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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution

Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution
Date: 7 Dec 2011


Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution

BY JAVED NAQI

The Jammu and Kashmir dispute continues to be one of the major unresolved conflicts in the Indian subcontinent. In the past we saw wars being fought but even that couldn't help resolve the issue. Neither big summits nor much hyped confidence building measures has thus far succeeded. Since the emergence of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is always defined in terms of facile labels. Padgaonkar, journalist and head of the interlocutors on Kashmir, points out, "the entire issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been posited in ideological terms, largely as a Hindu Muslim problem. Second, it was posited also in terms of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. And third, it was posited in terms of Kashmir nationalism". The internal socio-cultural diversity and the pluralism of interest and aspiration it breeds are always ignored. This plurality is due to lack of good media or the social connectors to bridge the gap. Hence, it can be argued that social connectors are imperative to Kashmir solution.

In case of Jammu and Kashmir, the conflict is itself located at multiple levels; a territorial dispute between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan; a conflict on communal lines and a conflict of identity and culture. Besides, there is another important and highly ignored layer of conflict, the intra-community conflict. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has several distinct socio-cultural features which gives complexity to the already complex problems of Jammu and Kashmir.

These areas which are different ethnically and linguistically are further geographically isolated from each other by high mountain barriers. The barriers are so strong that many parts of Jammu and Kashmir exist more as closed communities without having any proper means and common space to interact and share with fellow citizens across the state. Thus people inhabiting one part of the state is held blind toward the lives of people in other parts of the state due to these intangible boundaries. This nurtures mistrust and misunderstanding amongst the people in the state as a whole. Lack of trust gives rise to perceptions of threat and insecurity in the masses. As a consequence this results in opposing views and different voices. These different voices deny the scope for general consensus on any approach to Kashmir solution with each approach being opposed by one or another. Thus even today it remains an impossible mission for many aggrieved parties on Kashmir. Similar pluralism also exists in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Simply confining a dialogue among few selected parties can not lead a viable way out on the issue. It is equally important to involve the opinion of mass to make intangible barriers more feasible and friendly. This is best explained by Harold Saunder in his PPP (Public Peace Process) concept.

Commenting on PPP concept, political scientist and conflict transformation practitioner Sumona Dasgupta writes, "this is a system where citizens outside the government can actually design steps to change conflict relationships in ways that create capacities to build upon processes for peace building". She adds, "PPP is based on the assumption that conflict is not just a clash between institutions but it also has an important human angle. This emphasizes citizens as actors in politics. PPP acknowledges that there are certain tasks that governments and states will do and formal negotiation and mediation is definitely important in the resolution conflict. But at the same time it also affirms a larger political process that is citizen driven. The conceptual framework of PPP is built around what we called sustained dialogue -- systematic dialogue amongst small groups of representative citizens who are committed to change. It involves a conversation and a five stage process which he has outlined - 1) coming together about a problem. 2) mapping a problem. 3) setting a direction, 4) scenario building and 5) acting together".

Unfortunately no serious attempt has been made to bridge the gap between the people of different regions and to involve them in the peace building process as the major actors. On contrary the parties and groups involved are always engage more on larger political differences. None of the parties has made serious endeavour to connect the people in order to reduce the barrier between them.
It is very important to scrap the internal geographical barriers and connect people through all the ways and means of connections. These connections will act as social connectors and provides avenues where communities can interact, understand, identify areas of differences and develop a widely acceptable solution. For example it is vital that Kargil should have Zojila tunnel to be connected with people beyond Zojila pass throughout the year. The Zojila tunnel will act as social connector not only between Kargilities and beyond but it will also connect the larger population of Ladakh to rest of the valley and Jammu. Similarly, Leh and Srinagar should have more frequent flights than having air service once a week. In addition, efforts should also be made to open cross LoC roads like Kargil-Skardu, Jammu-Sialkot, Turtuk-Khapulu, Chamb-Jaurian-Mirpur, Gurez-Astore-Gilgit, Tithwal-Chilhan, and Jhangar (Nowshera)-Mirpur-Kotli. Making these borders irrelevant will help people in the state and across communicate and reach out each other without any geographical and topographical obstacle. Thus, these steps will not only help in addressing the problem of connectivity in the region but it will also facilitate to evolve a common consensus on Kashmir in future.

