Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Restoring Heritage

It is not every day that you find an Editorial in the Greater Kashmir addressing an issue that resonates with all of us

A people without heritage are like blades of grass without roots. They resemble straws blown by the wind from place to place. Appreciation of heritage is connected with the knowledge of one’s history. Unfortunately in Kashmir we have been deliberately deprived of the knowledge of our history right from our childhood. Some of the historical monuments have myths and legends woven around these in the absence of the knowledge of history.

The ruins of Dara Shakoh’s library for his teacher Mulla Akhoon are called “Fairy’s Palace”. People generally consider it a haunted place where fairies live. Similarly the ruins of ancient temples of Hindu period like Martand and Awantipor are claimed to be Pando houses. Had people been taught history of these periods they would have appreciated these remnants of our ancient heritage.

The city of Srinagar itself is a heritage city almost 2,000 years old. It has seen so many different periods of history which probably no other city in the entire sub-continent has seen. Shahr-e-Khaas or the down town Srinagar is truly a historical city and has numerous heritage sites of the Muslim period. The visit to this part of the city has been a very popular item on the itinerary of all the foreign tourists visiting Kashmir. However, most of these trips have been disjointed or without any proper sequence or guidance. The travel agents would just pick a few landmarks such as Shah-i-Hamadan Mosque, Pather Masjid, Budshah Tomb, and Jamia Masjid and conduct the visitors there by turn.

Recently, the State Tourism Department in collaboration with the J & K chapter of INTACH has prepared a special brochure on a “Heritage Walk” connecting all the important heritage landmarks of Srinagar. Tourists will be able to walk from one landmark to other and also enjoy the hospitality of the local people. The resolve shown by the State tourism Department in preserving architectural heritage has been received very well by concerned citizens. There are scores of heritage buildings on this walk. The proposed project is meant to carve out a corridor of pre Mughal architectural monuments around the Jamia Masjid.

The advent of Islam in 14th century gave birth to a unique stream of Kashmiri architecture by synthesising elements of Islamic architecture with local building practices and materials. As part of this project it has been decided to restore this heritage corridor including its main landmark, the grand mosque known as the Jamia Masjid to its full glory. It is also proposed to develop and beautify its surroundings. Important aspect of this project is the total involvement of the people through the management of the Grand Mosque. No such project can really take off unless there is peoples’ participation in it. It is a very welcome development which augurs well for the restoration of the heritage of the entire city. Jamia Masjid was built by Sultan Sikander in 1402 A.D. His son Zain-ul-Abideen fully renovated it. It got burnt down thrice but was rebuilt strictly as per the original plans. The mosque which is a unique combination of wood and brick was last repaired in the beginning of 20th century under the supervision of the Mirwaiz Kashmir Moulvi Yousuf Shah, Sir John Marshall, and Mister Avery of the Archaeological Survey. The INTACH has developed in house expertise and also obtained the services of architects from Switzerland and Germany to assess the condition of the mosque and prepare a restoration plan. A detailed architectural and photographic documentation of the mosque is currently being prepared. It is hoped that the restoration of the mosque will serve as an example to motivate the citizens of the Shahr-e-Khaas to go in for restoration of all the heritage buildings and other historical landmarks.

One of the reasons given for the apathy and insensitivity of the people to heritage preservation is the current uncertain situation of continuous conflict. Here it may be mentioned that the French went to extreme lengths to preserve their heritage especially in their capital city of Paris during the Second World War. In fact they preferred to surrender Paris to Germans without a fight to save their heritage. Preserving and restoring heritage strengthens our convictions and belief in our glorious past. Let us hope the enterprising spirit shown by the management of the Jamia Masjid is followed by others also!

Return of a Native

Heritage that affirms ones faith in ancestral culture becomes pain in exile, writes Mahesh Kaul

(Mr. Mahesh Kaul, 29, was born in Ghat Jogi Lankar, Rainawari, Srinagar. He completed his Master's degree in Tourism Management (MTM) and is now pursuing Ph.D. degree at the Centre for Hospitality and Tourism Management (CHTM) of the University of Jammu. His doctoral dissertation topic is, "Marketing Strategies for Promoting Heritage Tourism in Jammu Region." He is a member of PATH-Preserve Art Treasure and Heritage.)

After 18 years I had an opportunity to visit my homeland Kashmir on October 22. It was a good feeling perhaps a bad too. To put it straight it was a mixed feeling for a Kashmiri Pandit who was made to flee his homeland in early 90’s .I had arrived in valley for an interview for the post of lecturer in the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute, located in the posh and aristocratic Polo view area adjacent to the Residency Road.

To appear in the interview was an excuse to have a glimpse of my homeland which I had to flee with my community, en masse in 1990. I was a child of 10 years at that time and had to leave my ancestral home located in Ghat Jogi Lanker in Rainawari suburb. The more the years of exile passed the pain of separation multiplied in my heart that always prompted me to keep fresh my memories of ancestral house and the homeland. Exile taught me one thing clearly, the more the time of exile passes the more is the passion to safeguard the culture, heritage and roots.

I had in my heart of hearts a desire to visit my house in Rainawari. I wanted to visit it the day I arrived in Kashmir on October 22 but I could not do that as the sun had already set behind the mountains of the sordid valley that is waiting for its natives to return. October 23 proved to be a busy day as the whole day was spent in the interview formalities. On October 24, I could not resist my temptation to have glimpse of my three storied ancestral house at Rainawari (historically known as Rajanvatika or Ranvor in Rajatarangini).Even the Bandh call given by Hurriyat Conference could not stop me in my hotel room.

I entered the lanes and by lanes of my Mohalla and had a never ending look at my house where I was born. I wanted to hug my house but it felt too big to be held in my embrace as if it wanted its inmates to occupy it with open arms. I went near the main entrance of the house and bowed my head with due respect as in front of a temple. I picked a handful of dust from the doorsteps and smeared it on my forehead. I imagined my ancestors looking from skies and joining me in my act of reverence.

My heart was heavy and yes, I was angry. My anger was against the political crooks that have kept the Kashmir problem alive and have used it to persecute the minorities. I wanted to ask them a question why was I made to leave my homeland and made to study in one room rented pigeon hole in Jammu when I had three storied ancestral house in my homeland at my disposal? I felt this pain should create an urge in all my community members to return?

Another question haunted me. Lot of water has flowed down the Vitasta river. A whole new generation of Kashmiri Pandit youth has come up in exile like me, their hearts are heavy and angry. So on what ground should they return back? Kashmiri Pandits want to return but on their own conditions. So that they are not made a scape goat again, they want to live with dignity in a new political dispensation, where they are not made to flee again. They want a political solution that takes into account their pain and exclusion from the canvas of their homeland. I found that the ground is not even politically suitable for their return. The scars are deep and they want a political share in the politics of Kashmir that restores their dignity that was made to suffer by the elements who wanted to hurt them psychologically for being intellectually superior race.

Being a student of heritage tourism, I learnt a new definition of heritage on my visit to the land of my ancestors. From now on heritage for me is pain that reinforces ones faith in ancestral culture if you are in exile from your homeland.

(Rising Kashmir)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview With the Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir

Ishfaq Mir (IM) from the Rising Kashmir interviews Professor Riyaz Punjabi

(Prof Riyaz Punjabi is a distinguished academician and an expert on International Peace and Conflict Studies. He started his career from Kashmir University and holds a Doctorate in Law. He has headed the Department of Distance Education and Dean Faculty of Non-Formal Education. He has also taught Law in this University and Jawahar Lal Nehru University New Delhi. He is a visiting Professor and fellow in Jamia Millia Islamia, Indian Institute of Advance Study and Centre for South Asian Studies Switzerland. Before taking over as Vice Chancellor of the University seven months back he was the Professor at Centre for Study of Social Systems at JNU. He brings with him a treasure of knowledge and experience he has gained over past three decades.)

‘My Vision is to make KU hub of research and technology’

IM: You have experience and exposure of National as well as International Universities. Where do you think KU is lacking and what is that needs to be paid due attention?

RP: We have a lot of talent in Kashmir University. There are hardworking people who can compete both at national and international level. So, that way we are rich.
But they need leadership and direction.

Due to turmoil the work-culture in Kashmir University was badly affected. That work culture needs to reviewed immediately at a rapid pace.

Enthusiasm of the University employees had also suffered which is now coming back.
Then there are infrastructural constraints and departments have expanded with increase in the enrolment.

We lack the adequate number of buildings, hostels. More land is required for extension of the campus. So we are looking for further generous funding from the Centre and the State as well.

Keeping all this in view my priority is to intensify the valuable research and increase the sphere of education in the University.

IM: What are your plans for Kashmiri resurgence?

RP: My attention would be to launch Kashmir specific studies. This would include economic, sociological and scientific research specific to Kashmir.

If we want to develop the economy of Kashmir we first need to know about the economy and for that research is necessary. Similarly in Kashmir specific scientific research thrust would be on study of water bodies, flora and fauna and the rich vegetation on the mountainous forest areas of Kashmir.

I feel delighted to say that the work for this has already started wherein we would prepare the core groups who would later prepare the study material. The study material so prepared would be introduced in the curriculum of the students of different levels.

IM: New Universities providing professional and job oriented courses have come up in the State and thus KU is having a tough competition. What are you doing to compete with these universities?

RP: First I might tell you that it is these new universities that have to compete with Kashmir University and as I already told you we are now stressing on the professional courses that would be of immense help to the society in all the major aspects. There is probably nothing more intellectually challenging for a University than to live up to the high expectations of people by excelling in a competitive environment. In order to cultivate high academic standards, it is sine qua non that a great range of programmes be introduced, a highly qualified faculty carry out innovative research in various discipliners and an integrated student-service-operation ensure that the University’s future be even greater than it’s past.

