HERALDING A NEW, INCLUSIVE KASHMIR

by Editorial

The recently proclaimed second Gupkar Declaration by an exclusive ‘Kashmir Valley’ composition of politicians mirrors the crowd participation in the recently concluded IPL, which was played to empty stadiums but delivered and telecast to audiences with pre-recorded cheering. By and large, the declaration’s lame attempt to synecdoche Kashmir separatism appears to be a dying echo in the backdrop of the vanishing Hurriyat legacy.

A glance at the Valley’s political smorgasbord, introspective of the changing times, it is indeed a comedown from the erstwhile “Hurriyat” that vied for secession from the Indian State or for independence, depending on which side of the Pir Panjal controlled the sway. For the Kashmir watchers, however, the declaration seems to be a step for moderation, another rung lower in the opposition to the ultimate and complete amalgamation. As the hues of the terrestrial surface evolve with each changing season, in geopolitical terms, a generation begins to see a change in the militant stance in the valley leadership. Historically speaking, in the 14th century, where it all began, even Shah Mir Alias Sultan Sham ud Din patiently took twenty years to morph a generation and turn the people away from Maharaj Suhadeva and Kota Rani’s Lohara dynasty’s rule. The progress orientation of a state is likewise bound to take time.  But the Middle Ages were dark all across the globe, and while the Shah Mir dynasty was wiping out the pristine heritage of Kashmiri society and religion, halfway across the globe, the ‘Black Death’ was wiping out a third of the European population.

Kashmir has Indian heritage stamped all over it; the pristine heritage is still there to see. As a relic of the past, across the Razdan pass, lies the Sharada Peeth on the banks of the Neelam valley, known in the 6th century as ‘Kashmira Vaasini Sharada Devi’. It is well known that, cradled in the ranges, the avowed shrine of the Sharada Peeth is now in ruins. The connection to mainland India lies deep enough, renewed yet again by the Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE from atop the hill overlooking the Dal Lake. 

A boy carries an old man on his back to cast vote in the first phase of the DDC elections, in Poonch on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

Back in August 1947, when the two nations were born, little was prophesied of the distant future. The accession of Kashmir and the battles valiantly fought, retaining the Valley and Ladakh. Kashmir was a chessboard of military precision; Colonel Manekshaw, then in the Military Operations Branch at Army HQ, clearly remembered the crisp orders that were delivered by Sardar Patel on the mobilization of troops, and rest is history. Within a day from when the Instrument of Accession was delivered at New Delhi and presented to the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, the Indian Army landed at Srinagar with two Indian Army Battalions, namely, 1 Sikh and 4 Kumaon.  The Raiders were driven back from the gates of Shalateng near Srinagar all the way back to Uri.

Down till December 1948, a year and a half of battles and skirmishes followed, with gains in the Valley and to the south of Haji Pir pass, and less success in Gilgit and Baltistan. On Pt Nehru’s insistence, Sheikh Abdullah was taken on board for the complete accession of Kashmir. Time was running out and ‘The Sheikh’ was not interested in the Baltis. Jinnah’s dislike for the Sheikh paid off as the National Conference remained in favour of the accession, by and large. Subsequently, Indian Union Legislations were passed to govern Kashmir. A Sadr E Riyasat and a Wazir E Alam (PM) were appointed.

The Sheikh, after being self-appointed as the Prime Minister, tried to abolish the post of the Sadr E Riyasat,  but Dr Karan Singh and mainland India objected. The Sheikh was imprisoned in 1953.  Article 370 was accordingly introduced in 1954 as a constitutional mechanism. In and out of power for a decade, Sheikh Abdullah realized the futility of an anti-India stance with the defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 war. With many changes, finally a regular governance returned to the Valley with the Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1974, where he returned as the chief minister of J&K.

Till the late 1980s, the Valley settled down to a peaceful existence. It was the time when, for the Kashmiri residents of Srinagar, it was a matter of pride to have the honoured Army or IAS officer as a respected tenant in their bungalows.

THE INCEPTION OF EXTREMISM

The Pakistani Army has a line of infamous dictators who are known for their loss of face in confrontations with the Indian Army. Gen Zia Ul Haq, a Machiavellian dictator who lost the Siachen Glacier battlefield to India, was a man who went about not only radicalizing the Pakistan Army but also the youth of Kashmir, routing weapons into renegade hands in the Valley, much to the chagrin of India. For about a decade after General Zia eliminated the Pakistan PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, he put into effect the operation TOPAC, which slowly changed the Kashmiri youth. In 1989, after the kidnapping and murder of two IAF officers in broad daylight in Srinagar, with slanderous slogans suddenly appearing across the valley, JKLF came to the fore. Terrorism ran its course for three decades after that.

