Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Will Kashmir choose Tourism over Terrorism?

By K B Jandial

There is an old catchphrase: he came, he saw and he conquered! This is precisely what happened with PM Modi when he addressed a huge public meeting at Udhampur on last Sunday after inaugurating India’s longest 9.2 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel. But it applies only to Jammu region and not to Kashmir. It was an occasion for Modi’s outreach to Kashmiris, more precisely Kashmiri stone pelters, and as usual he was perfect, hitting the bull’s eye. He invoked everything from Vajpayee’s famous and much quoted Kashmiriyat, Jamhuriyat and Insaniyat to ‘power of stone’ to reducing the distance, both physical and emotional, between Kashmir and rest of India.

True to his style, Modi’s eloquently choreographed much awaited speech unfolded, in a way, Centre’s Kashmir policy in as much as he touched almost all the core issues of the state barring one i.e. dialogue. Acknowledged world overfor his public communication skills coupled with brimming ideas and skill to coin words and phrases to catch headlines and put across his narrative plainly, Modi unambiguously told Pathar Ki Taaqat Kya Hoti Hai? (What is the power of stone). And then he explained that stone can be used,both for destruction as well as for development. And then, he hit the bull’s eye, “There are some youth, who toiled hard to carve rocks and chisel stones to contribute in creating this engineering marvel; and there are others who pelted stones to bleed others”.
It is a fact that Kashmir has both types of youth but it is the scores of radicalised youth who are targeting the police and security forces when engaged in anti-militancy operations, get worldwide attention, thanks to the media. The other categories of the Kashmiri youth whose number is much large, however, remained away from public glare except when such an engineering marvel is inaugurated, anyone of them cracks India’s most prestigious civil service examination or make a mark on national and international sports events. One category of youth is on self-destructive path and the other on opening up vistas of economic prosperity that are meant for all including unaware parents of stone pelters and separatists Geelani and his likes who never miss the opportunity to enforce shut down on every such inauguration. But such shut downs don’t dilute the benefits or restrict to only pro-Delhi and none has any qualm to avail these.

There is yet another class of youth which Modi didn’t touch. They are the youth who are confined to their academics even in this planned unrest and a sizeable section of them are even migrated to the peaceful environs of Jammu to continue their studies to achieve their ambitions. Almost every year, some Kashmiri youth are making their mark in national civil services examination and sports who should become Kashmir’s icons rather than these misguided stone pelters. The silent migration of students to Jammu educational institutions and construction of houses in Jammu by Kashmiri Muslims are signs of majority community’s growing unease in their land of Kashmiriyat.

While asking youth to choose between the two Ts; Terrorism and Tourism, PM was referring to wanton destruction caused by one group of youth by pelting stones while the other are putting Kashmir on road to economic development, overcoming huge adversarial undertones, both of technological and situational ones. Chenani tunnel along with nine other tunnels and road projects that are under construction would be Kashmir’s real bhagaya-rekha that would open up Kashmir to new economic development for all including stone pelters and their families. Modi, however, left unsaid that it is for the youth to either make Kashmir like ruins of Syria or tourists filled Switzerland.

Responding positively to the demand of Kashmir’s tourist trade for tourism promotion as aired by Mehbooba, Modi expectedly assured Centre’s full support to the State Govt to turn round tourism in Kashmir to benefit every section of society.But this would only be possible when the prospective tourists would see peace returning to the Valley. Nobody would like visit a place howsoever beautiful it may be, whose serenity is frequently shattered by gun shots or hostile slogans.

While the Centre is accelerating the implementation of these world-class projects in Kashmir, there was a real remorse which Modi rightly flagged. Our brethren in PoK which is administered by Islamic Govt are deprived of these facilities. Unfortunately, they are forced to be contended with primitive conditions and same Pakistan is motivating Kashmiri youth to be part of that country.

