Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kashmir-China relationship

(China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which includes Gilgit-Baltistan area of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir can revive historical connection of Kashmir with China)

Presently, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is the hot news. The project is being implemented by China and Pakistan at an accelerated pace. Work in full swing started on it in 2015 after an agreement was signed between China and Pakistan to link the warm waters of the Arabian Sea to China and Central Asia. CPEC projects will provide China with an alternate route for energy supplies, as well as a new route by which Western China can conduct trade. Pakistan stands to gain due to upgrade of infrastructure and introduction of a reliable energy supply. It is said that the plans for the corridor date back to 1950 and motivated the construction of Karakoram Highway in 1959. The CPEC was formalised on November 13, 2016 when the first Chinese convoy carrying 250 containers arrived in Gwadar for export to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UAE and the EU. The Chinese exports via Malacca Straits have not only been lengthy but also subject to risk due to the problems in the area. The new corridor is a big boon for Chinese from all angles. It will also allow the Central Asian countries to have an alternate route. Pakistan will have a tremendous impact in every possible way including abundance of energy from which it has been suffering.
In fact, the development of this economic activity would be a boon for the entire South Asian region. One would have expected that India which from the time of Pandit Nehru has been trying to lead South Asia for development would welcome the setting up of this economic zone. On the contrary, the Indian side has been feeling uncomfortable with the setting up of this economic corridor. Unfortunately, they have been facilitating the re-colonisation of the country by the western powers especially, the Americans through a corporate culture. There is still time to take a bold initiative and offer to join this important economic activity which could sort out the age old political problems facing the sub-continent. Ironically, all the earlier Indian supporters including Russia are keen to join the corridor.
The most important constituent of the corridor is the road and rail link that would be passing through Gilgit-Baltistan which has been part of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Interestingly, Kashmir getting a connection to this link which has in fact been the historical route of trade between Kashmir and China till 1947 would be a big boon to the otherwise physically and politically isolated Kashmir Valley. The traders from Yarqand, Kashgar and other places used to come regularly to Kashmir with their long lines of Bactrian camels. The Zoji La route was the famous caravan route for trade with the Central Asia and China including Yarqand, Kashgar, and Sinkiang and so on. The Hajis from Yarqand used to go to Makkah through Kashmir. There was a Sarai of Yarqandis in Safakadal known as Kak Sarai where one could see lines of Bactrian camels (Double Humped) which used to come from Yarqand and other places.  In fact, a large number of refugees from the Chinese Revolution in 1949 came from Sinkiang and Yarqand to Kashmir. They ultimately migrated to Turkey and other places. Some remained here. This route was a small branch of the historically famous Silk Route.
Incidentally, Kashmir has had strong relationship with China in the past. The Annals of Tang dynasty of China know Lalitaditya-Muktapida under the name of Mu-to-pi, as the King of Kashmir who sent an embassy to the Chinese court during the reign of Emperor Hiuen-tsung (AD 713-755). The main purpose of the embassy had been to seek alliance of the Chinese rulers against Tibet. Ambassador U-li-to whom Mu-to-pi had sent to the imperial court distinctly claimed for his master repeated victories over Tibetans. The auxiliary Chinese force of two hundred thousand men which the Kashmir King invited to his country and for which he proposed to establish a camp on the shores of Mahapadma or Volur Lake, was meant for further operations against the common foe. There is evidence that the Tibetans had established a powerful empire at that time and had threatened both Kashmir as well as China. As there is no evidence of any Bhautta invasion of Kashmir, one must assume that Lalitaditya’s expeditions towards north were real and lasting and checked the Tibetan march towards Kashmir. Lalitaditya had also subdued Kashmir’s immediate northern neighbours, the Dards. The Dard tribes have from very early times to the present day inhabited the mountain territories immediately adjoining Kashmir to the north and north-west. The very safety of the valley has many times necessitated expeditions against these areas.
As has been opined by many experts, the setting up of this corridor which passes through a part of Kashmir may ultimately help in resolving this age old problem and bring peace not only to the valley but the entire sub-continent. The example of the European countries shows that it is ultimately the economic considerations which take precedence. If after fighting two destructive world wars all these countries finally came together to form the European Union, why can’t India and Pakistan which too have fought a number of wars come together to ameliorate their economically backward masses? We did fight the colonialists and got rid of them but they came back as neo-colonialists through various economic handles with local collaboration. Those people instead of ameliorating our economically weak status created discord and disputes and supplied us weapons to fight each other. This helped them keep their own economies running at our cost. It is time for a rethink if we want to survive and progress. Kashmir could become a free trade zone for the Corridor and practically take on the role of Switzerland through those destructive wars. Let there be an open debate on the subject.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kashmir’s Physical Isolation!

