From the summer of 1989 until the winter of 1990, Kashmir witnessed a grotesque and bloody episode of ethnic cleansing. Jihadist Islamists operating in the Kashmir Valley sent a chilling message to all the non-Muslims in the region:
“We order you to leave Kashmir immediately, otherwise your children will be harmed. We are not scaring you but this land is only for Muslims, and is the land of Allah. Sikhs and Hindus cannot stay here. If you do not obey, we will start with your children. Zindabad [Long live] Kashmir liberation!”
It was a blatant ethnic cleansing drive, aimed at eliminating non-Muslims. To propagate this message, jihadist fanatics used all possible means – newspapers, audiocassettes, wall posters – and mosques.
Delivering sermons from the pulpits, radical Islamists exhorted Muslims to take up jihad and drive out the “kafirs,” the non-believers. The mosques in the valley – roughly 1100 of them – blared their hate-filled, inflammatory speeches through their loudspeakers. “Islam is our objective, the Quran is our constitution, jihad is our way of our life,” they called out, reiterating the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood and its jihadist offshoots, such as Hamas.
They warned non-Muslims: “If you want to live in Kashmir, you must convert to Islam.”
Newspapers, too, published “press releases” issued by terror groups, which called on all Muslims to wage jihad against India; sometimes they were run as “advertisements.” “Oh Muslims, Arise! Oh kafirs, get out!” said one. On 14 April 1990, Al Safa, a local Urdu language daily, published a “press release” from Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, warning all non-Muslims to “leave Kashmir within 36 hours or face our bullets.”
India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Kashmiri Pandit, a Hindu community indigenous to the area and whose members, historically, constituted much of the elite echelons of Kashmiri society. Before the Islamists’ campaign of persecution, they made up five per cent of Kashmir’s population.
Within hours of the deadline passing, the jihadists launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. Armed with Kalashnikovs, they patrolled the streets, intimidating the population and shouting slogans: “Oh kafirs! Leave our Kashmir”; “From East to West, there will be only Islam.” They desecrated Hindu temples and destroyed other places of worship.
In the thick of night, Hindu families were terrorized: men were dragged from their homes and shot dead; women raped and executed. Even two year-old children were murdered. Their only crime was that they were non-Muslims. They were systematically targeted for their religious beliefs.
As Amy Waldman wrote in the New York Times: “Muslim militants directed a systematic campaign of assassinations and intimidation against Kashmiri Pandits, as the area’s Hindu Brahmans were known, and most of them were forced out of Kashmir…The Pandits’ story is one of the tragic and often overlooked footnotes of a conflict that has claimed perhaps 60,000 lives.”
Over half-a-million Hindu Pandits fled the valley; many took shelter in shabby refugee camps in Jammu. This mass exodus caused a dramatic shift in Kashmir valley’s demography. Today, only 2746 Hindus are left there.
The ruling National Front, then supported by the Hindu nationalist BJP, did not do much for the Kashmiri Pandits. As BJP co-founder L.K. Advani acknowledged in 2005, “I couldn’t do anything substantial for the Kashmiri Pandits when we were in power…it is a clear case of ethnic cleansing…it will take time to ensure the return of the migrants as there is not [substantial government] thinking in this regard.”
Three jihadi terror outfits – Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba – launched these attacks. They are Pakistan’s proxies – “strategic assets,” as the Pakistani military calls them. Created, financed and trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, these jihadist groups have a clear motto: to wage jihad on India.
Their efforts didn’t end with the expulsion of Kashmir’s Pandits. In 1990, ISI operated 30 training camps in Pakistan for Kashmiri militants; by 2002, that number had ballooned to 128 camps training 1000 militants a year.
But as is technologically possible, and politically fashionable, today, people did not post messages of solidarity with them. Unlike the concerted campaign now in trend since India’s prime minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, when Kashmiris and Kashmir’s social fabric was under threat then, there were no #KashmirUnderThreat or #StandWithKashmir. Nobody stood with them, or, for them.
The atrocities perpetrated by Pakistan’s jihadist groups on Kashmiri Pandits did not get the worldwide condemnation they deserved. Some academics now argue that the “Kashmiri Pandit issue” is nothing more than a pawn in majoritarian politics, a tool of politicians, rather than a human rights issue.
