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 30, 2010

Kashmir at Crossroads - 7

Sanjay has lived through the eye of the storm in the last two decades and knows that when things go downhill, something needs to give in

(Mr. Sanjay K. Tickoo, 47, was born and raised in Srinagar, and lives there. After graduating from Hindu High School in Sheetal Nath, Srinagar, he completed his B.Sc. degree from S. P. College, Srinagar. Currently self-employed, his hobbies are reading and traveling. He is among the 4,000 brave Pandit souls who have weathered the worst of the militancy in Kashmir, and is proud to call himself a citizen of Kashmir who stayed put in the valley. He is the President of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti - KPSS.)

A Call for Sanity

The situation in Kashmir has flared up again and Kashmiris feel dejected and isolated by the representatives whom they voted into power in 2008. They have noticed that whenever political disturbances take place in the Valley, political leaders and MLA’s put themselves in safe custody, leaving their voters to the mercy of God or in the hands of leaders who want the conflict to remain in focus on one pretext or other so that their shops continue to operate. Over the past eight months, it has also been observed that proactive statements from Kashmiri leaders who like to present themselves as the true representatives of GOI, must share responsibility for the present crisis that has led to the loss of 14 precious lives during the last fortnight.

The imposition of a curfew to tackle the situation in the Valley has virtually failed. The sentiments of people in general and particularly young people brought up during these turmoil-ridden years has remained the same: against the system, against political parties. The administration needs to be humane while dealing with youths. The local police (around 80,000 policemen of all ranks) ought to be the first to control mobs and the CRPF should only be seen on the streets as a last option. Concerned MLAs should be involved as soon as possible to pacify mobs along with senior citizens of the area. Local women folk can play a vital role in such efforts, but they must be accorded the fullest respect and honour by the administration and police whilst they engage in these tasks.

We have seen political parties both from the opposition or those in power, engage in the tired old practice of blaming one another. The state government should dealt firmly with misunderstandings that (on most ocassions) are created by vested interests in the bureaucracy, and certain police and intelligence officials at the helm of affairs who tend to their own interests and those of their political bosses. Politicians have also been less than honest in their utterance regarding various accords between the state of Kashmir with the Union of India at different points of time. They affirm or backtrack on such accords as per their political taste and convenience. Recently the National Conference and the PDP raised the issue of the Kashmir Resolution yet again and re-created confusion among ordinary people who have already been confused enough over the past 63 years. Kashmir’s political parties carry three flags in their pockets: one for India, one for Pakistan and one for Kashmir. Slogans vary from time to time, and refer to the Kashmir Resolution; autonomy; self-rule; human rights, etc.

College-going students have developed a particular bent of mind which sometimes triggers crises in the Valley. It is hard to blame students, who only reflect the confusion and despair caused by a failure of consensual discourse among their elders. Because of this, and on account of frequent human-rights disasters, politically minded students sometimes gravitate towards extremist slogans. School-going students are the worst-affected and till this day are being deprived their childhood. The official system as well as non-state actors are responsible for this sad impact upon innocent minds in Kashmir. Every political current project itself as society’s saviours, while lacking the sincerity to deal with the situation.

Over and above these dismaying trends, Pakistan has always tried to add fuel to it the flames through their representatives in Kashmir. The installation of a consensual coalition government is the need of the hour in J&K, who ought to take upon themselves to produce a joint draft resolution considering the aspiration of all stake holders in the state.

A joint parliamentarians team should visit the Valley immediately to talk to common citizens in the affected areas. They should engage the separatists’ camp, civil society, college and university level students, and minorities. This will help build peace and pave the way for a composite dialogue with all sections of the population. The Government of India should use its influence on political parties to form a joint crisis-management team and start peace and reconciliation measures on ground zero. Such measures should have the full-fledged backing of Parliament and should function without any interference from local officials in the system who have already done much harm. The Indian Government has placed agents within every institution in the state administration and political parties as well. Whatever be their intentions, these persons have tended to muddy the waters still further. Our political parties also maintain lobbies in the Home Ministry and the PMO – lobbies that function for narrow political gains and that end up creating confusion. There is no evidence of wise conduct during crises from any quarter.

The Union Government claims that around 500 militants remain active in the Valley. If this is so, the AFSPA could be replaced by another, milder law. This will help restore confidence among people, enable them to breathe easier as they go about their daily lives, and maybe even give them a ray of hope. This is a necessary step towards convincing them that the system is serious about settling outstanding political issues.

It should be remembered that the minority communities in the Valley, especially those Pandits who have remained here and stood with the majority community during the worst period of turmoil can play a vital role in facilitating a meaning political dialogue for peace in the state. As a non-migrant Kashmiri Pandit who has lived in downtown Srinagar during the turmoil-ridden years, a staunch Indian, but someone dejected by the gross malfunctioning of the central and provincial systems of governance, I have two major points to make. The first is that the minorities are safe and have very cordial relations with Kashmiri Muslims. The Amarnath Yatra is taking place smoothly and the rest of India need not worry about the yatris. The second is a humble request to the mainstream Indian media, that they be responsible, fair-minded and compassionate whilst covering Kashmir. Please drop the sensationalism and the attitude of reporting only with an eye to your TRP ratings.

The growing despondency, especially among youth, is further fueled by lack of jobs. Currently, for those in the urban areas there are mainly only two choices - government service or shop keeping. Both are "dead end" careers with very little opportunity for self-development and opportunity to join ranks of professionals outside of J&K. Kashmir needs private sector jobs, but private sector will not invest in Kashmir until J&K laws do not comply with standards for full transparency, accountability, protection of private investment and high degree of professionalism in attracting investors. That is not a business-as-usual attitude and both the ruling coalition and separatist have to accept changes in J&K laws to allow liberalized economy that will create new jobs for our idle youth.

The Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti is trying to fill the yawning political gap by interacting with different shades of opinion within and beyond Kashmir. We want nothing more (or less) than to build a consensus for the re-emergence of a plural society in the Valley and to facilitate political conversations among various schools of thought. We want the restration of sanity among all Kashmiris.

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