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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fissures in Kashmir's Pluralism

Is Sajjad on a roll harping on perceived injustices meted to a hegemonic religious majority or is it another example of regional imbalances in Jammu and Kashmir?

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Leh is not Ladakh

Balanced economic development in three regions of the state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh - has always remained a critical issue. The level of imbalance is easily visible. In other words regional imbalance here is an old talk now where one region has been developing at least economically at the cost of other regions. There is no comparison between Kashmir and other two regions. In the backdrop of projecting Kashmir as an insignificant destination for investment, Jammu and Ladakh have been provided gains and these regions progressed by leaps and bounds.

Whenever investment opportunities in J&K have been discussed at any forum, the authorities have lost no time to project Jammu province while intentionally ignoring the huge unexplored economic potential of Kashmir. We have witnessed large chunk of economic packages meant for the development of Kashmir diverted to Jammu and Ladakh and Kashmiris forced to allow it to happen as mute spectators.

Without going into the details of discriminations which the valley has been meted out when compared with other two regions, let us have a look at the imbalances of the growth even within one region, where one area in the region is suffering for want of even basic needs. Yes, I am talking about Ladakh region where Muslim dominated Kargil district faces discrimination on all fronts and Buddhist dominated Leh has become a priority of the powers at New Delhi as well as at the state level.

The developmental programmes of the Ladakh region have been confined to the Buddhist dominated Leh district. Precisely, economic imbalance between the two districts has been deeply rooted in the region where Kargil has been at the receiving end.

In other words unique topography, remote location, extreme climatic conditions, backward, tribal Muslim populated area and sensitivity due to its border with Pakistan have all made Kargil district in Ladakh region less preferred and less frequented. The district is yet to get its just share of prominence and better opportunities for development. All round development required to improve the quality of life, secure future and above all boost the morale of the totally already disillusioned population continues to remain as a dream. The reason which appears is simply being a Muslim dominated district in the region.

Transporation is one of the most sensitive issues, as Kargil remains cut off from rest of the world for over 7 months a year due to extreme climatic conditions. The only way to reach during this period is air route. Even as Kargil is having an airport, it’s in bad shape craving for upgradation, extensive rejuvenation, expansion and repair works which is pending for a decade now. The runway having current length of 6000 ft needs to be expanded by another 3000 fts so that commercial flights land here. But who cares. As of now only the army flights are being operated. One fails to understand why the authorities are denying private airliners to operate between srinagar – Kargil and jammu – kargil flights. A small aircraft like a fifty seater ATR operating in North Eastern states is the only viable immediate solution to link this remote and sensitive district with rest of the world.

Both, state and the central governments have failed to demonstrate the moral right to govern by giving priority to peoples right and address to the basic issues of economic development even of ordinary nature in the district. Decades old demand of construction of a tunnel across Zojila pass is pending. This is the sole link between Ladakh region and the Kashmir. For about six months the Zojila pass remains snow bound but if a tunnel is constructed across this stretch, it can go a long way to ameliorate the sufferings. It will not only reduce distances but also save time. A proposal costing about Rs.600 crores stands submitted but is pending with military operations.

Basically Zojila tunnel project of around 15 kms in length connecting Ladakh and Kashmir was conceived for free and easy movement of civilian and defence traffic and goods especially during the extreme climatic months when Kargil remains cut off from the main land. The project was approved and in March 2007, Zojila tunnel having 12 kms length at a cost of Rs.1333.00 cr was approved in principle in Lok Sabha. Even global tenders were invited for the project in the same year.

The tunnel will result in a sea change in socio-economic development of the whole Ladakh region in addition to important strategic interest of the Kargil and Leh district. Even it will result in saving crores of rupees, currently being spent for air maintenance and winter stocking of the region both by the army and the civil administration.

Restoring the Khurbathang plateau, which is under army, is yet another huge issue. Even as it was agreed by the army to hand over the Plateau to the local administration after accepting the sanctioned and allocated compensation of Rs.50 lacs, it is yet to be handed over to the administration by the army. Field firing range from Khurbathang Plateau has disturbed the environmental life as well as causing damage to the nearby buildings due to high vibrations. The precious vegetation including herbal and medicinal plants have seriously been affected and are almost facing imminent extinction. The people are not even able to take their cattle for grazing in the hill slopes and this has affected their livelihood. The peoples’ demand to shift the field firing range too has fallen on deaf ears.

Both state and the central governments have failed to demonstrate the moral right to govern by giving priority to peoples’ right and address to the basic issues of economic development even of ordinary nature in the district. While as it is vice versa in the case of Leh. Last week India observed 10th Kargil ‘Vijay Diwas’ – a ritual to pay homage to the Indian soldiers who became victim of the high altitude warfare in mountainous terrain of Kargil in 1999. On one hand, Governments, both State and central, have been projecting the ‘incredible’ role of the people of Kargil in Kargil 1999 war, on the other when it comes to the developmental and economic packages, they turn their blind eye to the district. Kargil has been used for stirring up nationalism across India, but at the cost of the subjects living in the district. Authorities must shun bias and allow Kargil to be the main gateway to the moon land.

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