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Pallone Calls on Prime Minister Singh to Include Kashmiri Pandits in Policy on Kashmir

August 24, 2004
Press Release

Washington, D.C. --- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, today expressed concern that the new Indian administration did not include mention of the Kashmiri Pandits as part of its policy on Kashmir. In a letter to Prime Minister Singh, the New Jersey congressman called on the new Administration to include the Pandits in any future policy discussions on Kashmir.

"Given the urgency of addressing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, I was disappointed that the new government did not mention the Pandits as part of its policy on Kashmir," Pallone wrote in the letter to Prime Minister Singh. "I urge you to include the Pandits in any negotiations with Kashmiri constituents and in developing the future course of action in Jammu and Kashmir."

"As you know, the Pandits have suffered more than any group as a result of the conflict in Kashmir, and violence continues to threaten their existence," Pallone continued. "Along with violence, the indifference of previous and current state administrations has inflicted irreparable harm to this beleaguered community. If changes are not made soon, these brave individuals may never be able to return to their homeland. Today, Kashmiri Pandits are on the verge of losing their identity, culture and homeland in Kashmir."

The ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir started as a result of targeted assassinations leading to forced exile of the entire minority community in the early stages of insurgency. For the last 15 years, Kashmiri Pandits have been refugees in their own country. What was once a population of nearly 350,000 in the Kashmir valley has now been reduced to a paltry 8,000-person populace. In his letter, Pallone wrote that the horrible events have been repeated in recent years when Islamic insurgents committed mass massacres of Pandits in villages and hamlets throughout Kashmir.

"By ignoring the pleas of the Pandits and skirting responsibilities, past and present State administrations have brought the situation to a critical juncture," Pallone wrote. "It is more important now than ever for a public commitment from your administration to include the Pandits in future policy discussions. By doing so, they will be ensured a much-needed voice in determining the future of their security and return to the valley."

Text of Pallone's letter to Prime Minister Singh follows.

 

August 23, 2004

Honorable Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India

New Delhi, India

Dear Prime Minister Singh:

I would like to take a moment to congratulate the Congress Party for its success in the most recent general election and I was pleased to learn that you will serve as Prime Minister. The US Congress and the world were inspired to see Indian democracy at its finest, and I am a firm believer that India and the United States have a natural alliance because we are the two largest democracies in the world.

I would also like to commend your administration for its seamless transition in continuing talks with Pakistan. We are hopeful that negotiations between India and Pakistan lead to progress on a variety of issues.

In the past, I worked extensively with former Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister Advani on various issues including the Kashmir conflict. More specifically, I emphasized the need for inclusion of the Kashmiri Pandit population in any Kashmir policy discussions.

As you know, the Pandits have suffered more than any group as a result of the conflict in Kashmir, and violence continues to threaten their existence. This group is under constant threat of attack from Islamic terrorists, and many have fled the region as a result of these threats. For the last 15 years, Kashmiri Pandits have been refugees in their own country. What was once a population of nearly 350,000 in the Kashmir valley has now been reduced to a paltry 8,000-person populace. The ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir started as a result of targeted assassinations leading to forced exile of the entire minority community in the early stages of insurgency. Such horrible events were then repeated in the last few years when Islamic insurgents committed mass massacres of Pandits in villages and hamlets throughout Kashmir. Along with violence, the indifference of previous and current state administrations has inflicted irreparable harm to this beleaguered community. If changes are not made soon, these brave individuals may never be able to return to their homeland. Today, Kashmiri Pandits are on the verge of losing their identity, culture and homeland in Kashmir.

Given the urgency of addressing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, I was disappointed that the new government did not mention the Pandits as part of its policy on Kashmir. I urge you to include the Pandits in any negotiations with Kashmiri constituents and in developing the future course of action in Jammu and Kashmir. By ignoring the pleas of the Pandits and skirting responsibilities, past and present State administrations have brought the situation to a critical juncture. It is more important now than ever for a public commitment from your administration to include the Pandits in future policy discussions. By doing so, they will be ensured a much-needed voice in determining the future of their security and return to the valley.

I welcome your views on this human tragedy and more importantly, what steps central and state governments are taking to alleviate the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits. I thank you for your work and leadership in this matter and wish you the very best in the coming months.

Sincerely,

FRANK PALLONE, JR.

Member of Congress