Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kashmir needs resolution, not management!

(As always, people from every side are trying to “manage” the problem in Kashmir rather than resolve it once for and all!)

Image result for kashmir stone pelters

The authorities in Delhi and Kashmir are these days announcing a number of measures to somehow engage the “rebellious” youth all over Kashmir. Firstly, harsh measures are being taken to trace and liquidate militants. In fact, the Army Chief has declared that these operations will continue as long as militants are around. From his point of view, it is a war which has to be fought till the end. However, the moot point is why these militants have taken up arms? Why even after liquidating some, others are ready to replace them. It is here that the real political aspect of the problems comes to the fore!
The basic political problem of Kashmir has now been there for almost 70 years and it continues to be on the agenda of the UN Security Council. It has been there since India approached the UN in late forties regarding Pakistan’s aggression to grab Kashmir which had, as claimed by India, duly acceded to the Indian Union under the instrument of accession signed between the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh and the Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten. As a result of the signing of the instrument of accession, the Indian Army had been air-lifted to Kashmir to halt the Tribal Raid supposedly engineered by Pakistan to forcibly annex Kashmir to Pakistan. India had claimed that the people of Kashmir had supported the accession through their leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The story after that is well known and documented event wise in dozens of books. The two parts of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir remain under the administrative control of the two neighboring countries. Although both countries claim these to be their parts yet the UN does not recognize the arrangement as the final settlement of the dispute regarding the owner ship of the State. A UN military Observer Group tasked with keeping an eye on the status of the ceasefire line now called the line of actual control is a living proof of the existence of the basic political dispute recognized by the world body. 
On the Pakistani side, the administration has been virtually run from Islamabad by their Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the most powerful person in that part of the state has always been the Chief Secretary, a senior Civil Service of Pakistan officer. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, it used to be the Commissioner for Northern Areas. In the recent past, they have got their own elected Executive Council which has given them some semblance of autonomy. On this side the system has been better with an elected government notwithstanding allegedly the fact of the disputed fairness of the elections. The State did enjoy some sort of autonomy till Sheikh Abdullah was dethroned and imprisoned in 1953. Since that time there has been gradual erosion of autonomy and at present only the hollow shell is left!
Unfortunately, some over eager members of the present ruling set up are bent upon removing this empty shell of so called autonomy.  They want to demolish the special status of the state by totally merging the Indian part of the state into the Union of India. They have declared that they are determined to remove all special privileges including the state subject law which guarantees Kashmiris’ individuality in the vast ocean of the Union of India! The two initiatives cannot go together. You cannot claim to be embracing the youth of Kashmir on one hand and then on the other take measures to destroy his individuality. The right approach would be to accept the existence of the basic problem and take measures in earnest to resolve it by approaching all the stakeholders.
The present unrest which the government has totally failed to curb has actually originated in the election debacle of 1987 when people were denied the right to choose their own representatives under the Indian Constitution. That story too is well documented. The result of that denial was the outbreak of militancy in 1990. According to government figures more than 50,000 people died in that uprising over a period of few years. Unofficial figures put the casualties much higher. About 10,000 people are supposed to have disappeared without a trace. Some of the relatives of the disappeared are still waiting for their return! After those events of the nineties the real peace has never returned to Kashmir in the true sense. A fall out of the uprising of the nineties has been the continuous harassment of the youth by the security forces and the Police. The Burhan Tsunami which was generated by the killing of this popular militant leader was the bursting out of that pent up anger which is still simmering among the youth of the valley. Now, instead of facing the reality, the authorities are once again trying to manage the situation by using the proverbial stick and carrot! It is a crude attempt at firefighting without bothering about the cause of the fire. Well, they may be able to subdue the youth temporarily by using the stick of the security forces and at the same time by dangling the carrot of jobs and so on but the embers of the fire will continue to simmer for another flare up sooner than later! The alienation of the youth is now at the extreme.
Incidentally, during the rule of Congress which lasted almost 70 years since independence, there was always an excuse given by them that they will not be able to take a decisive stand on Kashmir because of the fear of the Hindu backlash. It was opined by many that only a strong Government supported by the major Hindutva parties would alone be able to take a final decisive step in resolving Kashmir as they will not have any fear of the backlash! It is true that with such a decisive majority and the support of the Hindu masses they could easily take a decision to sort out Kashmir once and for all as they would be able to sell any solution to the bulk of the Indian masses without any backlash. Unfortunately, they seem to be more concerned with their vote banks rather than ridding the whole sub-continent of this festering problem. It is a pity that the people do not realize that all efforts to develop the sub-continent in every way will go up in smoke if the spark of Kashmir lights the nuclear fuse!
There is still time to revive a real peace process by active and unconditional dialogue not only with the people of all the regions and with all alienated parties including the youth but even across the border. The only catch is for the process to be for a real and practical resolution of the basic problem and not for its temporary management! Can the present government in Delhi rise to the occasion? If not, the alternative is unthinkable as it would be a disaster not only for Kashmir but for the whole sub-continent as well as South Asia.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reviving Kashmir’s Ziraat

