Kashmir: After peace what?

By K.N. Pandita

Militancy has come down in the valley not uprooted. Sporadic instances of violence will continue for a long time even if Indo-Pak détente succeeds. Jihadis will not give in that easy.

The State establishment is reconciled to the see-saw between peace and occasional scenarios of violence. It has not an option. Thus, theoretically, peace does return to the strife-torn valley.

What more concessions can the state or the central governments make to appease the habitual protesting masses in the valley? Concessions will have to be carved out and made and this will go on for a long period. It should not hurt anybody. 

But the crisis is brewing within. Forget good governance, even the governance is a far off cry. The reason is government’s acquiescence to the strongly fortified bureaucracy. A good section of upper echelons of bureaucracy is happy and satisfied with its endemic ambivalent posturing vis-à-vis militancy. Nationalist segment among the bureaucracy is tactically sidelined from wielding any meaningful influence and made toothless. Moreover, it would not take up cudgels with a system that is hardly sympathetic and cooperative.

Creation of Panchayat Raj system will become meaningful only when we know the slew of powers given to them. Entrenched political parties, especially those having tasted power for a long time, are loath to share power with any other institution. We cannot take the rhetoric of the Chief Minister on the importance of Panchayati Raj for granted because it is not only the CM who matters.

Kashmir civil society is a mix of contradictions and conflicting emotions. Azaadi slogan hitherto held close to breast is becoming more and more elusive as days pass by.  Even the local political class including the mainstream political parties sits cross fingered.

New Delhi’s policy of opening its coffers upon Kashmiris but not relenting on their separatism syndrome has paid dividends. Even Hurriyat, once euphoric about Pakistan and brandishing their visits to Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi as a scoring point, has lost its utility and shine. Ali Shah Geelani sees no merit in stone pelting by the youth and getting killed.

In the new structure that is evolving Kashmir nationalism has become the casualty. Apathy towards development of Kashmir is becoming the hallmark of even saner elements in Kashmir society. It is like no-man’s land. The ruling coalition is incapable of taking any strong action against offenders of civic rights, land grabbers, encroachers, vandals, tax evaders, corrupt government functionaries, swindlers, bank robbers and scamsters.

The opposition is rudderless, and India-bashing, the cherished slogan to keep its herd together is also loosing its force. It has shifted from internationalizing Kashmir issue to local problems and at best is catering to its vendetta against the ruling NC.

Moral and ethical standards have eroded. Loud and thunderous sermons by the religious priests in mosques and Friday congregations relayed through powerful loudspeakers die down before they reach the ears of the audience.

Promiscuousness has become rampant. Over twenty-five thousand prostitutes are reported to be functional in the city of Srinagar and sex scandals in which senior government functionaries and police personnel are involved are wrapped under carpet. Public and autonomous organizations are rife with corruption and bribery and nepotism on the part of ministers and MLAs is endless.

Kashmir’s ecology is fast dwindling. Water bodies are shrinking and getting more and more polluted. Jhelum has become an apology for a river. Forests are turning into barren lands and agriculturists are shifting to other professions including poppy cultivation and narcotics because agriculture has become a deficit sector owing to the negligence by the government.

In universities, research has come down to its nadir. Look at the laughable subjects for which Ph.D or M.Phil degrees are awarded endlessly and that too after giving hefty scholarships to the researchers. Agricultural universities or the Engineering colleges in the state have not been able to produce a single item of utility to the consumers.

With Pakistan struggling against home-bred terrorism, and in the process getting more and more exposed and humiliated in the eyes of international observers, has lost popularity with the Kashmiris. Of course there are some who still think that by distancing from Pakistan they are losing a patron and support structure. How long will they go on with this illusion is to be seen.

Resentment against Amarnath pilgrims has abated once the locals found that it has great financial implications for them. Imagine economy generated by a four lakh strong body of pilgrims spending weeks and months in Kashmir to take their turn for the visit to the holy shrine. Ordinary taxi or auto driver, hotelier, restaurant owner, boatman, vegetable vendor, houseboat owner and others understand how fast they can make bucks during the pilgrimage season. As such the anti-yatra passion is steadily dying down and the politicos who had nursed it are sitting with drooping heads.

Kashmir Valley will be restored to its pre-militancy vibrancy and activism only once the railway link from Baramulla to Delhi becomes operational. That will change the entire mindset of the local population. The ghetto-ism to which it has been used will break and new vision and new thinking will dawn. In particular trade and commerce will receive boost. And in due curse of time entire Kashmir will be linked by rail link to the remotest town in the country.

One can have the futuristic vision of Kashmir also. In the light of Indo-Pak relations taking a new turn and reversing the old acrimonious chapter, we may easily conclude that Kashmir’s connectivity will see a new dawn. We can have connectivity with Central Asia via Pakistan and Afghanistan. We can also expect a branch of the TAPI gas pipeline to be brought to Kashmir. We can also expect a road or rail link to China via Ladakh. These are dreams but these are realizable dreams. If that happens, then Kashmir will become the hub of Asian trade, culture, strategies and human interaction.

This should be the vision of policy planners in Kashmir. The local peace is not the end game. Peace has wider implications, for the entire region and not for just a part of the Indian sub-continent.

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