(The National Highway presently connecting Kashmir Valley to the outside world is in the throes of death and there is urgent need to find an alternative)
                                     Image result for banihal road blockade
Kashmir valley remained cut off during the current winter a number of times. This was due to the closure of the National Highway connecting it with Jammu, the only land route presently available during winter. This is now a routine phenomenon every winter. Even during the time it is open it sometimes becomes very dangerous to travel on it as there are numerous slides. Even though the smaller ones are cleared within few hours or so the large ones take days or even weeks to get cleared. It is a continuous herculean task to keep Kashmir’s only lifeline open. This has been possible only through the efforts of the Border Roads Organisations whose men and machines are working round the clock.
A question arises as to why in this modern age of development Kashmiris are physically choked? Before one answers that question, let us examine the Valley’s historical routes to the outside world. It is a well-known geographical fact that the Kashmir Valley is a landlocked area surrounded by high mountains. While this natural barrier makes entry into and the exit from the valley difficult, it has historically been a protective barrier also. However, there has always been an easy inlet and outlet to the outside world. That is the route all along the River Jhelum downstream from the Valley. For centuries this has been the only normal access to the Valley in summer as well as in winter. Even during the Dogra rule this was the route used to go from Srinagar to Jammu and vice versa!
The other historical routes have been across the Pirpanjal range. The most famous is the route followed by the Mughals during their reign. This route has also been used by Kashmiris earlier to go to “Hindustan”! The other route in Pirpanjal which is the shortest one into the Valley is through Loran (Poonch) and Tosa Maidan. Mehmud of Ghazni tried to enter Kashmir through this route but was turned back by the Kashmiri garrison at Loran in the forts of Lohar and Kot.
On the North Eastern side are the routes through Gurez to Gilgit and across Zoji La to Drass and beyond. The Gurez-Gilgit route had a road built by the British to supply their garrison in Gilgit. The Zoji La route was the famous caravan route for trade with the Central Asia and China including Yarqand, Kashgar, and Sinkiang and so on. The Hajis from Yarqand used to go to Makkah through Kashmir. There was a Sarai of Yarqandis in Safakadal known as Kak Sarai where one could see lines of Bactrian camels (Double Humped) which used to come from Yarqand and other places.  In fact, a large number of refugees from the Chinese Revolution in 1949 came from Sinkiang and Yarqand to Kashmir. They ultimately migrated to Turkey and other places. Some remained here. This route was a small branch of the famous Silk Route.
The freedom of the sub-continent from the British in 1947 opened up all areas to outside world but due to their misfortune, Kashmiris got both politically as well as physically locked up by this momentous event. One need not repeat the events which are in dozens of books but the reality needs to be stated that Kashmir’s free access to the outside world got totally blocked by the events of 1947. It was left with only one opening through the Bannihal Cart Road! No doubt this road has been upgraded and widened but an important section of the road is a virtual headache which cuts off the valley for days on end especially in winter. The ideal alternative would be to somehow open up the Jhelum Valley Road once again but unfortunately due to the uncertain and hostile situation between the two neighbouring countries that may seem a utopian dream. The dream could be realised if somehow Kashmir becomes a part of CPEC! Ultimately, India may have to become a part of the corridor for its own future economic reasons. Till that happens, the Valley needs dependable access especially during winter for its survival.
There are two alternatives which need to be put on fast track if Kashmir has to remain physically connected to the outside world especially during winter. The first is the Mughal Road and the other Simthan-Kishtwar Road. Mughal Road is an excellent road and needs only a tunnel under Peer ki Gali to make it passable throughout the winter. Similarly, Simthan-Kishtwar Road needs to have a tunnel for year round operation. Both the roads need to be declared as National Highways and upgraded. Compared to the money being spent on the present access, it is not a tall order! The only requirement is sincerity on the part of the State and the Central leadership to really and honestly ameliorate the sufferings of the Valley people especially in winter. Will they do so? That is the million dollar question and till that time the people in the Valley, due their own misfortune and the insincerity of their leaders have to suffer!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The “New India”!

