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Kashmir: Hidden War Fast Facts

by Edward Hasbrouck

(The Nonviolent Activist, January/February 1995)

  • Who’s Involved

    Jammu and Kashmir State [Footnote 1] is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious region, located at the intersection of South and Central Asia and comprising geographically distinct territories controlled by three different countries (India, Pakistan, and China). The assemblage of these regions into the fiefdom of the Maharaja of Kashmir, and the drawing of their borders, was carried out by a variety of foreign and imperial conquerors over several centuries, with little regard for the wishes of the local population. India has declared the entire region to be an integral part of India, and since the start of the current wave of resistance in 1989 has suspended all elected government and imposed martial law.

    1. The Kashmir Valley:

      Occupied by India; population approx. 5 million; capital and main city Srinagar (population approx. 700,000).

      The Valley is the economic, political, cultural, and population center of Kashmir. One of the largest level, low-elevation valleys in the Himalayas, the Valley is densely populated and intensively cultivated (mainly rice and orchards of fruit and nut trees). The Valley is mainly Kashmiri-speaking and Islamic, with (until recently) an influential Kashmiri-speaking Brahmin Hindu minority, the Pandits. There is one good road to Pakistan (until 1947 the only road, since then blocked by the cease-fire line) and one poor road to India (subject to frequent closure by snow or by Indian authorities); control of Srinagar airport has been the essential element of the Indian occupation since 1947.

      Kashmiri nationalism is strongest in and around the Valley, as is Indian repression. The oldest and most widely-supported nationalist group is the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, a democratic, secular organization opposing both Indian and Pakistani rule through both political and armed struggle. A minority of Kashmiris support incorporation of Kashmir into Pakistan, mainly as a result of the reluctant conclusion that independence won’t be possible. The pro-Pakistani groups are smaller and generally more fragmented, more Islamist, and more militarist than the independence movement. All opponents of Indian rule are united in the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. [see sidebar]

    2. Jammu:

      Population approx. 2 million; capital Jammu City; located on the Indian plains and foothills and separated from the Kashmir Valley to the north by mountains.

      The population of Jammu is predominantly Dogra-speaking (a Hindi language) and Hindu, although with a sizeable Muslim minority. The Maharaja of Kashmir was a Dogra Hindu from Jammu, but Jammu is much more a part of India than of Kashmir. Jammu was the scene of some of the bloodiest episodes of Partition and of the Indo-Pak wars, and Hindus in Jammu are terrified of Pakistan and of Kashmiri independence. The Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu fundamentalist and “communal” party [Footnote 2] committed to making India an explicitly Hindu state and implicated in instigating anti-Muslim riots, has been extremely active in Jammu amongst both the local population and the Pandit refugees from the Kashmir Valley.

    3. Ladakh:

      Capital Leh; formerly known as “Little Tibet”; northeast of the Kashmir Valley across the crest of the Himalayas; almost entirely mountainous, extremely inaccessible, poor, and sparsely populated by Ladakhi-speaking (a Tibetan language) Buddhists.

      There is a significant movement for the separation of Ladakh from Kashmir and its incorporation into India as either a separate state or a “Union Territory” of India. Ladakhis resent the domination of the tourist trade (the main source of outside income) by Kashmiris, especially as many Kashmiris have relocated their tourist businesses to Ladakh since the closure of the Kashmir Valley to tourists in late 1989.

    4. Azad Jammu and Kashmir:

      Population approx. 2 million; capital Muzaffarabad; a small and over-populated area down the Jhelum River from, and west of, the Kashmir Valley; populated by Urdu- and Kashmiri-speaking Muslims, including some who fled the Kashmir Valley in 1947 or later, some recent (since 1989) refugees still in temporary camps; administered by Pakistan.