IM: A common allegation against KU is that it produces theoretical graduates every year who fail to contribute much to the society. What is your take?

RP: You are right that much has not been done. We need to produce graduates or pass outs relevant to the society. So we emphasize those courses having job appreciation like MCA, LLB, LLM, Bio-resources, MBA, Food Technology and others. But then the social science can’t be ignored as it is the part of our society. For that we are merging the technological aspects with that of the literature and the languages. The department of Persian now offers one-year crash course in Computer Literacy as an additional technical qualification to its students. So we are on a mission to provide our society the best trained and skillful graduates in future.

IM: What is your new education policy to meet challenging standards?

RP: We are assessing what is lacking in the University. Once it is over a certain strategy would be devised accordingly.

Presently our colleges are overcrowded and the educational facilities are not up to date. Since the students who reach Kashmir University first complete their degrees through these overcrowded colleges and schools as well. So we first need to redress the education system at the college and school level to make the students reaching KU for higher degrees more capable. Career oriented courses being taught at the college level need to be seen into.

I personally analyzed the results of 10+2 and B.A, B.Sc of the last year. After analyzing the results I could only conclude that the standard of science and mathematics at school and college level has gone down drastically. It is an alarming situation. Even there is a lack of adequate staff in the colleges.

Government should look at the educational needs from a professional perspective rather than a political perspective. Instead of opening new colleges thrust should be on the existing old colleges. There are no avenues of extra-curricular activities for students in the new colleges and the staff from old colleges is being diverted to the new ones. It is creating frustration for the students and teachers as well and would explode sometime.

IM: In KU there is a lack of qualified and experienced faculty in some departments. What are your plans to fill those voids?
RP: In the past large number of posts got lapsed and were not filled on time. But the vacant pots are now being filed and new post are also being created. State government has been positive in approach and has helped us in this regard.

IM: Kashmir University lacks a definite calendar wherein the whole academic as well as non-academic events could be marked at the beginning of an academic year. Even scholarships are not given on time. What do you say?

RP: I fully agree with you and it is not only the scholarships that are not given in time but entrance examinations for different programmes are also not announced on time. But now we are devising a calendar having all the dates marked for the entrance examinations and other information needed to be provided to the students from time to time during an academic year. I have already issued the instructions and the calendar for the next academic session would be ready before ending December 2008 and would be implemented from March 2009.

IM: Recently Vice Chancellor University of Jammu, Professor Amitabh Mattoo went to the Afghanistan which shows that New Delhi wants the academicians to play active role in politics. If provided an opportunity would you play the same role in India’s foreign policy to counter Pakistan’s involvement in cross border terrorism?

RP: No, honestly not. I want to take my educational facilities across LoC. We can offer educational avenues to the people on the other side of the fence and reserve seats for the “Azad Kashmir” students in professional areas especially which could be a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) and help the peace process.

IM: Before assuming the charge as VC, University of Kashmir you were very active in politics and represented India at several times as an academician. What did you do that time?

RP: I have been active as an academician in international law, law and peace studies in international peace and security. Recently I was nominated for the title of Honorary Professor of the International University, Vienna for ‘Strengthening international relations in the sphere of education’. This was published in a media release from Europe Business Assembly (EBA) in Oxford, London.

What I mean to say is that it is all because I have worked and contributed at international level that is how I was active.

IM: After assuming charge as VC, did you try to know about the research conducted so far in the Kashmir University and how it has benefited the State in socio-economic aspects?

RP: We are developing a website named ‘e-repository’ in which the abstracts of all the researches done so far would be kept. Afterwards the whole research would be publicized as such. The Department of Library and Information Science is likely to make available the facility of Open Access (OA) movement, a world-wide effort to provide free online access to the scholarly literature especially peer-reviewed journal articles and other pre- prints. The Department will make the facility available not only to affiliated colleges but will formulate a committee to draw members from SKUAST, SKIMS and the University of Kashmir to develop strategies for making Open Access operational for scientists and scholars.

IM: It seems that from the last five years the KU standards have gone down. On one side you conduct entrance examination to select the candidates for different courses and on the payment seats are there to provide admission to the mediocre people. What do you say?

RP: No the standard hasn’t gone down. In payment seats too we maintain a merit. After taking the merit into consideration we invite people who can afford to pay for the education. So there is no question of selecting mediocre people for any course.

IM: When is the NAAC team visiting KU? What is its basic time period and has KU to remain gearing up for the inspection every now and then?

RP: We have developed an Internal Quality Assessment directorate and want to move ahead of the NAAC accreditation. Next year we are having the NAAC inspection. We have already got ‘A’ grade and I am sure that we will be able to get the much higher accreditation in future.

I have set up a directorate of Career Counseling and Planning which prepares students for competitive courses of national and state level exams.

I am planning e-governance in Kashmir University and we are starting it from the e-governance in examination. We have got a rupees 4.30 crore project sanctioned from the IT Ministry after I met the concerned minister. The work has already started.

IM: What is University doing as far as the placement of the students from the professional courses is concerned?

RP: We have tie ups in national as well as international companies and have hundred percent placements in some departments. We are in constant touch with the well known companies to place our boys there and our boys are not facing any such problem. It is they (students) who have to prepare themselves to join the bigger firms.

IM: As Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir, what would be your future strategy?

RP: In future I want to have biotechnology and engineering in the KU campus and to have more and more job oriented courses. I would stress on the increase of quality research in science in the University.

My future strategy would also include the emphasis to make the north campus functional. Campuses in Kargil and Kupwara would be functional by the next year.

So I would try my level best to enable the Kashmir University achieve new heights during my tenure.

I want to take my educational facilities across LoC. We can offer educational avenues to the people on the other side of the fence and reserve seats for the “Azad Kashmir” students in professional areas especially which could be a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) and help the peace process.

We are developing a website named ‘e-repository’ in which the abstracts of all the researches done so far would be kept. Afterwards the whole research would be publicized as such. The Department of Library and Information Science is likely to make available the facility of Open Access (OA) movement, a world-wide effort to provide free online access to the scholarly literature especially peer-reviewed journal articles and other pre- prints. The Department will make the facility available not only to affiliated colleges but will formulate a committee to draw members from SKUAST, SKIMS and the University of Kashmir to develop strategies for making Open Access operational for scientists and scholars.

I have set up a directorate of Career Counseling and Planning which prepares students for competitive courses of national and state level exams.

I am planning e-governance in Kashmir University and we are starting it from the e-governance in examination. We have got a rupees 4.30 crore project sanctioned from the IT Ministry after I met the concerned minister. The work has already started.

We have tie ups in national as well as international companies and have hundred percent placements in some departments. We are in constant touch with the well known companies to place our boys there and our boys are not facing any such problem. It is they (students) who have to prepare themselves to join the bigger firms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Achieving Economic Self-Sufficiency

Aatif shows the way

(Mr. Aatif Ahmad Mehjoor, 25, was born in Srinagar. He received his primary education in London and Srinagar, with the final two years at the Burn Hall School. He attended Ernest Blevin College London in 1999-2001, King's College London in 2001-2004, and the University of Oxford in 2004-2005. A lawyer by profession, he has received academic awards from the Arts and Humanities Board for Post-graduate Study, and the Judges & Silks Award for Highest Honours in the LLB. He is an Associate of the Securities and Investment Institute, London, and Barrister of Lincoln's Inn. His personal interests are: financial markets & investment, Kashmir, cricket, and ancient history & archaeology.)

Achieving the goal of self sufficiency

In my previous article for this newspaper, I highlighted how dependent Kashmir has become on Central Government funding. A quick glance at the figures I quoted is enough to bring home the abject nature of our dependence. Our government spent Rs. 17,354 crores in the financial year 2007-08 but it relied upon the Central Government to finance 55% of the expenditure. If this funding were to disappear, our economy would suffer terribly and thousands would become jobless.

Many readers in their feedback asked me what the solution was to our economic dependence. The purpose of this article is to suggest some steps that all of us can taken, in the hope that, collectively, we might be able to reduce our dependence by some significant measure. My aim is not to suggest a solution. It is simply to start a debate about the small ways in which each of us, acting at an individual level, can endeavour to remove the excesses present in our society.

The steps that I suggest for individuals can only work if all of us act in tandem. If there is cheating, then the whole effort fails. In order for these steps to be properly implemented and to yield results, there has to be a mass campaign of moral education by those who influence public opinion, such as elders, religious figures, teachers, officials and other persons in positions of authority or influence. Any person who falls within these categories should seize any opportunity he/she has to persuade people to take the steps advocated in this article and to impress upon them the importance of reducing our economic dependence.

As with all moral prescriptions and exhortations, there is bound to be some element of hypocrisy both on the part of those issuing the prescriptions and those preaching them to the masses. However, hypocrisy does not have to be a disability. That we might be personally guilty of the sins that make us dependent should not stop us from engaging in a serious, collective effort to create the moral conditions that make it impossible for these sins to flourish. It should not stop us from engaging in moral persuasion in order to inculcate the moral values that are needed to uproot corruption and dependence on external aid and foster hard work and enterprise.

I therefore put forward some basic steps that all of us can take as individuals. The first, and the most important, step concerns our livelihoods. What jobs and vocations should we seek? If we seek government jobs, we must realise that the money we earn has to come either from taxes or from the Central Government’s coffers. The more jobs we seek from the government, the more dependent we become. We may pay a bribe to acquire a government job because of the security it offers and the status it confers. But we must weigh these benefits against the subjugation which results from our dependence on government jobs.