(The recent state elections show that the “New India” would probably be the realisation of the Golwalkar’s dream!)
The “New India”!
After a resounding victory in the UP and Uttrakhand State elections, the Prime Minister declared that it was the beginning of a “New India”. According to him this India of progress and development which would be completed by 2022 and would be populated by the new youth who would constitute about 65% of the population by then. His victory was unprecedented in spite of the apprehensions that the demonetarisation which had very adversely affected the lower working classes including farmers would give him a setback. In fact, the people have believed his declarations of ending the black money. However, it is also a fact that the main thrust of the campaign was not economic development but the Hindutva agenda of the “New India” of Hindus only! It is, practically an accelerated march to realise the “Dream India” of Golwalkar! The ultimate slogan was Hindu and Hindu Rashtra. Gandhi was replaced by Golwalkar! This was evident from the remarks about “Kabristan” and “Shamshan Ghat”. (Graveyard and Crematorium).
Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, also known as Shri Guruji who was the supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ultimately prevailed. His thoughts may finally decide the fate of modern India. Narendra Modi has written a biographical profile of Golwalkar in his book, “Jyotipunj”. He considers Golwalkar to be one of his inspirations.  Golwalkar writes in his book, “We, or Our Nationhood Defined”, “The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens' rights.” Narendra Modi through RSS is now giving practical shape to these ideas of Golwalkar. In fact, recently Bhagwat an RSS leader had declared that everyone born in India is a Hindu even if he may be professing some other faith than Hinduism. Instead of realizing the dream of a progressive, secular and democratic country, they are taking India to Vedic times in a totally retrograde mode. India of Tagore’s dreams and vision seems to be disappearing fast and it is being replaced systematically by Gowalkar’s Pogrom of a fascist and regressive India of the savage times. A historian friend calls it the beginning of the end of India while a columnist friend calls it the “Unmaking of India”!
The only silver lining is that the Hindu wave has not swept the entire India. It is mostly restricted to what has been called the “Cow Belt” of the North and Central India. Punjabi Sikhs in spite of the worst treatment meted out to them by Indira Gandhi’s Congress in 1984 have brought it back rejecting BJP totally. Goa too has been divided up and not swept away like UP.  The other positive factor is the awakening in some universities and educational institutions. JNU gave a lead to the resistance against communalisation of India. In many other universities and colleges also, the progressive and secular voices have risen. If the progressive India of Tagore “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free….”, is to survive then the right thinking progressive and secular people have to rise. Merely expressing opinions and giving comments will not do. The Hindutva onslaught has to be resisted in all spheres. Will it happen? That is a million dollar question and that will decide the future of not only India but the entire sub-continent and in fact, the whole South Asia!
As regards Modi, he has a chance to become India’s top leader in history having a massive popular support among the poor masses craving for development and wanting to be uplifted from the squalor and extreme poverty. With his brute majority in Parliament which would be strengthened now in the Upper House also, he can undertake revolutionary positive changes. He has to accept the fact that the diversity of India cannot be wished away by forcible Hinduisation. In fact, if he overcomes Hindutva brigade, he has the power to settle all issues with both Pakistan and China. Again, the question is will he do it or will he be allowed to do it?
Coming to Kashmir, this Hindutva victory will further aggravate the already heightened alienation. After Modi’s initial victory in spite of the Gujarat carnage, Kashmiri Muslims were scared of being swept away by the Hindutva wave. They came in to vote in large numbers to keep out the Hindutva wave generated by the BJP. However, they felt betrayed when the people they voted to achieve this goal made a somersault and joined the BJP bandwagon purely for power. The subsequent events of last year were the bursting of that anger through the now famous “Burhan Tsunami”! The BJP victory clubbed with the certain recent stern warnings issued as declarations by the top Army and other security officials about targeting people supporting militants is sure to create more uncertainty in the near future. Total mis-governance or rather the absence of governance as mentioned in a recent editorial may be the last straw and a trigger for yet another upheaval. One will have to keep the fingers crossed and hope for the reason and the good sense to prevail all round! As per the common prayer, may God have mercy on us!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The forgotten “Flood”!