(Any initiative in reviving and expanding the agricultural base of Kashmir which has been the backbone of our economy is most welcome)
Reviving Kashmir’s Ziraat
A columnist friend Arjimand Hussain Talib has recently launched Ziraat Times both a print publication and an online portal to fully revive and promote the dwindling agricultural economy of the State. The focus of the bi-lingual print publication (English and Urdu) is to act as an information catalyst to promote sustainable growth in horticulture, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, sericulture, floriculture and other sectors of J & K’s agro-economy. The special focus is to be on food safety and climate-change resilience. While describing reasons for focusing on agriculture, it is mentioned that, In 2015-16, agriculture sector contributed Rs 13,893 crore, or 15.89%, to Jammu & Kashmir's Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).  While in percentage terms agriculture's contribution to the GSDP has been reducing, it is not unusual. It is a global trend for agriculture percentage in GDPs to decline as the scale of manufacturing and services grow.  However, we believe J&K still has immense potential in enhancing agricultural productivity”.
There are no two opinions that the agriculture has always been the real backbone of Kashmiris economy for centuries. Even at present the 80% of the population consists of cultivators. Unfortunately, over the years instead of progressing this sector has been rather dwindling and we are at a juncture when we depend on imports for most of our agriculture based products! While on one hand most of the agricultural products and the people engaged in producing these have been declining over a period of time, on the other the only thing which has grown geometrically are the government employees! A sizeable chunk of the State budget goes into the salaries of these employees. Unfortunately, over a period of time we have depleted slowly the dignity of manual labour and created a mind-set of white collar jobs among our youth. According to some estimates almost a million youth are educated but unemployed. Most are waiting for the white-collar government jobs even at the lowest level. This is the greatest disservice that has been done by our rulers for last 70 years or so! The culture of subsidy of fifties was its beginning! The other disservice we have done to our beautiful and naturally resourceful land has been to convert our rich cultivable land into plots to construct houses, shopping complexes and colonies.
Kashmir’s greatest resource is water which could be used to generate power for our own use and sale to our neighbours. Unfortunately, this resource has been mortgaged by our so called leaders and there is no chance of retrieving it. The only way forward is to give full throttle to agriculture and all other related activities. Not only can we be self-sufficient in all these products but we could even export some of these. The sector could also provide jobs to the youth once they are retrieved from the white collar syndrome. Almost half a million outsiders are working in Kashmir in both skilled and unskilled jobs making us comfort loving and lazy. According to some estimates almost Rs. 40 crores go out of Kashmir everyday as the wages of this skilled and non-skilled labour force! Incidentally, the State Government has announced proposals for regularisation of 60,000 casual employees. One would not question the advisability of the step as by all canons of justice people having been kept hanging as casual for more than 20 years need to be regularised. The question is why the governments have been taking this easy route of casual employees continuously? Simply, vote bank politics detrimental to the economic well-being of the state. The easiest way is to create armies of slaves and keep them on the dole! They would be the future vote-bank!
The possibilities in agriculture and related activities are immense. One is reminded of the first tenure of Mufti Sayed during which he visited Dubai and invited some experts from the largest consortium of companies dealing in various food products. A team consisting of some specialists in various agriculture based fields visited the state. They were taken to a number of places including Kokarnag and Laribal Trout farms, Botanical Garden and Floriculture seed farm and Agriculture University in Shalimar. On trout they offered to pick up as much as Kashmir could give! They had been importing trout of much lower quality from Chile. In the agriculture university they were surprised to see some Kiwi Fruit trees and they could not believe that it could grow here! They informed that Dubai was re-exporting Kiwi to India after importing it from New Zealand and Italy. One of the floriculture experts said that they could take any quantity of cut flowers from here. In fact, he remarked that the amount of lavender growing wild in Kashmir could enable setting up of a dozen perfumeries! Unfortunately, all the plans made with Mufti Sahib after their meetings with him died along with his departure from the Government and he could not get a chance to revive these during his second tenure which he may have definitely liked to do!
Incidentally, Kiwi is now grown in Kashmir. Cut flowers are also being sent to different places by some private entrepreneurs. However, the State Government is spending crores on a short time show piece Tulip Garden which money could be utilised to give a boost to cut flower production by private entrepreneurs! Unfortunately, we are fonder of show biz than any productive and gainful work! In these circumstances, any initiative to revive and strengthen Kashmir’s agricultural base is more than welcome. It should not only receive approval from the Civil Society and the Government but total and unconditional support if we want Kashmir to be self-sufficient and economically strong!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kashmir’s Own Air Service

