“Nero fiddled while Rome burnt.”
In July of the year 64 CE (Common Era) a great fire ravaged Rome for six days destroying seventy percent of the City and leaving half its population homeless. According to this well-known expression, Rome’s Emperor at that time, the decadent and detested Nero “fiddled while Rome burned”. Unpopular as an Emperor and ineffective as a leader, it was even then believed that Nero started the fire in order to clear the land for his planned lavish palaces. Kashmir Valley is being burned similarly by Pakistan with its pipe dream of gobbling up Kashmir. It does not care for the plight of the people.
The presence of the Army generates employment for many segments of the state economy. If such selfless service by the Army on behalf of the government is not enough to ‘win hearts and minds’ then nothing will ever.
Pakistan’s stooges in the Hurriyat sit secure in the wings watching this with glee, confident in the knowledge that their kith and kin are safe and well settled in distant lands. So they let Kashmir burn. The Kashmiri politician does not have a voice or the leadership to make any impact. And so Kashmir burns regardless of them.
As has been so clearly brought out by a number of authors writing on the Kashmir issue that J&K is more than just the 120 km into 100 km Vale of Kashmir. For that matter Kashmir district also includes little heard of but significant areas beyond the Shamshabari Mountain Range – barricading the Valley in the North. This Mountain Range emanates from Kala Pahar situated North-West of Baramulla right up to a peak locally named Vajr Top situated on the boundary with Kargil district. The average height of this range is over 3500 metres (11,500 feet) with Vajr Top rising to around 5200 metres (17, 500 feet). In winters the snowfall along the top of the ridge accumulates to as much as 20-30 feet.
Four or for that matter five important habited areas of Kashmir District lie North of this mountain range – Tangdhar, Keran, Macchal, Davar-Gurez, and Neru-Barub-Chakwali. These locations are connected to the Valley over passes which remain closed from December to May, except Nastachung Pass (also called Sadhana Pass) leading to Tangdhar which is opened every time after a snowfall. The effort of the Border Roads to clear the pass for traffic, at times, takes a week depending on the volume of snow accumulated during that particular bout of snowfall.
So what – how does this alter the Kashmir issue? Firstly, the people in these areas are Gujjars and Paharis, they speak a language that is different from Kashmiri. Secondly, for minimum five months of the year they are cut off from the Valley due to the blocked passes and depend on the Army for help in all sorts of emergencies. And these emergencies range from fire in any of their dwelling, risking their own lives to rescue people trapped in an avalanche or house collapse due to heavy snowfall, they extend help to the distressed family by providing them snow tents and even rations and fuel for survival. The Army also helps them in reconstructing their dwelling. These people depend on the Army for medical emergencies, for making up deficit of government stocked ration or Kerosene oil if it runs out; the list goes on and on. Their survival in tough times in these remote areas is ensured by the Army and these people openly acknowledge it and on their part they maintain the best relations with the Army.
Since these areas are remote and far from Srinagar, their voice has been drowned out by the raucous clamour of the ravings of the gangs igniting Srinagar.
For them the Army presence matters more than that of the Kashmiri’s.
There exists perfect harmony between this population and the Army. Since these areas are remote and far from Srinagar, their voice has been drowned out by the raucous clamour of the ravings of the gangs igniting Srinagar. They are not ‘mainstream’ and so have no say in charting the course of their own future.
In defining solutions to the present situation many armchair experts have asked that the Government to “win the hearts and minds” of the locals. Long before this expression became a cliché, the Indian Army has been practicing it.
The Operation Sadhbhavana, has been the Army’s ongoing effort to alleviate the difficulties of the population in far flung corners of the state. Operation Sadhbavana encompasses so many facets of governance that the local administration and State Government should be undertaking but these being defunct the responsibility falls on the Army (including Rashtriya Rifles) deployed there. The schemes range from constructing and helping in the running (and often even maintenance) of micro and mini hydro-electric power plants; constructing, furnishing and administering pre-primary and primary schools; conducting all India tours for the school going children, these are much sort after and the terrorist regularly warn parents not to send their wards to Army run schools. Selected boys are given full financial assistance to study in Army Public Schools – in Nagrota, near Jammu, and even outside the State in Beas, Punjab, as boarders in these schools. Tours are even conducted for the seniors citizens both men and women – most of who had never even been to Srinagar. Regular medical assistance is made available round the clock including disbursing medicines and evacuation if the case warrants.
