The Problem of Jammu and Kashmir
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
3 April 2002
Presentation to the Kashmir Task Force of the U.S. – India Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, DC.
My fellow citizens in Washington, DC and elsewhere usually ask me, “Why are events in Kashmir important to the U.S.?” and “Why is the Kashmir problem so intractable?” Surprisingly, the answer to these questions is linked. The Kashmir problem has festered because past attempts by India to propose political solutions have been, time and again, rejected by insurgents who believe it is a religious problem. Even more unsettling is the fact that American focus on promoting a political solution created artificial blinders that made the U.S. incapable to think of, much less prevent, the horrors that the religious zealots are capable of.
But one may ask, “How does the Jihad in Kashmir affect America?” Well, let us examine some facts.
Danny Pearl, the young and upcoming American, who was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped on January 22, 2002, and declared dead a month later. If we examine the events surrounding his execution, these are surprisingly similar to kidnapping of foreign tourists in Kashmir in July 1995. One American (John Childs) escaped, another American (Donald Hutchings) along with a Briton and a German were never found, and a Norwegian (Hans Ostro) was found decapitated a month later.
On February 23, 1999, a young Kashmiri terrorist named Nadeem Ahmed died when his militant team exchanged fire with Indian security forces in Udampur district of Kashmir. Mr. Ahmad was the son of a prominent State government official (Chief Engineer) and his family had previously informed their friends and family that Nadeem was working in America. On Nadeem’s body was a commercial pilot’s license and flight training documents from a U.S. flight school. This news was published in all Indian newspapers on February 24, 1999. It is unclear if the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi pursued the leads regarding this case. Please remember that was way before America woke up to a new reality called 9/11.
On September 11, 2001, Mr. Mohammed Khan Jameel, a young Kashmiri militant belonging to dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group operating in Kashmir, was picked up by the British authorities at the London airport following his sudden departure from New York (on way to Pakistan) on the evening of September 10. The reason for concern arose because, in the past, terrorists followed a similar procedure when they bombed the World Trade Center (WTC) on February 26, 1993. The mastermind of that bombing, Ramzi Ahmed Youssef, had flown from New York to Pakistan on the same day, and it took the U.S. another 5 years before he could be brought to justice. Neither the U.S., nor the U.K., has commented on Mr. Jameel’s fate so far.
In October 2001, India provided incriminating documents to the U.S. proving that Mohammed Atta, the prominent hijacker responsible for September 11 terrorist acts, received $100,000 sent from Pakistan by Omar Sayed Sheikh, who was previously released from an Indian jail in response to a ransom demand by Kashmiri separatists who hijacked the Indian Airlines Flight 814 on December 24, 1999. Omar Shiekh was imprisoned by India for masterminding the kidnapping of one American and three Britons in September 1994, who were freed from captivity by Indian security forces in October 1994. Omar Sheikh is the same terrorist who masterminded Danny Pearl’s kidnapping, but there was no reprieve for the victim this time. Incidentally, several documents related to the hijacking of Flight 814, including flight boarding passes of hijackers, were found by Americans in December 2001 during mop-up operations in a Kabul safe house frequented by Taliban.
This list can go on, but the point is that the world has become a global village, and if September 11 tragedy has taught us anything, it is that events in the remotest part of the world can and do affect our daily lives in the United States. That is why it is so important for Americans to understand what is happening in Kashmir. It affects not only the people there, but also those living here.
The Kashmir problem has its roots in the partition of the Indian sub-continent by the British. But the genesis of the current problem can be related to the events in the late 1980’s when Pakistan became a surrogate power in the region that acted on behalf of the United States and won the Jihad against the Soviet Union. Americans had no idea what Pakistan would do on its own once the Soviet empire crumbled, but to Kashmiris it soon became obvious that their land was the next killing ground for Islamic warriors controlled by Pakistan.
As it invariably happens in a Jihad, the first victims in Kashmir were religious minorities that were seen as infidels by Islamic terrorists. Kashmiri Pandits were brutalized and hounded out of Kashmir for no reason other than the fact that they were of a different faith. Many of the innocent victims paid by their lives and the rest fled to become refugees in their own country. The U.S. led war against terrorism will continue until every armed insurgent in Kashmir is either captured or killed. But Kashmiri Pandits will not return until Muslim hegemony on the ground is replaced by a pluralistic society that Kashmir had until recently. There must be power sharing among the constituents of the State (Muslims, Pandits, Dogras, Ladakhis and others), and a dialogue between the constituents to establish equitable distribution of political and economic power. More than ever, Kashmir needs good governance not independence, and economic investment not isolation of the Article 370. There is no reason why Kashmir cannot prosper if its constituents put their energy into revitalizing its civil society within the framework of Indian secular and pluralistic democracy. The key to the future of Kashmir rests with Kashmiris, not with India or Pakistan.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.