(The operation of a private helicopter service is welcome but it needs full government backing from the State and the Centre to succeed)
Image result for helicopters

Recently the announcement about the formation of a private limited company, Kashmir Air Services was made by some local entrepreneurs known as Dar brothers. They have been operating a reputed timber company known as Dar Timber Company. They are also in hotel business. According to press reports the entrepreneurs have already done the ground work like approaching the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and so on. They intend to operate a helicopter service to various Tourist Resorts and some other places which sometimes remain cut off especially during winter such as Tanghdar, Drass, Kargil and Uri. They claim to have selected key professionals to operate these services. Initially they plan to induct six helicopters. They may also operate services to Shri Amarnath Ji Cave and Vaishnov Devi Ji Shrine. They have also indicated possible operation of an air ambulance. The initiative is most welcome and timely and is in fact most needed. However, the question is how soon their proposals will be cleared by various authorities?
Incidentally, the State Government itself had taken a decision couple of decades back to start such services. In fact, a Department of Civil Aviation was set up which still exists! Some helicopters and a small plane were procured for the purpose but unfortunately after sometime the state authorities developed cold feet and the fleet of the aircraft remained for the use of the Chief Minister and other important officials. The state government has been going in a see saw manner in this regard. There never was a genuine interest and a really sincere effort even though such air services by helicopters and small aircraft are very urgently needed especially during winter. The state government has mostly been depending upon the Indian Air Force to operate courier services through M-17 helicopters during winter to cut off places like Tanghdar, Gurez, Zanskar and so on. For these services the Air Force charges are quite high. Sometime back the State Government had also taken on lease two helicopters from the Pawan Hans limited. These were operated to Gurez, Tanghdar and sometimes to Kargil and Zanskar. One was later on kept at Vaishnov Devi Ji shrine for taking Pilgrims up from Katra. A small aircraft service was also started between Jammu and Rajouri but was subsequently discontinued. In fact, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the then Civil Aviation Minister also travelled in a small aircraft on a maiden flight to Kargil for a survey but the flight never started. For reasons best known to the government, no one has so far seriously considered operation of a regular helicopter or small aircraft flight to these far flung cut off areas especially during winter.
Incidentally for some years starting from 1987 Pawan Hans helicopter leased by the state government was regularly used in winter to ferry heli-skiers from Srinagar Airport to Centaur Hotel and then from there to Gulmarg and Sonamarg. The French heli-ski expert Sylvain Saudan used his own small French Lama (Cheetah) helicopter in Gulmarg and Sonamarg for heli-skiing. These operations continued even during the turmoil of nineties! A similar operation can be again started for current winter as there would be many foreign skiers interested in coming to Gulmarg. They can be ferried straight from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg.
In view of these possibilities, it is more than welcome if a private initiative has been taken in regard to the operation of a helicopter service to various tourist resorts and cut off places. The state government needs to encourage and assist such ventures. A similar initiative from reputed domestic and international airlines needs to be encouraged for operating international flights from the Srinagar Airport to South East Asia like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and in the Middle East to Dubai and Jeddah. Even flights to Central Asian destinations like Tashkent, Coolab (the burial place of Shah-i-Hamadan is in Khatlan Province of Tajikistan) could be very viable. Unfortunately, all these initiatives have to pass through the prism of “Security” which shoots these down without any argument. Even night flights from the airport are still hanging fire. One hears that these would be soon started.
 But there is still a “Security” question mark! If Kashmir has to revive Tourism and provide succor to stranded patients in far flung areas, the “Security” grid has to take a broad minded decision and not only allow but encourage such initiatives. However, keeping the past in view, one has to keep the fingers crossed and wait to see if the private initiative really materializes!

