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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good Governance Begins With Conscientious Citizenry

Arjimand explores the relationship between governance and a society in conflict and comes up with a provocative conclusion

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Governance-Conflict Debate

Kashmir’s ongoing governance-conflict debate is akin to the classical chicken and egg story.

So what lies at the root of our messy situation? A governance deficit? The basic unresolved political question? None, or both?

We have the ruling National Conference (NC) on the one hand which hates the term ‘bad governance’ every time it is mentioned. NC’s point is that it is not the bad governance but the basic political question of Kashmir that is at the heart of our problems. Many others, on the other hand, feel the contrary.

An objective analysis of this matter makes one thing amply clear: truth lies somewhere in the middle. Our messy situation is as a result of both – the lingering political turmoil which goes beyond governance, and abysmal governance in itself.

And let us accept this reality with grace, without feeling annoyed. Facts are facts.
Let there be no qualms about this: governance is a basic function of the political environment in a political system. And if there is a problem in the very political system, it will correspondingly impact the quality of governance. A political system where democratic principles are not supreme, to expect governance to be just, accountable and transparent would be foolhardy.

If there are factors and forces that undermine democratic functioning through extra democratic means then the system will automatically malfunction. Power will flow from myriad directions, and, eventually, flow in myriad directions too. That has been one of the basic problems with Kashmir.

But this is not the whole story.

A lot of mess in our governance is self made as well. It comes from our collective disdain to discipline, penchant for thriving chaos and a terribly high tolerance to incompetence. But let us also recognize that some of the attitudes that govern these are a by-product of the political uncertainty itself – where basic survival reigns supreme. Where tomorrow remains uncertain, and rules seldom apply.

Let us accept the fact that the reason we are not able to complete a single development project in time these days is that our governance has touched an abysmal low.

A few days back I had an interesting discussion with an official of the Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) and a contractor, responsible for executing the Rs 41.64 crore Rawalpora-Tengpora drainage project.

While talking about the delay in the execution of the project with the two gentlemen, the contractor put all the blame on our ‘work culture.’ He is partly true. We cannot single out a single person or institution for all our troubles.

I think the Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded projects in our state – implemented by ERA - offer a classic case study for us to understand our governance issues.

One of the premises of the loan was that it was meant for ‘post conflict reconstruction.’ And when we say ‘post conflict’ it automatically goes to assume that there is a semblance of stability in the environment where it is supposed to be implemented. But that is where we have erred.

In my personal experience in developing active conflict and post-conflict category reconstruction and development project proposals in several countries, not factoring in risk factors in the project design itself proves a serious mistake.

Now let us see where we stand. The actual implementation on ADB projects began in May 2005. Although 31 Dec 2009 was supposed to be its completion time, the deadline is already extended to 30 June 2011.

It is almost certain that it will not be able to finish the projects by that deadline. As per latest figures made available by ADB, by 30 November 2010, only 65 per cent of the financial disbursements have actually been made. That means we are supposed to spend the rest 45 per cent in the next six months.

The point is that while conceptualizing a project of such a mammoth magnitude, it is critical to identify the sources of risks and contingency plans to overcome those. We cannot pretend all is well with us and then err frequently. A logical framework matrix must list all foreseeable disruptions and identify the systems and the means to overcome these.

Political disturbances are normally cited as main impediments in our project implementation. It is true that a deterioration of security climate results in the flight of non local workers from our projects. But why can’t we factor in this risk factor in our log frame and have contingency plans built in our projects?

If work culture is the problem, there are varied instruments to overcome that. One could, for example, have across-the-board performance appraisal systems and contract conditions – covering consultants, contractors, laborers, engineers, etc. - which minimize the risks and provide for replacements. And conflict and political uncertainty have nothing to do with those. Such instruments are made use of even in the worse conflict situations than ours.

The recent evaluation report by the ADB, prepared by its urban economist Hiroyuki Ikemoto and Project Implementation Officer (PIO) Saugata Dasgupta, clearly point to such deficiencies.

But then some plain accountability and commitment issues also crop up.

The reason we have a single ECG machine serving an entire emergency department at the state’s ‘premier’ medical institute – SKIMS – cannot have anything to do with political uncertainty. Can a political uncertainty prevent such an institute to have a couple of reserve ECG machines? Can political uncertainty inhibit us from deploying 2-3 mobile ECG machines in the emergency observation ward of SKIMS, from where even the most critical patients have to be ‘transported’ to the ECG room to do a cardiograph?

Let us take another example. On Fridays most of the emergency unit personnel take long breaks to attend Muslim prayers in our hospitals. Does our political uncertainty hinder us from having a system wherein non Muslim personnel could be put on duty at that time?

The reason I mentioned these two examples is that I have seen precious lives being lost just for these two small issues.

Then let us take our collective disdain for traffic rules and disrespect for traffic cops.

Most of us tend not to obey traffic rules because we don’t see those who make and are supposed to uphold laws following these. We don’t respect the traffic cop because he asks us for a lift back home every evening. Political uncertainty doesn’t inhibit our traffic department in deploying a few pick-and-drop cabs for these poor cops, even as the officers have cavalcades at their own disposal.

In a nutshell, let us all accept some blame and confess that we can do better in spite of our limitations. We owe our children a better future.

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