VII. Discrimination and Abuse Against Post-1989 Refugees

According to the Azad Kashmir Rehabilitation Department, there are 29,932 registered refugees who crossed over from Jammu and Kashmir state in India in 1989-91.86 Analysts suggest that there may be approximately another five thousand unregistered individuals, some of whom are former militants. Some of the refugees live in communities across Azad Kashmir, while others were housed, prior to the October 2005 earthquake, in refugee camps exclusively devoted to them (pre-earthquake figures indicated that there were 2,720 refugees in Manakpayan camp and 1,508 in Ambore camp, two of the largest such camps; current figures are difficult to ascertain).87   

The refugees were fleeing heightened conflict in Jammu and Kashmir state and serious human rights abuses by Indian security forces. As noted above (see Chapter II), the government of Pakistan and the Azad Kashmir authorities welcomed these refugees at the time with some fanfare. But many refugees have found life in Azad Kashmir to be difficult and are critical of the Pakistani government and its policies in Kashmir.  Most of the refugees are secular nationalists and, as also noted above, culturally and linguistically distinct from the peoples of Azad Kashmir .  A primary motive for the discrimination they report would appear to be that many of them do not share the vision of a unified Kashmir under Pakistani control. Some have experienced abuse including arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment for seeking to exercise their rights.

Ghulam Ali Khan is from Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir state. He joined JKLF (Amanullah Khan group) when he was twenty-one years old. He told Human Rights Watch,

When the JKLF broke into two factions it had a devastating effect on the movement.  I have two children and came into Pakistan in 1994. I have only seen my children grow up in photographs. The sad part is that our families in [Jammu and Kashmir state] are constantly interrogated by intelligence agencies and once we go back, we too will be viewed with suspicion as Pakistani agents.

We are not getting our basic rights as refugees. We are persecuted all the time. We are beaten. And because we do not support Pakistan’s policy of indiscriminate murder, we are regarded as traitors to Kashmir. We are dying of hunger and lack of resources and the governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir are responsible for this situation. We are ready to be handed over to the [International Committee of the] Red Cross. The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR] has said that the Pakistan government has to be willing. The Pakistan Institute of Policy Studies recommended that members should be handed over to the U.N. or Red Cross. But they will not because of ego. We need help.

We support the peace process. We are the greatest supporters of the peace process. And why would we not be? We are the real divided families. Those who were divided in 1947 are dead and gone. We have parents, children, wives, brothers and sisters on the other side. There can be no peace without taking us into account.88

On February 16, 2005, India and Pakistan announced an agreement to start a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar from April 7, 2005.89 The refugees hailed the agreement and began to make preparations to welcome the first bus. In March, they succeeded in accessing the Indian media through Munizae Jahangir, a Pakistani journalist who freelances for the New Delhi-based NDTV.90  They appeared on NDTV in a news segment in which they specified their renunciation of militancy and appealed to the Indian authorities to grant them safe passage back to Jammu and Kashmir state. The interviews were widely picked up by the Indian media.91 

However, it soon became apparent to the refugees, as it did to their relatives in Jammu and Kashmir state, that the bus service was limited and appeared specifically not to be open to controversial persons or their families.92  Zahid Butt, a refugee explained to Human Rights Watch,

It became clear very quickly that the bus service was not open to Kashmiri nationalist refugees or their families—the real divided people in Kashmir. This is an understanding between India and Pakistan. Why? If we cannot go, at least our families should be allowed to visit us. But even that is not happening. We wanted to welcome the bus. But we were not even allowed to do that. Instead, we were arrested, jailed and tortured.93 

Jamil Mirza, formerly of the People’s League (PL, a Jammu and Kashmir-based nationalist political group), added,

The bus is only taking tourists and distant relatives. The 1990 refugees are not being sent to J&K. Go and check for yourself. It is meant to be first come, first served. Yet how come those with form numbers 160 and 180 [their place in the queue] are not being allowed on while someone with form number 15,000 will be given a ticket? We want to go home. We are with the peace process and we support it. We want to go home.94

As the April 7 date for the first bus neared, the Jammu Kashmir United Haqiqi [Real] Movement (a refugee and former militant umbrella organization) stepped up preparations to welcome the bus. It published leaflets (examples of which are in the possession of Human Rights Watch) welcoming the bus, and began organizing a welcome procession comprising 1990 refugees. 

Jamil Mirza described what happened on April 6, 2005:

We wanted to welcome those who were arriving on April 7. On April 6, about eight of us were called for a meeting by the Deputy Commissioner Raja Liaqat and the Deputy Superintendent of Police Gulfaraz.  They told us, ‘You cannot welcome the bus.’ We said we support the bus. They said we will not give you permission: ‘You will be our guests,’ they said. They took us to the city police station just a few hours later—Kahori Police Station. Six of us were at the meeting, two were brought from home. I was there. We were locked up there for two days 

At about four o’clock in the afternoon, two days later, we were shifted to Central Jail Muzaffarabad. We discovered that another twenty were also arrested. We were separated though we appealed to be kept together. We were divided into groups of eight and four. The room I was in held around thirty people. It was a large jail room with ventilation. But criminals were kept with us including murderers sentenced to death.

