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OT: Email From My Friend in Kashmir


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I stayed with a family in Kashmir a few years ago, as some of you know, and ended up hanging out with them and really bonding with them over about six weeks. I feel like I have another family. Anybody who hasn't had their head in the sand for the past few years knows how volatile and dangerous Kashmir is, especially in the last couple of weeks, with Pakistan and India rattling the cage. While I would have a great deal of compassion for the Kashmiris anyway, crushed between two nuclear-powered giants, having good friends there makes it all that much more emotional and real. I live in the United States and live a pretty easy life, all things considered, while they struggle. I send them money -- they usually don't ask for it, but I send it anyway. It's not much. I send a few hundred a year to help them out. My friend Fayaz goes down to the internet cafe, where he is able to email most of the time, except for those occasions when India shuts off internet access in the Jammu-Kashmir region. This is his last email: ------- "Dearest brother Ken, Hello,sorrry for late reply I am sure you must be awear of the situation in kashmir nowadays which is so much worse,all internets were closed and was a long strike and every thing was closed here. Prime Minester Vajpayee was here for 3 days visit.so much shelling on border and so much fear of war,and so much fear of war in every bodys eyes.We dont know what is going to happen, so many people have left there houses near borders.So big trouble, You might have seen in the Newson TV.IT is been closed for so many days so much tensions.We all hope you are well and your health is good we remember you all the time.I wont be able to reply till monday because it will be again closed for another two days,one of the leaders of kashmir hurrit leader was killed by some unknown people,I dont know what is going to happen.take care,much love and wishes.Thanks so much for everything.Fayaz and Family." ---- I miss them very much. I just wish this madness would stop. The war with Afghanistan has deeply affected them, increasing tensions. Pakistan/India are on the brink of war. The Indian Army continues its atrocities, treating Kashmiris like second-class citizens (no work, must bribe people to get in to the university, can perform searches and seizures without showing cause, have brutal tactics, etc.). I've even seen a little mistreatment with my own eyes. When is this hell on earth going to stop? :(
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It seems like, the way its portrayed in the papers here, that the problem is militant action on the part of Kashmir-based groups. Pakistan says it agrees with their cause but gives no material support and India says it does. It would be good to hear how that picture may differ from what`s really going on.
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[quote]Originally posted by skip: [b]It seems like, the way its portrayed in the papers here, that the problem is militant action on the part of Kashmir-based groups. Pakistan says it agrees with their cause but gives no material support and India says it does. It would be good to hear how that picture may differ from what`s really going on.[/b][/quote]I believe that some of the militant action is on the part of Kashmiri separatist groups (there are several, although they are MUCH smaller and not very well-armed, esp. when compared to their Afghan neighbors). Some are from Pakistan. They deny it, but everyone else thinks they're full of it. Some, believe it or not, is from the Indian Army (!), who have stirred up trouble in the past, sometimes framing either the Pakistanis or the Kashmiri separatists. This has been well-documented by several journalists in newspapers and magazines, including Men's Journal and Vanity Fair. It's a really complex, messy affair that has been at times severely mishandled by the Indian military. Several times, they have cracked down harshly on unarmed protesters in Srinagar, killing hundreds who gathered for funerals and so forth. This is well-researched and documented in the book "Kashmir in the Crossfire". And not to completely dump on the Indian military, either -- they have their hands full. The Indian military is the second largest military force (after China, of course), and are stretched about as thin as you can stretch them. They have to cover insurgency in Gujurat (the Hindu/Muslim riots, etc.), patrol the Punjab region, and are stretched across the really long Himalayan border, all the way around Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China (in the Ladakh region, a primarily Tibetan Buddhist culture that is part of the J&K region and also an extremely politically sensitive area) Insurgency in Kargil and other places spring up occasionally. The Indian military is frazzled and hair-trigger tense. A really good friend of mine has two uncles in the Indian Army, a general and a colonel. I've been over to theier houses before, hung out with them. The general was stationed in the Jammu-Kashmir region for quite a few years. It's frightening how tense this part of the world is. How I wish it would just all go away.
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Ken/Eleven Shadows wrote: [quote] [b]When is this hell on earth going to stop? [/b] [/quote]"The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind..." I suspect that just as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes etc. are a part of life so too are wars, terrorism, and crime in general and when conditions are right these things can always occur IMHO. We can perhaps miminize the risks and consequences through, education, forsight and maybe some preparation (if possible) but as the song goes 'that's life'. It seems the bitter and the sweet come with the territory, so to speak, and as another great lyric reminds us, "the best that we can hope for is to die in our sleep". Isn't it great how song lyrics often say so much so simply.