(The way the authorities are destroying the flood channel with peoples’ connivance gives one the feeling that the most destructive flood of the century has been totally forgotten both by the authorities as well as the people!)
The forgotten flood!
The other day late in the night there was movement of road clearing machinery in Jawahar Nagar. On being asked what was happening an official stated that the roads were being cleared of left over debris etc. as these had to be macadamised immediately as part of the Srinagar “Smart City” programmes. It is good to convert the capital of Kashmir into a smart city being a historical city more than 2000 years old. All will welcome it notwithstanding the fact that as present the city is smarting under umpteen civic problems. The local inhabitants would be really thankful if the problems ailing the city are dealt with on priority basis! These are are virtually innumerable starting from pot holed roads, choked drains, unmanageable traffic, erratic power been supplied through an antique distribution system and over and above everything, the residents being hounded by packs of ferocious stray dogs!
Well, one would forget everything and live in the worst discomfort of all these ills but there is a nightmare of the possible recurrence of the 2014 flood which seems to have been forgotten by one and all. That flood had inundated and virtually destroyed the poshest areas of the “Smart City”! It was expected that both the common citizens as well as the rulers would give first priority to prevention of future floods. Unfortunately, nothing substantial has been done in that regard except surveys and preparation of project reports. The most important item relating to dredging the River and the flood channel has been totally neglected. The same is the case with strengthening of the River embankments. The recently posted Chief Engineer of the Flood Control Department had publicly stated that not much dredging has been done and the process is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Over and above everything, even the head of the state administration has expressed “displeasure” over the delay in the expansion of flood spill over channel. “Displeasure” does not solve the problem. Rather disciplinary action is required as this neglect amounts to a criminal offence! During the short Governor’s rule an outside company had been allotted the contract for dredging the River but their machines broke down and according to some engineers, the machines were not meant for the type of dredging needed in the Rivers and the flood channel of Kashmir.
The most unfortunate and dangerous move made for the vote bank politics is construction of a spate of bridges on the flood channel. There are three bridges over the channel near Mehjoor Nagar and the channel itself is full of silt and mud which has not been touched for these two years. In the last flood itself one of the bridges had acted as a dam and the waters of a sudden back flow had entered all the adjacent colonies! Constructing so many low bridges on a channel meant to take the excess water in a flood should be a criminal offence. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the banks! It is Kashmir’s misfortune that the rulers meant to be taking care of these measures in the ideal low water season are enjoying their stay in the warm and salubrious climate of Jammu. Unfortunately, the people also seem to be least bothered about this future calamity which may strike again in view of the heavy snowfall on the mountains and the erratic weather due to global climate change. A few days continuous heavy rain with the melting of snow on the mountains will give a repeat of the nightmarish flood.
The dredging of the River and the flood channel is not some sophisticated mechanical operation. In fact, with the huge local labour force presently available, the dredging could be manually taken up provided the people in authority have the will and inclination to do so. When Hakim Suyya could do it centuries back, why not now? It seems that the persons in charge of flood protection measures and their political bosses have not gone through the nightmare of the last flood. Had they faced it, their top most priority would have been to ensure flood prevention of not only the capital Srinagar but the entire valley. Authorities may blame the last year’s unrest for disruption of all developmental works including flood prevention measures.
Well, one cannot deny that. It would be in the overall interest of all Kashmiris if all sides could exempt such urgent measures from shutdowns and other related counter activities. Moreover, now that the situation is somewhat stable, the effort needs to be accelerated to complete the assignment before the onset of the rainy season if the rulers have the will and inclination to do so. One wonders why the authorities cannot engage hundreds of thousands of idle youth in spite of repeated declarations about unemployment and sleep over measures meant to secure the physical future of the same people. The “Smart City” can wait but not the flood. It will once again devour whole Kashmir with all its inhabitants unless immediate measures are taken on war footing for its prevention. In the alternative our future generations may have to write another story about Kashyap Reshi draining the Sati Sar after killing the demon Jalodhbhava!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Migrant return “Resolution” !

(The J & K Assembly some time back passed a resolution for the return of migrant Pandits. Will mere passing of a resolution be enough to facilitate their return?)

