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.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thanks, but no Thanks

Mr. Bukhari has a valid point when he says that Army's off-the-cuff sound bites are lethal to Kashmir's tourist trade

(Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, 72, was born in Kreri in Baramulla District. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmir Media Group that publishes the English daily, Rising Kashmir, and soon-to-be launched Urdu daily, Bulund Kashmir. He had his early education in Sopore, Beerwah and then in Srinagar where from he got his post-graduate degree in English from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and took up job as a teacher in higher education department. He taught English in various colleges in Kashmir took voluntary retirement in 1995 as Professor. Even though not a professional journalist by training, he has been extremely successful in the field, launching SANGARMAL, the first ever multi-coloured Kashmiri newspaper from Srinagar which is now in its fourth year. Later in 2008, he created the Kashmir Media Group. His interests are reading and writing and building value based institutions.)

Don’t Press the Panic Button

Repeated “revelations” about presence of militants and predictions about a “hot summer” ahead by the top brass of Defense authorities in Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu do not augur well for the forthcoming tourist season in Kashmir. As widely covered by print and electronic media throughout India, these “sensational” statements are bound to cause scare among thousands of prospective tourists who intend to visit Valley.

The first statement came from Gurmeet Singh, Brigadier General Staff at 15 Corps headquarters who maintained that 400 militants were ready to cross to this side this summer. According to him 300 militants were active in Kashmir Valley. This was followed by his counterpart in Jammu Brig Gurdeep Singh who talked in same breath but gave out the cumulative figures of whole state putting the number of militants at 2500. In other words nearly 500 militants would “create a havoc” in the state in coming months. It did not stop there only but General Deepak Kapoor, few days before he handed charged to General V K Singh, too predicted a “hot summer” in the state and his Defence Minister A K Antony corroborated the statement by claiming rise in infiltration.

These statements from Army’s top brass raise many eyebrows than putting in place a “genuine concern” for the situation. It has come at a time when Jammu and Kashmir government is trying its best to sell its ambitious plan of “Visit Kashmir 2010” throughout the world. This is the time for such people to plan and head for Kashmir coming summer. But Army’s “media savvy” officials chose to hype the situation and created more scare than acting as “ambassadors of security”. The statement that it is going to be a “hot summer” is surely going to put a spanner on any “good development”. Notwithstanding the fact that there has been some spurt in the violence in recent past but it should not have been branded as alarming as the top security officials tend to do. These sensational “outbursts” raise crucial questions. It is not new to know from Army that militants are being trained across and pushed to this side. But to give a headcount of them and the location of training camps does not match with the wisdom the Army should have followed in creating an atmosphere for peace in Valley. Army’s presence in Kashmir is extraordinary and is here to tackle a situation, which at one point of time was out of control for local police. The message these statements carry for the prosperity in the tourism industry is more than dangerous. Army’s job is to instill confidence among the minds of the people who in their terms otherwise are at the receiving end of militants. Creating more panic among the people cannot fight the war with militants. Psychological operations are not carried in a conflict situation on these lines but they have a definite shape. Ironically the Army’s top brass in Srinagar is otherwise “out of bound” for the media but if it intends to “create a situation” then media is invited and asked to carry the message. Unfortunately this message is negative for the overall health of state in general and Valley in particular.

The timing of “these extraordinary messages” takes us to another angle of this “wrongdoing”. Past experiences have shown that such acts are being done as part of a conspiracy though one cannot easily doubt the sincerity of officers at the helm. Last year when tourism season was at its peak in Kashmir, a section in media was fed with the story that Taliban were heading towards Valley. This gave a severe blow to the season and there was abrupt decline in the inflow though Taliban are still far away from Kashmir. Earlier also some “vested interests” in the security establishment made selective leaks to create panic among the prospective tourists. This somehow looks like a pattern that a strong lobby is working round the clock to cause damage to economic development in the state.

Recently a high level meeting was held in Delhi in which it was decided to take effective steps to boost the LOC trade. The plan was yet to be finalized that stories started making rounds that LOC trade was being used for sending Hawala money to Kashmir. Sending Hawala money to Kashmir is not a new thing and it has come through all the sources and entry points including Nepal and Bangladesh. Government of India for its own weaknesses has not been able to completely plug those holes and the nexus within the establishment is also help to flourish such illegal processes. But only to abort any successive step towards LOC trade such stories are given hype.

These statements deserve a serious consideration as to why it was made at a time when state is bracing for successful tourist season. There is a room for debating them in isolation. This sometimes gives credence to common perceptions in Valley that “major acts of militancy” are “state-managed” and is carried to abort a particular atmosphere. This is time to take any such “irresponsible officer” to task so that the upcoming months pass peacefully with good dividends. Here the Tulip garden is blooming, spring is at its peak, traders look forward to a fruitful summer but Army is there to play a spoilsport. Even if militants are coming fight them out, you are armed with Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But don’t create panic and give an impression that Kashmir is burning.

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