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<> I don't buy that. If you look at, for example, native Americans prior to the introduction of European concepts, there were tribes that were extremely war-like and tribes that were peaceful. Why did one turn one way, and one the other? Sure, there will always be nasty people, but the question is whether they're an aberration, or a way of life. Or look at Hawaii -- people there were living in paradise, but its history prior to non-native peoples coming in was about as bloody as you can get. Where I have a REAL PROBLEM is that there are enough resources in this world, if properly distributed and maintained, to feed everyone. There's enough food, there's enough water, there's enough energy. The problem is that there are people who want to control these things, and limit supply to increase personal wealth. What they fail to realize is that in addition to personal wealth, there is collective wealth. Would you rather live a middle-class life in the USA, or be filthy rich in Haiti? Personally, I think personal wealth has little value if you have to put walls around your house, hire security guards, see people around you all the time in abject poverty, etc. To me, one of the great mysteries of life is why people still consider conflict as a way to solve problems. It doesn't, really. Some will point to WWII and say that conflict was valuable there, as it solved the problem of Nazism. Well, it did, but victory in war is only a temporary measure, and the conditions that fostered Nazism in the first place would have probably returned had it not been for the Marshall plan winning the peace. (Yes, the US does do the right thing sometimes.) The India/Pakistan problem has been going on since the division, and I can't help but think that once again, religious differences are the gasoline being poured on this particular fire.
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Anderton wrote: [quote] [b]To me, one of the great mysteries of life is why people still consider conflict as a way to solve problems.[/b] [/quote]Many times I don't think it has to do with logic or thinking rationally or any perceivable order. It's like certain conditions fester and then a random spark or something occurs to trigger violent force or whatever. Something like the cold air meeting the warm air but in certain prime conditions a tornado develops rather than a simple thunder storm. Or for some random reason a volcano 'decides' to erupt or a fault 'decides' to shift. As with these natural phenomenon, similar conditions can occur in the human part of nature. On all levels of society from the basic family unit on up, there are built up tensions and pressures that could potentially explode anywhere at any time. How these conditions came about involve so many variables that I doubt that we can break them down systematically although often we think we can. Just my opinion. By the way, thanks Craig for the hookup for your Reason tutorial. We ordered it Friday from Wizoo.
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>> The India/Pakistan problem has been going on since the division, and I can't help but think that once again, religious differences are the gasoline being poured on this particular fire.>> Yes. In fact, many Hindus who were previously living peacefully with Muslims were forced to leave Kashmir Valley when fighting broke out. There hadn't been a huge religious problem in the Valley before that.
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[quote]Originally posted by Ken/Eleven Shadows: [b]>> The India/Pakistan problem has been going on since the division, and I can't help but think that once again, religious differences are the gasoline being poured on this particular fire.>> Yes. In fact, many Hindus who were previously living peacefully with Muslims were forced to leave Kashmir Valley when fighting broke out. There hadn't been a huge religious problem in the Valley before that.[/b][/quote]reminds me of Bosnia. That`s always the case, isn`t it? 10% of the human population causes 90% of the bullshit.
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[quote]Originally posted by Ken/Eleven Shadows: [b]>> The India/Pakistan problem has been going on since the division, and I can't help but think that once again, religious differences are the gasoline being poured on this particular fire.>> Yes. In fact, many Hindus who were previously living peacefully with Muslims were forced to leave Kashmir Valley when fighting broke out. There hadn't been a huge religious problem in the Valley before that.[/b][/quote]So clue me in. Is there a group of people in the region that consider themselves ethnic Kashmiris? Different religion, language? I'm thinking something along the line of Sikhs. Or is it some other motivation? I haven't heard much about a Kashmir independence movement if there is such a thing, just that these people happen to live at the point of conflict.
It's OK to tempt fate. Just don't drop your drawers and moon her.