There are thousands of exceptionally bright, able graduates in Kashmir who deserve suitable employment where their skills can grow and their talents bloom. These graduates must realise that the only way they can realise their potential is by emigrating to countries where their skills are in demand. And their parents should be willing to let them go. If our skilled labour is unable to find employment in the private sector, it should be encouraged to migrate to the Middle East and to the West. Not only will we get skilled professionals but our economy will also benefit from the money they remit to their families.

We must also encourage entrepreneurship and not look down upon the pursuit of business opportunities. Not everyone can be a doctor or a civil servant. And doctor and civil servants do not produce the goods that make an economy strong and vibrant (although they are no doubt essential to a society in other ways). On the other hand, we must be proud of our entrepreneurs who have at least established a semblance of an industrial base in the valley – businesses such as Khyber or FIL Industries. Enterprise is now becoming popular with graduates. This is good news but it needs more encouragement and social acceptance. We also need to channel our resources into those industries which boost our internal production and reduce our dependence on imports. Sheep farming and other agri-business sectors are in urgent need of attention. It is shocking that despite having vast pastures for grazing, we still have not managed to acquire self-sufficiency in meat production.

The second most important step we can take is to pay for what we consume. This means paying for the actual amount of electricity or gas used. If we do not pay our government for the electricity that we consume, our government still has to pay market prices for it. Someone has to foot the deficit that arises from our refusal to pay the full price (a deficit that is recorded as ‘transmission and distribution losses’ in the power budget): this someone is currently the Central Government but it does not have to be. It is shocking to see how much electricity is wasted in Kashmir. The reason why our government is compelled to transfer power projects to the NHPC (the Central Government’s power company) is because our government is unable to raise enough capital to invest on its own in power projects. If all the money our government has spent on electricity (i.e. on footing the deficit) had been invested in power projects, then we would now be exporting electricity. Our government cannot set up power projects unless these projects yield a profit – that can only happen if we pay the full price.

The third step we should take is to reduce excessive consumption. The most conspicuous example of this is during weddings, when tonnes of meat and other food items are wasted. We must also reduce lavish expenditure on houses, cars and gadgets. These products are not manufactured within the valley and have to be imported, thus augmenting our dependence. There was a time when the people of Kashmir consumed products in moderation. Weddings were celebrated with modest feasts and people did not splurge money on food, cars, clothing or other imported items the way they do now. Part of the reason for the explosion in consumerist culture has to do with the easy wealth many people have acquired. However, it is not that difficult to counteract these tendencies, especially if social morality is directed at disapproving excessive consumption derived from ill-gotten gains.

The three steps I have suggested can only work if everyone incorporates them into all aspects of daily life – practice, observance and persuading others to adopt them. If there is be an end to economic dependence, it can only come about if there is grassroots social change. We cannot wait for the government or some external agency to take care of things. The change has to begin within society and each individual has to feel a sense of duty to bring about the change.

(Greater Kashmir)

The Indifference Towards the Weak and the Meek Extends Beyond Religious Faultlines

Musavirr exposes the underbelly of a society used to sweeping inconveniences under a rug

(Mr. Musavirr Wani, 27, was born in Srinagar and attened the Burn Hall School. He graduated from the Meerut University and joined the Kashmir Times as a reporter. Loves driving his car and surfing internet to seek out workshops and fellowships so that he can travel and present the true picture of Kashmir.)

Facilities for Disabled Lacking in J&K

SRINAGAR: Constructing ramps at few places does not solve all the problems of the disabled community. Disabled-friendly constructions are vividly missing from the scene. Besides, the criteria of 40 percent and above disability required for reservation is also questioned by many.

Those with a disability below this required percentage are not entertained and on the other hand, people with higher degree of disability as well as those having multiple disabilities do not come under this purview. In most such cases, it has been seen that acutely disabled turn out to be a "burden" on the family as well as the society.

Post polio residual paralysis, locomotive disability, stammered voice and mental retardation mostly comprise the disabled population in the state. Those hit by the conflict too constitute a good number.

Though the official records put their number at more than three lakh which constitutes about three percent of the population, still much has not been done for their rehabilitation. To fill the basic formalities required for reservation, they are tossed from post to pillar, which starts from getting medical certificate from the concerned Chief Medical Officer (CMO). This is no less a testing time for them.

"We have to go to the CMOs office a number of times, at times to Deputy Commissioner's (DC's) office as well. The entire process is so hectic and cumbersome that at times people get dejected and leave the process midway. Rules ought to be made flexible and convenient for us so that we can pursue the cases ourselves without any hindrance," said Abdul Majid, a resident of Srinagar and a physically challenged fellow.

Even the institutions which provide these people with vocational or regular trainings or where they offer their services are not disabled-friendly. This is an open secret. They have to move inside the buildings, banks, educational institutions and other public places but without any facility being offered to them.

Till recently the concept of ramps was mostly missing but now it has started coming up. "A beginning has been made at some public offices. Constructions should be made in accordance with these facilities so that they do not suffer. It is not only ramps that would make a difference but other facilities too are to be provided simultaneously and at the earnest," said Shugufta Wani, a social worker.

"We face lot of difficulties while moving up and down the buildings, be it educational institutions, University or banks; an alternative has to be looked into," emphasised Kaiser Jan, a student who is physically challenged.

Long term training in terms of diploma courses in various streams and non-formal vocational courses in college and extension centres are offered by K. G. Polytechnic, Gogjibagh under Persons with Disability Scheme sponsored by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).

The college provides ramps for their convenience but only at one or two places. Same holds true with other educational institutions including the University of Kashmir or for that matter any other department in the state. "At the outset, counseling is provided to them about which stream they should opt for. In all the five streams (diploma courses) 25 seats are reserved for them. 100 students are enrolled for short term courses offered in college and other extension centres at Bandipora, Pulwama, Shopian, Budgam and Srinagar. 40 percent disability is the only criteria in the short term courses except for courses involving computer education. Those with less disability, even say 39 percent, are not entertained," said Shaheen a counselor.

Mr. Mayor: Visits Abroad won’t Help!

A foreign trip is good, but that alone won’t do. Our city stinks, it needs emergency care, not foreign advice

Mushtaq Sidiqi

The Greater Kashmir (18th October) carried a press release of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) apprising people about the visit of its Mayor, Commissioner and some other gentleman to some European and Middle East Countries. Heartening, isn’t that? It is very good that people move out to see how the world looks like there. Must be quite refreshing to one’s mind seeing how the Middle East has developed over last 3-4 decades and how Europe stands reconstructed after it was reduced to rubble in the second world war.

These are but the instances of modern times where resources and technologies abound. The Mayor could be well advised to take a look at some websites to see how ancient civilizations had earned accomplishments in urban development in their respective eras.

The remains of Mohejodaro and Harappa civilizations (now in Pakistan) will enlighten him about the state of civic facilities that were then available to the people in that age. In fact modern approach to urban development is not something new. May be factors like population growth; increased preference for urban living; changed social outlook; competitive environs and resources and technologies abounding, all may have made the urban planning and development a complicated subject matter; yet, the essence of the key concepts have remained unchaged. Planned city development of roads, lanes, proper drainage and sewerage systems, water supply system , segregation of commercial market places etc. were well conceptualized even in ancient times.

Then a question arises: were we always devoid of all that? Certainly not. Barely out of acute (and may be abject) poverty and on the threshold of a development process, sincere efforts were made in the State by its rulers to develop new urban areas as early as in 1960s with a eye on future. Fact of the matter is that the pathetic condition in which the Srinagar City of today is, is the outcome of a well orchestrated onslaught on its urban face by its own people that undid whatever good was done by the Governments way back in 60s when new colonies, wide roads, drainage and sewerage systems had all come up as part of development of Greater Srinagar.

Today, it is all vandalized and the city wears a disgraceful urban look to be honest and forthright. Its residential areas have been commercialized in last one decade following a deliberate onslaught organized by City’s own saviors to further and nurture their own pecuniary interests. This is costing the city massively in terms of disorganized traffic system that keeps on becoming more chaotic every next day, largely due to system indifference.

The municipal and other associated urban authorities who were to promote City’s urban development in tune with its painstakingly evolved Master Plan and building byelaws, ransacked these plans to plunge the City into a chaotic abyss. The result is for all us to see today. A shameful urban condition of the capital city of this important tourist destination in the Country and abroad. Municipal Corporation has been unfortunately the facilitator of this onslaught in past over one decade. With the result, the wide roads aimed at accommodating city’s increased traffic load, now meets the parking requirements of a large number of shopping malls that have illegally come up around the City and barely less than half of the road width is now available for vehicles to ply on them.

Ironically, the traffic authorities are either unmindful of whatever is happening or are making most out of it. Imagine the chaotic conditions of Batmaloo roads despite road widening, and of the Amirakadal bridge, virtually been taken over by hawkers forcing pedestrians to abandon the pavement and use the road, meant for vehicles, to foot the bridge! These are just few instances which present a pathetic state of our civic condition.

Unable to wriggle the City of this chaos, the people now seem to be reconciled with this disorderly urban condition obtaining in Srinagar because there is no desire or willingness on the part of the municipal and other authorities to correct the situation and work decisively to put things in order as per the rules and regulations that are put behind deliberately and catching dust.

What is thus needed is not a visit abroad to improve our own lot but a will and commitment to act in accordance with rules and regulations already in place. I would quote an instance of the Municipal Corporation of Chinchward in Pune to Mr. Mayor to convince him that without any commitment and a sense of purpose, things do not just happen.