After those three decades of turmoil in Kashmir, the rise and fall of various Tanzeems, the machinations of the Hurriyat, it is a long haul now back to a clear amalgamation of the Valley with mainland India. 

IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW LEGALITIES

On 5 August 2019, in a constitutional move, Article 370 was abrogated and 35A was abolished. The most controversial part was that Article 35A prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the state. Also, non-permanent residents of J & K could not buy immovable property, acquire land, apply for government jobs or any kind of scholarships and aids as well as other public welfare projects, which were exclusively reserved for Kashmiri people. Now, Indians from other states can own property in the Valley as in other parts of the country.

Secondly, the people of J&K will lose their permanent resident certificate and become a general citizen of India. However, the Permanent Residents Law had many restrictions, including the barring of a Kashmiri woman from having any rights to property if she married a person from outside the state. This restriction was extended to her children to have any succession rights over the property. With such restrictions gone, women in the Valley will have greater empowerment.

Thirdly, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will no longer have a separate constitution but shall abide by the Indian Constitution, much like any other state. All Indian laws will be automatically applied to Kashmiris and people from outside the state living in the region.

A separate Union Territory for Jammu and Kashmir is created that will function directly under the central government. Thus, the central government can have better control over the internal security situation in the region that was subject to cross-border terrorism. The Ladakh region, now a full-fledged UT, is on its way to clear the air and focus on local administration without diktats from Srinagar.

There will also be a change in legislative powers. In the future, the J & K Assembly cannot clear any bill on its own as it will require the central government’s nod to do so. In the absence of an elected government in the state, the state governor shall exercise the powers of the elected government. This clause was introduced in February 2019 and the same was exercised to remove Article 370 in August 2019.

Moreover, an agricultural orientation will be encouraged in the region. In 2006, Ganderbal, a small town of North Kashmir, became a district headquarters, as did three other small towns. There was a flurry of construction and urbanization was seen progressing at a fast clip, eroding farmlands. In the past six years alone, the farmlands lost to other purposes stood at 20%.  According to the Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report for 2014-15, the estimated contribution of agriculture to the State Gross Domestic Product has fallen from 28% in 2004-05 to 17%. While 70% of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture, the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture has declined from 85% in 1961, to 28% today, as per a Kashmir Observer article. Farmers have not found other work in J&K, due to the absence of a viable industrial and service sector.

Related to this, the shortfall in food grains, which was 32% in 1950-51, is now at 82% in the region. Almost all the food grains are brought in from Punjab and beyond. Cross-border trade is not only limited but economically unviable as the cost of food grains is much higher in Pakistan-occupied areas across the border where the PDS system is woefully short of its objectives. Self-sufficiency is not a virtue with the state of Kashmir, and amalgamation seemed to be the logical direction in such a scenario, as political responsibility has to rest on provision and productivity. The Kashmiri leaders know this well, and so does the public.

ASPECTS OF POLITY, ECONOMIC INFLUENCE AND MILITARY POWER

There are 10 districts in the Kashmir division with a population of nearly 70 lakhs, while the Jammu division has 54 lakhs in population. Together, the total is nearly equal to that of Uttarakhand. In a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, the population percentage share of the Valley is considerably small but it does have a distinct nature.

They also have been bereft of development or the awareness of economic ability, especially for improving the living conditions of its citizens.  The people of Kashmir are in an estrangement of sorts. But with the amalgamation with Indian side, when the polity is introduced to better amenities, the outcomes will evolve differently.

While the highly subsidized treatment of the state is at the cost of other states, the Kashmiris would also know the conditions across the Line of Control where the public distribution system is woefully short of any decent standards of living. The PDS in the entire nation of Pakistan is in total disarray.

The economic influence of the amalgamation will also be significant. Most Indian states have their signature products with an international reputation, for instance, spices from Kerala, basmati from Punjab, jute from Bengal, and many more.  The situation in Kashmir thus far has not allowed the commercial production of the cash-rich products of saffron and cashmere over the decades due to a lack of capital and the connected issues of acquiring larger equipment for farming.

