US Congressman calls attention to massacre of Kashmiri Pundits by terrorists
The Speaker pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. PALLONE) is recognised for 5 minutes.
Mr. PALLONE: Mr. Speaker, I rise to bring to the attention of this body and the American people a terrible tragedy that recently occurred in Indias State of Jammu and Kashmir. On March 21, in the village of Sangampora, 15 unidentified terrorists rounded up eight members of the Kashmiri Pundit community and shot them outside their homes. Seven of the victims died. While the cold-blooded murder of innocent people is always shocking and horrifying, what makes this incident even more appalling is the indication that the victims were singled out simply because they were Hindus.
Mr. Speaker, for thousands of years Kashmir has been inhabited by Hindus known as Kashmiri Pundits. These original inhabitants of the Valley of Kashmir have lived peaceful lives in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Sadly, the efforts of the Kashmiri Pundits to live their lives peacefully and constructively has been disrupted by militants armed and trained by outside forces intent on changing Kashmir from a secular, multireligious land into a fundamentalist state.
The effects of this proxy war, which the evidence strongly indicates is supported by Pakistan, have been the death of thousands of people, the devastation of the economy, and the creation of a huge refugee population. Virtually the entire population of 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits has been forced to leave their ancestral homes and property, living in refugee camps in various cities in India in subhuman conditions. Only 2,000 Kashmiri Pandits still remain in the Kashmir Valley, and they have been turned into refugees in their own country.
The current round of violence is not the first example of the victimization of the Kashmiri Pundits. For centuries, they have been subjected to the atrocities and subjugation committed by invading peoples. On October 22, 1947, 2 months after India became independent, Pakistan attacked Kashmir to annex it by force. Four days later, Maharajah Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, requested Indias military assistance to save Kashmir from the Pakistani invaders and took the case to the United Nations, which called for a cease-fire, followed by complete withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the occupied area, as a precondition to a plebiscite under U.N. supervision. Sensing the anti-Pakistani mood of the Kashmiri people, Pakistan did not comply with the U.N. withdrawal condition. Instead, Pakistan made two more futile attempts in 1965 and 1971 to annex Kashmir by force.
Although Pakistan maintains that they are only providing moral and political support for the insurgency, evidence shows that Pakistan has been playing a direct role in arming and training the militants.
I have met with members of the Kashmiri-American community who have told me that Hindus and Muslims can and have lived in peace in Kashmir. The real tragedy is that outside influences are fueling religious rivalries and foreign policy agendas that pit Indian against Indian.
Mr. Speaker, as the cochairman of the Congressional Caucus on India, I believe that the United States and the international community must not allow the practice of ethnic or religious cleansing to continue. India has tried hard to help the Kashmiri Pundits. India deserves our support, both in assisting the refugees and in ending the proxy war being waged in Jammu and Kashmir.
Programs such as USAID, the Agency for International Development, could be one vehicle for the United States to provide more direct aid, humanitarian aid, I should say, for these displaced people. We should also use our considerable influence with Pakistan to urge that nation to cease support for the militants and to crack down on terrorists harbored within their borders.
I want to applaud India and Pakistan for trying to break decades of tension by having their foreign ministers meet in New Delhi recently. It has been the highest level meeting between these South Asian neighbors in years. The foreign ministers meeting, Mr. Speaker, actually took place yesterday. I hope this will be a sign of the relaxation of tensions that will benefit all the people of India and Pakistan. Especially with this new climate of cooperation, I think ultimately it will help the Kashmiri Pundits go back to their ancestral homeland and resume their peaceful lives, which is really all they want to do.