When the Master Plan of the local area of Chinchward Municipal Corporation was adopted few year back, it was found that the Lady Mayor of the Corporation had around that time constructed her bungalow in the area which was violating the newly enforced Master Plan of the area. A demolition squad from her own Municipal Corporation went to the spot to act. She tried to prevent it on the pretext that her bungalow stood there much before the Master Plan came in to effect. She attempted at seeking indulgence of her Minister who told her to make a judicious decision in the matter with due regard to rules and regulation. The Mayor, acting in larger public interest, relented and agreed to remove the construction of her own. The demolition squad of the Corporation returned and the Lady Mayor complied with the law with grace and dignity, upholding the supremacy of law.

This instance speaks how honesty of purpose, commitment to one’s job and the desire to uphold the supremacy of law make wonders. Today the Municipal Corporation of Chinchward (CMC) is thriving with a budget of Rs 1200 crore and its own yearly income of over Rs 1000 cr. The Corporation is today competing with Ahmadabad and Baroda Municipal Corporations, known to be the best municipal corporations in the country.

Therefore, we have living examples within our country to be emulated. But nothing is going to work for SMC unless its own people realize the need to make SMC’s mission a success. No doubt the job for the young Mayor is a colossal one because today’s condition is the accumulated damage of over last one decade. But to improve the conditions of Srinagar city, it demands untiring efforts, sincerity of purpose and above all, decisiveness in action, without fear or favor; affection or ill will. A beginning needs to be given to emulate CMC and be in the reckoning among those who toiled for their people selflessly.

(Greater Kashmir)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Shakespearean Tragedy of Inconsequential Proportions

Afshana looks for heroes - tragic or otherwise - in a land of sycophants

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women's College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

Of Shakespearean heroes and the heroes of this age

A hanging picture
on my wall;
A tattered image
of passing soul;
Not a calendar
But
The portrait of a
Frozen dream.
It looks so shabby;
immensely awful.
Garlanded by cobwebs,
Dust wraps it.
The unsightliness lingers
But the moments of pain
Seem to wane.
I remember
the melancholy strain,
of sweet music and
lost loves in
days long past.
All stands crystallized
In my memory;
The smell and warmth
Of lineage,
I am part of it,
A strand in the
Tapestry of time;
Intertwined with everything
That happened to portrait
I stand here, in front of it;
I am forever changed
Never to be same,
So is it!

What is the fate of Tragic Heroes? It is said that 'they meet an untimely and unexpected end'. They turn into tattered images, wrapped by the dust of past, everlastingly.

In literature, there are a number of tragic heroes who met a downfall because of a "tragic flaw" (hamartia) in their character. The Shakespearean tragic heroes from Brutus to Hamlet to Macbeth became the sufferers of their own excesses or self-deception. They were doomed to fail due to some error of judgment or frailty. The tapestry of time weaved a poignant adversity around them. Fading from an icon to iota, they faced an inexorable decline, though Shakespeare accentuates and maintains their nobility to the end.

Down the first-rate lit to humdrum life, we spot many tragic heroes around. More so in Kashmir, where people trail the path to downfall quite easily. We have a super tragic hero like Sheikh Abdullah who made a 'history of sorts' to be narrated to our generations very pathetically. The book 'Sheikh Abdullah: The Tragic Hero of Kashmir' by old hand journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea seems to be just a small window that provides a peep into Sheikh's downfall to obscurity. Calling it a "profoundly disturbing book" may not justify the basic tragedy that this oversized tragic hero wrought not only for himself but for the whole Kashmir.

So, there are tragic heroes who jeopardize not only themselves. They invoke wrath for others as well. Their fall is a colossal one that brings down a lot more along with, shaking the national destinies. The leaders of Kashmir have a record of committing 'tragic errors', unintentionally or otherwise, many a times.

Paradoxically, such of our tragic heroes have never realized the impact of their irremediable blunders which the tragic heroes are eventually known for otherwise. It sounds sadly strange.

In our apolitical environs, there too is a manifestation of tragic heroes. We see men of tall claims and towering profile, perpetrating the worst kind of culture that involves all types of misconduct. In fact, it's their masked misconduct that afterwards fails to salvage their projected reputation.

We also have tragic heroes who are swindled to make tragic flaws. Incognizant of the machinations of miserable minds surrounding them, they are led into baffling situations, only to end up making grave errors of verdict. Their stature meets a tragic downer. They lose their individuality and identity, cutting a sorry figure forever.

Of course, we all perform on the stage of life. However, all of us do not enact as a tragic hero. It is not even possible. We play different roles. The main character of Tragic Hero is to be played by some. And those are the ones who have a potential for greatness, but are equally prone to making great mistakes. They are the 'heroes' of the nation, the society, the home and the institution, predisposed to draw a blank. It is not just a fluke that they earn the title of a 'hero' and end up as a 'zero'. It has a genesis of its own. The Law of Nature that intervenes to smash the bogus idols of such heroes to smithereens.

The commonplace characters also are not excused of a tragic end. In their own way, they play the roles which occasionally guide them to disgrace and discomfiture. It is irrational to let them off the hook, for they too are mortals. Nonetheless, what makes a big difference is the measure and magnitude of tragic end, its upshot on individual as well as collective level.

There is a rigorous but subtle reenactment of tragedy in our daily life. Tragic heroes, non-heroes, or anti-heroes, whatever, we all ultimately chance on our own tragic end.

There is a patriotic Brutus around; an uncertain Hamlet; a power lusty Macbeth; an obsessive Antony; a conceited Lear; and many others who are becoming the victim of their own flaws.

Tragic is the end of 'heroes'. So is the end of rest of the actors.
The stage is alive, the drama is on…

Kashmir is Bearing its Share of the World-Wide Economic Downturn

Global meltdown melts Valley software industry

Srinagar: Of the financial crisis the world is witnessing presently, Kashmir has begun to get the heat and the kill is Valley’s software development companies.

“We are a software development company and we sell our products in United States. We mostly sell the service based products to architects, engineers, lawyers, software developers etc. Since most of our clientele is from real estate world, so obviously as there has been a realty slump it has affected our sales too,” said Zia Ashai the proprietor of BQE, a Kashmir-based software development company at Software Technology Park Rengreth here.

Ashai said the “global economic instability” will restrain the companies like theirs in the Valley from achieving the desired targets. “Whatever growth we had projected for this years we will not be able to achieve it,” he said.

Ashai fears the crisis would not go somewhere immediately. “I think it will continue like this for at least five to six months. We wanted our sales to improve by 25 to 30per cent this year but now we expect a growth of only15 to 20 per cent.”

Some software companies here say the financial crisis in the world has made them to lose their customers. “We have overseas clients, mostly in the US, and no clients in India. Our growth prospects greatly depend on the investments made by the companies. However, with the global financial meltdown many a companies have failed to get required finances or withhold investments. Even many a companies have closed down,” said Jahangir Raina, CEO, I Locus IT enabled Services, at Rangreth here.

“I had very good contacts in many international companies and they were the people giving us the business. The crisis made many of them lose their jobs hence I am forced to look for new contacts in those companies,” he added.

However, the CEO said the slump was not much worrying for the technology market. He believes the US cannot be in trouble for a long period. “At sometime the country will definitely come out of the financial mess it is currently in. In the meantime we need to do our own work and focus on our quality. If we do so at present it will help us when the market is up again,” he said, adding that the company had currently focused on couple of customers in China. “They have given us some business,” he added.

(Greater Kashmir)

Connecting Kashmir with the Central Asia

Ashraf, with his keen eye for tourism, sees many interesting possibilities

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 65, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Reviving the “Aerial” Silk Route

From October 15 to 18 the Centre for Central Asian Studies of the University of Kashmir organised an International Conference on the Revival of Silk Route. A number of academicians, experts, and diplomats from various Central Asian countries participated in the deliberations. These included Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Many research papers were read out. Normally one would have expected a conference focused on Kashmir but it was more Central Asia centric. Out of 7 sessions only one two hour session was devoted to links between Kashmir and Central Asia. All the speakers in this session were Kashmiris. We have all been hearing about the caravans travelling between Kashmir and Central Asia in the past. Every Kashmir has a fascination about Central Asia and the Silk Route. It would have been interesting to know about the reminisces if any of the good old days, as well as the present day views about Kashmir of the people from Central Asia. This may have to wait for another conference preferably more focused on Kashmir’s links with Central Asia which the authorities of the Centre may like to organise sometime in future.

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that extended across Asia, linking powerful civilizations such as Rome and China. This trade route was originally established between Rome and China during the Han dynasty of Chinese rulers. The Chinese exported mainly silk textiles, and also medicinal herbs, carved jade, and a wide variety of luxury goods; they imported not only horses, but also glassware, raw jade, gold and silver, and other luxury goods from the western regions of Eurasia.

The early trade on the Silk Road followed a pattern that was to hold throughout the era of caravan trade, which was that trade was carried out mainly by intermediaries, and goods changed hands several times during the course of a journey between China and the Middle East. Caravan drivers and their animals customarily travelled back and forth over one particular segment of the route, perhaps loading goods in one oasis and unloading them again at the next before heading back in the other direction with new goods. One odd result of this is that the two greatest empires of the classical world, Rome and Han China, were in regular trade contact but were still almost entirely ignorant of each other. After 15th Century with the start of sea routes, the Silk Route lost its importance.

There were three offshoots of the route which touched Kashmir. One was across the Karakoram Pass through Nubra valley of Ladakh. Another was through Gilgit and Gurez and the third one was through Afghanistan, and entered Kashmir through Muzaffarabad along the Jhelum Valley Road. The caravan trade along these routes continued right till 1947 as there was no sea access between Kashmir and Central Asia.

