Providing security is but only one aspect in the whole tangle, the main challenge is to make the economy work and create jobs as fast as possible. Jobs are difficult to be created overnight; for that to happen the economy has to take off from the low base where it has stagnated for decades, the liberal funding from the Central Government since independence having failed to reach the poor.
Thanks to J&K being a special category state ~ other than its special constitutional status under the now-abrogated Article 370 ~ it was receiving a per capita central transfer between 4 and 8 times than that received by other mainland states during the various Plan periods. Nevertheless, economic growth and development has remained stymied throughout. Of course, violent militancy and terrorism also played their parts in this, but both terrorism and central funding had subsidised the lavish lifestyle of the Mullahs, and expensive education of their children outside the state, often abroad.
They have appropriated almost 35 per cent of the jobs in government including the higher echelons of bureaucracy which enabled them to control the state despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population, as Bashir Assad informs us in his book K File: The Conspiracy of Silence. Creating jobs will certainly take some time, and Kashmir’s economic malaise and unemployment cannot be addressed till violence subsides and stability returns to the State to attract private investment. For the time being, the Government is serious about filling all vacancies, some 50000 of them with security forces and other departments.
At the Headquarters of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry Rifles at the airport complex near Avantipur, we saw about a thousand youth assembled and competing for some hundred plus posts; similar scenes were witnessed at almost every establishment we had visited. The government has also taken some economic initiatives to alleviate the hardships faced by the people due to the violence unleashed by the militants against the movement of goods from the State by truck.
Apples are especially targeted. The fruit is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy; they generate some Rs 8000 crore of business every year and account for 70 per cent of all apples produced in the country. Some 4 lakh hectares are under apple cultivation, but hitherto the apples had commanded poor prices for the farmers, courtesy the middlemen, supported by the corrupt dispensation of the Mullahs who have been ruling the roost ever since the departure of Sheikh Abdullah from Kashmir’s political scenario at his death in 1982.
Now the J&K Government has stepped in to provide relief to the farmers through the Market Intervention Scheme for apple growers. NAFED, which is the nodal agency for procuring apples, has been procuring the fruit directly from the farmers at prices fixed at Rs 54, Rs 38 and Rs 15.75 for A , B and C grade apples respectively since August 12, the proceeds being credited directly to the accounts of the farmers under the Direct benefit Transfer Scheme mechanism. These apples used to be sold by farmers to the middlemen in the past at prices ranging from Rs 3 to Rs 15.
More than 3000 apple farmers have taken the benefit of this scheme till September, and during the last 10 days some 16000 trucks had left the Valley, carrying more than 2 lakh metric tonnes of apples. Enough has been written and discussed about the machinations of Pakistan and its desperation arising out of its utter failure to internationalise the Kashmir issue. Neither its irresponsible nuclear sabre-rattling, nor its clarion call for jihad has evoked much response or aroused widespread passions among the Muslim populations of either J&K or even in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, or elsewhere in the world.
Except for Turkey, Malaysia and China, it has not been able to garner any political support, and even the Chinese have been ambivalent in their support in the wake of Modi-Xi summit at Mamallapuram. The security forces have so far neutralised all advances made by the deep state of Pakistan; but Pakistan, enriched by its experience of many decades, excels in the terror game which it knows how and when to play so as to cause maximum damage to India. It has scant regard for international opinion or condemnation, and not even a possible FATF blacklisting which is staring at its face will restrain it from carrying out its sinister agenda.
Terror threat from Pakistan will continue to remain a serious challenge to our security forces as well as the intelligence machinery. There is no scope for any complacency here. One does not know when J&K again would shed its UT tag and be ready to install a government by popular mandate in a future Assembly. Hopefully, the days of boycott, bandh and hartal politics are over. There was a time when Syed Geelani and other separatists would force bandhs on the Valley for protracted periods, not allowing offices, schools and educational institutions to function at all, while making sure that their own children, being safely ensconced in the best educational institutions outside the Valley, never took part in these protests.
They mindlessly drove generations of poor Kashmiris from the occupational classes ~ like the Lones, Dars, Bhats, Wanis, Mirs, Sheikhs etc. ~ to take up arms and die in the streets so that they and their children could rule over the state and enjoy the privileges of power, making others die so that they can live and live well. Now, with the arrests of separatist leaders like Shabir Shah, Asiya Andrabi, Masarat Alam Bhat, Yasin Malik, Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah and personal assistant Bashir Ahmad Bhat on terror- funding and corruption charges by the National Investigation Agency, Geelani has finally been silenced, and not been heard during the past two months.
In the highly nuanced political discourse in the Kashmir Valley, one factor that is often overlooked is the rapid indoctrination, radicalisation, Arabisation and Islamisation of a liberal Kashmiri society which had carefully nurtured a syncretic Sufi tradition throughout history and achieved a rare assimilation between Shaivism and Islam, making the society a truly liberal, secular and progressive one.
Sheikh Abdullah, a nationalist at the core of his heart who embraced the secular ethos of India rather than the medieval theological state of Pakistan, believing that the well-being of Kashmiri people lay in being with India, tried to make Kashmir a progressive, modern state by enacting the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act in 1950 to redistribute all land of owners, mostly Mullahs and Pandits, in excess of 186 kanals (about 22 acres) to the sharecroppers and landless labourers without any compensation to the them.
While this created the future powerbase for the National Conference in the rural areas, it angered and alienated the landlords who conspired against the Sheikh, and colluded with Nehru and his daughter to marginalise him in the politics of Kashmir. Nehru jailed him for eleven years from 1953 to 1964, and Mrs. Gandhi interned him during 1965-1968 and then exiled him from Kashmir in 1971 for 18 months.
The Mullahs later actively supported the attempts of Jamaat-e-Islami to impose the violent and exclusionary Maududi sect of Islam preached by its founder Maulana Abul A’la Maududi on Kashmiri society, completely eroding its secular and syncretic values in order to derive their political benefits, and even the Government of India at some point had turned a blind eye to its nefarious designs to radicalise a society that had always nurtured and promoted peace and harmony between Hindus and Muslims.
The peaceful Kashmiri society has now been taught to celebrate the violent deaths of its youth at the hands of security forces, over a life that is productive and purposeful. During our visit, an army officer narrated the story of a terrorist who the army was after. The mother of the terrorist pleaded with the officer to spare his life, promising to bring him to the army which she did after four days. The youth has been rehabilitated since. I thought when a terrorist, trained in mindless killing, can still be made to listen to a mother to choose life over death, perhaps all hope is not lost for Kashmir again to become a beacon of hope for all conflict zones.
(The writer is a commentator. Opinions are strictly personal)