Pallone Hosts Capitol Hill Briefing with Kashmiri Pandits
Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans and chairman of the Caucus Kashmir Task Force, hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill late last week on the conflict in Kashmir and the mistreatment of the Kashmiri Pandits. The briefing included presentations by Dr. Vijay Sazawal and Mr. Jeevan Zutshi from the Indo-American Kashmir Forum, and Mr. B. Raman, former head of counter-terrorism at the Research and Analysis Wing of Indias External Intelligence Agency.
The presenters updated Task Force members on the current political and economic climate in the Kashmir Valley, including the impact of the Kashmiri state governments policies. They also highlighted the need for the Pandits to be included in any negotiations between the Indian and Kashmiri state government and urged Caucus members to request the Indian government to be proactive in creating political space for Pandits.
"First and foremost, the survival of Pandits in Kashmir depends on the security situation in the state," Zutshi said. Zutshi believes the Caucus must be concerned about Islamic terrorism in Kashmir, and should oppose any nation that provides sanctuary, insurgency training and weapons to such zealots.
During the briefing, Pallone questioned assurances made by the Kashmiri state government that Pandits would be protected from violence and that resources would be provided for their resettlement. "Certainly this has not been the case and the authorities have failed to protect the Pandits," Pallone said.
"We must continue to urge President Bush to put more pressure on President Musharraf to stop militant infiltration into Kashmir and to end Pakistans moral and military support of the fundamentalists responsible for the mass murder of the Pandits," Pallone continued.
Since 1990, hundreds of thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims have fled Kashmir due to extreme danger and instability. The Kashmiri Pandit community has faced a long history of attacks that resulted in the murder of well over 60,000 Pandit men, women and children and caused the mass migration of this indigenous population from the Kashmir Valley. The severity and the frequency of the attacks have increased to a near daily occurrence because of Pakistani militant insurgency at the Line of Control
Following the briefing, Pallone also responded to a statement made by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) calling on the Indian government to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. Burton stated the Indian government does not want to hold a plebiscite because, if given the option, he claimed an "overwhelming number" of Kashmiris would vote to become part of Pakistan.
"Contrary to claims made by Congressman Burton and Kashmiri secessionists, there is no legal ambiguity regarding the accession of Jammu and Kashmir State to India," Pallone said. "Kashmirs last two elections were transparent and fair. If a plebiscite was held, it is unlikely that Kashmiris would vote for Pakistan.
"Over half a century ago, India requested the United Nations to force Pakistan to withdraw from the region it occupied," Pallone continued. "The United Nations asked both Pakistan and India to withdraw all military forces fr om Kashmir and to hold a plebiscite. Neither side withdrew troops, and the United Nations now believes a plebiscite would not be valid."