During the Chinese Revolution a large number of Muslim refugees from Turkistan came to Kashmir through the Karakoram pass. They stayed on here for sometime and then migrated to Turkey which conferred citizenship rights on them. The Indo-Pak conflict and the subsequent ceasefire totally isolated Kashmir from its northern neighbours. All the cultural and trade links were severed.

The present generation is totally unaware of the close cultural and ethnic links which Kashmiris have with the people of Central Asia. Some Kashmiri students who have been going to Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan for studying medicine also speak of these close cultural resemblances. Now that the Governments of India and Pakistan have initiated revival of these links as Confidence Building Measures, it will be worthwhile to explore the possibilities of re-connecting Kashmir to Central Asia.

In the present technological age it may not be worthwhile to restart the caravan trade but such caravan trips could be an interesting tourist attraction. However, there are practical possibilities of conducting surface trade along the Karakoram Highway which has already developed as an important trade route between Pakistan and Central Asia/China. There are two connections to the Karakoram Highway from Kashmir. One is through Muzaffarabad and other is along Kargil-Skardu route. Both are workable. The link through Gurez to Gilgit has been in total disuse since 1947 and may take sometime to revive. There is a regular bus service between Gilgit and Kashgar and the journey takes 16 hours only. If a truck and bus service is started from Kashmir it will take three to four days from Kashmir to Kashgar. There are a number of travel agencies operating Central Asian tours from Samarqand to Islamabad via parts of the Silk Route. The tourists land in Samarqand and after travelling through Central Asia they fly out from Islamabad. We could bring these groups right up to Srinagar and arrange their flights out of here. The reverse trip can also be planned. The surface link may take sometime to sort out various formalities including border crossings and logistic details.

However, there is now another link which has started becoming both popular and practical. That is the “Revival of Aerial Silk Route”. According to Imtiaz Muqbil, the author of a Tourism Website, the Chinese are going ahead at full speed to convert Urumqi Airport into an International Airport to make it a hub of the proposed Aerial Silk Route. He states in a recent article, “The globalization of the world economy has made a significant impact on the transportation of goods, as well as that of passengers, because air travel reduces distance through its speed. At a June 2006 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Central Asian States and China launched a proposal for an East-West air corridor. This plan aims to reap the benefits of the central geographic location of Xinjiang and of the Central Asian states, and to create an "aerial Silk Road”. Urumqi, by 2015 will be able to accommodate over 16 million tourists and foreign businessmen, and to manage 150,000 takeoffs and landings annually. To give rise to an aerial Silk Road, several Chinese, Japanese, and Korean harmonization projects and carrier alliances -- along the lines of what is now happening between European airlines -- have been proposed.

We have a similar situation in Kashmir. In the past, Kashmir used to be trade and cultural hub in this part of the world. With the starting of International Flights from the Srinagar Airport expected shortly, Kashmir can once again become a hub for trade, finance, and tourism. Most of the Central Asian as well as Persian Gulf capitals are only two to three flying hours from Srinagar. One of the participants of the recent Conference from Tajikistan informed me that Coolab, the place where Shah-I-Hamadan is buried has an important International Airport. There are many flights to Moscow taking local labour there. He was of the opinion that if a direct flight is started between Srinagar and Coolab, a large number of Kashmiri Muslims would like to pay their reverence at the shrine of this Saint who in real terms has been an “Apostle of Kashmir”. There are umpteen possibilities for tourism as well as trade between Central Asia and Kashmir.

The Centre for Conflict Mediation and Resolution of the United States Institute of Peace based in Washington had commissioned a study regarding the Kashmir conflict. The Institute has released in September a special report about “Making Borders Irrelevant in Kashmir”. The report analyses the possibilities and practicalities of managing the Kashmir conflict by “making borders irrelevant”---- softening the Line of Control to allow the easy movement of people, goods, and services across it. It would be very useful if the Institute further enlarges the scope of these studies to include Kashmir’s link with Central Asia. The University of Kashmir’s Centre for Central Asian Studies could collaborate in such studies. Food for thought for the concerned authorities!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Will Kashmir Benefit?

Riyaz seeks an answer to a wrong question. The correct question is can Kashmir be part of a solution when it doggedly insists on remaining as the India's problem?

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Whose apple, whose glow

Peoples Democratic Party President Mahbooba Mufti who had got humbled by a prickly scene at Old Martyr’s Graveyard on July 13 this year, was the only local politician to register physical endorsement of trade through LoC as it began on 21 October. The party had issued paid ads in local newspapers in which it not just praised both Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari for honoring the popular aspirations but also paid tributes to “the valiant youth who laid down their lives for resumption of trade through Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road.”

Apparently PDP stole the show and became the solitary claimant of an “achievement”, toward which doubtless it had long been harping upon, leaving the observers as well as its detractors in awe. National Conference that fiercely champions Kashmir’s special status within Indian Union ignored it and the moderate faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference chose to respond very sparingly despite the fact that it had launched a full-fledged movement in favor of LoC-opening in August.

It is not yet clear whether PDP is serious to include Kashmiri sacrifices in its political content or Mahbooba’s Salamabad gesture was just a posturing to enhance party’s bargain in New Delhi’s power corridors. By simple common sense, representing sacrifice is loaded with political costs. The temptation entails political sacrifices. Even if PDP wants to espouse ‘soft separatism’ as a means to re-galvanize its image among masses, its semi-separatist talk in the backdrop of the LoC trade is double-edged. Either it will face a political rout or it may scrape through.

By saying the road-opening is sheer consequence of the “sacrifices of our youth” PDP has, in fact, taken upon itself a back-breaking task in which it will have to show how the LoC trade would really, and abundantly, benefit Kashmiris and become the genuine fruit of their sacrifices. There are two questions. How will PDP prove that LoC-trade is the real answer to the sacrifices? And, will this trade ever provide PDP an opportunity to boast: “this is what Kashmiris have laid their lives for”. Let it not be Azadi, but will it be something nearly worth Azadi?

Attempting answers to questions about romantic goals is often difficult. Yet there is no harm in making an attempt.

Resuming cross-LoC business exchange is doubtless a positive step toward further confidence building between India and Pakistan. It came as a comforting follow-up to the recent highway-blockade and a bloody march to Uri where the crossing point between two parts of Kashmir is situated. At the micro level it is a psychological healer for a people afflicted with a prolonged siege, more often invisible. This siege and the sense of being trapped have been worse than Palestine where even Israel would allow informal exchanges with Jordon and Egypt.

At the macro level it aims at creating a stake within the beleaguered populations of divided Kashmir for a prosperous and peaceful subcontinent. In the midst of US-sponsored project to amalgamate South Asia into Central Asia, India is perceived as the ‘CEO’ of this new regional set-up bypassing China that is watching the developments with eerie silence.

Common man in Kashmir may not be bothered about how India is emerging as a key actor in the new cold war between Sino-Russian caucus and America; or how Pakistan is losing both clout as well as currency value. What bothers him most is whether he has, at long last, reached a point where his sacrifices make him a genuine shareholder in the dividends of trade liberalization between India and Pakistan through Kashmir.

Sajjad Gani Lone, the young and blessedly articulate politician who prefers to be called a ‘realist’ rather than a separatist and whose Vision Document has dealt extensively with the economic aspect of Kashmir dispute, in his elaborate comment (Economic Times, 26 September 2008) says: “Post-economic blockade, this trade route has acquired increased psychological and political significance. In the medium term and the long term India and Pakistan would have to move beyond baby steps and sign up on this unique opportunity of using economics in resolving this conflict.”

Mr Lone in his Vision Document titled Achievable Nationhood has employed beautiful prose to theorize how sacrifices should replace the narrative of grievance that New Delhi is used to. When read in the clear context of problematic relationship between Kashmir and India, the prescription sounds a creative one yet it would require a miracle to make India acknowledge the sacrifices that were offered against her presence in Kashmir.

One can expect that miracle if the clout India is earning in South and Central Asian region post nuclear deal crowds out all the bias, within Indian bureaucracy, against Kashmiris. Lets presume that after gaining leverage against Pakistan on political, economic and military front India would, out of magnanimity, say “let bygones be bygones, Kashmiri sacrifices were not a vain collateral damage of a wrong cause; those sacrifices would be respected and responded.”

But what about the second question: Will Kashmiri blood redden the Kashmiri apple or it will provide the economic luster to others?

A quick comparison between India with Pakistan will tell us how much India; the giant producer can sell to ‘a moth-eaten Pakistan’ where the new President has proposed a funny remedy to tackle the challenge of funding farm subsidies: “Print the notes”.

And, how much the power-starved Kashmir can export to Pakistan and Central Asia. Does Central Asia need our carpet while Iran produces more qualitative ones; will it require our honey, which Pakistan and Iran has in abundance; will our Chinar Biscuit whose factory at Zadibal is in shambles will be accepted in Asfahan or Tajkistan where Chinese and Russian FMCGs and handicrafts are ruling the market. The road has opened but only the fittest will survive in the competition, which the trade will offer when streamlined.

It’s silly to propose that India should not get any economic advantage out of this new ‘gateway to Central Asia’. But at the same time the espousers of Kashmiri sacrifices will have to ensure India alone doesn’t benefit. After all, as they have avowedly claimed, Cross-LoC trade is the response to Kashmiri sacrifices. To the point of road-opening, Sajjad Lone’s theory fits in, because New Delhi acknowledges, albeit without mention, the sacrifices. But PDP has the real challenge. Wherefrom will PDP get the guarantee that Kashmiri sacrifices are not being utilizing to redden the Indian apple!

Bringing Realism in the Endless Debate

Mr. Khan argues the need to work towards self reliance without which the dream of an independent nation is just that

(Mr. Abdul Rashid Khan, is a retired senior bureaucrat who served in the J&K Government service.)