One felt very nostalgic recently during the celebrations of the famous Pandit festival of Herath. The festival used to be celebrated on two days. The first day Pandits would perform the Puja, worshipping, Shiva and the next day was known as Salaam when they would go to greet each other and the Muslims would visit their Pandit neighbours and friends to greet them on the occasion. The specialties were the soaked walnuts and the fish cooked with lotus roots (Nadroo). Similarly, Pandits would visit Muslim neighbours and friends for Eid Salaam. This camaraderie had been there for ages. It reflected the religious tolerance for which Kashmir has been famous from the ancient times. Culturally, Kashmir looks incomplete without Pandits and all of us want them to come back and revive the age old cultural ethos.  Every sphere of the society wants Kashmiri Pandits back. However, they have to be back with dignity and honour in their original environment. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the en mass exit of Pandits from Kashmir had given a tremendous set back to the centuries old composite culture of religious tolerance in Kashmir. That composite culture can be restored only once the Pandits come back voluntarily welcomed by their neighbours.

The en masse migration of Pandits in 1990 was not the first migration from Kashmir. There have been many migrations of Kashmiris to neighbouring areas at different times during its entire history. These migrations have taken place due to natural calamities like earthquake, plague, famine, and due to persecution during political upheavals to which Kashmiris have been subjected throughout their 5,000 year old history. However, one of the most distinct earlier mass migrations of Kashmiri Pandits was during the reign of Sikander, the father of the most loved Kashmiri King Zain-ul-Abidin popularly known as Budshah. The 1990 migration was the most unfortunate event. A real tragedy for Kashmir’s composite culture. There have been many theories about the real causes of the migration and about its instigators and facilitators. However, the main task now is to see the return of these people rather than investigate and apportion blame. 

It is true there were targeted killings of prominent Pandits. A massive scare was created and the Muslim majority could not openly come out to stop the scare and the harassment due to circumstances prevailing at that time. Had they been allowed to do so, mass migration may not have occurred. The worst sufferers were the villagers. They had to leave behind everything. Their ancestral houses, lush green fields and the memories of good old days. Their life in refugee camps in Jammu was miserable. Many died due to heat to which they were not accustomed to at all. Quite a few suffered snake and scorpion bites. The people who migrated to different parts of India may have secured better prospects and may not be willing to return. The ones living in refugee camps in Jammu still live an ignominious life and may be the most willing to come back.

It may be mentioned here that the Muslims in Kashmir suffered the worst fate after the departure of Pandits. Over a hundred thousand were killed. Thousands were injured and even maimed. Thousands were rendered orphan. Women were raped en masse. Properties were destroyed. Scores were buried in mass graves. Thousands disappeared without a trace. In spite of these harsh realities, the Muslims have not turned against the Pandits. This is so in spite of the worst worldwide anti-Muslim propaganda by a section of the Pandits. Everyone wants them to return to revive the centuries old composite culture of Kashmir.

The migration during the time of Sikander was successfully reversed by the most illustrious king of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin, Budshah, (the Great King). He enacted legislation ensuring their security and giving them numerous facilities including jobs to ensure their proper and honourable rehabilitation. They enjoyed the best of facilities and amenities during his reign. Similar action is required now both from the Government and the civil society in general. Merely, passing of a resolution will not suffice. The government before passing the resolution for the return of the migrants should have ascertained the condition of the Pandits who did not migrate. Some of their leaders have alleged that they are in miserable condition as regards government’s attitude to them. They have no complaints against the local people who are reportedly extending them all help and assistance.

The first and foremost requirement for the return would be establishment of real peace. Unless the migrants or the displaced persons feel both physically as well as psychologically safe to return to their native places, they will not move. Constructing housing units in totally guarded pockets resembling concentration camps will not motivate any of these natives to return. This will in fact compound the problem by creating points of friction between different communities. As alleged by some, the proposal may have a hidden agenda! The return has to be absolutely normal to their original places of residence in the state with the active support of their former neighbours. This alone can restore the composite culture of Kashmir which has been in existence for centuries. To create a truly conducive atmosphere for such an eventuality the foremost requirement is to end the present situation of uncertainty and restore real peace in Kashmir. The vicious cycle of two way violence has to be broken. Prevalence of peace is the prime requirement. Thus the “Return of the Pandits” is not as simple as it may seem. It is in itself an important part of the ultimate solution of the Kashmir problem. The day the “Pandits” are able to return in peace with dignity and honour to their ancestral places of residence to an open embrace from their former neighbours ushering in the earlier era of centuries old brotherhood, the first step towards the solution to the decades old Kashmir problem would be deemed to have begun in earnest!