      Pakistan treats the government of Azad J & K as, in effect, a government-in-exile of all Kashmir. But since to formerly incorporate Azad J & K into Pakistan would legitimate India’s annexation of the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan allows Azad J & K no vote in Pakistan’s parliament or national elections. Moreover, both the JKLF and the APHC, which maintain their offices-in-exile in Muzaffarabad, have stronger claims to representing the whole of the Kashmiri people than does the Azad J & K government, which even many Kashmiris regard as a pawn of Pakistan. (Despite Indian claims that the JKLF and APHC are fronts for Pakistan, they both come under continual harassment in Azad J & K and Pakistan; the JKLF in particular is explicitly anti-Pakistan.) Both the Pakistani military and various Kashmiri guerilla groups (the pro-Pakistan Islamist groups get the most aid, of course) operate training camps in Azad J & K for Kashmiri guerrillas. Most people in Azad J & K would probably prefer to be part of an independent Kashmir.

    5. Northern Areas:

      Administrative center Gilgit; administered (but not annexed) by Pakistan as “disputed territories”; extremely mountainous and sparsely populated by an ethnically- and linguistically-diverse mix of Muslims (many of them Ismailis, a sect regarded as heretical by many in Pakistan); significant mainly as the route of Pakistan’s only land link to China.

      Pakistan’s development of the Karakoram Highway, although undertaken for military reasons, has been an economic boon to the Northern Areas, and Ismaili rural development programs have brought major improvements in people’s lives. The Northern Areas have been largely removed from the Kashmir dispute, and (despite popular alienation from Pakistan) it’s unclear if most people would choose to be part of Pakistan or an independent Kashmir.

    6. Aksai Chin:

      An essentially uninhabited and uninhabitable high-desert wasteland at the Northeast corner of J & K, on the Tibetan plateau; never clearly a part of any country until China used it as part of the route of the East Turkestan (“Xinjiang”)-Tibet highway; claimed by India as a part of J & K.

  • Costs:

    Approximately 25,000 people have been killed in the last 5 years. Most of those killed have been Kashmiri Muslims in the Kashmir Valley killed by Indian troops either as suspected guerrillas or guerilla sympathizers; much of the Indian violence has been explicitly communal and anti-Muslim (“If you’re a Muslim, you must be a Pakistani sympathizer and a traitor to India, and deserve to die”). Indian tactics of collective retaliation have included detentions, “disappearances”, and summary executions of young men; systematic gang rape of women; and razing of entire villages and even dense urban neighborhoods suspected of harboring nationalist militants. Much of the heart of the old city of Srinagar has been burned down by Indian troops. When fired at, Indian troops routinely gun down any Kashmiris in sight, whether or not hostile or armed. Indian firing at street demonstrations has killed over a hundred people at a time, largely putting an end to public gatherings. Medical workers, journalists, and political and human rights activists have been specially targeted for harassment and assassination.

    Virtually all those detained are tortured, then either executed summarily (bodies of the disappeared turn up regularly along roads and in rivers and canals) or transferred for indefinite detention without trial in prisons outside Kashmir, often a thousand miles or more away. Several of the best-known imprisoned Kashmiri political leaders have been recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, including Shabir Shah (released in 1994 after 19 years in Indian prisons, in response to international pressure, to a curfew-defying hero’s welcome in Srinagar), Abdul Ghani Lone, and Syed Ali Shah Gilani (still imprisoned as of this writing after more than 16 years).

    Vastly smaller numbers of Indian soldiers and police, and of Kashmiri Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs suspected of being Indian agents and informers, have been killed by Kashmiri nationalists in guerilla raids, ambushes, and assassinations.

    India maintains between 400,000 and 500,000 troops in Kashmir, including regular soldiers, border patrols, and paramilitary police. India produces its own heavy weaponry, including tanks, armored vehicles, rockets, transport aircraft, jet fighters, and high-altitude helicopters for Himalayan combat. Kashmiri guerrillas pose no meaningful military threat to Indian rule, numbering no more than 15,000 (probably much less) and armed almost exclusively with small arms and occasional mines. (Mines have been used only for targeted sabotage and ambushes; there has been no general scattering of land mines by any party.)

    Curfews, used both to prevent demonstrations and to seal off cities, towns, and neighborhoods during house- to-house searches for suspected militants and sympathizers, have crippled transportation and destroyed Kashmir’s two main sources of income: tourism and exports of orchard crops to other parts of India. Kashmir has reverted to subsistence agriculture, with severe shortages of many basic goods, especially in the cities.