Economic Independence and Political Freedom

In some of the recent articles published in the Greater Kashmir, various political scientists tried to throw light on the word "freedom" but had fingers crossed about what actually it means for Kashmiris? Does it mean sovereign state, greater autonomy, joint management, control or self governance, free flow of trade or to exercise the right of self determination? I do not want to go in details about what actually it means for Kashmiris. Let us leave it to the political leaders and statesmen to derive the meaning of the freedom and what they actually think of it. But the common man in Kashmir follows what the leaders say and go by their dictums without knowing what it actually means. The situation in Kashmir has remained so volatile right from 1947, that even the leader like Sheik Muhammad Abdullah did not have a set goal with clear vision. He therefore could not foresee the political future for Kashmiris, and pushed them in a state of confusion. His lack of vision and statesmanship made this heaven into a hell on this earth for the future generation. No doubt he proved to be more of a social reformer than a statesman by introducing land reforms in his first stint as head of the state.

Whatever be the political status of J&K state, the economic independence or self reliance is an important ingredient of a proud nation. Kashmir is basically an agriculture state where the agricultural products have played an important role in the growth of the economy of the state since times immemorial. Though after 1960 till 1988, the tourism also got a boost and became a flourishing industry, yet it received a total setback after 1990. The advancement in agricultural technology and the introduction of the china seed doubled the yield of rice per acre and thereby resulted in an increase in its production. But with the increase in population, the valley had to depend on the import of rice from outside state as the local production is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the domestic consumption. The subsidized rice provided by the centre through FCI has no doubt played an important role in meeting the demands of the local population especially of lower income group. With the expansion of the towns in the rural districts and urbanization in Srinagar city, the already scarce land under paddy cultivation in the recent times has shrunk to a great extent which has further resulted in the decrease of the paddy production. And the pinch was also felt recently even during Baltal land row due to the economic blockade as the people both in cities and rural areas were crying for the supply of rice because of the shortages of the stocks in the government stores. The land reforms of Sheik Muhammad Abdullah has proved to be counterproductive as the erstwhile tillers of the land, who were given the ownership rights, started easily disposing off their paddy land, being costly and high in demand, to become overnight millionaires. The lethargic attitude of the farmers made them hesitant to till the land and instead engage Behari labourers for the said purpose. They also makes it more easy to sell the land and get huge profits in lieu of it and invest the same in real estates instead of putting hard labor in cultivating the said land. The government from time to time has also failed to implement the agrarian laws to curb this trend of farmers to sell the agriculture land. It is not too late to think over it, otherwise we will have to import bulk of rice from outside state to meet our demands for growing population.

The agriculture university in Kashmir has been doing a good job in research work to find out various varieties which could increase the output of agriculture products. They have been to some extent successful in rising the production of the fresh fruits, particularly the export of the various varieties of apple in the horticulture sector. But that too is facing tough competition against the apple of Kallu in the national markets of Delhi, Calcutta, Chandigarh, and Bombay. If we recollect the memories of yesteryears we will find that there was an abundant production of the fruits, like Kashmiri apricots, figs, purple and red mulberries, but are hardly now seen available in the market. Also the number of almond orchards have decreased, and as a result there has been a sharp decline in the production and export of the dry almonds. The land under cultivation of saffron at Pampore has also reduced due to the expansion in population and dwellings. The idea of acquiring 1000 kanal land by the government for commissioning the headquarters for some central forces would have further threatened the livelihood of entire chunk of population. Once the Kashmiri Saffron was known for its quality throughout the world, but it has also received a setback in recent times for its degradation in quality and reduction in its output due to bad weather.

The tourism sector, which was the main job oriented industry, has also suffered great losses due to the political instability and eruption of militancy in Kashmir since 1989. No doubt the handcraft industry in private sector has fortunately survived even during these abnormal conditions, mainly due to the efforts of the manufacturers and the expertise of the exporters who deal in this trade. The industries in public, government sector except JK cements are running in 'red' and are therefore sick. The prestigious J&K government woolen mill is hardly in a position to meet even the wages of its employees. Whatever earnings they are making is mainly due to its sales to government departments. The mill owns very costly and high-tech imported machines. If put in use in three shifts as per the normal criteria of the factory, it can produce good quantity of products which can make it profitable but the problem is with the management and the employees who work like babus and the mill functions for one shift only. The quality of the tweed and other items it produces, is superb, which could even withstand the challenges in the national and international market if exported outside.

The government joinery mill is almost on its last legs. The l40 kanals of land owned by the Joinery Mill Pampore has reportedly been sold by the Jammu and Kashmir Industries Limited (JKIL) on lease out basis. This is not the case of joinery mill only but the JKIL has also reportedly decided to dispose off the surplus land of Bemina Woolen Mills, Kashmir Filature Solina, Silk weaving factory, Rajbagh, historic Pharmaceutical works Varmul, modern R&T factory, Miransahib, Rajuri, Sunderbani, Knitting factory Jogi gate, and Leather Plant Muthi Jammu. From this one can understand the fate of the subsidiary units of the JKIL. The traditional government silk factory at Solina is closed. Thousands of local skilled labour were engaged in this factory.

Kashmir was once the main exporter of silk and produced high quality silk which was famous in the country and international market. This market has now been captured and taken over by Banaras and Bangalore. The subsidiary unit of HMT watch factory is already closed. The public industrial development corporations like SIDCO and SICOP have just become commissioned agencies and the green pastures for absorbing their kith and kin, on the managerial and lucrative posts without qualifying any test, through back door entries, by the political bosses who happen to be at the helm of affairs. The fate of the JKSRTC is known to everyone. The employees of this corporation are seen taking out processions on the roads every now and then to press their demands. The SRTC is also running in red due to managerial inefficiency and leakages and non committal attitude of its employees. As compared to this, the transport industry in private sector is making huge profits. The small scale units in private sector at industrial area Sanantnagar and Rangreth are still in their infancy, and are supported by government agencies by purchasing their products and can not, therefore, face the competition in open market for various reasons. Some of the unit holders work as government contractors.

The forests of Kashmir were an asset and known as the open treasure. But due to the abnormal situation since 1989, there has been vast plunder of this valuable treasure by some unscrupulous and anti social elements in nexus with the some of the forest officials and local political heads. This has not only resulted in the vast devastation of the forest wealth but also caused environmental degradation. The social forestry department has also failed to keep pace of forestation with its devastation in spite of the huge funds provided by the centre and the World Bank.

There is a silver lining though. So for as the milk and honey production is concerned, these two products have shown upswing in its graph during the last couple of years. The annual milk production in Kashmir has touched a record mark of 8.78 lakhs metric tonnes over the previous year due to the formation of co-operative societies and establishment of modern processing units.

So it is clear that we have failed to establish a strong industrial base in Kashmir and our local agriculture products are not sufficient to meet the increasing day today demands and therefore have to depend on the imports of all fast-moving consumer goods from outside valley. During last 61 years, all the political parties in power mainly focused attention on expansion and development of the unproductive administration and service sectors. The 2007-08 budget reveals that out of the total of Rs. 17,354 crores spent by the government, more than 55% came from the Central government- the bulk in the form of grants. The state government purchases electricity for Rs. 1000 crores and realizes only 400 crores from the consumers. As a student of economics, I fail to understand what the government means by the zero deficit budget when there is huge deficits found between the expenditure made and the revenue earned by the state. The state's own revenue collection is not even sufficient to meet 25% of its total wage bill. It is only when centre comes to its rescue by way of grants in aid that the deficit is reduced. The state government has also failed to reduce the amount of debt and continues to suffer from an increasing debt burden, and interest payments continue to swell every year. It surprised everyone when they learnt that a protest call was given by the separatist leaders against the arrival of the Prime Minister to J&K state on the occasion when he was going to inaugurate two important projects which would lay foundation for the infrastructural growth of the economy of the state. This time he had come to commission 450-MW phase-1 of prestigious 900-MW Baglihar hydro-electricity project on the river Chenab at Ramban on 10-10-2008 and to inaugurate the first ever train service in Kashmir valley by flagging off the train at Nowgam Railway Station on 11-10-2008. The Baglihar hydroelectric is a state owned power project, which would fetch Rs. 900 crores annually to the state. The commissioning of this project is expected to give a major boost to the power sector of the state. The other major hydroelectric projects such as 360-MW Dul-Hasti Kishtwar, Salal and Uri project are all centre government owned projects and give the J&K state only 12% each electricity from its total production, as a royalty. The state has not been benefited from these power projects to the extent as was expected. The inauguration of Baglihar hydroelectric project is a big milestone in the power sector of the state and therefore we have all reasons to enjoy the moment. The inauguration of the train service has opened a new chapter in the economic history of Kashmir and will not only strengthen the infrastructure in communication sector but can assist in quick delivery of goods at lower cost, besides making the passenger travel more comfortable and dependable when connected with Udhampur. Kashmir being land locked, the train service will connect Kashmir with other parts of the country and will therefore boost the tourism and other trade. The government should make all efforts to bring the state out of the debt burden as soon as possible and reduce the expenditure on the wage bill. They should save the funds from the wasteful wages spent in social welfare department on anganwari centers, and spend more on exploiting the water resources to the maximum to create mini hydroelectric projects to make us not only self sufficient in electricity but also help in getting huge revenue by exporting the same to neighboring states. There is also a lot of scope to develop dairy, poultry, wool and fish, and farming in Kashmir. We can develop the floriculture sector on large scale as both domestic and international markets are available for the purchase of various varieties of Kashmiri flowers, but the government needs to give incentives to the producers and exporters for establishing green houses. The accessibility to the research centers and technological assistance should be made freely available to them.

