Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When Security Personnel Form a Nexus With Local Timber Smugglers, it is Another Kind of War

The Editorial in the Rising Kashmir plays up one side of the story, but the role of local unscrupulous officials among the State Forest Department is even more dastardly

War on forests

BSF personnel caught smuggling wood points towards a scandalous phenomenon in Kashmir

Ever since militancy erupted in our state, many brutal things happened under the cover of fighting it. Not just life and routine of Kashmir became a casualty to the unbridled powers given to security forces, but our resources too were subjected to a large scale loot and plunder.

The news about Border Security Forces personnel being caught while smuggling illicit timber by the Forest officials in Bandipora district, north Kashmir, is a miniscule part of a bigger phenomenon. There is an eyewitness account that has provided the details of it to the media. The incident is not an isolated one. From past two decades we have been a witness to a large scale felling of trees by unscrupulous elements, both civil and defence.

Since the forest areas have been made, literally out of bounds for a common man, these unscrupulous elements get a free hand in inflicting heavy damage to our forests. All of it may not get reported, rather very little trickles down to media circles but the general impression among the people in Kashmir is that security forces are taking an undue advantage of the circumstances and are involved in stealing the green gold at an enormous level. The concerned civil officials find themselves in a helpless situation because in the border areas and the forest divisions Army and Para military forces are the real masters. No one has the power to stop them from smuggling the wood from the forests of Kashmir. Since in the absence of any civilian check security forces enjoy unrestricted access to forest areas and the fact that none dares check their vehicles, the cutting of trees and smuggling the wood to the areas where they are needed is an easy affair for the security forces.

The news report about Bandipora incident also makes it clear. When the Forest officials, according to eyewitness account, fearing reprisal seized just one log and let the troopers carry the remaining three to their camp, how can one expect that the smuggling of wood can be stopped? When the Forest officials know that the wood is being smuggled for making furniture, which is later carried to the residential houses of security forces outside J&K and still fail to take any action, who is going to help us out?

Although it has not still been reported, but people apprehend that there is a nexus between artisans, labourers, mostly from outside state, and some people among security forces to use the wood smuggled from forests for various works in the security forces’ camps. Hefty bills are later framed against the work done. This way a patterned plunder of our forests is occurring, and there seems to be no end to it, unless the higher officials of the various security forces organisation, including Army, take cognisance of the matter. It is only then that the great environmental catastrophe can be avoided. Also the NGOs working for the preservation of environment can contribute by taking up the issue at national and international level. Even the political parties of Kashmir, both mainstream and separatist, can bring the matter into public domain and let the world know about it. Unless all pool their efforts the great game of plunder is not going to stop.

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