    Many Kashmiris (mainly Muslims) fled the Valley during Partition and after. There are 1-2 million in Pakistan proper (outside J & K), several hundred thousand in the U.K. (mainly emigrants from Azad J & K, with the largest concentration in Bradford, England), and perhaps ten thousand in the U.S. Because of the privileged position of the Hindu Pandits in Kashmir — under the Maharaja they had long dominated the state government administration, and they continued to dominate the civil service under Indian rule — they are greatly over-represented relative to Muslims amongst the Kashmiris who have made it to the U.S.)

    Most earlier refugees have re-settled permanently. However, there has been a new wave of emigration of both Muslims and Hindus since 1989, with many of these Muslims still in camps in Azad J & K and many Pandits still in camps near Jammu and Delhi. The situation of the Pandits has been especially controversial.

    Many in the Valley say that (1) the Pandits were in no danger, (2) they left only because most of them were employed by the state government administration, which transferred their salaries to Jammu, and (3) India has avoided resettling or returning them and deliberately kept them in camps to use them as a propaganda symbol of the alleged need for Indian rule to protect secularism and the rights of minorities in Kashmir (a specious argument since Kashmir has never had the kinds of communal riots or pogroms, against Pandits or anyone else, that have been common in much of India). On the other hand, the Pandits clearly did feel unsafe in the Valley, if only because as state employees they were particularly likely to come under suspicion of being Indian government agents or informers.

  • Rationales:

    Control of Kashmir is essential to both India’s and Pakistan’s national identities. For either to give up Kashmir would cast doubt on the rationale for their existence as states. To be seen as “soft on Kashmir” would be political suicide for even the most extremist politicians in either country.

    As India’s only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir is used by India as “proof” of India’s secularism and ability to accommodate religious diversity, implying (1) that the demands of other minority groups can be accommodated within the Indian union, and (2) that Pakistan didn’t need to be created as a safe homeland for India’s Muslims. (Some Hindu fundamentalists call explicitly for India to re-unite “Greater India”, i.e. re-conquer Pakistan and Bangladesh, and to incorporate them in a Hindu state.)

    For Kashmir to be content within India would threaten Pakistan’s raison d’etre. For India to be unable to accommodate the demands of the Kashmiris, particularly their religious identity, would challenge India’s control over its 100 million Muslims and tens of millions of other minority peoples.

  • Foreign Involvement:

    • Afghanistan:

      Having recently defeated an anti-Islamic would-be foreign occupier (Russia), Afghanistan strongly identifies with Kashmir’s struggle against India. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is itself too poor, divided, and devastated by the USA-USSR proxy war on its territory (over a million unexploded land mines remain, and neither the USA nor the USSR has taken any responsibility for reparations or reconstruction) to provide much aid. Afghanistan has provided the only aid it can: experienced guerilla fighters — mainly from refugee camps in Pakistan — and weapons left over from those supplied by the USA or captured from the Soviets during the Afghan war. Unfortunately, the situation in Kashmir is very different, in that there is no real chance of a military victory, and the Afghan volunteers have only militarized and Islamicized the Kashmiri freedom movement.

    • China:

      Despite the absence of any peace treaty formally ending their 1962 war, China has been moving toward normalization of relations and increased cooperation with India, and has scaled back its arms sales to Pakistan under USA and other foreign criticism. (Unlike India, Pakistan doesn’t build its own missiles, but depends on Chinese rockets to deliver its nuclear weapons.) China can’t criticize India’s occupation of Kashmir without calling into question its own occupation of Tibet and East Turkestan (“Xinjiang Province”, a huge, formerly-independent Turkic, Islamic region adjacent to Kashmir where China has been waging a counter-insurgency campaign far more bloody, although much less well known, than that in Tibet). China would probably try to stay out of any Indo-Pak war, and would probably be happy to see India and Pakistan permanently partition Kashmir. China’s main fear is surely that independence for Kashmir, following on the heels of independence for “Russian” Turkestan, could be the last straw for its ability to maintain control of East Turkestan.