The Political “Leeches” of Kashmir!

(Some politicians have been virtually acting as leeches, stuck to the body of “Kashmir”, sucking every drop of its blood and attaching to it again and again even when thrown away!)
“Mainstream” is a very commonly used word in Kashmir these days. It is generally applied to the politicians advocating and supporting Kashmir’s relationship with India. When one talks of streams, the first impression is about the geographical streams. Kashmir’s mainstream is the River Jhelum which flows south and after traversing Pakistan drops into the Arabian Sea! Kashmir’s entire history is woven around this River locally called Wyeth or Jhelum. In ancient times in Sanskrit it was known as Vitasta. Most of the time it used to have clean and pure water but due to “advancement” of the civilisation, it has become most dirty and polluted! There was a time when one could drink the pure water of Jhelum and there used to be lot of fish in it. In fact, downstream in Sopore and Baramulla area the famous Mahaseer fish was in abundance! These days we have mostly polluted water which is not fit even for washing not to speak of drinking!
 Right from 1947, the Kashmir’s Rivers including the geological “Mainstream”, Jhelum, have been carrying all along their course the blood of martyrs. People have given their blood to attain their aspirations of a free Kashmir where they could stand with self-respect and dignity. On the other hand the so called political “Mainstream” has been a two way channel for muck and dirt of all kinds. This stream has given rise to what one could call the “Political Leeches”! As mentioned, unfortunately, the real geographical mainstream too has become murky due to all the waste and filth dumped into it by the people residing on its banks! Even the water bodies which were once a sight to behold have been dirtied and in some cases, totally filled up due the insatiable greed of the people for material things. This is in contrast to centuries old spiritual values because of which Kashmir has often been called the “Resh-e-Woer”, (the bowl of saints)! The pollution process has been presided over by these “Leeches” of the “Political Mainstream” all these years! Forget the Political Autonomy; they have not virtually done anything worthwhile to save the River and the water bodies!
According to Wikipedia, “Leeches are segmented worms which feed on vertebrate blood and most of the species live in freshwater environment. Leeches have been historically used in medicine to remove blood from patients. The practice of leeching can be traced to ancient India and Greece, and continued well into the 18th and 19th centuries in both Europe and North America”. In Kashmir, traditionally, it used to be the barbers who used to carry the leeches to draw blood from people desirous of doing so to cure certain ailments especially high blood pressure. Drawing of blood by leeches used to be a popular treatment for many other ailments. Politically, Kashmiris have faced for last 70 years or so two “Barbers” on two sides of the border who have been continuously drawing their blood through some “Political Leeches” owned or patronised by them not to help Kashmiris but rather to nourish and cure their own ailments!
The greatest misfortune of Kashmiris is that they easily offer themselves for all sorts of exploitation. Instead of taking a stand based on certain principles they follow like a herd of sheep every shepherd even though he may have misled them many times in the past. The story of last seventy years is a typical example of this behaviour. As some foreign authors have observed, the Kashmiris seems to have evolved a philosophy of survival. If you can’t beat them, join them but only for survival and not for the sake of any principles. What they want in reality, they keep it hidden in their hearts and when any opportunity shows up where the resolve of the oppressor appears weakening, they burst out with vengeance!
The tragedy of the present times is that the very political leaders who did everything in their hands to weaken whatever autonomy or independence the State had for their own selfish and short term goals are now crying hoarse for its restoration. There cannot be anything more hypocritical than that! On the other hand, the others who painted some alluring and beautiful utopian dreams of a free and a self-ruled Kashmir are making every possible effort to remove any traces of the autonomy left unintentionally by over sight. The misfortune is that the gullible people would again be taken for a ride by these virtual “Political Leeches”! However, the only light at the end of the tunnel is the new generation which refuses to budge and is determined to reach the goal of ultimate salvation. So if peace is to return to Kashmir, it is this generation which needs to be approached and spoken to in a totally free atmosphere without any allurement or fear. How can that be done and who can do that is a million dollar question!