What is being done for these people through the Ministry of Defence’s funds is way beyond what the Army does for their own war-disabled, war widows and their children or even for the children of the serving Army personnel. The presence of the Army generates employment for many segments of the state economy. If such selfless service by the Army on behalf of the government is not enough to ‘win hearts and minds’ then nothing will ever.
The truth is that the Kashmiri youth has been radicalised by the propaganda of fundamentalist ‘wahhabi’ Islam by the perpetrators from across the Line of Control.
In the early 90’s militant and terrorist activity was limited to the Valley. The Muslim of Rajouri-Poonch area did not lend succour to the movement as he and the Kashmiri Muslim are as different as chalk and cheese. The mentors in Pakistan quickly realised it. So to compel all Muslims to support the militancy they gave it the overarching allure of Islam and Jihad – Holy War. They thus ignited the areas of Poonch, Rajouri, Gul-Gulabgarh-Mohr, Doda-Kisthwar, and Ramban-Banihal; all areas South of the Pir Panjal Range – that shields the Kashmir Valley.
The only artery to Srinagar from Jammu runs through Udhampur-Patni Top-Ramban-Banihal-Jawahar Tunnel- Anantnag- on to Srinagar. This became a prime stretch to target Army administrative convoys and government supplies to the Valley and Ladakh, particularly along the stretch between Ramban and Banihal. This is a 50 kilometre stretch of road with treacherous gorges on one side and sheer vertical cliffs on the other. The convoys were most vulnerable to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) remotely activated.
Sanitising this route was achieved by the dedicated commitment of so many soldiers – the unsung heroes – who maintained a round the clock vigil and by the immaculate drills formulated to search every nook and cranny all along the road – all 300 kilometres of it – to ensure no IED got planted anywhere. Alongside this effort was that of pickets being established to deny the terrorist any secure area from where he could remotely activate any IED or bring down small arms or rocket launcher fire on the convoys. True the effort is expensive in resources, but to for India’s resolve to thwart the terrorist’s and Pakistani’s game plan no price is too big.
There is this talk in Round Table Discussions of the numerous ‘Think Tanks’ in Delhi and its famous cocktail circuit where glib pronouncements are made on ‘empowering’ the Kashmiri youth. The truth is that the Kashmiri youth has been radicalised by the propaganda of fundamentalist ‘wahhabi’ Islam by the perpetrators from across the Line of Control. The reality in the Valley is that at night these gangs roam the streets and are a law unto themselves. Like the youth from the western democracies they too are influenced by the virulent diatribes of the fiery mullahs of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Saudi funds for madarssas and mosques need to be curbed in totality. y the perpetrators from across the Line of Control.
Through the social media network Burhan Wani and their ilk have given a ‘glamourous’ image to picking up the gun against the State. The gun gives the power to get the ‘hoors’ here even before these entitlement are due in ‘jannat’. These radicalised youth will not stop short of ‘sharia’. And the manifestation of ‘sharia’ for them is to impose restrictions on women – that is already happening in the Valley.
In these circumstances a rational interaction with anyone in the Valley is impossible. As a starter, steps need to taken to blackout all sorts of communication emanating from POK and directed towards J&K. Communication towers in POK need to be located and identified and jammed if not destroyed. Easy availability of fake currency has to be tackled on war-footing – the reality is that seven-eight years back, fake Rs 1000/- note could be purchased for Rs 600/- and a Rs 500/- note for Rs 300/- . Saudi funds for madarssas and mosques need to be curbed in totality. The State Government is surely aware of this colossal racket but it has not interfered with it as it suits all, the politicians and separatists. It is accepted as a profitable fallout of the “business of terrorism”.
