Kashmir – When History & Geography conflict!

While in school, I liked History as a subject. “King Ashoka planted trees and built lakes! Akbar founded and practiced his own religion – Din Illahi! And so on.  All these were interesting! But those days, my common refrain was, “What is the utility of us studying all these and remembering the years, the place and all that now? How is this going to help me in my life in the future?” While that was History, Geography was perennially boring. Remembering the names of countries, rivers, forests, mountains, cities, their latitudes and longitudes was all a torture. Little did I realise then, that the legacy of history has a long shadow on geography. Hence it becomes mandatory as students to get the perspectives right on History and Geography.  World over, eventually Geo-political conflicts are all about history!  Kashmir is no different.

Right since Independence, Kashmir has been a complex problem. Any proposal/s for solving this always come with insistence of it being a complex problem due to mistakes made by India in the past as per commentators. For many decades, the feeling in our country has been to maintain a status quo on Kashmir. In the wake of the last week’s dastardly attack in Pulwama on our security forces, it is clear that status quo is not the answer.

There are always different schools of thought around solutions ranging from military solution to political solution to diplomatic solution to combination of some of these or all. And frankly most of these have been tried in the past by different Governments of different parties when they got an opportunity to govern India. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to Narasimha Rao to Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh to now Narendra Modi, it is not for want of trying, this issue is not resolved. All have attempted in the past to crack the Kashmir code with sometimes the same or slightly different approaches. In my view, by and large all approaches have followed a contour that of keeping it within the constitution, respecting the sense of history and carrying that baggage. And the result of these efforts is there to see.

72 years since Independence means, 3 generations have rolled over, assuming a generation is defined by 25 years. This generation and the coming ones have no love lost for history or for historical narratives over Kashmir. They are concerned about the present and what the future entails. Hence to move forward on a long-lasting solution for Kashmir, the approach must entail shedding any historical baggage and looking into the future. What does this mean?

  • Jammu and Kashmir must be treated just like any other state of India. No special status whatsoever.
  • Scrap Article 370.
  • No Autonomous powers
  • Any law passed in the Parliament of India by default must be applicable to Jammu & Kashmir as well.
  • No Special constitution for Jammu & Kashmir
  • Allow business to be set up by non-Kashmiris in J&K just like in other parts of India.
  • Scrap Article 35A

And so on.

While I understand that it is not as simplistic as it sounds, we need to move in this direction and take firm steps.

Of course all this can work only under peaceful circumstances. There will be a huge uproar in the valley.  In the near term, the Government has to engage in multiple fronts in an effort to bring peace. That includes

Diplomacy – This Government has done a great job in working with relevant countries to isolate Pakistan. Continue the efforts to get more and more countries on board to tighten the noose.

Political – Within the country, take the main opposition parties on board on an agreed broad strategy. Get all parties to talk in the same wavelength not just in the aftermath of a Pulwama type attack but all the time. This will give a signal of India being one on this issue.  In the same token, do not rush to take credit as a party but give credit to all the parties in case of any successes.

Military – The 2016 Surgical strike was a great step. But it has not deterred Pakistan from carrying out the proxy war and stopping the activities of outfits like Jaish. One surgical strike in 2 years seemingly is not enough. We need to raise the cost for Pakistan by carrying our strikes in unpredictable frequency.

In the context of military intervention, we always encounter two refrains. One – that it can escalate into a fully blown war. Two – that a war between two nuclear capable countries is not at all desirable.  My point is, we have always been concerned of any military invention escalating into a fully blown war though Pakistan doesn’t seem to be concerned of the same while provoking us. For a change, why not make them feel concerned about a military escalation. Today, Pakistan is a failed and beleaguered state. Its economy is extremely frail. A fully blown war would only expose its vulnerability further. Except for China, which could come to its support militarily, Pakistan’s isolation is complete. Even for China, an economy which is stuttering today, ignoring India’s interests and siding with Pakistan will be a short term stupidity. So, eventually just like during the Kargil war, there will be more pressure mounted on Pakistan to mend its ways and take visible steps to stop cross border terrorism and take actions on outfits the same.

Economy – Raising the costs for Pakistan economically must be a continuous effort. Getting friendly countries to stop financial aid, labelling Pakistan a terrorist state, getting international sanctions imposed are all options on the table.

While these are ongoing efforts and I am sure Government must be engaged in all of this, the way to long lasting solution is to keep history aside and move forward. We hear that Narendra Modi has a penchant for leaving a lasting legacy. Solving the Kashmir problem could be his gateway to that. And for that History must give way to Geography, Economics and probably Chemistry! It’s time.

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“Cut” Uttarakhand, “Paste” Jammu & Kashmir!!!