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[quote]So clue me in. Is there a group of people in the region that consider themselves ethnic Kashmiris? Different religion, language? I'm thinking something along the line of Sikhs. Or is it some other motivation? I haven't heard much about a Kashmir independence movement if there is such a thing, just that these people happen to live at the point of conflict.[/QB][/quote]Yes, the whole Kashmir Valley is filled with people who refer to themselves as Kashmiris, and in fact, all of India refers to the region as Kashmir. Before the British separation, it was its own region, ruled by a succession of maharajas. The last maharaja was by most accounts a weak and ineffectual leader. When militants from Pakistan (Pakistan largely denies that these militants are from Pakistan, even now) started coming and causing trouble, the maharaja eventually fled the capital and called on the Indian Army to come help bail him out. Still waffling till the last possible moment, the maharaja *allegedly* signed a paper saying that Kashmir was part of India (he was given the choice to choose between Pakistan and India by the British). This is where it gets sticky. The Pakistanis (and some people in Indian Parliament) believe that the paper signed was BOGUS. Why? Because the Indian government never revealed the paper until years and years after it was supposedly signed. Then, to complicate matters further, the Pakistanis believe that since the maharaja had already lost control of the capital and fled to Jammu in the south, he no longer represented Kashmir because he had lost control of it. Nevertheless, the Indians now control Kashmir -- or at least, half of it. The other half is part of Pakistan. Kashmiris are tired of this, and many (some would say most) want independence. There is a strong independent movement, but its overshadowed by the two nuclear superpowers battling for control. Kashmiris are very much unlike their Afghan neighbors. They don't have very many weapons. They are not nearly as violent overall (they have their moments, too, but are generally much calmer and less prone to violence). They do not have the brutal kinds of weapons that the Afghans were left with when the United States, finished with their toys during the Soviet War, left -- leaving a bunch of crazed Afghans with high-priced military toys. Kashmiris often have a distinct look about them, and it is theorized by some historians that they are actually descended from the Lost 10th Tribe of the Israelites, and indeed, there are some similarities in the Kashmiri language to that of the Israelis!! In either case, the Kashmiris have a beautiful culture, beautiful land, are predominantly Muslim (with some Sufism as well), and I hope that they can find peace. I found the Kashmiris to be very nice during my six-week stay there. Wonderful people, great Kashmiri food (pretty hot food!!), very well-mannered (and sometimes a bit pushy when trying to sell something). They were more than kind when I attended the annual showing of Mohammed's whisker at the mosque at Dal Lake, letting me go as far in as I could in the mosque, and answering lots of questions, and showing me lots of things. Total strangers, super nice, saying hi a lot. When they expressed their views, it was not with fanaticism, but in a very matter-of-fact, lucid manner. They explained what happened, but often did so without overt hatred, simply stating facts and allowing me to ask questions, and were interested in my opinions. In my opinion, if they were to ever become independent -- which, quite frankly, will probably not happen -- they risk being swallowed up by some very warlike neighbors, including Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and India, all bigger and far more powerful than Kashmir ever was. I hope this helps answer your question somewhat.
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I lost track of the thread, but thanks for the detailed explanation. It's good to hear from someone who travels and moves amongst the people. Years ago I was fortunate to have been on a business trip to meet established partners and friends, so on time off they would take us to their homes and recreation spots. People are pretty much the same everywhere, given a chance at a decent life. Fathers worry about their teenage daughters becoming young women, the price of gas, how the neighbourhood has changed, etc. In Syria the execs. acted like good ole boys on the weekend. We went to the family farm (blood oranges), drank cans of Athena beer from the trunk of the car and took turns blasting the empties with a shotgun - weird. In Ghiza I got to see the paw of the Sphinx my mother sat on in a photo I have from 1945, and I had coffee in the same garden restaurant that was there on her transit back from India. Then you have the drunk y'all I sat beside on the flight to London who planned to pick up his Hertz car, check into the Holiday Inn and find the closest McDonalds for dinner. Why travel?
It's OK to tempt fate. Just don't drop your drawers and moon her.
