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09 October, 2012

Kashmir: cart before horse

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A  few of India’s top industrialists went to Srinagar last week at the instance of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is widely viewed as prime minister in waiting, and offered Kashmiri students scholarships and training facilities. They, however, made no commitment to invest in the state.

Gandhi, who is assiduously trying to connect with the new generation, arranged the industrialists’ visit in response to a complaint heard when he was at the Kashmir University campus a year ago that Indian businessmen ignored the state. In doing so, he avoided raising high hopes. “This interaction will not solve Kashmir’s problems or India’s,” he told the students, “but we need to keep the conversation on.”

The Gandhi initiative can be seen as an extension of the official efforts to tackle unemployment in the state which helps extremist groups to find recruits for their cause. Jammu and Kashmir has an unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent, higher than that of any neighbouring state.

About 2,000 young men and women from Kashmir, many of them school dropouts, have found employment in the state and outside under the Himayat scheme, launched two years ago primarily to help rural youth acquire job-oriented skills. Efforts are on to provide employment to 5,000 more under the scheme this year. Last March the government set up a website, Udaan, to connect unemployed Kashmiri youth with the corporate world.

The state government has drawn up a plan to expand educational facilities. It envisages establishment of 11 degree colleges in Jammu and six in Kashmir at a cost of Rs2 billion.

The Central and state governments have also formulated a scheme, costing Rs16 billion, for the rehabilitation of an estimated 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits who fled the valley after militants targeted members of the community.

Expansion of educational facilities, creation of job opportunities and rehabilitation of refugees are all important and welcome steps. They will succeed only if the government first creates the right political climate. In giving precedence to other issues over long overdue political measures the government is putting the cart before the horse.

The Kashmir problem has both national and international dimensions. There is manifest discontent among sections of the state’s population, which makes it possible for external elements to foment trouble. More importantly, the state has been at the centre of a dispute between India and Pakistan ever since they emerged as independent nations 65 years ago, and they have fought three wars over it.

All the stakeholders have made so much emotional investment in the Kashmir issue over the past several decades that neither the national nor the international dimension admits of easy resolution. However, in the recent past ground conditions have improved sufficiently to permit forward movement on both fronts.

Some ideas for improving India-Pakistan relations and ensuring peace in Jammu and Kashmir without either country giving up its basic position with regard to the state’s future were agreed upon in talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former president Pervez Musharraf a few years ago. Unfortunately the peace process they set in motion was interrupted by the Mumbai terror attack which occurred after the transition to civilian rule in Islamabad.

The decline in infiltration from across the border and the peaceful conduct of last year’s local self-government elections created an ideal setting for New Delhi to reach out to all sections in the state, especially to those beyond the pale of electoral politics. Some useful suggestions in this regard were made by the team of interlocutors appointed by the government to talk to various groups in the state. The government is yet to act on them.

Last month the prime minister said infiltration from across the line of control is again on the rise. About 300 out of 35,000 persons elected to village councils resigned recently after militants killed a few of their colleagues. These are ominous signs that underline the need for urgent political action.

There are indications that young Kashmiris will respond positively to a political initiative. Junaid Azim Mattu, a leader of the moderate separatist People’s Conference, who recently went to Mumbai to participate in a television debate, has stated that “an absolutely inspiring empathy” reverberated in the studio with young members of the audience calling for justice, inclusiveness and redress in Kashmir. Enthused by the experience he has said the state must heed this spirit and move forward. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 9, 2012.

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