The off and on 'Challo' and 'Hartal' calls have put the business to grinding halt and marred the education and future career of our youth. It is therefore necessary to seriously ponder over things to bring a change in our present mindset to have a sense of character building and create work culture by giving up the vices of corruption, habit of shirking work, black marketing and profiteering. We must develop the habit of working hard with honesty and sincerity and dedicate ourselves to the causes of nation building for achieving the economic independence.

One Among the Many

Javaid talks of aspirations of a minority in a land which has yet to come to terms with pluralism and diversity

(Dr. Javaid Rahi is the National Secretary of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation.)

Gujjars: identity, apprehensions and demands

Every pluralistic society comprises many religious and ethno-linguistic minority groups. They may be landless nomadic communities, migrants, indigenous racial entities or others. The major peculiarity of minorities is that they are different in ethnographical characteristics, cultural legacy, economic condition, or racial makeup from that of majority in a particular area, state or region.

From times immemorial the tug of war between majority and minority is going on as the former has edge over the later by dint of numbers or domination in hierarchy. In advanced society the rights of all sorts of minorities have been accepted world over. To protect their rights and identity various countries enacted different legal provisions, but in India our planners have conceived the idea of Minority only on the basis of Religion.

In order to provide opportunities to various religious minorities to participate in the mainstream a National Commission for Minority was also set up by the Central Government way back in 1993. The Main objective of setting up the commission was to provide constitutional safeguards to different religious minorities in India, and enforce laws to avoid discrimination and inequality, as well. Another aim of this Commission was to promote the secular ethos of India. Besides this a Union Ministry of Minority Affairs headed by a Union Ministry was also established.

It was also mentioned in the goals of the Ministry and Commission that this shall look after the interests of various ethno-linguistic minority groups residing in India from the times immemorial but as the word Minority is dominated by the notion of Religion only it put a limited the effect and functioning of the Commission. Conceiving the idea of Minority on the basis of religion only and following the footsteps of the Central Government, 15 States in India setup their own Commissions for minorities headed by twelve Muslims, one each from Parsi, Sikh and Christian denominations. In Jammu and Kashmir State, where Muslims are in majority this thought is considered as not needed.

The National Commission for Minority does not have the jurisdiction over the State of Jammu & Kashmir, however, some members of the commission visited J&K from time to time on the personal invitation of respective Chief Ministers and other dignitaries of the State. Besides meeting the high official in the State Government the Commission visited refugee camps and held detailed discussions with members of the "Kashmiri Migrant" community at Jammu.

Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir, as a religious entity are considered as a part of majority Muslim community dominated by Kashmiri speaking people of State. But except religion, Gujjars are not sharing any other thing with Kashmiris. Their history, language, folk-lore, philosophy, economy and social structure are different than that of Kashmiris. Duo Muslim communities have only few examples of inter-cast (Gujjar-Kashmiri) matrimonial relationships. Because of language and cultural barriers the Gujjars feel as strangers in Muslim majority State, although religion is a big binding force for them.

Being a third largest linguistic group of the State after Kashmiris and Dogras, the Gujjars are losing their identity as tribe gradually because they are not getting the opportunity to work on their identity. Unfortunately there is a kind of stigma attached to the word "Gujjar" in the Kashmiri society. For tribals this is considered as an offending act. With this type of relation between Gujjars and Kashmiris a wedge is getting created between larger Muslim Society of Kashmir.

The recent public mobilisation in the State saw Gujjars isolated in both the regions. In Jammu they are being targeted by extremist Hindu Rightwing as Muslim minority setting up dozens of Gujjar houses in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts of Jammu region. Similarly in Kashmir valley some slogans, although aimed at G. N. Azad, contained intemperate remarks about Gujjars.

In order to express themselves fully and save the community from getting marginalised, Gujjars of Jammu of Kashmir need to be considered as ethno- linguistic minority, and their rights established accordingly. Gujjars being a nomadic tribe, they deserve safeguards and other facilities under the Constitution of India as a scheduled tribe. Articles 15, 16 and 17 guarantee the right to equality as the fundamental right. Under cultural and educational rights, article 29 protects the interests of the minorities including their language and culture.

It is a basic human right to learn one's mother tongue but our Universities are not ready to adopt the language of Gujjars called Gojri which is at the verge of extinction. The alien culture mounting offensive on tribals of Jammu and Kashmir is an unabated process through various means of mass media.

Gujjars, which constitute more than one fourth of 11 million population of the state are thus ignored by Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan, Universities, State Board of School Education and other related institutions as no representation is given to their art, culture, language, customs and centuries old ethos which makes their peculiar identity.

In Schools Gujjar children are forced to learn the alien languages replacing their mother tongue; State Board of School Education is yet to prepare the curriculum in Gojri.

Gojri is one of the languages under the threat of extinction. Being considered as one of the oldest and significant language of the South Asia it has been included in the 8th Schedule as there is an adequate provision and facilities in the constitution for linguistic minorities.

The demand for minority status in both regions of the state seems to be genuine in the given circumstances; granting this status Gujjars will be able to protect their rights. With the help of this status, minority institutions shall be opened for Gujjars, steps would be taken for protection of their cultural legacy and language.

Traditionally Kashmir has been a multilingual, multi ethnic society. Every community and tribe has contributed significantly to Kashmir and its versatility. To protect this variety and versatility it is the responsibility and duty of majorities to create sense of oneness among religious and ethnic minorities. Nomadic Gujjars are integral part of the State; protect and respect them, so that they don’t feel alone, insecure and marginalised in Jammu and Kashmir.

Testing the Limits of Your True Potential

Feroz shows the way from gathering pity to making history

(Mr. Feroz Ahmad Paray, 22, was born in Kalampora in Pulwama District. He completed his B.Sc. degree (pre-medical stream) from the Government College in Pulwama, and is currently pursuing post graduation in Business Economics from Wigan & Leigh College in Srinagar. His personal interests vary from writing poems and playing cricket to net surfing and shopping. His favorite author is Khalil Gibran.)

Believe in yourself

“Blame yourself if you have no branches or leaves; don’t accuse the sun of partiality” (Chinese proverb)

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Everyone has limits. But we never know our limits, until our skills, potential and talent has been put to test. Never say, “This is all I can do, unless you have tried to do it.” Do you know that humans use only 10% of their brain? You have each and every thing. You have the resources. You have the capability. You just need to find it, and the first place to look into is within yourself. That’s the first and foremost thing you can do.

Our skills double when we face danger. We do every odd thing to escape from that danger. We see, hear, smell and move faster. It shows that we’re capable to act and do much more than we think. We are just too afraid at times. But what are we afraid of? Are we afraid we may actually find our true strength? Or is it, we just need to be pushed to find our true potential.

“What is the most universal human characteristic; fear, or laziness?” Some of us aren’t afraid. We just aren’t bothered. ‘So what’? are the two most dangerous accountable words. “So what I am weak? So what, I am not using my abilities to their best?” These are questions that can never be answered. But think about it for a while; if everyone starts asking you the same questions, how will you feel? If all the great leaders fuss: ‘so what the country is unhappy?’, if your grocer yells: so what, you are hungry?’’, if your garbage collector tells you: so what, your home is dirty? pointing their fingers to you, how will you feel?
Replace that acidic, “so what” with the hopeful, “what if?”
“What if you become some great person worth remembering?”
“What if you can make people proud of you?”

The thing that’s worse than quitting or failing is--being complacent: Believing that you are weak and that is all you are capable of. When you start to say, “This is the way I am and there is nothing I can do about it,” that is when you hit rock bottom. No one can help you in such a situation. Even the skills that you have mastered will be a waste with such an attitude. Believe in yourself, and then only you can expect others to believe in you. Keep going. Keep believing in yourself, because the race is not won by the swift, but by those who keeps on running.

So friends, what are you waiting for? Start changing yourself. Care for others even if no one else does care for you. The man who cannot believe in himself cannot believe in anything else.

Thinking Out of the Box

Tanveer ploughs a new ground with his vision as an eternal optimist

(Mr. Tanveer Ahmad, 36, was born in Gurutta, Tehsil Sensa, in the Kotli district of Azad Kashmir. He received his school education in Luton, Bedfordshire, U.K., and completed his college education from Dunstable College and the Thames Valley University, where he received his B.A. Honors in Economics. He has done various professional courses relating to financial markets and IT. His personal interest are diverse covering sports, reading, music, travel, adventure and food.)

Oh the Pangs of Reunion: Reversing 1947

Indeed, it’s time for people in Jammu and the Valley to trade in their verminous polemics and self-destructing demeanor to prepare for the lofty heights of economic dynamism, communal cohesion and environmental revitalization. Meanwhile, the governments of India and Pakistan should each swallow an ample dose of sober medication and realise it’s time to confess: “We tried for almost 61 years to control the tempo, fracture the identity and dictate the destiny of Kashmir: We’re terribly sorry, it hasn’t worked out well for any of us, not least because we attempted to defy nature: It’s over to you folks, we both hereby concede that you’re more than capable of reversing the mess we’ve put you in.” (An imaginary and quite wishful quote no doubt - but to paraphrase the venerable Kashmiri pandit film-maker Sanjay Kak, ”The obnoxious silence has to break.”)

Background:

The Kashmiri people, be they Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist are an incredibly accommodating lot. Judging by how they’ve overlooked and tolerated the rule of ‘outsiders’ in these past few centuries; functioning as a tug of the pernicious post ‘47 two-nation theory was an absolute given. Pakistan tried in earnest to make the Muslim much more of a Muslim than he needed to be while India gradually did much the same to the Hindu. Where did that leave the poor Hindus in Pakistan or the hapless Muslims in India? Marooned in their very own ancestral abode!

