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Once proud Kashmiri soldiers now waste away in Pakistan side of border

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At one time, soldiers from Kashmir proudly defended their homeland against India. Now, with hostilities in that part of the world dying down - long a flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, many Indian soldiers find themselves going to waste on the Pakistani side of the border.  

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When the British rulers partitioned the sub-continent, both India and Pakistan laid claim over Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan began to slice up the beautiful, mountainous area for themselves.

Kashmiri on the Indian side rose up in revolt in the Nineties. Pakistan seized the opportunity and supported the fighters by providing them with arms, training and refuge.

Hostilities over the region have waned in recent years, and many former fighters find themselves trapped on the Pakistan side of the border.

Social workers at refugee camps estimate about 6,000 former fighters are now living in Pakistan. Many, or an estimated 40 percent according to refugee groups have since started families and careers.

Those who had some money started businesses while others went to work for NGOs and private firms.

Critics of government policy say poverty experienced by former fighters often leads them back to work with radical groups like Jamat-e-Islami and the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front.

Many displaced Kashmiri soldiers blame Pakistan's change of heart towards them for their misery.

"Kashmir's freedom from India.

"The government does not openly talk about their policy towards these former militants, but the way the authorities deal with these men and their families is unusual," Abdul Manan, a professor at the University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir says.

"From education, health, job opportunities, to their citizen status, these ex-militants who gave up their arms two decades ago are suffering at the hands of the same state, that had once called upon them and trained them to fight," he says.

"Both governments of India and Pakistan... are responsible for this historical humanitarian abuse."

However - many other claim that the former fighters are victims of their past.

"These ex-militants are actually not easy to work with. They have had a background in militancy and I don't think they are ever able to release themselves from their militant mindsets," Mohsin Ali, a director of an NGO that supports child education in Kashmir says.
Scars aren't friendly

Many ex-fighters are highly visible on account of their scars or missing limbs. 

The Pakistani government insists the former fighters are not discriminated against. According to Anjum Akhtar of the Kashmir General Administration department, "there are thousands of refugees who are living in Azad Kashmir and it is hard to identify which ones are ex-militants. We treat them equally."

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