Rebuilding Kashmir?

4 mins read

Asem Mohiuddin

In 2003 when America invaded Iraq after accusing Saddam Hussain of possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction, it promised to rebuild the country and enhance socio-economic opportunities. In less than few months Saddam’s government was toppled by US and its allies but unexpectedly the war overstretched.  The consistent chaos in the country following the fall of Ba’ath party of Saddam, and over expectations of people with the collapse of longest undemocratic regime compelled US to stay back until the gradual and steady transition of powers.

In the meanwhile, the America engaged in rebuilding of the country completely devastated by the war. America spent nearly 12 billion dollars on country’s infrastructure and built fresh roads, buildings, health and educational infrastructure. Highway 10 was America’s one among the many ambitious projects connecting capital city Baghdad with Amman.

However, the Highway turned the hell way what drivers locally call it, “Highway through hell”. Instead boosting its local economy and social contact, the highway was used by insurgents to attack on drivers and resort to extortion. The deadly game even forced American soldiers to change the route to avoid direct confrontation with insurgents. Even most of the drivers refused to ply on the road though they were paid three times more. It was just recently that Iraqi forces took over the road though the threats of extortion and attacks continue for drivers.

In Kashmir we have NHAI, an ambitious lifeline that connects nearly eight million people with rest of country. While this is the fact that Kashmir and Iraq is incomparable politically with later as sovereign country and earlier India’s part, what brings the two together is prevailing conflict and insurgency.  The National Highway in Kashmir was aimed to ensure to boost the local economy since the region is landlocked and faces hostile weather conditions for almost 4 to 5 months a year.  So all the hopes were on this highway though it is yet to be completed at many stretches, notwithstanding the comfort it made for ordinary people in travel mode. Ironically, the highway turned a “dead way” and ever since its inauguration several years ago, the security forces suffered heavy causalities on it, prompting authorities to review its security movement on the road.

The suicide attack on the same highway on February 26 this year by a local Kashmiri Adil Ahmad killed over 40 Paramilitary men and brought India and Pakistan on a brink of war. The road network which otherwise serves any country’s backbone for its socioeconomic development in Kashmir is becoming a reason for war between two hostile nuclear neighbours, evident from the recent air strikes launched by India across the border in Balakote in  response to suicide attack. While the highway in Kashmir serves the strategic edge for the insurgents, the recent developments in the region over Kashmir pose a potential war threat.

India has destroyed the status quo of over 70 years in Kashmir after abrogating Article 370. The move has  not only triggered a panic across the border with Pakistan winning little support at international forum and failing to compel India to roll back its decision. The major decision of New Delhi also made the state politically weakest from being the most powerful. In India’s federal structure Jammu and Kashmir was the only state with two Houses (Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council) with separate constitution under Article 370. With the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, the state has not only lost its political speciality, however, its powers were completely taken over by Union Government while reducing it to Union Territory and splitting Ladakh as another UT.

So officially by October 31 the Jammu and Kashmir state may not be the weakest state politically, however its chief minister will also be one of the most dependent political state head entirely depending on the mood of state’s lieutenant governor. Practically, the move has made many aspiring and serving politicians disinterested in the political process and many of them are mulling to quit including Shah Faisal. The old gods like Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and some others may continue to be in politics for certain reasons and compulsions but people won’t find the process worth risks and sacrifices. So Internally India will have to fill the political vacuum in Kashmir with organic leadership instead allowing a brigade of opportunists to tremble down the democratic values and climb over the ladder of power.

On the other side, the Prime Minister Narender Modi is likely to visit Kashmir with a major developmental package. Officials estimate that as many as Rs 60000 crores would be spent in Jammu and Kashmir- a buffer amount to lift its socio- economic requirements. The big brands like Tata, Reliance and many others are also expected to invest in the border region. If the big companies are truly in a mood to invest in Jammu and Kashmir to create more avenues and opportunities of employment and lift its economy, the arrival of these companies in the land of uncertainty could not be without risks.

The Modi government must be realizing that in Kashmir people are aghast with its decision of revoking state’s special position. The move have locally raised the apprehensions that their jobs and land is insecure since revocation of Article 370 paved the way for people from other states to buy immovable properties. Rich Indians can easily do that. Such apprehensions have alienated a common man and Pakistan adds the fuel to it.

The continuing shutdown for over two months vindicates the concern. Observes feel the insurgency in Kashmir may witness new flip and is expected to be more radical. The state’s police Chief Dr Dilbagh Singh already acknowledged the heavy presence of militants in valley due to recent upsurge in infiltration attempts. So the security forces are gearing up for a fresh battle in hinterland. So in absence of peace the question arises what would this major Rs 60000 crore centre government’s package meant for Kashmir and the country.

New Delhi’s direct intervention in investing on the socioeconomic infrastructure in state may speed up the developmental process, but the execution is unlikely until the peace prevails. Many projects are still hanging in Kashmir since the authorities fail to execute the work due to ongoing uncertainty.

Secondly, the investment by major companies in Kashmir also carry a great amount of risk in the present conditions and any eventuality like Litter, Pulwama can bring again two countries head to head. The companies under the clouds of war may wind up their operations, fearing the losses.

Prior to any economic initiatives, it is better for New Delhi to initiate the political process in Kashmir to build the confidence. The socio economic leverage without political emancipation in the region may prove counterproductive and widen the existing gap between New Delhi and Kashmir.

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