On April 7, we went on a hunger strike as we left Kahori Station. We made it clear that our strike was against the administration, not the jail authorities. Why have we been locked up for hailing and supporting the bus? We were held under 16 MPO [Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance].95

On April 10, at about 6 a.m., we were given breakfast. We refused. The jail authorities started beating us with sticks and metal rods. About fourteen or fifteen people were beating each person. All other criminal prisoners and the police present were included. The jail superintendent, Raja Aftab, was standing at the sentry post directing the prisoners to beat us. We were beaten badly. (It was pre-arranged between the other prisoners and the police.) One person had an eye torn out. One had several head injuries. Another had his hand broken. Everyone was bruised.

We were beaten for about two-and-a-half hours. This happened in all three cells between 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Then the jailer came and said, ‘If you don’t eat, we will shove the food up your ass.’ We agreed to eat under duress, as those who refused to eat were beaten very severely. Mohammad Ayub Butt refused to eat, so they cracked his spine.

Then they dipped the roti in water and gave it to us. They forced us to sign a statement stating that what had occurred was a fight between prisoners. We were told that if we told the truth, we would be beaten some more and jailed. So we were released on April 16 at 6 p.m. No case was registered.

Why did the Azad Kashmir government arrest us and beat us up? We were only supporting the stated policy of the Pakistani government. Is that not allowed? Or does Musharraf sitting in Islamabad not know what goes on in Muzaffarabad?96

Independent journalists corroborated and supported the claims of the refugees and former militants.97

Mohammad Ayub Butt is a native of Budham district of Jammu and Kashmir state and now lives in Muzaffarabad. He is a former militant. He told us:

Most militants like me—actually from Kashmir—have been abandoned by their organizations, especially Hizbul-Mujahedin. But of course money for militant activities is still rolling in from Pakistan and the ISI but it is used for corruption—to line the pockets of the jihadi leadership and the corrupt ISI officers. The jihadi leadership has used the money meant for jihad for their own personal benefits. Have you seen their mansions?

But if India and Pakistan think they can strike a peace and forget about us, they are mistaken. I was injured while fighting Indian troops and now I find it hard to work. I face constant threats from Hizbul-Mujahedin, from the ISI and I cannot go back to my home. Is this fair? Musharraf says there will be peace with India. Peace in Kashmir. But where is the peace? You can see for yourself. All of Azad Kashmir knows that the jihadis are still active. Does Musharraf not know? I urge both the governments of India and Pakistan to resolve the issue of the 1990 refugees and the 450 former militants among them. We want to go home. My real jihad would have been to take care of my parents and bring up my kids. I am an uneducated man and I did not know what jihad meant at the time.98

86 Official figure provided by the office of the rehabilitation commissioner, AJK government, to Human Rights Watch, August 2005.

87 Official figures for Manakpayan and Ambore refugee camps provided by the office of the rehabilitation commissioner, AJK government, to Human Rights Watch, August 2005.

88 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghulam Ali Khan, Muzaffarabad, August 3, 2005.

89 “Landmark Kashmir bus link agreed,” BBC News Online, February 16, 2005, [online] (retrieved August 24, 2006).

90 Human Rights Watch interview with Munizae Jahangir, Lahore, March 27, 2005.

91 “Former militants waiting to take bus back home,”, April 4, 2005, [online]  (retrieved August 18, 2006).

92 “Kashmiris upset over bus permits,” BBC News Online, March 4, 2005, [online] (retrieved August 24, 2006).

93 Human Rights Watch interview with Zahid Butt, Muzaffarabad, August 3, 2005.

94 Human Rights Watch interview with Jamil Mirza, Muzaffarabad, August 3, 2005.

95 Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance prohibits speech that "causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public," or which "furthers or is likely to further any activity prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order."

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Jamil Mirza, Muzaffarabad , August 3, 2005.

97Pakistan’s largest circulation English-language newspaper, Dawn, wrote: “Affiliated with the Jammu Kashmir United Real Movement, the detainees, some of whom had married here and ran small shops to earn livelihood, were taken into custody on Wednesday evening — a day ahead of the launching ceremony of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service — to avert what the officials claimed any law and order problem. Nineteen of them were kept in the city police station here and the rest in the nearby Kahori police station before being moved to the central jail on Friday. The JKURM had publicly celebrated the Feb 16 announcement by India and Pakistan to start the bus service between the divided Kashmiri capitals. It also strongly criticized those Kashmiri leaders who were opposed to the bus service. An official, who requested anonymity, told Dawn that the JKURM members were been arrested under 3 MPO (Maintenance of Public Order), after ‘intelligence reports suggested that they could block the smooth movement of the trans-Kashmir bus.’ However, a JKURM member showed a pamphlet to this correspondent issued by the group wherein it had asked its members and other residents of the capital to assemble near Domel at 10am on April 7 ‘to welcome the guests (arriving) from Srinagar (through the bus service)’. ‘We just wanted to welcome the guests from Srinagar because we have publicly celebrated this historic development the time it was announced,’ he said. ‘The officials had assured that they would release them by Friday morning but instead of fulfilling their commitment they shifted them to the prison,’ he lamented…. Officials had hinted that the detainees would be freed only after they ‘provide a guarantee in writing that they would not create any problem in future’.” “Five former Kashmiri fighters wounded,” Dawn (Karachi), April 10, 2005, [online] (retrieved August 24, 2006).

98 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Ayub Butt, Muzaffarabad, August 3, 2005.