"I am called Tunnel Wala by many for my insistence on Zojila tunnel but believe me there is a new light and new hope across the tunnel".

(The author, a native of Kargil, is Assistant Professor in Higher Education and can be mailed at javednaqi@gmail.com)

[Kashmir Times]

An Open Letter To The Kashmir Interlocutors

An Open Letter To The Kashmir Interlocutors

By Javed Naqi

22 December, 2010
Countercurrents.org

I am a voice from Kargil, an isolated barren island of forgotten people and I want to be heard. I have several questions.

I strongly believe that the call for Azadi/Freedom or for that matter political resolution and other similar demands is a concern that is secondary to us. The primary concern is on the issue of basic survival, which is threatened and remains at stake due to the geographical isolation and harsh climatic conditions of Kargil. Kargil is connected to the outerworld via Zojila pass, which becomes inaccessible atleast for six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and hence begins a period of isolation for the people of Kargil. This isolation results in great loses in terms of education, health, rural infrastructure and most importantly sustainability. During summers, the people and the government become more involved in stocking basic amenities for the winters. Thus, energy and time are invested into it and other major development issues in different sectors get ignored. We have little choice but to consume stocked stale food items, thus raising health concerns among the people of Kargil. Can you imagine how this impacts our well being and bodily and mental developments? This tragic existence rests far from the reality in which rest of India and the world lives.

The people of Kargil have been demanding construction of a tunnel through the Zojila pass or an all weather road for years but ability is forced into disability and disability is made more difficult. People who can make this happen have no justification to give. Pleas and requests find their place in the dustbin. The well-being of the people is a lip story. It hasn’t reached the hearts and the minds of those who have the power to turn the tables. The situation is gross and needs to be assessed.

This is what I feel is a sheer injustice and violation of Right to Life depriving Kargil of all weather connectivity. This gives an impression to a youth like me that the powers at New Delhi have always viewed Kargil as a battle field rather than a human inhabited territory. The aspirations and concerns of the local mass are always pushed back in the priority list and hence leaving the inhabitants to struggle for the survival.

If our country can give grants in millions of dollar in the neighbourhood for infrastructure vis-a-vis road development and connectivity, isn't it possible for the nation to spend a minute sum of it for its own people to connect them with the outer world round the year. The construction of tunnel at Zojila or all weather road will result in a dramatic shift in socio-economic development of the region. The dream tunnel will save crores of state money, now being spent for air maintenance and winter stocking of the region both by army and civil administration.

I wonder when looking at stories of technological developments in our country, isn’t it possible for this technology to break the centuries old isolation of Kargil. As a youth who believes in change plus follows and admires wonders of mankind's ingenuity, I can’t take that Zojila tunnel is an impossible venture owing to the geo-climatic conditions. There are many examples of similar and much difficult projects carried out by different nations. China made it possible the miracle train to Tibet which traverse a mountain pass sitting 5,072 meters (16,737 feet) to rise up to the Tibetan plateau. Zhongnanshan Tunnel in Shaanxi province, China, is the longest two-tube road tunnel in the world. The 18,040-metre long tunnel, crosses under the Zhongnan Mountain.

I dread the winter isolation more than a war happening in Kargil. The war would come once in a while but this isolation knocks at the door every year. The war would kill during the war but this isolation kills every year. I often ask myself a question. What is happiness and what is national pride?

I want AZADI from the six months isolation during winter. I don’t want to see it as a fate as it has been accepted by my people for this long. This isolation has rendered us as the most backward district in the entire country.

Why are we quiet? Winters are there and Kargil, my destination is cut off from the rest of the nation. I raise my voice to save lives that perish due to approach being blocked in winters and so unavailability of basic amenities, for educational institutions shut down due to harsh climatic conditions, roads are completely blocked with no resources reachable, cultivation and irrigation comes to a standstill. Under such climatic conditions year after year human life is always at stake.
Javed Naqi
A Voice of an inmate youth from the freezing prison, Kargil.

Kargil: An Enduring Conflict

Kargil: An Enduring Conflict

By Javed Naqi

17 November, 2011
Countercurrents.org

Since time immemorial conflict between states has been a regular phenomenon causing untold suffering and enormous loss of human life, fragmentation of societies and devastation of economies. This subsequently led to some of these countries closing their land borders with their neighbors and hence restricting cross border trade and people to people contact. Conflict in the Asian subcontinent had similar implications on the population and land. The borders are closed rendering people and families divided, and restricting movement and trade. However many failed to recognize a grave implication of this conflict. This is particularly in the case of a tiny border district within the territory controlled by India. The author argues that the aftermath of conflict in this region is a threat to human security.