In my 1st post this year (Read here), one among my wish list was to have a “Natural calamity free 2014”. But that is not to be. As I write this piece, most of Jammu & Kashmir is under a deluge. The fury of the rains has ceased but not before leaving a trail of destruction. The armed forces are pulling all stops in an attempt to rescue even the last human standing. The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact number of people who have been affected.  For most of us in India what is panning out is a very familiar sequence of events.  Just that it was Uttarakhand last year, Andhra couple of years ago, Kosi floods in Bihar few years back and Jammu and Kashmir this year.

With so much money spent on Science and Technology and regular chest thumping announcements of firing rockets and satellites into space we still don’t have a reasonably sound weather forecasting system in place. Most of the satellites we put in the orbit are meant for peaceful purposes including that of capturing imagery which will help in predicting changes in weather patterns,.. But year after year (exceptions like Cyclone Phalin apart) we have never been able to comprehend the scale of Nature’s fury with any reasonable amount of accuracy.  Pardon me for my ignorance if indeed we knew in advance of these floods in which case it is far more worrisome – that we knew what was coming and still we didn’t take adequate precautions.

As cynical as it may sound, in India our approach and response to natural disasters follow a very set pattern. Once a calamity strikes we seem to have a ‘Standard Operating procedure’ the main problem with it being so “Standard” that it can be summarized as “Chaotic”.  I had written about this last year as well. Read here.

First will be the local administration’s efforts to do some rescue without realizing if they have the capability and resources to do it. Followed by the Chief Minister’s visit to the affected areas and then appeal for support from the Central Government. Then the Centre pitches with its support which includes calling the Armed forces to get into rescue. This is followed by normally an “Aerial survey” by the Prime Minister and then announcement of Aid amounts to people who lost their lives,.. As the fury unfolds, media circus under the guise of informing the public gets into a “Coverage rat race” the underlying objective being “TRP rat race”!!! Then there is the blame game between Centre and State if they are from different parties. Then follow the “Photo ops” by politicians and PR plugs on their efforts.  And these days you have the social media “forwards” which add to the frenzy.

Jammu-Kashmir-floods-Rajnath-Singh-makes-fresh-look-2

In all this few questions arise:

  1. For a country like India which has seen so many natural disasters year after year predictably in the same time periods, is it difficult to predict a pattern in Nature’s fury? In the so many crores of money we spend on Science and Technology, Research,.. can we not allocate few crores to “outcome” based projects for example better methods of weather forecasting? If we are already doing it, the concern is on the effectiveness of these spends.
  2. Once the calamity strikes can we not have a method to the madness? Instead of first the Municipality trying to do some relief and then the State trying to pitch in and then finally getting the army to assist,.. can we not have a central nodal agency take over rescue and relief operation irrespective of the scale? Not that we don’t have nodal agencies. There is one called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the PM as its Chairman and till I last heard with a politician as the functional head!!! The Vision of this agency as per the website is a classic case of trying to do so many things and ending up doing nothing. Its vision says “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation”.  With so many adjectives and jargons doting that long vision – it’s clear that some management consultant has made a killing in helping the agency draft that impressive vision statement! For instance do we know what role is this NDMA playing in the J&K situation?
  3. Can we not have one Co-ordinating agency on the ground? What is required is an agency which effectively becomes a single point co-ordinating agency in all the post calamity efforts – the 3 R’s. First the Rescue, then Relief and then finally Rehabilitation. Once this agency steps in, even the CM of the state must go thro this agency if he wants to pitch in with any relief effort. It is admirable to see civil society pitching in remarkably. From common public to NGOs there is assistance galore. But without a central co-ordinating agency the nature of assistance can turn chaotic as we saw last year in Uttarakhand and as we see now in Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Can we not have a process by which anybody who wants to be part of the 3R’s as above must report to this central co-ordinating agency on the ground first? This agency then channelizes resources including men and material according to priority and gravity of the situation on the ground. Today we see many agencies doing their bit without any co-ordination among themselves resulting in a bit of chaos.
  5. Can we stop forgetting once the event is over? While the media goes over the top in coverage for a few days when the action is hot – it completely forgets to follow up after a few days except for revisiting for a day on the Anniversary of the event. After all that what happened in Uttarakhand last year, do we now know if the lessons have been learnt and sufficient precautions have been taken while reconstruction?? Can we say with confidence that come another flood, the scale of destruction will be much smaller?

I am not sure may be these are empty rants of an individual which may not be practical. But I am certain that for a country like India which generally thrives on chaos, it can do without that in the times of natural disasters atleast. As Nature “Cut” Uttarakhand and “Pasted” Jammu and Kashmir this year it could be another state next year. It will be good to see some lessons learnt and new initiatives taken under the task master Prime Minister.  I will then vouch for the arrival of “Ache Din”!!!

You could play a part in the R&R efforts in J&K. You could send in your donations if you wish to

  1. Prime Ministers Relief Fund – Visit here for Online donations.
  2. Uday Foundation – Link here.