The round table meet organized by a think tank last week in Delhi on J&K was attended by considerable number of MPs, MLAs and MLCs from J&K, besides some other MPs and policy analysts. Amidst vehement expression of sentiments, desperation, arguments and acrimony, speakers from J&K made the following points in general:
- The population is unequivocally with India, leaving few separatists.
- No feedback from various dialogues, conferences, deliberations of GoI appointed interlocutors has ever been conveyed to J&K’s population.
- Promises made by Delhi are hollow with ‘nothing’ actually given.
- Little development and lack of power.
- Corruption in J&K is ‘double’ than in rest of India.
- Unemployment lures youth to militancy (seven and a half lakh post graduates unemployed).
- Locals perceive CM, MLAs and MLCs as agents of Delhi.
- Panchayats and local bodies are without any powers.
Views differed on 'peace having returned' to Kashmir. An independent MLA from Kupwara was of the view that there would be certain chaos if security forces are removed from the area but said corruption in Police forces locals to frequently dish out up to Rs 10,000-15,000 on false charges. Another MLA from Kupwara was of the view that prevailing peace is a misnomer with increased militancy in Pakistan and a political solution was not all since lack of development and unemployment were intimately linked to militancy, both of which remain un-addressed. He recommended a trilateral dialogue of India-Pakistan and mainstream politicians of all political parties of J&K.
On the issue of hollow promises, an MLA from Kupwara said that when the Maharaja of Kashmir gave accession to GoI, it was for the ‘whole of Kashmir’, which comprises today’s seven regions - Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh, POK, COK (China Occupied Kashmir – Aksai Chin and Shaksgam Valley), Gilgit-Baltistan and Northern Areas of Pakistan. He said when the Indian Parliament passed a resolution in 1994 that Kashmir is integral to India, GoI should at least unify Kashmir even if other promises remain unfulfilled. As per him the situation is compounded because along with Hindu migration, Hindu politicians too migrated out. He wanted the centre to address ground level issues more rather than announcing major development projects.
The issue of autonomy was vehemently advocated by politicians from the valley, on grounds that it existed earlier. Speakers from Jammu and Ladakh wanted reorganization of J&K on grounds that they were not getting their fair share from the state govt. Speakers from Ladakh forcefully talked of discrimination on the grounds that Ladakh physically is 2/3rd of J&K, a separate geopolitical entity with aspirations of its own, which has defended Indian territory always but only has two MLAs. Their demand was that J&K be renamed J&K&L (Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh).
An MLA from Jammu pointed out the annual expenditure of Rs 300 crores for the Durbar move from Srinagar to Jammu and back, started in 1872 by the Maharaja of J&K, can be ill-afforded today by a cash-strapped J&K. Attendant problems of this move include moving the Chief Justice without the High Court retinue, which makes tracing case-files difficult and results in losses causing avoidable hardship.
More specific issues that emerged are as follows:
- An MLA from Jammu accused valley politicians of having made militancy an industry.
- Ladakh and Jammu region are discriminated in allotment of funds by state govt and grants by the centre— reorganization of the state is required.
- Ladakh has poor roads, little power and poor tourism infrastructure despite considerable potential.
- Displaced persons (both side of the border including on account of 1965 and 1971 wars) cannot vote.
- Reserve constituency census is slated only in 2026.
- Gujjars have been accorded reservations under SC/ST but Paharis are denied same despite promises made years back.
- VDCs (Village Defence Committees) who fight militants get measly monthly stipend of Rs 3000 which has to be shared amongst 7-8 persons.
- Schools / hospital burnt by militants need to be re-built.
- Large part of local employment is courtesy Army in border areas but payment of compensation for land occupied by Army is pending since years.
- GoI projects bring their own Bihari labourers, denying employment to locals.
- Tangdhar Bowl remains cut off for months every winter but no tunnel has been planned.
- Obtaining passports takes years and even denied on grounds of verification in case a relative is in Pakistan.
