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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Musharraf is Gone, but is Pakistan Following his Game Plan?

Ashraf suggests that Pakistani plan for Northern Areas is consistent with the Mushrarraf Plan and India may follow suit

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, 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.)


Kashmir problem, changing the contours

The Dawn carried a front page story on August 30 about a special package granted to the Northern Areas of Pakistan, “In a landmark decision, the government of Pakistan approved on Saturday a self-governance reforms package for the Northern Areas aimed at giving it full internal autonomy, but without the status of a province, and changed its name to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Under the order, Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly will formulate its own Rules of Procedures, while legislation on 61 subjects will be done by a council and an assembly in their respective jurisdictions. Elections for a new assembly and a chief minister will be held in mid-November. The legislative assembly will have 24 directly elected members, six seats for women and three for technocrats. In order to empower the Council and the Assembly on financial matters, there shall be a Council Consolidated Fund under Article 54 of the Constitution, and Gilgit-Baltistan Consolidated Fund under Article 55. A detailed item-wise budget shall be presented before the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly and shall accordingly be voted upon under Article 56. A ‘supreme appellate court’ shall be headed by a chief judge who will be appointed by the Chairman of the Council on the advice of the governor. Other judges shall be appointed by the chairman on the advice of the governor after seeking views of the Chief Judge. The number of judges has been increased from three to five and the tenure of the present judges of the Supreme Judiciary has been protected in the draft. However, it is debatable whether the grievance of the local people that for the High Court they have to go to Islamabad will be redressed? The new set-up will have a Public Service Commission, a Chief Election Commissioner, and an Auditor General. The federal minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas will act as governor till a new system is put in place.” However, the story is not the full story of this “landmark decision!”

There had been a long standing demand of the people of this area for declaring it as a full fledged province of Pakistan. In fact, the unrest had assumed dangerous proportions and the people had been lately talking about secession from Pakistan. The movement for an Independent Balawaristan had been gaining ground. The misfortune of the people of Northern Areas was that they were neither fully owned by the Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir nor honestly looked after by the federal Government of Pakistan. It was a real tragedy as the people of the area had opted for Pakistan of their own volition in 1947. The administrative set up before the issue of a special order had converted it into something worse than a colony. The Chief Secretary appointed from the Civil Service of Pakistan was the virtual ruler of the area. He was designated as the Chief Executive of the Northern Areas Council. The locally elected representative was only designated as the Deputy Chief Executive. In spite of the growing unrest, the Pakistan Government had resisted the demand for declaring the area as a full fledged province of the country. Of late, there appears to be some change in the thinking of Pakistani rulers in regard to Kashmir. Just sometime back there was another declaration from Pakistani authorities (though it was somewhat diluted subsequently) that an Independent Kashmir may be an ideal solution for the problem.

The timing of both these declarations gives many possible indicators about certain far reaching changes which may be in the offing. It is a foregone conclusion that the Government of Pakistan will never part with Northern Areas now named as Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the most strategic area for them. For Pakistan it is the gateway to China and Central Asia. In practical terms, they would never like this strategic area to be part of any solution which may be arrived at with India. They would rather prefer it to be formally and constitutionally merged with the mainland Pakistan. The new dispensation comes short of a full merger simply because the Government of Pakistan may not like to lose its bargaining power by changing its status as a disputed territory in the UN. Secondly, they may not like to give India a chance to justify its virtual merger of the Indian Administered part of the state. In fact, now there would be two States on the Pakistan side. One officially called the Azad Jammu & Kashmir and the other the new set up in Gilgit-Baltistan which would be almost similar to the already existing one. However, the moot point is whether this dispensation which still leaves unbridled power with the Federal Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas in Islamabad who has been appointed as the Governor of the region will satisfy the people of Gilgit-Baltistan? Moreover, the Federal Council with the Prime Minister as Chairman and the Governor as its Vice-Chairman continues to exist. The elected Assembly and the Federal Council will be a contradiction. The major grouse of the people of these areas has been that they are neither full fledged citizens of Pakistan nor the State subjects of the Pakistan Administered Kashmir officially known as Azad Kashmir. They are floating in the middle! The whole exercise according to a number of leaders of Northern Areas is a delusion of autonomy. Some of these leaders have rejected the package saying it was a cover to give powers to the bureaucracy. The Governor appointed by the President and the Prime Minister would wield the final authority. It is just like a half-full glass of water being offered to a thirsty person. It may temporarily quench the thirst but the basic problem of a colonial type of rule will not be solved and the unrest may continue to simmer till the people achieve their demand for parity.

The move could also be to divert the attention of local people from Diamer-Basha Dam, Bonji Dam, and other smaller Dam projects. The projects of construction of these dams are going to displace many. It appears to be a package for the region’s political elite leaving the common people without any concrete benefits.

It also seems that due to the international dimensions of the problem, the Pakistan Government wants to proceed cautiously by giving autonomy in small increments. Their aim is to neutralise the grievances of the people in this most strategic area without adversely affecting their stand on Kashmir. There is an uncanny resemblance to Musharraf’s four point formula. It could be a start to the implementation of the Musharraf formula on ground. The first step of the formula was to identify the geographical regions having a problem. Seven regions had been tentatively identified by General Musharraf. Now that Pakistan has started identifying and neutralising its regions, India may follow suit. If the Indian Government grants full Union Territory status to Buddhist Ladakh and Statehood to Hindu majority areas of Jammu, Pakistan will have no ground for complaints! India too would be satisfying the long standing aspirations of the people in these areas. There have already been agitations going on in these areas for quite sometime now. This would leave the Kashmiri speaking Muslim majority areas as the ultimate “Problem Areas” thereby changing the contours of the whole problem. There seems to be some sort of tacit understanding between the two Governments to reduce the size of the troublesome area. Kashmir dispute may finally get confined to the valley with its periphery which appears to have become an unending troublesome problem for both the countries. Overtly they may appear to be claiming the entire state as their integral part but covertly they may be genuinely interested in getting rid of the valley with all its decades’ long headaches.

Most of the leaders of the Kashmir’s Freedom Movement on both sides of the Line of Control have opposed the special package claiming that it will damage the Kashmir cause in the long run. However, some are feeling that this move may be a step towards the ultimate solution of the problem. Notwithstanding the varied reactions and responses from different quarters towards this latest Pakistani move, it needs to be conceded that the long term repercussions of this latest so called self-rule package may alter the whole scenario of the basic problem. It is debatable if it would lead towards the ultimate solution of the problem or would complicate it further!

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