Kargil, prior to the creation of India and Pakistan served as an important trade and transit centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. Mohammad Ashraf points out, ‘this border area was never really cut off even during most brutal winter’. He adds, ‘Kargil-Skardu has been an all weather route of great importance, which further connects with Gilgit and thence to Central Asia’. It is only after the emergence of borders that the areas on this side of the border got totally blocked during winter. Thus, the people of Kargil are virtually imprisoned in a frozen prison. The only link which connects Kargil to the outer world is via Zojila pass, which becomes inaccessible at least for six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and hence begins a period of isolation for the people of Kargil. This isolation results in great losses in terms of education, health, rural infrastructure and most importantly sustainability. It badly impacts the young people’s education and growth. As far as the health sector is concerned, in case of emergencies, people of this isolated district remain helpless. During summers, the people and the government become more involved in stocking basic amenities for the winters. Thus, energy and time are invested into it and other major development issues in different sectors get ignored. The people of the region have little choice but to consume stocked stale food items. Under such situation year after year human life in this part of the world is always at stake.

For years, the people of Kargil have been demanding the opening of the Kargil-Skardu road and construction of a tunnel through the Zojila pass but so far there hasn’t been any significant development on both the demands. It should be noted as in case of Kargil, the Indo-Pak conflict and the subsequent closing of the borders has completely confined people in their permanent habitats especially in winter, which was not the case before the conflict. Hence the very definition of conflict transformation in this case is different i.e. connectivity. This has not been taken into cognizance by the conflict parties- India and Pakistan. Even after four years since the Zojila tunnel project was approved yet not much has been done. The state has adopted a dilly-dally approach towards the construction of the Zojila tunnel. On the other hand, Kargil-Skardo road merely makes to the CBM document with no breakthrough every time.

The immediate alternative to gain confidence of people, to establish their faith in the peace process and to end the winter siege is expediting the construction of Zojila tunnel. This is because the other alternative Kargil-Skardu road has two hostile parties (India and Pakistan) and any development on the same needs a joint consensus from both the countries, which in the current scenario of mutual distrust seems very bleak. On the contrary, the Zojila tunnel doesn’t call for any two party endorsements and can happen through the involvement of a unitary actor as the entire Zojila tunnel construction work completely falls under the mandate of India. In this perspective the tunnel option looks more viable and by doing so the Indian state can start the peace process itself. It is hoped the work on Zojila tunnel is taken up very seriously so that the people of Kargil no longer continue to be a second citizen of the globalized world.

(The author, a native of Kargil, is founder of Kindling Accessibility Initiatives in Ladakh and can be mailed at javednaqi@gmail.com)

KARGIL: The Forgotten Land


JAVED NAQI

“Development is not so much a matter of how much one has as it is of how much one can do with whatever one has”. (Ackoff, 2006)

Kargil, a district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is carved out from Ladakh district in 1979. This was an unheard forgotten land in the Himalayan plateau. It was only during the Kargil War that the region shot into prominence. Prior to the war, the district was not even known to the rest of the country and the world at large. Although Kargil received much attention as a battlefield, the problems and issues of the local population remain unnoticed under the sheen of Kargil victory.
Kargil with an area of 14000 sq km is remote, inaccessible and high altitude area in the western Himalayas. The climatic condition of the region is harsh with extreme cold, dryness, high radiation, low humidity, low oxygen, desert landscape and limited water sources. These exert deleterious effects on the inhabitants like low fertility, high mortality, retardation of mental growth and development and alteration in physiology. Drass, a small town in the west of Kargil, is reputed to be the second coldest inhabited place, with the temperature dipping down below -45 °C. The district is home to a population of few lakhs and they carry out their day to day life under these severe environmental stresses. The baltis, purigpas, dards and brokpas form the different ethnic groups of the population. The Muslims are the majority whereas the Buddhists form the second largest population. The main occupation of the population is cultivation, horticulture, animal husbandry and into government services, trade and commerce. The district is low developed and ranks at the bottom in infrastructural facilities and overall socio-economic development. This adds to the hardship of the local population and hence the survival is on the mercy of nature.

