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.

Monday, January 19, 2009

An Agenda for the Omar Abdullah Government

Amitabh Proposes an Agenda

(Dr. Amitabh Mattoo, 47, was born in Srinagar. He received his education from the Burn Hall School in Srinagar, the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and earned a D. Phil in International Relations from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He is currently a Professor of International Politics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and a Member of the National Knowledge Commission. From November 2002 until early December 2008, Amitabh Mattoo was also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jammu, the youngest person ever to serve on this position. Professor Mattoo serves on the Governing council of Pugwash, and was, till recently, a member of India's National Security Council's Advisory Board, and a member of the task force constituted by Indian Prime on Global Strategic Developments. He has been Chairperson of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.)

Stitching a New 'Pheran': An Agenda for the Omar Abdullah Govt

One of the most abiding symbols of Kashmiri culture is the pheran. A combination of an over-coat and a gown, the pheran is a great leveler. For generations, all sections of Kashmiri society – the young and the old, men and women, Pandits and Muslims, the aristocratic and the subaltern – have depended on this long and loose robe to protect and comfort them in the harshest of winters.

This traditional Kashmiri dress has, of course, been both a symbol of resistance and haute couture. The militant's Kalashnikov virtually disappeared under the crease-less layers of the tweed variant, while embroidered pashmina designer-pherans have rarely been out of fashion even in Paris's Gallery Lafayette. Not surprisingly then, the pheran is also a potent acronym for the agenda that the new Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress coalition government should follow, with each one of the alphabets expanding into a weighty policy direction: planning, human rights, education, reconciliation, autonomy/ self-rule, and a new culture of governance. The Omar Abdullah government must begin the exercise of stitching this new pheran within the first 100-days of his government.

Jammu and Kashmir does, in a manner of saying, conduct an extensive planning exercise. But like much else in the state, the reality is starkly different. The evidence is not difficult to find. Earlier this week, the Financial Commissioner Planning and Development Department, presumably to endear himself to the new government, delivered a lecture in which he pompously declared that Jammu and Kashmir has pioneered planning decentralization in the country by creating district development boards. In fact, the planning department is the most over-centralized, inefficient, and idiosyncratic part of the government. Other than token meetings, there is rarely any significant consultation with stakeholders. Bureaucratic adhocism and administrative anarchy, are the liet motifs of the planning process in the state. Not surprisingly, there is a disconnect between the planning process and the people.

Omar Abdullah has signaled that he may set up a planning board, and this would be a very important initiative with far-reaching implications. The planning board must be manned, however, by primarily professional economists (and sociologists) and those who understand the importance of a more imaginative, organic, and a truly decentralized perspective to planning, especially from the NGO sector. The Planning Board must also be entrusted with developing a "Vision-2015" for Jammu and Kashmir which should reflect the aspirations of the people, and the government's commitment to realizing them within the next six years.

One of the most sensitive areas where the new government will be tested is the issue of human rights. Will the new government be able to strike the right balance between ensuring the dignity of the average citizen while continuing the fight against militancy and terrorism? There are four fronts on which the new government can and must act. First, the state human rights commission must be given real teeth. This should be possible through an immediate ordinance, so that citizens get greater confidence in the Commission. Second, the government must plead with the centre to seriously review the applicability of some of the draconian laws and gradually repeal them, district by district, if not in their entirety right away. Third, it is time to consider giving general amnesty to all political detainees from the state. Finally, ensuring the dignity and human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits must also form a centre-piece of the agenda of the new government.

Investing in Education, training and skill development have to be part of the fundamentals of the new government if it has to take advantage of the huge demographic dividend in the state. The youth can become the state's greatest strength, its soft power, in the years to come. Jammu and Kashmir – as we know - has witnessed, in recent years, a massive expansion of educational infrastructure from the school to the University level. At the higher-education level itself there are seven universities, more than 200 colleges and 14 off-site campuses. Much of this expansion, however, has been unregulated and there has been little attention paid to issues of academic direction, equity, excellence, public-private partnership and the needs of the market. The state has, consequently, witnessed high levels of educated unemployment and low levels of vocationally skilled human resources.

In order to ensure that education promotes employability, knowledge creation and its application in areas critical to Jammu and Kashmir like information and communication technology, agriculture, tourism, health and – most important- in the area of governance and work culture - there is a need to initiate key reforms in the education and knowledge sector. It is imperative also to create a broad policy framework and a monitoring and regulatory mechanism that can facilitate Jammu and Kashmir's movement towards truly becoming a "knowledge society and a knowledge economy."

It is essential also to give the youth of Jammu and Kashmir a greater stake in the country's booming knowledge economy. Public-private partnerships are also needed to enhance international connectivity by extending broad-band access in the state – with stronger incentives provided through the existing universal access funds for telecommunications. Given the geography of the state, and its growing endowments of skills, electronic exports of services may play a more significant role in its beneficial economic integration than the export of apples and handicrafts.

The state has rarely been as polarized as before, and, let us face it, with both a regional and a religious divide. Reconciliation should not remain a slogan but become a reality. It cannot merely be the embroidery on the pheran, but become part of the fabric itself. There is the need for multiple reconciliations at various levels : within the valley between the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims and between the separatists and those within the mainstream; between the valley and Jammu and Ladakh; and between the sub-regions in Ladakh and Jammu. While a reconciliation commission may be a formal mechanism needed to institutionalse the process of dialogue and revive the bonds of tolerance, pluralism and togetherness, much more can and needs to be done at the civil society level. The state can act as a facilitator and promoter of this people-to-people reconciliation.

In the long term, dealing seriously with the issue of autonomy, self rule and regional balance are critical . While key decisions on these contentious issues may have to await backing from New Delhi, the state government must initiate a dialogue on them between stakeholders from all over the state. The government must not hold its own views/ reports on the issue sacrosanct, but generate real creative thinking on these issues while considering other models and experiences in other parts of the country and the world.

Finally, the new government must initiate a new work culture and a new culture of governance that is rooted in the politics of positivism. This new culture must seek to channelise the immense talent within the state through inspirational leadership, which learns from the past, but does not remain a prisoner to past divisiveness and bitterness.

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