The number of newspapers, forty-five of them, originating from Srinagar is more than that from any other large metropolis in India. Some do not even carry any advertisements. How do such newspapers sustain the cost of their daily print production? Obviously, through Pakistan’s ISI’s funds. The conduits of this funding need to be tracked down. There have been recommendations to the Central Government to demonetise the Rs 1000/- and Rs 500/- currency notes. Reasons for not doing so, to curb such activities, need to be explained. The State and Central governments are sure to have full knowledge of these activities but have never acted to crack down on these blatant acts of subversion of the population.
The purge of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was a planned action to ‘cleanse’ the Valley of non-believers.
Contrary to ‘universal’ belief, it is a considered opinion that the root cause of the divisive nature of Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India lies squarely at the doorstep of Article 370. It has been a damning legislation if there ever was one. This Article gives the Kashmiri a sense of being special and different. An aura of exclusivity has been created for the Kashmiri Muslim of the Valley, for which they continue to extract a price. The purge of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley was a planned action to ‘cleanse’ the Valley of non-believers. Not granting citizenship to over two lakh refugees from Pakistan Punjab who migrated in 1947 is being done to further reinforce this exclusivity.
The J&K argument is that these refugees came from places of Pakistan Punjab (Sialkot-Shakar Garh area) and not POK and hence should be settled in the rest of India but will not be given citizenship of J&K. To drive in this point deeper, these refugees are voting in Indian Parliamentary elections but are not permitted to vote for J&K State Assembly elections in the same constituencies.
It is time that the Central Government demand that for every citizen of J&K settled elsewhere in India a reciprocal vacancy for citizenship is given to any non-J&K Indian wishing to settle in J&K. The opposition to such scheme is because as of now all non citizens running businesses in J&K do so using the name of some resident for which he is paid handsome amounts annually, as a sort of system of ‘royalty’. Most certainly those benefiting from the existing format are politicians and influential members of society who don’t want to give up these perks. Seeing such palatial houses and lavish living styles of a significant segment of the people in the Valley, one is constrained to wonder wherefrom such wealth had been garnered.
Appeasement of Kashmiri’s has led them to conclude that the process is one sided ‘take and take more’, ‘give’ does not figure in their scheme of things.
An incident will substantiate the point. A lawyer and his family from Muzzafrabad were visiting their relatives in Srinagar. On their return they interacted with some military intelligence personnel at the Uri crossing point. The lawyer remarked that he was surprised to hear people in the Valley saying they were ‘oppressed’. He further added that for the duration they were in Srinagar this relative treated them to lavish ‘wazwan’ twice a day. He mentioned that though they were reasonably well off in POK, they could afford a non-vegetarian meal just twice or thrice a week.
J&K crisis is not an issue that can be treated by cosmetic surgery. The subcutaneous lymphatic system deep under is cancerous and diseased. There are causes beyond the superficial that have increased the drift. Appeasement of a small segment of population has been the bane. Gujjars and Paharis of Kashmir district cannot be left out when talking on the situation of the Valley. In general, talks between parties are progressed to get to a negotiated solution. Negotiation is a dialogue process that is based on ‘give and take’.
Appeasement of Kashmiri’s has led them to conclude that the process is one sided ‘take and take more’, ‘give’ does not figure in their scheme of things. No talks will bear fruit. The Central government has to act tough on the those issues that are not addressed by the ultra-liberalists and TRP craving media – subversive efforts, clandestine funding, conduits of funds, citizenship, reciprocal citizenship, clamping the virulent so called ‘dailies’ of Srinagar, and accountability and transparency in spending public funds. The administration network is so porous that it soaks up funds of all sorts. It is hard to imagine the ingenious methods innovated to siphon off funds.
Finally, if Punjab could be split into three states, UP into two; Bihar, MP and Andhra too were divided and new states formed, it is time to debate curving out a new state of Jammu and a UT of Ladakh. There are question that need to be addressed. Firstly, will such a move dilute India’s claim to the region of POK? Secondly, do we have the political WILL to initiate ALL measures necessary to get back POK? Your guess is as good as mine.
First published in August 2016.