Modi’s mild dig on Pakistan has been overshadowed by other catchy phrases. While regretting deprivation of people of PoK, Modi said that when the country occupying part of our Kashmir is not able to help itself how can it think of creating these facilities for the people. His reference was to Pakistan getting torn apart by Shia-Sunni and Wahhabi-Sufi conflict. This sectarian violence has necessitated deployment of army virtually all over Pakistan.

But did Modi succeed in his outreach? Geelani’s spokesman immediate reaction was somewhat subdued. He said Modi’s”cosmetic approach can’t solve a serious political issue”. He wanted Modi to be statesman to resolve the issue. Dr. Farooq Abdullah came out to support stone-pelters to win Srinagar LS seat, telling Modi that they have nothing to do with tourism and are “throwing stones for the nation”. Militants on their part struck at Nowhatta in the same evening and martyred a young Kashmiri policeman Shameem Ahmed from Gurez whose grieving father proudly called his son as “martyr” who laid down his life for Kashmir and the country. This is also story of Kashmir which normally misses the headlines.

It is this bloodshed that Modi referred to in his speech. He tried to establish an emotional chord with the victims of continuing terrorism when he referred that “In last 40 years (why PM said 40 years when it is 28 years?), lot of blood has been spilled…If someone has bled in these years, it’s my loving Kashmir Valley. If someone has lost her son, it’s the mother of my Kashmir, or mother of my India…No one has gained from bloodbath…but had tourism been promoted in all these years, the entire world would have been at Kashmir’s doorsteps.”While saying so, in a way, he conceded that gun could not achieve anything.

Then shouldn’t the mandarins in South Block (including Doval) also think beyond military solution? Was there amiss in Modi’s outreach?Is his persuasive and somewhat conciliatory tone sufficient to end the cycle of violence? Many Kashmir observers would answer in negative.

The unchecked influence of Pakistan on the separatists and a sizeable section of youth, whether due to religious affinity, radicalization or misplaced yearning for azadi, and growing alienation from India makes the situation grim.A new ‘belligerent separatism’is dominating Kashmir today. It is a combination of stone-pelters and armed terrorists with separatists inflaming anti-India sentiments that are amplified by the unchecked social media and clergies in some of the mosques. The unpredictable stance of Trump’s administration towards India-Pak tensionis bound to embolden anti-India forces.
Efforts to defeat positive initiatives in Kashmir are much more than to reverse the drifting situation and as such the State faces horrendous challenge. The electronic media is putting out many credible and well documented stories that nail the truth of motivation of stone pelters. Zakir Ahmad Bhat, Farooq Ahmad Lone, Wasim Ahmed Khan, Mushtaq Veeri and Ibrahim Khan made startling confessions on camera to India Today TV of their being on the payroll of their “underground masters” to carry out attacks on security forces, public servants and property in Baramulla, Sopore and Pattan. Money @ Rs 700 per petrol bomb are given to them apart from retainer fee for stone pelting. Bhat admitted to have made 50-60 bombs. People like them are making violent agitation as their livelihood. Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir unrest is beyond doubt, more so on the eve of by-poll.

Zakir Musa successor of Burhan Wani, has given yet another twist to the situation by asking youth to “pelt stones not in the name of nationalism but for Islam” in a video. He dismissed the idea of democracy, adding that “things like nationalism and democracy are haram in Islam”. Zakir unfolded a new strategy of threatening J&K Police which is the strong face of anti-militancy fight. He has asked the youth to attack J&K Police while they are engaged in operations and pelt stone on them. Punjab police response model is before us that would check this tendency otherwise our main force would soon get blunted.

Modi’s speech may not itself impact the situation where reasoning and logics have little role against the hardened misconception and radicalization. Definitely, something more is needed to follow up Modi’s outreach.Can the channels of contact with internal stakeholders be opened to evolve new strategy that discerns healing touch? Modi and his advisors must act fast as the alarming situation does not leave any room for complacency.

(The writer is former Secretary Information, health, transport, CAPD departments and a member of Public Service Commission, feedback: [email protected])

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