But when it comes to resettling the Kashmiri Pandits in their rightful homes, the world’s media – and social media – and not least in Pakistan itself are quick to condemn it as an attempt by the Hindu nationalists to “occupy” and “invade” Kashmiri land by “outsiders.” Pakistan’s Prime minister, Imran Khan, calls it an “[a]ttempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing….The Hindu Supremacists version of Hitler’s Lebensraum.”
With Modi’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, troll armies are drawing comparisons between Kashmir and Palestine; the world’s media are busy painting a narrative presenting “blood brothers” India and Israel as “invaders,” “occupiers,” and “colonizers.”
“Is India planning a settler colonial project for disputed Kashmir?” asks Turkey’s state-run TRT. “What’s happening in Kashmir looks a lot like Israel’s rule over Palestine,” said another op-ed. This Twitter message was typical: “I’m a Pakistani and I stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Kashmir, who are being used by Jews and Hindu Nationalists as a punching bag to quench their supremacism.”
Pakistani television and airwaves are filled with hateful messages, calling for annihilating Hindus. “I am urging all our Kashmiri brothers to kill any Hindu who settles there. Don’t let such a Hindu live even for a second. Don’t spare them and kill instantly. They simply want to grab your land. Your condition is worse than Palestinians,” declared popular news analyst Tariq Pirzada on Pakistani television.
This is not to say that the Indian military have not gone overboard in dealing with the Kashmiris. Much of that is well documented. Analysts have also written much about the international disorder and India’s clampdown in Kashmir. But what gets less airtime is Pakistan’s systematic aggression, through its jihadi non-state actors, in Kashmir.
That Pakistan actively cultivates and supports jihadist terrorists to achieve its strategic objectives is well known. As the south east Asia scholar Christine Fair writes, to coerce India to make concessions on Kashmir, “Pakistan has supported an array of Islamist militant proxies that operate in Kashmir and throughout India.” Too often, the “moral support” Pakistan has offered Kashmiris has been terrorism.
Over the decades, Kashmir has turned into a proxy battleground for the world’s jihadist and Islamist radicalizing groups, from Sunni Deobandis and Salafists supported by Saudi Arabia, to Shia clerics supported by Iran. Embedded in this mix are Pakistani terror groups operating in the valley.
But Pakistan’s military, logistical and financial support for terrorism extends far beyond its immediate neighborhood, including the spawning and growth of Al-Qaida and the ongoing instability in Afghanistan.
Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the U.S., has openly stated that Pakistan supports terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned, “Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security,” as it is currently doing. Some of the world’s most wanted terrorists – Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – find a warm home in Pakistan and are consistently protected by the Pakistani military.
From the wire transfer by the ISI general Mahmud Ahmed to train the World Trade Center bombers, the funding of terror training camps for militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir to the funding and training of the Taliban, the trail of terror financing from Pakistan is well documented. The Financial Action Task Force is so concerned that Pakistan has failed to comply with numerous terror-financing regulations it placed it on its “Grey List.”
Ironically, countries like the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, have, for decades, offered foreign aid to Pakistan, ostensibly to “take action against militant groups.”
Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, recently tweeted he is concerned about the “impending genocide of Kashmiris” and that the there is an “attempt to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing.”
If his intentions are sincere, he should consider how to gain legitimate standing to comment – by dealing honestly with Pakistan’s history and present reality. This is what Khan should do:
Own up to Pakistan’s role in the massacres and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir’s Hindu Pandits.
Own up to Pakistan’s decades-long campaign of jihad, destabilization and provocation against Kashmir and its devastating consequences. Own up to the generals and violent Islamists who have engaged in extra-judicial killings in Balochistan, Afghanistan and in the Pashto region.
Own up to the exploitative political benefit you seek to gain in showing such great concern for the well-being of minorities in India when the situation of minorities in Pakistan is so fragile and appalling.
Own up to the dangerous demagoguery of the newly launched Pakistani government-backed campaign, “Kashmir will become part of Pakistan“, a populist pivot away from Pakistan’s crumbling economy and its vassal status to China.
Own up to propagating a provocation and fantasy that will ensure decades more conflict between Islamabad and New Delhi, for which Kashmiris themselves will inevitably pay the price.
Shrenik Rao is the editor-in-chief of the Madras Courier, a 233-year-old title that he revived in October 2016, and founder & CEO of 7MB, a digital media company. An alumnus of the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Rao writes about foreign policy issues. Twitter: @ShrenikRao