The millions of ‘desis’ that had been forcibly uprooted from either side of the un-natural divide, found it excruciatingly difficult to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, left behind or killed in cold-blooded communal frenzy. The Sikh of Rawalpindi (undivided India and post partition Pakistan) who escaped with his bare life to Jallandhar (India), didn’t merely change his address in the Punjab, it was a blood-soaked divided Punjab. His centuries old identity and ancestral roots were ripped in exchange for a new identity, which defined his roots as enemy territory. The Muslim from pre-‘47 Agra (India) led a contorted existence in Karachi (Pakistan), her family members who didn’t migrate with her became her nascent nation’s enemies.

As the decades passed by, progress and development for India and Pakistan was a laborious struggle. Amongst other factors, unprecedented population growth and unhealthy military expenditure made post-colonial restructuring nigh on impossible for both countries. Whilst poverty in the region rippled; education, health and infrastructure were coldly sacrificed. Intellectual and artistic advancement was and still is sadly, deemed a luxury, ill-affordable to a pair of overly paranoid nation states.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India were an existential threat to each other and so sermonized Doordarshan and PTV, not to forget Radio Pakistan or All-India Radio. Their favourite playground for battle was of course Kashmir, attrition after attrition. The intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan, in conjunction with local lackeys ensured that the Kashmiris were forever obliging hosts. Dissension or god-forbid obstruction was never an option. Pakistan’s “Jugular Vein” (Shah Ragh-Urdu) and India’s “Integral Part” (Atoot Ang-Hindi) were loaded oxymorons that quite literally made morons of the Kashmiri mentality.

Setting aside the moral liability of nuclearisation for just a moment, 1998 was a year of technological accomplishment for the region. Both countries demonstrated vigour to defy the “International Community”. Nevertheless, Kashmir as an issue that accompanied the creation of Pakistan and independence of a crippled India, was the perfect binary foil that prevented the “International Community” from prolonging its dismay. The “Islamic” and “Hindu” bombs were here to stay. 1999 and Kargil’s fiasco; followed by 9/11 have mercifully in retrospect, changed the modus operandi, if not modus vivendi, from the proverbial ‘war-war’ to ‘jaw-jaw’.

Dialogue and communication as a means of conflict resolution, is not only plausible, efficient, cost-effective and positively natural. For Kashmiris of whatever persuasion, it’s the only possible method, an alternative simply did not and will not exist. It would be far too rich and ludicrous for either India or Pakistan to suggest any indigenous provocation of violence. Contrary to what some Kashmiris and others have suggested, there is little evidence of any of the many ethnicities in Kashmir espousing martial instincts.

Moving on to the “irreversible Peace Process” initiated in January 2004; this has thankfully proven to be the freshest of fresh airs since 1947. Both entities have shown an element of maturity and resolve, tit-for-tat provocations notwithstanding. Dialogue between Indian and Pakistani civil society has invoked and propelled fresh thinking as well as nostalgia of an un-divided past. Ruefully, at the insistence of both countries, most of this ‘dialogue’ has taken place outside the region in the wider “International Community”. Both governments still feel it un-nerving and unsafe for barrier-breaking intra-dialogue and initiatives to take root in the region.

Of utter frustration to the Kashmiri is that any peace dividends that have accrued so far have been primarily gobbled up by the Indian and Pakistani national. Movement between the two countries has increased exponentially while between the two parts of Kashmir, it’s still barely a trickle. The contrast is startling if one considers that many ‘well-connected’ Indians and Pakistanis have traveled to each other’s country on numerous occasions and at will, to “merry-make” while there are ample Kashmiris belonging to divided families, who have yet to meet their siblings after 61 years!

Intra-Kashmir movement and dialogue, though unprecedented, has been lackluster to say the least. By extension, reference may be extended to economic activity, cultural interaction, administrative reform and well…the list is endless. In short, India and Pakistan have not kept pace with global socio-economic/geo-political changes: Elements of an ‘Iron Curtain’ reminiscent of the ‘Cold War’ are starkly evident, particularly in Kashmir. Their respective administrative mechanisms are not quite equipped or even focused on speeding things up, both having a tendency of getting bogged down in inevitable cul-de-sacs. Old habits do die hard!
Historical perspective:

It’s an indisputable fact that pre-colonial India was an economic powerhouse of global proportion (in relative terms, way ahead of it’s current trajectory) and a fabulous specimen of world-class culture and art; driven by an amazing array of diversity in food, clothes, language and construction; organised and administered by a harmonious fusion of Hindu/Muslim spirit.

Ideas, people, goods and services in whatever dimension flowed freely. If an artisan of Attock (NWFP/Punjab-Pakistan) decided one day that he wished to venture East for work…his destination may well have been no less than modern day Myanmar….traversing the breadth of modern day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh…others of his ilk had little hesitation in setting up home en-route, if a place took their fancy. indeed, Tagore’s “The Kabuli Wallah” fails to escape reminiscence.

Symptoms:

In its current collective predicament and despite modern advancement in transport and information networks, the region has poisoned itself with a mad concoction of Westphalia and inappropriate religious fuel, amidst a rotten basket of other self-inflicted ills. As a consequence, entities within the historic ‘whole’, repeatedly fail to recognize the humane aspirations of those it has been programmed to categorize as the ‘other’, this blinds it from visualizing the stupendous potential that a harmonised region with an efficient governing structure can deliver.

Pakistan and India, despite their vast potential, have cultivated fractured societies with fault-lines in every direction: Pro and anti-US, extremist-moderate, local-national, Muslim-Hindu, pro-establishment and anti, Punjabi-Other, progressive-traditional, spiritual-material, Aryan-Dravidian even etc. Though both are unanimous on progress, they are blinkered on any form of reform or revision: In the meantime, those who consider themselves victimized and/or isolated are screaming out for recognition and opportunity.

A major irritant is the glut of misinformation that public opinion is subjected to. There is only one way to make democracy work: to provide accurate, unbiased information and contextual education, particularly of our common history.

The Kashmiris are akin to being stuck in a sardine can, compelled to either defer to India or Pakistan. Lack of freedom to evolve their own identity, traps them in the communal mess that we repeatedly witness.

Fears:

The current crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir has the un-needed potential of repeating the horrors of 1947. The symptoms are all clearly visible. There is ample human potential in the region, forever un-utilised and repressed; conditions perfect for dancing towards collective doom.

The peace process at its current pace is blatantly ill-equipped to neutralise the situation. India and Pakistan simply do not have the requisite time or the broad strategy necessary to solve a problem which has thus far, exasperated them and caused an unwanted shift of focus from their respective schedules. If anything, a hands-on approach on their part could exacerbate the tension. When people are suffocating on one side (Valley) and lava-laden on the other (Jammu), military instruction/obstruction or ‘intelligent’ manipulation could cause an uncontrollable eruption.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir are galvanising and by extension contemplating isolation of the minority Hindu community. As death tolls rise and economic activity on the Jammu road from the Valley dwindles to a complete halt, consequential blocking of India’s only surface route in and out of Kashmir, could be a precursor to a communal division of the state. Anathema for the construction of a global “super-power”, forever exposing the region to become servile to the machinations of ‘others’.
Recommendations:

Solidifying the whole region; not on communal lines but by re-aligning diversity to the whole region. Pakistan and India need to get over the idea of restricting movement via borders and imposing separate identities. It is important for both to not come across as inveterate narcissists who do not like to be crossed. They should provide an historic opportunity for Kashmiris to demonstrate how calmly they can, through penetrating dialogue and inspiring initiative, solve problems that have afflicted the State. This will change the perception of seeing the Kashmiris as a liability to witnessing them as a force that cements the region together.

Thus far, political rhetoric alluding to some of the above has not been translated into practice. Those who can instigate a change in approach are metaphorically tied in chains e.g. writers, artists, activists and other energetic members of civil society. Whereas, lackadaisical technocrats and bureaucrats, wearing the badge of either country are given the duty of enacting the rhetoric.

That doesn’t work. It raises false hopes at best and repeatedly exemplifies a frustrating inability to bridge the gap between political decisions and implementation on the ground. We’re not living in the 5th century BC; this is the age of instant communication, overt round-the-clock economic consciousness and unbridled movement of people and ideas.

If one were to sincerely make an effort to convert looming tragedy into benign opportunity, the current scenario could be viewed as “The Pangs of Reunion”, an actual desire by the public to revert the region back to it’s natural formation, minus borders of course.

A broad strategy could focus on provisioning a return of religious space to the Hindus and Sikhs who were forced to leave Pakistan and Pak-administered Kashmir. Hence revitalizing their ancestral roots and giving those areas the much-needed diversity they have sorely lacked for 61 years. L.K. Advani and others should work vigorously with the Pakistani establishment to re-create Hindu space in Pakistan, especially in his home province of Sindh where remaining Hindus live in isolation.

Giving the Hindus and Sikhs who live in the border areas of Indian-administered Kashmir, an opportunity to rebuild their mandirs and gurdwaras in their ancestral land in Pak-administered Kashmir, is a crucial part of this suggestion.

In light of all above, Amarnath is but a minor issue, perhaps not worth the environmental degradation and political agitation that it has evoked. Symbolising it as a landmark of the re-union of the sub-continent could have unlimited positive consequences.

The 61 year old Indo-Pak mess could be transformed into giving the Kashmiris what the Moghuls, Afghans, Ranjit’s Sikhs, the Brits and Dogra rule couldn’t give them--the freedom to utilise their abundance of talent.