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Paradise Lost, in the Name of God and Self-Determination

Kashmir: India and Pakistan twist truth as they pour guns, money into the disputed Himalayan region.

May 21, 2000|MANSOOR IJAZ | Mansoor Ijaz, a nuclear physicist of Pakistani descent, is chairman of an investment firm in New York

When approaching Srinagar, capital of this disputed Himalayan state, one has the unmistakable impression of coming to paradise on Earth. Buttressed by jagged snow-capped mountains that have been called the roof of the world, the Kashmir valley is a breathtaking mosaic of towering pines, glistening lakes and flowing streams.

On the ground, however, reality is quite different. The dispute over Kashmir always has boiled down to the fate of the people in its valley, controlled by India. I went there this month as an American citizen to ask ordinary Kashmiris why what had started 50 years ago as a principled fight for self-determination had turned into the violent war of religious extremists. What I found was disturbing, not only because the documented human rights violations are real, but also because of the overwhelming evidence of lies by both Pakistani and Indian authorities.

New Delhi, for example, would have the world believe that only a few thousand troops are defending against foreign aggression on their soil. Yet Indian security forces could be seen everywhere. The look and feel of a police state was unambiguous. One Kashmiri official finally admitted that the real figure for troops in the valley alone approached 150,000. And the valley represents only a fraction of the total area in dispute in Kashmir.

Interestingly, local police and security forces commanders admitted that their soldiers had been overzealous in expelling militants from local homes, violating civil liberties in the process--contrition that may be part of an organized campaign by New Delhi to lift the appearance of an oppressive environment of rights abuses. Permitting foreigners like me to visit after the abuses largely have stopped also may be part of the appeasement policy.

Yet perhaps the most compelling facet of India's win-at-all-costs strategy in Kashmir is the evidence of the money being poured into the enclave to secure a reconciliation between local Kashmiris and the motherland. New construction and refurbishment of tourist hot spots can be seen everywhere. One look at the homes in which Kashmiri separatist leaders and others in the valley live, and the big business of war becomes humorously obvious. Separatists get funding for insurgency operations from Pakistan's military intelligence apparatus. Then India matches the grants to bring them back to the Indian camp. It's the politics of war finance at its worst.

Pakistan's deceit was equally clear. Islamabad would have the world believe that it does not provide official military support for militant groups waging jihad, or holy war, and that the militants are indigenous Kashmiris battling for their own freedom. Both claims strain credulity. I saw several thousand weapons seized from insurgents in gun battles around the valley and along the Line of Control--the unofficial border between Pakistan-controlled and India-controlled Kashmir--everything from the latest AK-47 rifles to sophisticated hand grenades to rocket launchers bearing the embossed logos of Pakistan's official munitions factories. The fingerprints of Pakistani army and intelligence support were unmistakable.

I reviewed identification cards taken from captured foreign moujahedeen warriors. These cards were designed to notify families back home in the event of combat death and to ensure war reparations would be properly paid--hardly procedures for local sons of war. Receipt books for money collected in the names of various Islamic charities to finance the purchase of war supplies further evidenced the principal complaint that Kashmiris repeatedly voiced to me: that their struggle to gain independence had turned into someone else's war for the cause of pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism or something other than Kashmiri freedom.

Stuck in the middle of these two egocentric forces are the Kashmiris, perhaps the most docile people on Earth. Mentally, emotionally and physically ravaged by a war that neither side seems able to win, they appear on the verge of opting for peace with Hindu masters who offer economic revitalization and peaceful coexistence rather than pressing on with Muslim Pakistan, which offers little more than religious zealotry and violent accession.

One Kashmiri elder who ran a pharmacy on the outskirts of Srinagar put it most succinctly: "When the moujahedeen first came, we welcomed them into our homes with open arms. Today, they come from far away and demand our food and shelter for freeing us. Yet they show us their guns and we do not feel free. When they leave, the security forces ransack our homes looking for them, and the violence starts all over again. This type of freedom we do not wish for our enemy."

Without an end to the violence that dominates the character of today's freedom fighters, Pakistan is in danger of losing whatever moral authority it once may have enjoyed in trying to liberate Kashmir. But India should be clear that Pakistan will never go quietly. New Delhi can do a big-bucks deal with native Kashmiris who are sick of war, but militants financed by deep-pocketed zealots in far-off lands may escalate the stakes to an unacceptable price for paradise on Earth.

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