Thursday, September 13, 2018

Political Uncertainty, the main problem!

(Lack of accountability, lopsided governance, dishonesty and corruption in every field stem from the basic malaise which is the perennial political uncertainty)
Political Uncertainty, the main problem!
During last 70 years or so Kashmir has off and on faced one or the other turmoil. In fact, it has seen four wars between its neighbours. There have been some periods of apparent calm but the uncertainty has been always floating under a calm surface. All these years have seen improvement in the living conditions, economic development and a rise in the standard of living of the general population. Apart from that it has also seen growth of a capitalist class where some people dealing in various commercial concerns have made considerable amount of money. Till the start of the nineties various upheavals were not so disruptive except the one witnessed during the holy relic agitation. There would be some turmoil and after some time the things would settle back. However, after the violent turmoil of nineties which resulted in the death of over 50,000 people the things have never been normal. Especially, after the Amarnath land row, there have been violent agitations in 2008, 2010, 2012 and the worst one was in 2016 on the killing of Burhan Wani. After the election of 2014 with the subsequent formation of a coalition government, the entire valley has been functioning like a simmering volcano which keeps on erupting off and on.
Kashmir has now become a virtual prison. The ground reality of Kashmir was described by the European Union delegation some years back. They called it a “Beautiful Prison”! Kashmir has been given many other names and attributes in the recent times. It is called a nuclear flashpoint, most dangerous place on earth and a troubled paradise. It is supposed to be South Asia’s hot spot. The most militarised place on earth. In fact, most of the western countries advise their nationals to avoid travel to Kashmir. They all believe that the ground situation in Kashmir is highly combustible notwithstanding the government’s exaggerated claims of a tourism boom ushering in normalcy. Even the propagators of tourism normalcy sometimes refer to the volatility of the situation. One may not claim it to be a powder keg which would blow up by the lighting of a single match yet no one can dispute the discontent and alienation simmering under the calm surface. There is a sense of general unease in the air itself. This is due to a situation of perennial uncertainty. This uncertainty has given rise to the absence of accountability in every sphere. There is a virtual free for all! Corruption at all levels rules the roost.
Kashmir is supposed to be the most militarised area of the world. During the last elections, Chris Morris, the BBC correspondent had reported from Srinagar that he had never seen so many soldiers in civilian areas in any part of the world. The number of soldiers deployed in Kashmir was more than those deployed for elections in the entire length and breadth of Bangladesh at the same time! No one can dispute the fact that Kashmir is the highest militarised area in the world when one compares the number of uniformed people to the local population. There is army, paramilitary troops, and the local police. Even the number of local policemen exceeds a hundred thousand. Apart from massive cantonments housing headquarters of various corps and divisions, the entire area is dotted with army and security camps. Even deep inside civilian areas one finds security camps, bunkers, and check posts. It is because of this heavy security presence that the local population especially in the rural areas has got very much alienated.
The ground reality is that the entire effort in Kashmir is on managing a conflict on the basic issue rather than resolving it to the satisfaction of the people. The aim is to somehow buy time. Prime Minister’s Group, Parliamentary Delegation, Interlocutors and so on are all meant to manage and somehow buy time. Over the years, a colossal administrative set up has been created for this management which is disproportionate to the population of the area. There has been a tendency to somehow provide government jobs almost to everyone even though sometimes on casual or stipendiary basis. The set up comprising almost half a million employees of all hues and shades has become thoroughly corrupt and totally unaccountable. In fact, major chunk of state’s funds goes into the salaries of these employees leaving very little for development. This administrative giant created for the management of the basic conflict has a vested interest like the mainstream politicians to maintain the status quo at all costs. It is the stark truth that everything in Kashmir has to have a clearance from the Union Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs! Without their specific overt or covert clearance nothing can happen in Kashmir in any sphere of activity. However, it would never be possible to manage the conflict by engaging an entire generation in government jobs or some other non-governmental activities. According to available figures, the number of educated unemployed has already crossed half a million.
The correct attitude for all the sides is to face the ground reality and not escape from it. Kashmir has a problem. A deep rooted problem which is political in nature and has been further compounded by all the wrong initiatives and measures taken to douse the flames rather than remove the cause of the fire! Unless one directly addresses the problem, the things are not going to improve. Unfortunately, the only people directly in the line of fire getting singed every minute are the poor Kashmiris. The two neighbours are only getting indirectly affected. It is a pity that they do not understand that the fire burning deep inside is ultimately going to engulf them also. Their mutual mistrust is worse than the directly burning fire. It is consuming them from within! However, there is always an approach or process for the final settlement of any problem whatsoever. The least the two neighbours can do is to honestly and sincerely trust Kashmiris and allow them the freedom to breathe freely. They had initiated the so called confidence building measures but these are only symbolic and not really substantive. Keeping security forces everywhere breathing over the necks of Kashmiris with zero accountability through the internationally acclaimed draconian legislations. Allowing absolutely no freedom of expression even through peaceful protests. Allowing couple of thousand people to travel across LOC in 10 years or so. Having stone-age barter trade in 21st century without any communications and banking. These are not confidence building measures. Rather these are steps to increase alienation and reinforce the mistrust. The least the rulers on two sides could do is to allow people on both sides to at least enjoy the same basic rights as their own people enjoy. These measures if taken in earnest could be a good beginning to start the process for the ultimate resolution of the problem taking away slowly the entire sub-continent from an avoidable catastrophe!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Cross LOC Bus, an ordeal!