Surprisingly, Iran and China figure as leading producers of saffron products too. Hopefully, the change of conditions in Kashmir would see Kashmiris stretch out on the infusion of capital from the mainland. Large saffron fields can change the economic profile of the place and Kashmiri farmers can take the full support of the national resources and financial institutions which are open to all.

Finally, there will be changes with the exercising of Indian military power too. The Indian forces wrested Kashmir from the clutches of the tribals in 1947-48. They then took back the Valley and Kargil by the end of 1948. The forces also denied any success to the Pakistani Army in 1965 by making a graveyard of Patton Tanks, and in 1971 as well, by creating an independent Bangladesh out of East Pakistan. The Pakistani Army could not achieve any military gains in Kashmir that they could hold on to. In 1984, they secured the Siachen Glacier and Saltoro ridge too, thus denying hold of the Nubra Valley. Yet again, in 1999, the Pakistan Army was thrown back from encroaching upon Kargil.

Throughout the years since 1990, the Indian forces have adopted a counter-terrorist posture. And over a period of time, right from the onset of the instigated unrest by Pakistan in the valley, our forces inside Kashmir have exercised restraint in the use of force against militancy.

Unlike this, the Pakistani government, in its OP Al Mizan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has bombed its Pakhtoon population using the PAF. That the Pakistan government took hasty decisions is clear, keeping in mind that the Pakistan forces have 20% Pashtoon troops, and it is a slow disaster unfolding now with the construction of a two-tier fence along the 2430 km long Durand Line with Afghanistan.

Such is the intransigence of the confused state, that the top leaders of Pakistan now even go to the desperate extent of blaming Indian agencies of operating terror outfits from Afghanistan and causing terror attacks inside Pakistan.

CHALLENGING THE CHARGE OF ANNEXATION

Anne Woods Patterson, an American diplomat and career Foreign Service Officer, served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2013 to 2017. The esteemed diplomat served as the United States Ambassador to Egypt until 2013 and as the United States Ambassador to Pakistan from July 2007 to October 2010.  On the controversial John Fredericks Show on August 9, 2019, while she did comment on Modi’s brilliant chess move in boxing in Trump on Kashmir, she stressed upon the term ‘annexation’. One can attribute this largely to her affinity to Pakistan as diplomats are likely to have a sympathetic attitude towards the country they served in abroad.

This latent issue has now been set alight before the world comity by the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. Constitutionally speaking, though not in the prime segment, being in the XIIIth schedule, Article 370 was to be a temporary measure. However, the article held back the amalgamation and nationalization of Jammu and Kashmir – a stage curtain for the nation of Pakistan to avoid state action.

In granting special status to J&K, Article 370 had, for the past seventy years, lent a get-away for a financially disabled nation like Pakistan, which fed the Kashmir rhetoric to all and sundry. The slogan was catchy – ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ – and the unwitting masses lapped it up while it served the purpose of the ruling quasi-civilian government, its super rich elite and, last but not the least, the largest conglomerate of the Pakistani nation, the ubiquitous Pakistan Army.

A sense of disillusionment is rife in Pakistan. For the Pakistani leadership, the writing is on the wall. Going by what Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party observed recently in his article post the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan (and Imran Khan) should be worried about defending Muzaffarabad rather than taking Srinagar.

WELCOMING THE SUNRISE IN KASHMIR

Needless to say, the state of Kashmir had been bereft of any serious development for many decades largely as a result of exclusive politics and policies. The regional parties avoiding mainstream politics had been acting to the economic detriment of the state. They were kept out by vested interests which discouraged the spread of awareness about the Indian industrial potential in the Valley. The nation has come a long way in introducing the railways in the Valley and that has been spontaneously targeted by the separatists. The infusion of mainland Indian labour, capital and infrastructure and being subject to the Indian Penal Code, rather than an archaic system, will see a different tomorrow and be a harbinger of progress and prosperity in times to come.  Till then, it is imperative for the political will of the mainstream to convince the polity to believe in the strength of this nation and be aware of the economic and social precipice of the adversary across the Shamshabari.

The author is a veteran of the armed forces having served four tenures in Jammu and Kashmir including the 1999 Kargil conflict. He has also served in Ladakh and in the Siachen Glacier. He is now pursuing research in defence and strategic studies.

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