    • Russia:

      Since losing its empire in Central Asia, Russia has withdrawn its support for de-colonization and self- determination. While Russia has downgraded its relations with India and might no longer veto U.N. Security Council action on Kashmir, Russia strongly supports India’s rationale for the use of force to preserve “national unity” as parallelling Russia’s excuses for its own use of force against regions seeking more autonomy.

    • Ex-Soviet Central Asian states:

      While they are re-asserting the region’s identity and giving it a voice in the world, and while they themselves have suffered greatly (like Kashmir) from the drawing of borders by distant, divide-and-conquer colonial masters, these states are still too pre-occupied with the construction of their own national identities to be able to give much help to other nations in struggle. Most Central Asian leaders, among the world’s most secular Muslims, are intensely fearful of Islamic fundamentalism and the spread of tribal and sectarian fighting from Afghanistan into their republics (the government of Tajikistan, the Central Asian state closest to Kashmir, is fighting a civil war with its Islamic opposition).

    • USA:

      Many Kashmiris have staked their hopes on support from the USA. During the Cold War, the USA opposed India as socialist and too friendly with the USSR, and supported Pakistan as an ally of the Afghan opposition to the USSR The CIA developed particularly close relations with its Pakistani counterpart, Inter-Service Intelligence, using ISI to channel weapons to the Afghans and encouraging opium-growing in Afghanistan and drug-running by ISI as a source of funding for the Afghan resistance.

      Since the USA and USSR withdrawals from Afghanistan, and perhaps more importantly the replacement of Communism by Islam in USA demonology, the USA has changed course. The change has caught many by surprise, including the CIA (which has had several recent run-ins with the Drug Enforcement Agency over its Pakistan policy) and many Pakistanis who feel betrayed by the USA after having been loyal, anti-Communist, Cold War allies.

      The USA now relates to Pakistan (wrongly) mainly as a nation of “Muslims with nukes” and a potential bad influence on Kazakhstan, the other Muslim nuclear power. At the same time, India has agreed to open its markets (more middle-class consumers than even China) to multinational corporations in exchange for IMF aid. USA policy has thus shifted toward India and away from Pakistan just when many Kashmiris had hoped that Clinton would re-introduce human rights as a factor in USA foreign policy.

      The USA remains, as ever, more concerned about Kashmir as a possible threat to stability and a favorable business climate in India and Pakistan than for its own sake, and has viewed Kashmir as a question of Indo-Pak relations. But USA endorsement of Kashmir’s right to self-determination would carry great weight in India, and the USA is probably the only country that could pressure India and Pakistan to include Kashmiri representatives (at present, that would mean the APHC) in Kashmir negotiations.

      India most fears pressure from the USA, and is stepping up its lobbying here. The Kashmiri community in the USA is negligible, and awareness and support for Kashmir in the USA is mostly confined to Muslims, who have little influence and are heavily discriminated against. Indian-Americans are more numerous (close to 1 million) and increasingly politicized. They are making support for India on Kashmir the single-issue litmus test of Indian-American financial support for USA politicians.

    • United Kingdom:

      Only in the UK is there a sizable, organized Kashmiri immigrant community (mostly from Azad J & K), and some British politicians have been publicly critical of Indian human rights abuses. Britain bears ultimate responsibility for botching the partition of India, including mis- handling the question of the status of the states, and colluded in India’s initial occupation of Kashmir. But having washed its hands of India, Britain is unlikely to take any initiative now to rectify its errors; if it tried, it would only be dismissed as a colonialist meddler by India and Pakistan.

    • United Nations:

      Too many Third and Fourth World countries have “secessionist” skeletons in their own closets (mostly as a legacy of arbitrary colonial borders) for them to support Kashmir against India. The U.N. peace process stalled decades ago when India reneged on its promise to hold a plebiscite. Only the Security Council could force action, and it is unlikely to do so unless nuclear war between India and Pakistan appears imminent, in which case the views of Kashmiris are unlikely to matter.

  • Prospects For The Future:

    “As international pressure on India eases,… the government of India appears to have stepped up its catch-and-kill campaign against Muslim insurgents, resulting in an escalation of human rights abuses since early 1994,” according to the latest report from Asia Watch (August 1994). But, as with Palestinian Arabs, the first step towards resolution must be negotiations in which all parties, including the legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people, can participate. Kashmiris have taken a key initiative in forming the APHC, a body recognized by all rival Kashmiri factions as their legitimate political representatives.

