Introduction to Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Paradise (about to be) Lost?

A grim reminder of how public indifference, official malfeasance and gun culture is slowly destroying the beauty of Kashmir

Green future of Kashmir under threat

India’s ‘paradise’ — Kashmir — is threatening to lose its charming picture postcard beauty. The danger has nothing to do with the separatists’ fight for ‘azadi.’

The deafening war cries for ‘azadi’ in Kashmir has led local players, their patrons across the border and the state authorities to ignore a ‘time bomb’ that may, in a few decades, convert the valley’s lush green fields and mountains into a barren desert resembling adjoining high-altitude Ladakh.

The “time bomb” lies just a few kilometers from the Line of Control (LOC) — it is the Kolahoi glacier that is melting at an alarming speed, threatening to snatch away the beautiful green robe of the valley.

It is the Kolahoi and other such glaciers’ waters that has made the valley lush green and fertile, leading the Kashmiris to proudly proclaim that “if there is heaven, it is where we live.” Located a short trek away from Pahalgam, this glacier is the valley’s only year-round source of water.

The twin-peaked Kolahoi glacier, rising almost 18,000 feet (5,500m), is rapidly melting due to global warming. The base of the glacier is at the head of the Lidder valley. Climbing from 3400m up to 4000m, the glacier descends from twin majestic peaks at 5433m.

In 1985, the glacier’s snout stretched half-a-mile (800 metre) further down the valley. The traces are still visible. Now, the snout is much smaller.

Because of the close proximity of the LOC, the densely forest covered mountains and the valley around the glacier are an infiltration route for the terrorists sneaking over from Pakistan. This made the regular monitoring of the glacier unsafe.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) recently organised a research expedition of the University of Kashmir University to visit the glacier. Instead of snow-white, the team found it of a dirty brown colour and covered with crevasses. On seeing the melting rate, TERI and the university have now sounded an alarm bell.

The glacier attracts many trekkers also and they are shocked when they reach there. “Instead of being a point of joy and beauty, it offers a depressing sight,” said a Delhi-based environment loving photographer, Kamal Sahai, who was recently there. “It looked more like a huge mudslide than a frozen reservoir of fresh water,” Sahai said.

One can take a short trek to the Kolahoi glacier from Pahalgam and return in four to five days.

According to Ghulam Jeelani, a geo-hydrologist, who visited the glacier as a member of the University of Kashmir’s research expedition, “if the glacier continues to melt at the current speed, it may disappear from the map of glaciers in a decade or so.”

During a recent visit to the Kashmir Valley, this correspondent met many environmentalists who expressed concern over the “green future of Kashmir” because of melting Kolahoi glacier. They have appealed to the people to sign a petition urging UN Secretary-General, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to create and sign a Kolahoi Accord by 2011.

The Kolahoi glacier’s melting has put on stake the Kashmir valley’s reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful tourist destination. It also threatens the livelihood of lakhs of people.

Kolahoi’s melting is creating a scary future scenario for the valley. This glacier feeds the Jhelum, which drains into Srinagar’s Dal Lake - the most popular attraction for domestic and foreign tourists. The lake’s shikharas (houseboats) are world famous.

A long tussle between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, which turned ugly with terrorism spreading its wings, stopped attention focusing on the alarming shrinkage of the Kolahoi glacier.

TERI scientist Syed Hasnain, who is India’s top glacier expert, has accused the government of being less interested in environmental problems. “Both New Delhi and Islamabad should put politics aside, and deal with the glacier’s melting issue, otherwise an environmental disaster is not far.” TERI plans to include Kolahoi in an index of benchmark glaciers that span the Himalayas.

It is the Kolahoi and other such glaciers’ water that has made the Kashmir valley so fertile. The valley produces a rich crop of rice, wheat and corn. And, of course, famous apple orchards and fields of saffron are also there - thanks to the glacier waters.

The valley’s natural beauty depends on water, and the water supply depends on glaciers such as Kolahoi. After the snow melts in May and June, the glaciers are the only source of water.

“If these glaciers disappear, we will lose our heaven,” says an old taxi driver, Mohd. Ali, living in Srinagar.

An environmentalist in Srinagar commented, “Kashmir needs a ‘political climate change’ to save the Kolahoi glacier which will ensure Kashmir retains its status as heaven on earth.”

Maybe, the slow death of Kashmir’s lush valley will wake up the ‘azadi’ seekers’ to put down their arms and find a common cause to save their paradise, environmentalists are hoping.

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