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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reconstructing Kashmir Destroyed by the "Big One"

Zafar feels that shattered hopes of one and half million Kashmiris living in the earth-quake affected areas have again been lifted by the heartening news that China will reconstruct and rehabilitate three major cities of Pakistan controlled Kashmir

(Mr. Zafar Iqbal, 32, was born in village Tarar, Rawalakot, in the Poonch district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He did his early schooling in a private school, matriculating through examinations conducted by the Mirpur Educational Board, and completed his higher secondary education from the Government Degree College in Rawalakot. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Rawalakot campus), and his M.A. in Mass Communication from the Punjab University in Pakistan. He received international scholarships to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in 2005 receiving a Graduate Diploma in Media Studies, and the Nottingham Trent University, U.K., in 2006-2008 receiving M.A. in Media & Globalization. Mr. Iqbal has been a journalist working in the print and TV media since 1999 and is very active in human rights, earthquake relief and rehabilitation especially involving women and children, and inter-faith harmony. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Press for Peace (PFP) and the Founder-President of the Environmental Journalists Forum, both based in Muzaffarabad. Mr. Iqbal has been invited to numerous national and international seminars and workshops related to human development.)

Post earthquake scenario in Kashmir

The shattered hopes of one and half million Kashmiris living in the earth-quake affected area’s have again been lifted by the heartening news of a recent agreement signed between China and Pakistan.

The agreement aims to reconstruct and rehabilitate three major cities of Pakistan controlled Kashmir. The billions dollars project termed “build back better” conceived from the Clinton Tsunami Slogan envisions the provision of modern life facilities in Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot and Bagh. The historically worst earthquake in region which claimed above 73,000 people devastated all infrastructures in three districts of Azad Kashmir. But, it is heart-rending to state the in spite of generous financial support from world community, the rehabilitation work in affected areas has not been started even after three and half years and it is still in limbo.

Previous and the government incumbent of Azad Jammu and Kashmir have been sugar-coating the innocent citizens that affected areas would be turned into Paris and Dubai soon. Conversely, the reality makes mockery of forged statements and groundless claims of rulers that overwhelmingly majority of victims are still living a miserable life due to incompletion of schools, roads, houses and other public buildings as well as at the hands of red-tapism. The stories of corruption and laxity of officials are prevalent; specifically of those departments directly responsible for carrying into effect the rehabilitation process are major target of public criticism and severe dress-down.

Though more than 80 per cent people in affected areas have received their compensation funds for the reconstruction of homes, but their houses have not been completed yet due to numerous factors particularly in economic sense like inappropriate planning in designs, increase in prices of construction material, non- availability of required skilled force, the delaying of payments of funds and red-tapism. Today, a huge number of people are still living in damaged or rickety buildings because of lack of alternative residences. Some areas have been demarcated to be under fault lines; therefore, the owners of such lands need substitute properties for their permanent settlements but the commitments and plans of construction of housing towns make their existence only in files.

Moreover, a huge number of schools and health centres are waiting for their buildings and shelters. Officials admit that only 274 schools out of 2706 educational institutions were built which means about two hundred seventy five thousand students mostly children out of total three hundred thousand are still studying without shelter. Likewise, majority from 176 damaged buildings of health institutes also necessitates construction of new buildings.

Various new institutions were established by governments in the name of reconstruction; however, the performance of these institutions is not up to the mark or seems to be invisible to general public. Citizens believe that such newly established departments and organizations have become El- Dorado in respect of ‘job employment bureaus’ for influential people who lack any transparent system of recruitment and monitoring of their progress. For instance, if two departments like State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) and Civil Defence are juxtaposed together, then SDMA is crystal clear manifestation of wastage of public money because similar department - Civil Defence, already exists and needs complete revamping.

The most significant department in all rebuilding process is Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) which is under criticisms since its inception due to lack of coordination, inefficiency, alleged corruption, nepotism and favoritism. The misappropriations and embezzlement of billions of rupees in the ERRA have also been observed by government’s own institution like the National Assembly of Pakistan which categorically mentioned that the ERRA has not put into harness all allocated funds transparently and it must be monitored and checked by public representatives and other watchdogs.

Subsequent to the earthquake some international donors like Department for International Development (DFID) had allocated massive funds for restructuring and strengthening of local government’s bodies; nonetheless, their performance is continuously on the downhill day by day, for instance, in Muzaffarabad which is the largest city of the region, all roads and streets look like a filth depot due to lack of any coordinated cleaning apparatus. The congestion of traffic has also escalating the air and noise pollution and posing various environmental hazards and diseases to the public.

Growing urbanization demands the implementation of latest systems of recycling, solid waste management and green living, but, majority of officials in the local councils do not hold necessary orientation and training to enforce international development and environmental standards where as people are also not aware of the fact that injudicious utilization of natural resources poses threats to their life and natural resources of the region as well. Under this scenario, it is binding upon the public and policy makers to learn about such latest interventions of sustainable livelihood.

It is the responsibility of government to mitigate people’s concern and legitimate reservations about the rehabilitation process through practical measures. The stalwarts in the government should realize that in today’s era of growing transnational communications and awareness created by media public can not be hoodwinked through fake claims and bogus announcements about development and progress. The government has already squandered enough time in claims now people need pragmatic actions, not slogans and must help the helpless.

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