    It will be difficult to exclude the APHC from any future Kashmir negotiations, and the USA in particular is likely to insist on their inclusion. India is desperate to find or create some other body that it can claim represents the Kashmiris, but India itself suspended all elected government years ago, and any new elections under Indian occupation would be boycotted.

  • Sources For Further Information:

    A reading list on Kashmir could easily fill a library, mainly with extremist Indian and Pakistani rants. Kashmiris’ own points of few are hard to find. Following are a few places to start:

    • Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1846-1990, First ed. Roxford Books, England, 1991, ISBN 0-907129-064 (copies are available in the USA from the Kashmir Human Rights Foundation, P.O. Box 361220, Los Angeles, CA 90036-9420, 213-662-6163). Reprinted 1992 by Oxford University Press, Islamabad, Pakistan. The single best introduction to the Kashmir question.
    • James D. Howley, “Alive and Kicking: The Kashmir Dispute Forty Years Later”, 9 Dickinson Journal of International Law 87, Winter 1991. An objective critique of both India and Pakistan’s legal claims to Kashmir. More realistic than most legal writing.
    • Asia Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch (Publications Dept., 485 - 5th Ave., New York, NY 10017-1980, 212-972-8400, Publications Dept. 212-986-1980, fax 212-972-0905). Has sent several teams of investigators to Kashmir as tourists, and has published the most extensive documentation by an outside group of all aspects of human rights abuses in Kashmir by India, Pakistan, and Kashmiri guerrillas.
    • Amnesty International (Publications Dept., 322 - 8th Ave., New York, NY 10001). Banned from India, but has compiled reports on Kashmir from other sources. Extremely narrow focus on human rights issues, to the exclusion of their political causes.
    • Reprints of reports by several Indian human rights organizations (which, unlike foreign ones, are able to visit Kashmir openly, if under close government scrutiny) and updates on recent developments are available from the Kashmiri American Council, although they do not (yet) have a regular newsletter.
    • Current news from Kashmir is hard to get. The New York Times — one of only a half dozen USA news organizations with a full time South Asia bureau — has had the most extensive coverage of Kashmir in the mainstream USA news media, with a dispatch from Kashmir every few months when their reporter visits from Delhi. No foreign news organization has a full-time reporter in Kashmir. Yusuf Jameel, the lone Srinagar stringer for AP, Reuters, and the BBC, has been intensely harassed by Indian authorities, including being kidnapped and threatened with summary execution. India-West — the less-communal of the Indian-American newsweeklies, has had the most extensive reporting on Kashmir in the USA — but one has to know a lot already to filter out its bias.
  • Organizations Active On Kashmir Issues:

    • Kashmiri American Council (733 - 15th St., N.W., Ste. 1100, Washington, DC 20005, 202-628-6789, fax 202-393-0062). “Open to any individual who supports the right of self determination in Jammu and Kashmir,” the KAC brings together supporters of all major Kashmiri political groupings, both pro-Pakistan and pro- independence, in a united front for self-determination. Primarily active through lobbying of the USA and the U.N., the KAC also provides educational and outreach materials, distributes news from a network of sources in Kashmir, organizes conferences and speaking tours, and provides a forum for discussion and debate within the USA community of support for Kashmir. Severely limited by the small number of Kashmiris in the USA, their unfamiliarity as immigrants with the USA political process, their isolation as (predominantly) Muslims from the mainstream of USA activism, and the low awareness of Kashmir by non-Muslims, the KAC desperately needs broader participation in its work. Contact them for membership information, to arrange for a local speaker or to get materials for a study group.
    • While the Red Cross and Red Crescent are barred from Indian-occupied Kashmir, aid programs for families of the detained and disappeared are being operated by various Islamic relief agencies. Check with your local mosque (in the Yellow Pages under “Churches”!) or contact the Islamic Society of North America, P.O. Box 38, Plainfield, IN 46168-0038, 317-839-1819, for information on the ISNA Kashmir Relief Fund and other Islamic social welfare and other organizations active on Kashmir issues in your area.


