Over the years, the political class in the Kashmir Valley had completely brainwashed the local population to believe that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A will be their ruin and in fact their very end. Unfortunately from the Indian state there has been no counter narrative, more so during this government’s previous 5 years tenure, once it decided to do away with these articles.
by Lt Gen Harwant Singh (Retd)
It is now nearly seven months that clamp down in the Kashmir Valley has been in force. Of the three previous Chief Ministers, one is still under house arrest, as also a number of other leaders. The government seems to be at a loss on the next step to normalize the situation.
The abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, came as a surprise to some and shock to some others, though some of us have been demanding over time their abrogation. What is obvious is that government took this step without adequate prior evaluation and planning, in line with its style of functioning. Be it the case of demonetization, GST, and Finance Budget and subsequent steps on the economic front such as cut in the corporate tax. NRC and CAA too were brought in without any foresight. Finally this three weeks curfew was announced without any forward planning, compelling millions of daily wagers and others to up-stick and move to their villages, with the attendant chaos, misery and pain.
Over the years, the political class in the Kashmir Valley had completely brainwashed the local population to believe that the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A will be their ruin and in fact their very end. Unfortunately from the Indian state there has been no counter narrative, more so during this government’s previous 5 years tenure, once it decided to do away with these articles. It should have highlighted the fact that these articles have in fact grossly disadvantaged the people of J&K: more so those in the Valley.
How the state has seen no genuine economic development and consequent prosperity, but has merely lived on the dole dished out of the excessive funds provided by the central government. The impression with the people, but more so with the political class in the Valley has been that the state, more so the Valley, gained from receiving disproportionately higher financial allocations due to Article 370!
SEPARATION OF LADAKH FROM REST OF J&K
It is definitely the most appropriate move. It goes to the credit of the PM to take these long overdue steps. The earlier state governor too had played his part with adroitness and political finesse, within the limitations of no prior preparations by the centre. So far so good! All these years, Jammu and Ladakh regions, were grossly neglected. Of the funds from the centre, very little came to Ladakh region. Major portion of the funds given to the J and K invariably found their way into the Valley, where good part ended up in the pockets of political leaders and with some others.
From the time Pandits were expelled out of the Valley, madrasas have seen exponential growth leading to radicalization of increasing number of youth. When insurgency started in the Valley during 1989-90 and the footfall of tourists in the valley substantially decreased and at the same time it increased in Ladakh region, many businesses from the Valley shifted to this region, to the discomfiture of local Ladakhi small businesses.
The segregation of Ladakh from rest of J&K and it now being a union territory, will usher in much development and prosperity to this rather backward region. To that end it is essential to improve the state of road and rail communication to this area. The extension of railway line from Joginder Nagar to Leh must be speeded up as also railway line from Shimla should be extended to Keylong and join one from Joginder Nagar.
Kargil which is now part of Union Territory of Ladakh, where the local population being Shia, too had seen much neglect. This part of Ladakh too can look forward to much development and prosperity. Ladakh union territory, has enormous potential for tourism that needs to be fully exploited. While both Ladakh and Jammu region will draw much investment in industry, horticulture, education, healthcare and tourism. The Valley will have to wait for peace to fully return. As an immediate measure, to bring some degree of peace in the Valley, India has already opened up recruitment for the youth in the military and police: state and central.
At present, the central government appears determined to pour more and more funds into the Valley in the hope that peace will prevail there and people will reconcile to the abrogation of Article 370. Such steps by themselves would not bring peace to the Valley. What is called for is to get large business houses to showcase their plans to create jobs in the Valley for the youth and even undertake provisional enrolment against likely jobs.
The resettlement of Pandits will have to wait for peace to return to the Valley and law and order to be fully restored. Their properties and business establishments must be handed back to them and where these have been damaged the same must be repaired by the state. Equally, they or their off springs must find place in government jobs.
However here we need be equally concerned about the possible reaction to the recasting of the state into two union territories from, both China and Pakistan and reaction, from within the Valley, once restrictions are removed and political leaders let loose. While the world is generally in line with this development, (abrogation of Article 370 and accepts it as an internal matter for India) China, Pakistan, Indonesia and world press have expressed concern over this development. China’s immediate interest lies in China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs through PoK and One Belt-One Road that runs North of Ladakh.
China is directly concerned with Ladakh, because it is occupying parts of this Union Territory and Shaksgham Valley, which has been illegally gifted to it by Pakistan. China has already expressed concern at Ladakh being designated as Union Territory. China can be expected to keep the Line of Actual Control (LAC) somewhat activated and no more. The main reason for this is that India is a huge market for Chinese goods. At present India’s trade deficit with China is approximately $62 billion and that discounts large scale under invoicing by Indian businesses. This trade with India has become all the more important for China because of the heavy tariffs being imposed by America on Chinese goods imported into that country and the distinct possibility of world losing interest in trade with it due to its export of COVID-19 pandemic.
It is Pakistan, which can be expected to promote trouble in way of activating the LoC. It could induct large number of terrorist into the Valley in the hope that locals will join terrorist groups and bring about revolt by the population. After all, Pakistan is given to miscalculations as it did in 1947 in J&K, 1965 and then again at Kargil. However, the current financial distress may deter it from involving itself in any substantial action in this direction. Pakistan, more recently engaged three lobbying firms on the Capitol Hill (USA) to support it’s Kashmir case.
In addition, as America fully pulls out of Afghanistan and Taliban’s gain complete control over that country, then some of the terrorist groups operating in that country, are more likely to be diverted to J&K. Once delimitation is carried out in the state and balance of political power shifts from the Valley to Jammu region, restrictions are lifted on new citizenship laws, government jobs are opened to outsiders and leaders let loose, much trouble in the Valley could be expected. So India has to be prepared to handle such an eventuality.
The author is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff. He is an avid defence commentator on Fauji issues and frequently writes in mainstream media publications. He lives in Chandigarh and can be reached on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org