New Delhi has every reason to be concerned about a possible exodus of refugees trapped in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) across the border into India. As reported in this paper, Kashmiri refugees are flocking to Indian missions in Islamabad, seeking passage across the Line of Control (LoC) into India. The fear is that thousands of them may avoid the long expatriation process and instead decide ‘to cross over illegally’. This is not unexpected as infiltration of militants from POK has been decreasing and insurgent outfits appear to be frustrated at the increasing difficulty in recruiting people from the Kashmir Valley. Which probably explains why militants are now so eager to look outside J&K for new recruits — not just Indians in other states, but also other nationalities like Nepalis and Bangladeshis.
It is no secret that hundreds of Kashmiri refugees in POK find the going tough there as their Pakistani handlers, under intense pressure from Islamabad, increasingly see them as a liability. Many of them apparently long to come back to the land they left behind in the late 1980s when large batches of extremists belonging to groups like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) crossed over to POK for armed training. But they now seem completely disillusioned by the economic misery and political persecution in POK, and wish to return home even if they have to face trial for cases registered against them. Considering that the POK is a Pahari-speaking belt with its own distinct cultural base, many of these misguided Kashmiri-speaking youth live in an alien culture there. No wonder relatives of militants still in these camps have been eager to use the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service to persuade them to return home.
Hundreds of families have appealed to the Military Intelligence Directorate for safe passage for their kin across the LoC. In the J&K official records, these ex-militants are merely listed as ‘missing persons’. In this context, the Prime Minister’s recent offer to rehabilitate all those who returned to India is welcome, provided the state government works with New Delhi and Islamabad to chalk out a combined humanitarian approach.