  1. The term “State” has deceptively different meanings in pre- and post-1947 Indian usage. Prior to the independence and partition of india and Pakistan, the princely “States” were feudal fiefdoms, nominally sovereign and allowed internal autonomy by Britain in exchange for their acceptance of Britain’s paramountcy over their external relations. Since 1947 the term “State” has been applied to the states of the Republic of India, including both states assembled from both former British-administered Provinces (most of which became States in their own right) and those comprised of former princely States.

    The Indian National Congress recognized the sovereignty of the States by excluding them from its campaign against British imperial rule in the Provinces; parallel anti- monarchist democratic movements, such as the All-Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, were working simultaneously in various States.

    The maharajas of several states, including Jammu and Kashmir, asserted — with good legal cause — that the removal of British paramountcy left them independent. Britain, however, was embarrassed by the repressive backwardness of princely rule and reluctant to create any more newly-independent states than necessary, and acquiesced in the forcible annexation of all the holdout states, including J and K, by either India or Pakistan.

    So the fact that the same territory is shown on pre- and post-1947 Indian maps as “the State of Jammu and Kashmir, India” obscures a fundamental change in the region’s status and degree of autonomy (as well as the change in the meaning of “India”).

  2. “Communal” and “Communalism” are pejorative terms common in other English-speaking countries but little-used and often misunderstood by readers in the USA. They do not refer to communism but, rather, to exclusive concern for the interests of one’s own group — racial, tribal, ethnic, religious, caste, etc. — at the expense of others.

Mission Statement of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference

“The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is a coalition of 23 Kashmiri political parties. It was established in January of 1993 to unite the disparate factions of the Kashmiri self-determination movement behind a common political platform and a political leadership.

“The Conference seeks a constructive dialogue with the Government of India. It is further the mandate of the Conference to pursue the assistance of the United Nations and the Western democracies to help forge a peaceful, political settlement of the dispute.

“The APHC holds that the only way to achieve a peaceful and lasting solution to the Kashmir crisis is through dialogue and negotiation. To this end, the Conference will seek to achieve the following objectives:

  1. “Acceptance by the Government of India of the United States and United Nations position that Kashmir is a “disputed territory” whose final status is yet to be determined, having regard to the aspirations of the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir;
  2. “The convening of a Tripartite conference — between the governments of India, Pakistan, and legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people — to negotiate a final settlement under the supervision and with the help of the U.N. and/or any friendly country;
  3. “The sending of a personal envoy by the Secretary General of the U.N. to Kashmir to investigate and report on the situation;
  4. “Securing access to Kashmir for humanitarian relief organizations such as the International Red Cross / Red Crescent and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International;
  5. “Cessation by the Government of India of its military crackdown, and withdrawal of its paramilitary troops to barracks.

“Under the constitutional framework of the APHC, with provisions for the formal election of a Conference President and other executive officers, these representatives will serve as the unified political leadership of the broader kashmiri political community.

“The Government of India has refused all dialogue with moderate elements in the Kashmiri political community. It has chosen instead to enact a violent crackdown on all political dissent in Kashmir. In so doing, India has committed brutal acts of rape, torture, and murder against thousands of innocent civilians.

“The unfortunate result of India’s brutality and intransigence has been the rise of an armed resistance, which sees no hope of a peaceful negotiated settlement. Each day that India kills more innocent Kashmiris, it strengthens the armed resistance, and weakens those who still believe that a peaceful and negotiated settlement can be achieved.

“The goal of this Conference is to rebuild the Kashmiri people’s belief in a peaceful resolution, by energetically pursuing such a settlement. Only such a settlement, reached through tripartite negotiations, can remove the dangerous nuclear trip-wire between India and Pakistan and provide lasting peace to the region.”

[War Resisters League member Edward Hasbrouck has travelled on both sides of the Indo-Pak cease- fire line in Kashmir, as well as elsewhere in India, Pakistan, China, East Turkestan, Russia, and ex-Soviet Central Asia.]

[Originally published in edited form as part of an occasional series on “Hidden Wars” in the January/February 1995 issue of “The Nonviolent Activist”, the journal of the War Resisters League. The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of WRL.]

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