When Reality Hits Kashmir…

Updated: Sep 20, 2010, 18:53 PM IST

Akrita Reyar

...I wonder what will happen.

Because one reality is this: When India became independent, Jammu and Kashmir was amongst the poorest of all provinces, today, it has perhaps the least poverty. Kashmiris get eight to ten times more per capita central assistance than most Hindi heartland states. While most states get loans, Kashmir gets grants.

I am not going to duck when faced by a volley from Kashmiris, who shout back about the second reality of civilian killings and cases of paramilitary brutality and torture.

I would say… Why do the Kashmiris not see the example of Punjab? What did years of militancy do there? Ruin people’s lives, take away their livelihoods, deny the young a safe childhood and education. Infrastructure was in shambles, and like Kashmir there were stories of security forces excesses. Look at the turnaround today, when Punjab has reclaimed its position as one of the most prosperous states of India.

When rebellion is widespread, civil and human rights unfortunately become a casualty. There is not a country in the world, which does that have innocent blood on its hands. When attacked, security forces retaliate.

Wars, confrontations and protests never have winners, everyone loses.

No one is denying that in Kashmir, there have been cases of paramilitary immoderation. But why is there hypocrisy! For days, Kashmir was aflame on news of a woman being raped by soldiers. Later, when it was confirmed that the woman had been raped and killed by militants, not a mouse stirred. What happened to the Kashmiri conscience suddenly?

I am by no means defending the deaths of innocent civilians. But a death at the hands of the terrorists must also be condemned with the same ferocity. Why for example, did crowds not stone the houses of those separatists whose phone conversations revealed that they were planning civilian deaths to fuel violent protests?

An entire generation has been fed with a utopian dream of freedom. They have rebellion running in their veins today. Little do they realize that such wild dreams are but mirages. Why must Kashmir waste the lives of its youth in the heat of the separatist movement, which is not even thoroughly thought out?

There are some pertinent questions that the Kashmiris must ask themselves. First, when they cry freedom for Kashmir, how do they intend to free that territory which is under Pakistan control?

Second, how would such a small nation sustain? With no mineral or oceanic resources, what will be the economic model of Kashmir? Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had courageously put his stakes on hydel power generated from waterfalls and tourism. Obviously, he has not studied the economies of similar countries like the breathtakingly beautiful breakaway republics of Russia. Else he would have learnt some lessons of financial ruin, political anarchy and hardship faced by citizens. He would have also had to swallow the bitter reality that small nations become mere pawns of larger powers in the game of geo-politics. With China sitting on its head, and Pakistan waiting in the wings, what freedom are Kashmiris talking about?

Third, how will Kashmir fend away claims that Pakistan will make on its territory. Just for the record, Pakistan may call the area it controls as “Azad”, but it is everything but that. All the PoK government moves are dictated by Islamabad. There is massive poverty in the area due to neglected development, blanket ban of press and certainly no “freedom” of the kind that one gets in a democracy. A lot of the PoK territory is also controlled by terrorist organizations and is host to their training camps.

Even the sham elections held in 2005 in PoK were found to have been rigged by General Ashfaq Kayani. Covert reportage reveals that there has been systemic and concerted migration of Pakistan Punjabis into the region, so much so that the demography of the area has been altered. And now there are reports that Gilgit and PoK have been de facto ceded to the Chinese.

Declassified American documents show that Pakistanis had talked back at the US asking it not to preach on Kashmir, as the state was their birth right! Pakistan has more than once said that an independent Kashmir is not a viable option.

Let it be clear that when Pakistan says it supports the freedom movement in J&K, it means the Kashmiris’ movement to breakaway from India and join Pakistan.

So the fourth question is this, are Kashmiris willing to join an economically crumbling and terror-infested Pakistan?

If not, then the fifth question: What happens if there is a repeat of the 1947-48 scenario? Suppose Pakistan sends its troops into J&K the moment it is declared independent, what do the Kashmiris propose to do to defend themselves. Sixty three years earlier, Hari Singh had sought India’s support, what would be the alternatives in this day and age? With the added threat of China sending in its Army, there is no way that Kashmir will not be swallowed by its neighbours.

Barring the similarity of religion- which anyways does not count for much when we see Pakistan’s Bangladesh example - the Kashmiri has very little in common with Pakistan. The entire idea of Kashmiriyat is pluralistic and sufi based, much closer to the idea that sustains India.

When Kashmiris cry themselves hoarse on streets about “Azadi”, have they really thought of the very vital “what next” option?

Or are they too swayed by the hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has declared himself a Pakistani citizen but expects Indian government to provide him the best medical treatment at AIIMS and wants government jobs doled out for his family!

India has indeed made mistakes in Kashmir that it must rectify. The government is already trying. The last assembly elections were the most free and fair in the history of the state. Former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and PM Manmohan Singh’s healing touch programmes have been well-intentioned and thus must be embraced by the Kashmiri people. These are opportunities for Kashmir to turn the corner.

About security forces excesses, the PM is willing to talk and take all appropriate measures to punish the guilty. He has also promised all possible initiatives that will restore normalcy, provided the Kashmiri groups are willing to abjure violence and hold talks within the framework of the Constitution.

Let the Kashmiri throw away the stones which he is pelting with hatred, as these are eventually only scarring his own psyche.

Look at the Sri Lankan analogy. The LTTE torpedoed all peace efforts, all development and reconstruction projects in the northern area, and paid little attention to the living conditions of the Tamils. According to a defence journal report, “Even a USD 4.5 bn aid offered by Japan and other donors was rejected by the LTTE as it was linked to the peace process.”

The separatists are committing the same mistake. They are refusing all friendly overtures and development packages offered by the Centre. The reality is also this. They are too scared of peace.

Kashmir already enjoys a special status. The Central government and India on the whole must psychologically accept its special status to defuse the crisis. Under Article 370, except defence, foreign policy and communication, no Indian law is binding on Kashmir unless it has the concurrence of the state assembly.

It is the only state with its own constitution and with a separate set of laws governing the state’s residents as compared to Indians. Indians can’t even buy property in J&K. Kashmiris, on the other hand, can look for economic opportunities in the rest of India and own property in all major cities. Kashmir’s entire development expenditure (including the enormous Rs 5 bn economic package) is entirely funded by India and not its internal resources. The state will also, in times to come, benefit from the 9% GDP growth that India is witnessing.

What will greater autonomy than this achieve for the Kashmiri?

The separatists need to set aside their self-serving agenda and have the courage to let their people taste peace and the fruits of peace. Normal lives, coffee bars, pre-paid SIMs, boating in shikaras at the Dal and eating roasted chestnuts. Just a couple of years ago, a semblance of this picture was slowly beginning to be achieved. Hurriyat was becoming a moribund outfit, till fresh tensions gave it a new lease of life.

Kashmir due to the mismanagement by Delhi and misconstrued ideas of its own populace today has become a region where even angels fear to tread.

It is high time that Kashmiris come to terms with the truth and make a course correction towards political stability and progress.

Because unless this happens, when reality actually hits Kashmir ….it may already be a paradise lost.