During last 70 years or so Kashmir has off and on faced one or the other turmoil. In fact, it has seen four wars between its neighbours. There have been some periods of apparent calm but the uncertainty has been always floating under a calm surface. All these years have seen improvement in the living conditions, economic development and a rise in the standard of living of the general population. Apart from that it has also seen growth of a capitalist class where some people dealing in various commercial concerns have made considerable amount of money. Till the start of the nineties various upheavals were not so disruptive except the one witnessed during the holy relic agitation. There would be some turmoil and after some time the things would settle back. However, after the violent turmoil of nineties which resulted in the death of over 50,000 people the things have never been normal. Especially, after the Amarnath land row, there have been violent agitations in 2008, 2010, 2012 and the worst one was in 2016 on the killing of Burhan Wani. After the election of 2014 with the subsequent formation of a coalition government, the entire valley has been functioning like a simmering volcano which keeps on erupting off and on.
Kashmir has now become a virtual prison. The ground reality of Kashmir was described by the European Union delegation some years back. They called it a “Beautiful Prison”! Kashmir has been given many other names and attributes in the recent times. It is called a nuclear flashpoint, most dangerous place on earth and a troubled paradise. It is supposed to be South Asia’s hot spot. The most militarised place on earth. In fact, most of the western countries advise their nationals to avoid travel to Kashmir. They all believe that the ground situation in Kashmir is highly combustible notwithstandingthe government’sexaggerated claims of a tourism boom ushering in normalcy. Even the propagators of tourism normalcy sometimes refer to the volatility of the situation. One may not claim it to be a powder keg which would blow up by the lighting of a single match yet no one can dispute the discontent and alienation simmering under the calm surface. There is a sense of general unease in the air itself. This is due to a situation of perennial uncertainty. This uncertainty has given rise to the absence of accountability in every sphere. There is a virtual free for all! Corruption at all levels rules the roost.
Kashmir is supposed to be the most militarised area of the world. During the last elections, Chris Morris, the BBC correspondent had reported from Srinagar that he had never seen so many soldiers in civilian areas in any part of the world. The number of soldiers deployed in Kashmir was more than those deployed for elections in the entire length and breadth of Bangladesh at the same time! No one can dispute the fact that Kashmir is the highest militarised area in the world when one compares the number of uniformed people to the local population. There is army, paramilitary troops, and the local police. Even the number of local policemen exceeds a hundred thousand. Apart from massive cantonments housing headquarters of various corps and divisions, the entire area is dotted with army and security camps. Even deep inside civilian areas one finds security camps, bunkers, and check posts. It is because of this heavy security presence that the local population especially in the rural areas has got very much alienated.
The ground reality is that the entire effort in Kashmir is on managing a conflict on the basic issue rather than resolving it to the satisfaction of the people. The aim is to somehow buy time. Prime Minister’s Group, Parliamentary Delegation, Interlocutors and so on are all meant to manage and somehow buy time. Over the years, a colossal administrative set up has been created for this management which is disproportionate to the population of the area. There has been a tendency to somehow provide government jobs almost to everyone even though sometimes on casual or stipendiary basis. The set up comprising almost half a million employees of all hues and shades has become thoroughly corrupt and totally unaccountable. In fact, major chunk of state’s funds goes into the salaries of these employees leaving very little for development. This administrative giant created for the management of the basic conflict has a vested interest like the mainstream politicians to maintain the status quo at all costs. It is the stark truth that everything in Kashmir has to have a clearance from the Union Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs! Without their specific overt or covert clearance nothing can happen in Kashmir in any sphere of activity. However, it would never be possible to manage the conflict by engaging an entire generation in government jobs or some other non-governmental activities. According to available figures, the number of educated unemployed has already crossed half a million.
The correct attitude for all the sides is to face the ground reality and not escape from it. Kashmir has a problem. A deep rooted problem which is political in nature and has been further compounded by all the wrong initiatives and measures taken to douse the flames rather than remove the cause of the fire! Unless one directly addresses the problem, the things are not going to improve. Unfortunately, the only people directly in the line of fire getting singed every minute are the poor Kashmiris. The two neighbours are only getting indirectly affected. It is a pity that they do not understand that the fire burning deep inside is ultimately going to engulf them also. Their mutual mistrust is worse than the directly burning fire. It is consuming them from within! However, there is always an approach or process for the final settlement of any problem whatsoever. The least the two neighbours can do is to honestly and sincerely trust Kashmiris and allow them the freedom to breathe freely. They had initiated the so called confidence building measures but these are only symbolic and not really substantive. Keeping security forces everywhere breathing over the necks of Kashmiris with zero accountability through the internationally acclaimed draconian legislations. Allowing absolutely no freedom of expression even through peaceful protests. Allowing couple of thousand people to travel across LOC in 10 years or so. Having stone-age barter trade in 21st century without any communications and banking. These are not confidence building measures. Rather these are steps to increase alienation and reinforce the mistrust. The least the rulers on two sides could do is to allow people on both sides to at least enjoy the same basic rights as their own people enjoy. These measures if taken in earnest could be a good beginning to start the process for the ultimate resolution of the problem taking away slowly the entire sub-continent from an avoidable catastrophe!
The author is an I.A.S. (Retired) & Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.