- Dialogue with Pakistan is necessary for reopening Poonch-Kupwara Road closed since 1947.
- GoI should register unemployed youth of J&K and give reservation in job opportunities outside J&K.
- Investments in J&K should be encouraged that will provide youth jobs.
The charge of ‘double corruption’ and local bodies not empowered by valley politicians is absurd as they themselves are responsible for such ills. Militancy having become an industry is not untrue either considering alleged PDP links with HuM and Hurriyat with Pakistan including Geelini’s alleged link with LeT, as reported recently. How does private industry invest in the valley till fear of gun prevails? To say that valley population received nothing from GoI is untrue considering crores of rupees given (without demanding accountability), power projects, railway and most importantly Article 370 of the Constitution while demography of both POK and Tibet have been drastically altered by Pakistan and China through outside settlers.
Removal of AFSPA from any area implies removal of army. There is a danger of politicians interpreting Pakistan's tactical pauses as peace having returned. Pakistan's terror capacity is not only intact, it is being upgraded. The aim of Pakistani intrusions in Kargil was not only to cut off Siachen but also to relieve pressure on militants in Kashmir valley and they did succeed in forcing the shift of 8 Mountain Division from the valley to Kargil. The army takes no pleasure by operating in counter insurgency but deliberate creation of free spaces facilitating terrorist havens would be disastrous to national security. Removal of army from any areas should never be done without consulting the army otherwise the situation can go out of hand with terrorists declaring liberated zones / pledging secession to Pakistan. Hopefully Omar Abdullah has grasped this from briefings at the Unified HQ after his independent declarations for removing AFSPA from known trouble spots in the Valley.
Development is certainly slow but then look at the dirt track called NH 220 in Bastar area compared to roads in Kashmir valley or for that matter lack of development in the gigantic Maoist insurgency area spanning some 17 states. While this is no excuse, valley politicians must also look at lack of development elsewhere in India and do their bit. Significantly, there are no beggars in the valley. Unemployment certainly should be addressed both by the state and GoI. 65% of Indian population today is age 35 and below. If jobs for them are not created in suitable timeframe, youth could veer towards terrorism and insurgency.
Transparency is also warranted on part of GoI. We could have five year development plans for J&K (Ladakh and Jammu included) with provision of accountability in execution, for which, ombudsmen could be appointed. Plans could be publicized with clarification that implementation will only occur if the population desists from support to militants. Other above issues can be addressed conjointly by the centre and J&K state especially since NC supports Congress. A standing body with staff could be appointed for coordination, if considered necessary. Major lacunae exist in the centre-state responsibilities. For example, GoI develops power projects but transmission lines are state responsibility. Power projects have been inaugurated without transmission lines to villages in the past. Valley politicians should also know that affixing the rates of compensation for land occupied by army and its disbursement is not the responsibility of the army but that of local administration which function under the politicians themselves.
GoI should take serious cognisance of the charge of discrimination by the Jammu and Ladakh regions (repeated over many years) to ensure they get their share of funds and development and consider reorganization of the state, if warranted. Why should Ladakh not have a railway? Ladakhis have been saying for years they are ignored because they have not picked up the gun. Post the mudslide that devastated Leh, media reported Civil Hospital, Leh was even without a mortuary since funds were not sanctioned by Srinagar against demand pending for many years. The Buddhist request for a small piece of land in Kargil to construct a Gompa since past 15 years has been ignored. No Buddhist can buy land in Kargil since past decade and in fact, even Buddhists military veterans coming from Padam (220 kms south of Kargil) cannot get accommodation in Kargil hotels. GoI can ignore all this only at its own peril. Pakistan has already raised a Shia terrorist organisation in Baltistan post move of terrorist camps into Baltistan in 2004. Recently, an Urdu daily in Pakistan reported possible leasing of Gilgit-Baltistan areas by Pakistan to China for next 50 years. The strategic implications should be very clear. Whether autonomy is given to J&K or not, autonomy to Ladakh is certainly warranted.
Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army