Summary of the Congressional Briefing organized by IAKF and convened by the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, with its subset, the Kashmir Task Force.
The Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) was active yet again in Washington D.C. on October 2, 2007, with a congressional briefing as well as a series of meetings discussing the Kashmir imbroglio and its effects on the minority Kashmiri Pandit community.
IAKF leaders worked closely with the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, led by its co-chairs Congressmen Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Jim McDermott (D-WA), as well as its subset, the Kashmir Task Force, headed by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ). The briefing was held in the Rayburn House Office Building from 4 to 5:30 PM.
Dr. Rahul Pandit, President of IAKF, kicked off the briefing by introducing Congressman Wilson, who not only is involved in Indian American affairs but is an active member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressmen Wilson spoke proudly of having as Chief of Staff Mr. Dino Teppara, an Indian-American. He thanked the audience for attending and reiterated his interest in helping the growth and development of India as well as South and Central Asia.
Tiffany Guarascio, Legislative Director to Congressman Frank Pallone, next gave brief introductions of the panelists, regretting that Mr. Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on terrorism, had to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency.
Mr. Shahid Burki, former Vice President of the World Bank, former finance minister of Pakistan, and a past fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, started by covering the main conclusions from his recent report on Kashmir published with the U.S. Institute of Peace. This report analyzes the economic implications of the Kashmir dispute. In particular, Mr. Burki has extensively analyzed the economic impact on Pakistan of continuing the Kashmir struggle, concluding that it has had a grave impact on the prosperity of the nation.
Mr. Burki’s conclusions derive from three major factors. First, the Pakistani economy has suffered significantly from lost trade with India due to worsening relations with its neighbor since independence. Second, its added military investment due to its Kashmir agenda amounted to an average of 0.4% of its GDP per year for the past 60 years. Finally, it has lost an estimated 2% of foreign direct investment in the country due to the instability caused by fundamentalist groups that thrive off of the Kashmir problem. Overall, he calculates that Kashmir’s cost to Pakistan amounts for 3% of its GDP per year for the past 60 years. The total cost therefore has been $150-200 billion, an amount equal to its annual overall GDP. Mr. Burki suggested an international fund be created to help fund the Kashmir economy to help promote Kashmir’s GDP, leading to stability in the region.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal, an analyst and writer on Kashmir affairs, next spoke of economic conditions in the Valley. According to Sazawal, the ruling elite in Kashmir have drained the productivity of the state by their corrupt and negligent policies. He described a “one-two punch” in which the early Kashmir state regime leaders created a constitution in Kashmir that is self-serving to the ruling class, while at the same time ensuring that Article 370 of the Indian constitution prevents any central government changes to their governing of Kashmir.
Dr. Sazawal continued with statistics on the economy of Kashmir, pointing out that central Government of India funding for the region is extraordinarily high, out of proportion with similar investment in other states in India. Yet only the top 7-8% of Kashmiri society sees the majority of this funding due to corruption. He also pointed out that in the Kashmir valley, there were until recently only 8 provinces—now the number has doubled to 16 due to the need to create and fill ‘patronage’ jobs for the governing elite.
The final speaker, Dr. Pandit, discussed in detail the history and current plight of the Kashmiri Pandit minority community. He discussed a recently published research report on the non-migrant Pandits who have stayed in the Valley and number less than 7000, emphasizing that they are suffering terribly from lack of employment opportunities and inadequate socioeconomic support. He addressed the current state of the migrant Kashmiris residing in camps in Jammu, quoting many medical statistics regarding their health and well-being. Dr. Pandit pointed out that their estimated birth rate of 3% is less than half of their death rate—a formula for extinction.
Dr. Pandit next encouraged Congress to take a more active role in the Kashmir problem. By example, he referred to excerpts from the recent and exhaustively researched European Parliament’s report on Kashmir, which was almost unanimously passed by the European Union in May 2007. He further detailed excerpts from Mr. Paul Beersmans recent study report on Kashmir as presented at the UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council). Mr. Beersmans is a former UN Military Observer in Kashmir and current President of the Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir (BASJAK). Dr. Pandit mentioned that the current House and Senate both have introduced resolutions on Kashmir, which he stated were good “starting points” for the U.S. Congress to take further action and interest in the Kashmir situation.
The briefing ended with attendees enjoying light refreshments and discussion with the speakers. Dr. Pandit also held separate meetings with members of the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which he characterized as having been “productive sessions”.
IAKF is a non-profit organization established in 1991 to inform the world community of the oppression against Kashmiri Pandits that led to their forced exile from Kashmir due to the influx of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. IAKF provides reports to the U.S. Administration, U.S. Congress, and several of Washington D.C.’s policy think tanks. For more information, please visit www.iakf.org.