It is well over five months that clampdown on civil liberties in the Kashmir Valley has been in force, with frequent shut down of internet and other communication systems. The previous three chief ministers are still under house arrest. Government has arranged to take two foreign delegations to the Valley to convey the impression that all is well there, though they were not allowed to meet any of the previous chief ministers and denied free access to local leaders and public.
While abrogation of Article 370 had been overdue for a long time, as some of us had been advocating, what has gone wrong is that abrogation has been brought about without adequate prior preparations leading to the current confusion. It appears to be the set pattern of this government’s functioning: to first act and then think of ways and means to resolve the consequent mess. Same was the case with demonetisation, GST and Finance Budget, where cuts in corporate tax had to be carried out a few months later and now there is talk of possible cut in individual tax rate.
Finally the same appears in what is now surfacing as the CAA and NRC imbroglio. There appears to be no clue for the next move, except to pour more and more funds into the Valley and recruitment of youth into defence forces, overlooking the limitations of Male Recruitable Population ( MRP ) formula as applicable to other states in the country. Over time political leaders of all hues in the valley had brainwashed the locals in the Valley that the abrogation of article 370 would be their ruin, in fact the very end for them.
Inappropriately higher financial allocations to J & K have been attributed to Article 370, where greater portion of these funds were deployed in the valley and a sizeable percentage ended up in the pockets of politicians etc. Inappropriate delimitation had put greater political power in the hands of those in the Valley. As preparation for the abrogation, during the previous five-year tenure of this government, a counter narrative should have been initiated, highlighting the disadvantages of Article 370 to the people of J & K.
What needed to have been brought home to the people of J & K, more so those in the Valley, was the fact that Article 370 has grossly disadvantaged all sections of society, other than the political class and those acting as proxies for Pakistan, while genuine prosperity simply bypassed the State. The political class in the Valley has been acutely alive and excessively worried about the fact that with the abrogation of Article 370, delimitation will be the logical next step, which will result in centre of gravity of political power shifting out of the Valley.
Separation of Ladakh from rest of J & K was never visualized, but is definitely the most appropriate move. It goes to the credit of Prime Miniser Modi and Amit Shah that they took these long overdue steps. The previous State governor too had played his part with adroitness and political finesse. From the time Pandits were expelled, madrasas have seen exponential growth in the Valley leading to radicalization of increasing number of youth. Equally Pakistan has been sending more and more terrorists into the Valley.
Of the three regions of the erstwhile J & K, it is Ladakh which had been left far behind. When insurgency started in the Valley during 1989-90 and the footfall of tourists in the valley substantially decreased and at the same time increased in Ladakh, many businesses from the Valley shifted to this region, to the discomfiture of local Ladakhi small businesses. The segregation of Ladakh and it now being a union territory will usher in much development and prosperity to the region. To that end it is essential to improve the state of road communication to this area.
The extension of railway line from Joginder Nagar to Leh must be speeded up as also railway line from Shimla be extended to Kelong and join the one from Joginder Nagar. Not only will this improve connectivity with Ladakh, it will add to tourist inflow into Himachal. Overall connectivity to the Ladakh region has to be substantially improved. Kargil which is now part of the Union Territory of Ladakh, where the local population is Shia, too had seen much neglect. This part of Ladakh too can look forward to much development and prosperity. Ladakh 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. Equally resettlement of Pandits will have to wait for peace to fully return to the valley. 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 offspring must find place in government jobs.
However here we need be concerned about the possible reaction to this new development in J & K from both China and Pakistan and reaction from within the Valley, once all 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, Malaysia and the world press have expressed concern over this development. China’s immediate interest lies in China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs though PoK.
China is directly concerned with creation of Ladakh as a Union Territory, because it is occupying parts of it including Shaksgham Valley, which has been illegally gifted to it by Pakistan. It has already expressed concern at Ladakh being designated as a Union Territory. China can be expected to keep the Line of Actual Control ( LAC ) somewhat activated, but without any incursion into Union Territory of Ladakh. 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 largescale 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. The recent talks at Mamallapuram between Modi and the Chinese President and the bonhomie between them needs to be viewed in the light of China’s compelling need to focus on the Indian market.
Therefore, it is Pakistan which can be expected to promote trouble in way of activating LoC. It may even initiate a conflict, in the hope that there would be a general uprising in the valley and create a situation similar to that which took place in East Pakistan, eventually leading to creation of Bangladesh. After all Pakistan, more so its army, is given to miscalculations, as it did in 1965, 1971 and finally at Kargil. In addition, once America pulls out of Afghanistan and Taliban gains full control over that country, then some of the terrorist groups operating in that country are likely to be diverted to J & K.
In all this activity China can be expected to keep encouraging Pakistan. Justification for Pakistan army to exist as such a large force is mainly the Kashmir issue. Therefore, peace returning to J & K would take away the rationale for Pakistan to support such a large military. Financial support for its army seriously impacts economic well-being of Pakistan, but then, in Pakistan, who cares. Once all restrictions are lifted and leaders let loose much trouble in the Valley could be expected. So India has to be prepared for such an eventuality.
(The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army)