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This is partially in response to a couple of you have emailed me, wondering what the Kashmiri people were like. I traveled to Kashmir for six weeks in 1997. This is pretty much what the title says, so if you're not interested, just skip it! I just posted this in the "Email from my Friend in Kashmir" thread also. ---- My Observations About the Kashmiri People: India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947, and Kashmir has literally been ripped in two. A third of Kashmir is in Pakistan; the other two-thirds is in India. Since I've been to Indian Kashmir,the so-called Most Dangerous Place On Earth according to Presidents Clinton and Bush, I've been asked several times what the Kashmiri people are like. What did they think of, say, the United States? Readers might be interested to note that the Kashmiris that I met (which in almost six weeks was quite a lot! ) looked upon the United States not with hatred or animosity, but with curiosity. They watched a lot of movies from our country, and wanted to know what life was like there. When one travels, one is, like it or not, an ambassador to one's own country, representing it for good and bad, and so I tried to paint a realistic picture, dispeling myths, confirming facts, and trying to be open as possible. The people who ran the houseboats already had a pretty good idea of what the U.S was like, since a lot of tourists had come through Dal Lake prior to the tensions and military crackdown in 1990. Still, though, they were amazed at how expensive things wer in the U.S. A common question was how much a house cost, how much rent, food, clothes were, And sometimes, it was a wee bit difficult to explain that although we made a lot of money (relative to them), we also spent a lot because things are in relation to our cost of living. So, in other words, "Yes, our citizens often do have a lot more money than others, but not quite as much as you think!!" Some of the Kashmiris really wanted to come over to the United States, just to see it with their own eyes, although many are really happy where they are, despite the tensions and violence. With a lot of people who live in India, including the Kashmiris, the United States has almost this aura about it for them -- "a good country", they think. Some think that Americans may be a little immoral, especially in regard to their sexuality, but the ones I met in Kashmir didn't have any hatred towards the U.S. because of that. They just thought it was different. Many are in awe of Neil Armstrong because he walked on the moon, and the moon holds special significance for Muslims. There are rumors going around that Neil Armstrong converted to Islam shortly after he came back from the moon. To the best of my knowledge, this has not occurred. I think, too, that Kashmiris are very very proud of where they live. It's beautiful, and they know it and take great pride in it. Kashmir is idyllic. It has lots of lakes, apple orchards, tall snow-capped mountains, flowery plains, waterfalls, trees, rivers, ski resorts, forests, and greenery. One Kashmiri farmer asked me, "Is it true that in America, they use cow dung as fertilizer?" Much of the ground in Kashmir is so rich that it can grow big red tomatoes the size of softballs with absolutely no fertilizer. Farmers just plop seeds in the ground around Dal Lake, watch them grow, and then simply harvest the crops from shikharas (small paddleboats)!! Amazing!! Great apples, too. Beautifiul orchards. Kashmiris are saddened by the war and the harsh occupation by the Indian Army, which has in part dirtied the lakes nearby Srinagar, pushed villagers around, demanding that they be fed. During my stay on the Ajanta Palace houseboat, the neighboring houseboat was boarded by the Indian Army. The owners of the houseboat was asked to put up the Army and feed them for free for a day. I also saw several Kashmiris being beaten over the head with sticks by the Army to shoo them out of the road to make way for a military envoy. When the Indian Army saw that I was looking at them, they looked surprised that a tourist was in the small village, and immediately stopped beating the villagers. India's government has now issued POTO, which basically means that the Indian military may conduct search and seizures in Kashmir without warning, warrants, or provocation. This unfortunately is not rumor, and has been substantiated by the international press. I was in Kashmir in 1997 during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of India's independence from Britain. Needless to say, Kashmir wasn't taking part in the celebrations. All was quiet that day. Based on the people that I met, if there is any animosity towards anyone in particular, it's directed towards terrorists or the Indian Army. This picture I am painting of Kashmiris is not through rose-colored glasses. There were some pushy people, sometimes rather annoying. Not very many. The pushy people were most often the salesmen, peddling their wares from the shikharas to people staying on the houseboats. Still, though, generally nice. There are, of course, Kashmiri separatists and terrorists -- not necessarily one and the same. I didn't meet any of these people because I like to stay out of trouble. When wandering around the marketplaces in Srinagar, many of the women avoided eye contact, quickly averting their eyes. Sometimes, I would notice that the women would be staring at me through the mesh in their chardors (burqas), and then look away. Most of the women that I saw did NOT wear full chardors, usually headscarves. When I got to know the women, such as the ones in the family who ran the houseboat, I quickly realized that they pretty much completely ran the household, probably not a big surprise. They were often quite chatty and joked a lot Although quiet with me at first, after getting used to me, they started joking with me a lot, too, asking me questions and so forth. We started getting a lot of really funny inside jokes running, the kind that you only get after you've hung out with people for a while. There was one time in which one of the daughters was giving her father a neckrub because the guy was tired, doing manual labor all day. We played a trick on him -- I quietly took her place and started giving him the neckrub. I did this for a couple of minutes while the daughter and a couple of the other women looked on, trying really hard not to burst into laughter. When he finally figured out it was me, he joked, "I was wondering why the neckrub suddenly got so much better!!!" :)
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