(The most important confidence building measure between India and Pakistan initiated in April, 2005 has virtually become an unbearable ordeal for the passengers!)
Cross LoC Bus, an ordeal!

It was for the first time since the establishment of a ceasefire line in 1947 (present LOC or the line of control) that people were allowed to cross from both the sides in April, 2005. Even though the Buses did not actually cross because of the narrow bridge on Jhelum and the travel was through transhipment, yet the event received worldwide coverage. It was hailed as a breach in the Sub-continents Berlin Wall. The Bus was started on a fortnightly basis with 30 odd passengers travelling from either side. The travel of the first Bus was telecast live. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged it off from Srinagar. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the then Chief Minister had himself gone to LOC to receive the first batch of visitors from the Pakistan Administered Kashmir. There was euphoria all round and people expected that the decades old problem was on way to resolution. Some of the relations on two sides of the divide travelling by the Bus had met after 60 years or so. The measure was the beginning of d├ętente between India and Pakistan which had been initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistani leadership from Kashmir. 
Simultaneously, cross LOC trade was also initiated. The trade did pick up and goods were exchanged from two sides. However, it was more or less a barter trade as there were no arrangements for cross LOC banking. Both the bus and the trade are continuing on a virtually nominal basis. One had expected that after initial hiccups there would be virtually free flow of the people across the artificial barrier. Unfortunately, that has not happened. We still have a miniscule number of people travelling to and fro. Firstly, to get a ticket on the bus first involves clearance from the intelligence and security agencies of both sides which takes months. Only blood relations on two sides get the permission. Common Kashmiris on two sides do not get the permission if they are not related. Permission wise it may be easier to get a normal visit visa from the respective embassies and the travel by air or even by road through Wagah is much easier and smoother. The worst part of the travel as related by some people who have crossed on the bus is the checking on two sides of the line of control. The buses do not cross but people have to walk across the Domail Bridge along with their baggage and take the buses of either side to reach Srinagar or Muzaffarabad.
The actual travel itself is tiring and quite long. Some relations who recently came on the Bus had started at 6 am in Muzaffarabad. They reached Chakoti at 8 am. Till 12 noon, the Pakistani authorities completed their verification procedures at the line of control and they crossed the line at 12.30 pm. On this side the Indian authorities completed their procedures by 3 pm when they finally left for Srinagar. They reached Srinagar at 7.30 pm. A normal drive of three and a half hours took them thirteen and a half hours and they were really tired when they reached their destination! They were also very upset about the facilities provided on the Indian side. These were, according to them, virtually non-existent. On the contrary the Pakistanis have provided excellent facilities on their side. It would send a message of goodwill across if the civic and other facilities on our side are upgraded and improved.
These people also disclosed that in the past they would travel through Wagah border. That travel is easier and smoother. Those days they would start from Lahore at around 7 am and would be in Amritsar by 11 am. They would take a direct flight from Amritsar to Srinagar and would reach their destination by 2.30 pm or so without any problem. The confidence building measure has virtually become a confidence shaking measure for the actual users. The only advantage has been that many people who had been cut off on two sides for almost half a century have been able to meet each other. One great consolation is that the bus has continued in spite of many hiccups caused by tension on the border and within Kashmir. There have been disruptions but the bus has not been totally discontinued.
Now, with the change of government on the other side and possibility of a thaw in relations between our two neighbours, one expects that the Confidence Building Measures would not only be revived but made into real and practical ones giving some solace to the suffering masses. The most important first step to usher in real peace in the subcontinent is the demolition of the sub-continent’s Berlin Wall!