Flushed with US funds and arms, the Pakistani deep state, riding on Afghan mujahideen victory over the erstwhile Soviet Union, launched jihad in Kashmir to cleanse the valley of minuscule minority Kashmiri Pandit community

It was only after Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bombing at Jammu and Kashmir Assembly secretariat on October 1, 2001 that US recognised Pak sponsored terrorism in the Valley.

In his book “Shadow War: The untold story of jihad in Kashmir”, Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal writes about a secret meeting of all factions of Jamat-e-Islami in Kathmandu on January 14, 1990, to discuss its role in the growing jihadi movement in Kashmir. While pro-jihadi participants voiced concerns over the growing influence of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) at the meeting, the founding leader of Jamat opposed direct involvement as it would destroy the organization and open it to Indian assault by security forces. It was at this meeting that pro-Pakistan separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani suddenly appeared and made a passionate plea for openly supporting jihad in Kashmir. Jamal writes that all the factions thereon supported jihad in Kashmir after this decisive meeting.

The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits by Pakistani ISI supported Jihadists from Kashmir Valley has now been brought to the front burner by the period documentary film “Kashmir Files”. It is quite evident from Jamal’s book that flushed with US funds, sophisticated arms and Pakistan based Afghan Mujahideen victory in Afghanistan, which led to the humiliating withdrawal of erstwhile Soviet forces in 1989, the ISI pushed its Kashmir agenda through jihadists in Kashmir.

That the ISI had a huge cash surplus in US-Afghan war funds became evident in February 2022 when it was found that Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq’s favourite hatchet man and then ISI chief Akhtar Abdur Rehman Khan had illegally diverted more than three million USDs from US-Afghan war funds to accounts opened in name of his three sons at the Suisse Bank. While both spook Gen Khan and the jihadi dictator Gen Haq died in a plane crash in 1988, it was the then ISI chief who was instrumental in launching jihad in Kashmir Valley, which was subsequently ratcheted up by succeeding Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

A study of the pattern on killings of Kashmiri Pandits by terrorists shows that the bulk of targeted attacks took place in 1990 with the onset of jihadi terrorism in the Valley. Subsequent killings dramatically dropped not because of a change in the intent of the Pak sponsored terror campaign but because the adversary had achieved their strategic goal—pogrom to cleanse the Valley.

In 1989, the killings started with gunning down of BJP leader Tika Lal Taploo on September 14 and by the end of the year, six of the minority community were killed. The year-wise killings of the minority Pandit community are: 1990 (136); 1991 (18); 1992 (6), 1993 (10); 1994 (4); 1995 (2); 1997 (7), 1998 (26), 2000 (6). 2001 (2); 2002 (1); 2003 (25), 2004 (01), 2020 (1) and 2021 (03). From 1989 to 2021, a total of 254 of the minuscule Kashmiri Pandit community were gunned down.

A large number of killings in 1990 was primarily to strike terror in the hearts of all Kashmiri Pandits that staying back in the Valley was not an option for them. This became further evident with the Wandhama village massacre in 1998 and the Nadimarg massacre in 2003, where the Pakistan-trained jihadists lined up men, women and children and gunned them down with a gruesome message to the Pandits—don’t ever think of coming back.

While the Srinagar district police in its RTI response has stated that 89 Kashmiri Pandits were killed and 1635 non-Kashmiri Pandits were murdered in the past three decades, the data pertain only to Srinagar district and not to Kashmir. According to a top Kashmir police official, there is a significant difference between the manner and intent with which the Pandits and the Muslims in the Valley were killed.

“The Pandits were killed primarily with the sinister jihadi agenda to establish Nizam-e-Mustafa in the Valley as part of a pogrom, the majority community were mostly killed as collateral damage during maintenance of law and order, encounters with terrorists, during grenade and IED attacks in the Valley. A considerable number were also targeted for variety of reasons ranging from suspected informers, refusing diktats of terror commanders related to women, money, or property as also terrorists taking sides and settling local disputes related to personal enmity,” said a senior Kashmir police officer.

Perhaps the unfortunate difference between the Pandits and the majority community in the valley is also underlined by the fact that the former not only lost their lives but also home, hearth and property, the latter only lost their loved ones but not home, hearth, property or connected opportunities of employment and livelihood. Jamal’s book spotlights the role of Syed Ali Shah Geelani in getting all majority leaders in the Valley opposed to Pakistani interference targeted by the jihadists.

Although the Pakistani deep state is responsible for destroying communal cohesion in Kashmir in the 1990s, it was Islamabad’s then friend, the US, which failed to recognize terrorism in Kashmir till the J&K Assembly attack on October 1, 2001. Throughout the entire 1990s, the Valley was all about human rights with the US State Department and western media and their proxies in the Valley batting for Rawalpindi GHQ in the international fora and pinning down India on so-called violation of human rights. The US definition in the Valley changed from freedom fighter to militant to terrorist after the 9/11 attacks and the December 13, 2001, attack on the Indian Parliament.

After the August 5, 2019 abrogation of article 370 and carving of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory, terror incidents and violence have reduced in the Valley with Pakistan worried about Indian retaliation in its hinterland. The Kashmiri Pandits still fear to return to the Valley with a large number having moved on to greener pastures, but the radicalization in the UT continues to be on a high. The humiliating withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, with billions of dollars of sophisticated weapons being left behind with Sunni Taliban jihadists and their affiliates across the Durand Line may yet open another violent chapter in Kashmir.