Mirwaiz, the Shia Ansari). Surprise, surprise, those Kashmiris who do so tend to be very fundamentalist muslims. Second, no one in the Indian establishment will countenance yet another partition based on religion. That leaves the Pakistanis as the most eager to carve away the Valley from India (no doubt in the hope of eventually annexing it). Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, they don't have any facts on the ground. Again, pragmatically, the Pakistanis haven't humbled India on the ground, despite the jihadis they send across the LOC. And what they have not won on the battlefield, they certainly won't be able to win at the negotiating table.

I'll elaborate on the moral grounds for opposing these plans now. You should keep in mind that J&K state, including the Valley, is quite an ethnic mosaic. Outside the valley we have, of course, the ethnically different Shia of Kargil, a substantial majority of whom voted (voluntarily) in the recent elections, the Buddhists of Ladakh, the Dogra Hindus & Punjabi Muslims of Jammu. Your post makes mention of this but, like many others, you make the mistake of lumping all of the Valleys' Muslims together. But that's to ignore crucial differences. Among them, one must take into account the Sunni and Shia communities, as well as the Gujjar community. In addition there are, of course, Kashmiri Pandits as well.

You should keep in mind that the Muslim communities of Kashmir support secession with greatly varying degrees of ardor. Certainly the Shia community views an independent Sunni-dominated Kashmir with some concern. One has only to look at the 'martyrs' graveyards to notice the relative paucity of Shia 'martyrs' (i.e., relative to their population). Or consider the Gujjars: Many support the Indian army in its counter-insurgency ops. Certainly, we Kashmiri Pandits dont support the secession of the Valley. All this is to say that the prospect of an independent Valley fills many Kashmiri minorites (Muslim & Hindu) with some dread. The current arrangement, within a democratic & secular India, serves our interests best. Indeed, I would argue that fully participating in the life of a democratic India would benefit the Sunni majority as well.

You will perhaps tell me about the protections that minorities will be afforded by the allegedly secular secessionists. I fear that genuine democracy--one which respects the rights of minorities--is rather alien to the main actors on the secessionist side, i.e., the men with the guns. A few individuals with democratic leanings won't do, I'm afraid. The behavior of the larger society counts for more, and its track record is hardly reassuring--That Kashmiri Sunni society supports the men with the guns, not relcutantly, but whole-heartedly!

Perhaps you will argue that the Indian govt's record is not reassuring either. That's true--the rights violations of the Govt. are well-known, indeed well-publicized. But they pale in comparison to the record of the secessionists: ethnic cleansing, rape, torture on such a scale that our community felt compelled to flee. The Indian govt. has done nothing remotely comparable. And that, I submit, is the ultimate judgement of the
Muslim community as well. If that had not been the case, then one would see a substantial fraction of Kashmiri Muslims fleeing to refugee camps. Only a very small minority of Muslims fled to Pakistan. Perhaps, Dr. Singh, I'm too pessimistic in my analysis. Perhaps, but you see that's a chance I don't wish to take--it's a judgment shared by many minorites in the Valley.

What should be done, then ? Certainly the Valley ought to be given greater autonomy, and the borders ought to be made more porous. However porous, the LOC should remain the border in my view. Nehru didn't stop at the LOC for arbitrary reasons: It certainly makes ethno-religious sense, given that it separates the Koshur-speaking Muslims of the Valley from the majority Punjabi-speakers on the other side.

Will Kashmiri Muslims settle for this ? I think yes. Dr. Amitabh Matoo, in the academic journal India Review (edited out of Indiana University), reports that a poll conducted by an independent NGO found a majority of Kashmiri Muslims willing to support such a plan. [...]

He also adds:

The LOC does correspond to an ethno-religious divide, with native Kashmiri speakers (who are very influenced by Sufi Islam) in the valley vs. native-Urdu & native-Punjabi-speakers (the latter immgrating to PoK in increasing numbers, post-Partition) predominant on the other side. Those in Gilgit & Baltistan (in PoK) are of a different ethnicity also. This is not to say that there are not native-Kashmiri speakers in PoK, especially near the LoC itself. Btw, note the irony that India has kept the demography of J&K relatively intact, unlike Pakistan.

The website I referred to in the body of my response ( is a cultural-historical site which should be used for background info. on the views of the Kashmiri Pandit (K.P.) community. The testimonials and records can be accessed from that site itself, but for the convenience of your readers I would like to list that site separately. That site's URL is

Please also note that I don't, personally, believe that we have suffered an 'Aushchwitz' type of genocide. I hope you and others will make allowance for the emotions responsible for such a comparison--The atrocities listed there are quite obscene, on their own. Note that the site doesn't pick and choose listing vicitims of jehadi terrorism based on their religion. Both Hindus and Muslims are included.

Indeed, I do find the 'Kashmir Information' website to be biased, though some of the ethnic background on the 'Kashmir Overseas' website is useful.

Otherwise, there is a great deal going on here -- too much, in fact, to respond to it all comprehensively. My own personal ignorance is a problem, as is the lack of neutral information on the web (even the Wikipedia entry for 'Kashmiri Pandit' seems pretty biased).

It seems to me quite likely that the central question in the next round of Indo-Pak talks will be how to resolve the Kashmir Valley. Here it seems that Kumar agrees with the dominant western understanding of the desires of the people who are left there (after 100,000 Hindus were forced to flee -- not genocide, but perhaps ethnic cleansing). Even if the Kashmir Valley Muslims are mistaken in their reasoning, the best information I have come across indicates they are not interested in being part of India.

From outside, it seems fair to agree with Kumar that Kashmir Valley Muslims would probably be better off in India, even as part of the Muslim minority. I would add that Pakistan has tended to treat its Kashmir territory as more of a protectorate than a full-fledged part of the state (see Meredith Weiss, or read articles like this on the political chaos produced by the fundamentalists in Pakistan proper). It's questionable whether Kashmiri Muslims in Pakistan would be treated as full citizens. For all its failures, India has a better track record on religious minority rights than Pakistan has on rights for ethnic minorities within the religious majority.

But whether they would be better off in our judgment is less important than what they want. If the overwhelming numbers in the Valley don't want to be part of India, India should consider letting them go, at least partially. This isn't so much ethical (ethics went out the window years ago in Kashmir), as it is strategic: what can be done to get them to stop? Normally, it is best for governments to set a policy of refusing to deal with terrorists, but in cases like this I think one has to deal with them (just as Sri Lanka, ultimately had to deal with the LTTE).

After a little reflection and research (I still have a ways to go), I no longer think that independence will be granted, nor will land be ceded to Pakistan. Rather, I think India will probably accept some form of greater autonomy for the Valley (maybe all of J&K), but no more. And I also think that, in time, such a solution can be made to work. With the results of the the recent elections, we're already seeing some signs that even (terrorist) groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen are starting to play by the Byzantine rules of Indian election politics. It not exactly a wonderful thing -- nor is it comprehensible -- but there seems to be cooperation between the PDP party (allied with Congress) and the HM.

Also on Kumar's suggestion, I've been reading articles by Praveen Swami in Outlook India. The most recent is this one, where he suggests that Indian security forces are nowhere near winning the war on the secessionists/terrorists in the valley. Indeed, a good deal of rural Jammu & Kashmir south of the Line of Control appears to be controlled by them. I would also recommend this article on how the recent national elections played out in Kashmir.