Poor Connectivity
Gone are the days when Kargil used to be an important trade centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. With the closure of silk route and creation of India and Pakistan, the region has become totally isolated from rest of the world. Mohammad Ashraf, former Director General, J&K Tourism, points out, ‘this border area was never really cut off even during most brutal winter’. He adds, ‘Kargil-Skardu has been an all weather route of great importance, which further connects with Gilgit and thence to Central Asia’. It is only after the emergence of borders that the area got totally blocked during winter. Thus, the people of Kargil are virtually imprisoned in a frozen prison. The only link which connects Kargil to the outer world is the Zojila pass, which becomes inaccessible at least for six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and hence begins a period of isolation for the people of Kargil. This isolation results in great losses in terms of education, health, rural infrastructure development and most importantly sustainability. It badly impacts the young people’s education and growth. Tourism, crucial to its economy, is dependent on the Srinagar-Leh highway. There exists a huge potential for winter sports and winter tourism, but tourism gets badly affected due to the six-month inaccessibility. During summers, the people and the government become more involved in stocking basic amenities for the winters. Thus, energy and time are invested into it and other major development issues in different sectors get ignored. The people of the region have little choice but to consume stocked stale food items. Under such situation year after year human life in this part of the world is always at stake. For years, the people of Kargil have been demanding the opening of the Kargil-Skardu road and construction of a tunnel through the Zojila pass but so far there hasn’t been any significant development on both the demands.
The state of air connectivity is not in a good shape and still Kargil doesn’t exist on the air map of the country. The only airport in Kargil is yet to be used for commercial flights. It requires upgradation which has been pending for a long time. Due to the hilly terrain, the runway needs to be extended by 3,000 feet for normal commercial flights. The current length is merely 6,000 feet, inadequate for flight service in hilly areas.

Energy dependence
Life in Kargil is completely dependent on energy sources like fuel wood to survive the winters. Due to desert landscape and negligible forest cover, the locals are wholly dependent on Kashmir valley and across for fuelwood to sustain life during the freezing winters. The same holds true for petroleum products and other essential commodities. One can imagine the state of living conditions under shortage of these basic requirements. There are no alternate energy sources to address the crises situation. The issue of energy is of paramount importance for this region. With energy being crucial to human survival, long-term plans need to be developed to tide over the crisis-like situation that crop up year after year.

Lack of employment and entrepreneurship development opportunities
Unemployment is a social issue of serious concern in the present times, both at national as well as state level. In the past few years the problem of unemployment in Kargil has increased at an alarming rate. Lack of entrepreneurship skills of the local youth adds to the problem of unemployment as there is no such institution in the district. The entrepreneurship development initiatives can be used as a tool to provide opportunities to the unemployed. Thus to cope up with the unemployment crisis in the district, there is a greater need to establish entrepreneurship development platform so as to infuse entrepreneurship spirit in youth.

Lack of research activities and facilities
Kargil bestowed with different geology has huge mineral resources and precious rocks. The region also homes many important medicinal plants and economically important bio diversity. There is no research activity and institution in operation to explore these reserves. It is imperative to establish research facilities to undertake studies to explore the hidden reserves for the economic upliftment of the region. Such facilities will also provide prospects of employment for the local skilled and unskilled youths.

No access to external market
The district produces world’s best apricot and indigenous fruit varieties. There is no access to external markets for these fruit crops. This adds to the economic backwardness of the district as compared to the other districts of the state. In view of this state of affairs, it is highly essential to create avenues to market the indigenous fruits in national and international markets so that the socio-economic conditions of the district are improved. It will not only play a significant role in improving the state of the local economy but also help in providing livelihood sources to a large number of educated youth.

Inadequate Electricity
The state of electricity in far flung villages is very poor with mere 3-4 hrs of supply in a day. The villagers have to resort to use of mostly kerosene lamps to meet their extra energy demand. This results in high recurring expenses as well as adverse affects on health. There is great potential of hydro power in the region due to good presence of springs and fast flowing glacier rivers. This can provide efficient electricity for lighting and micro-enterprises. This can have positive impact in terms of social, economic and environmental aspects which in turn can improve the living conditions of the region as a whole. The students in the villages will be able to contribute more time to studies. It’ll replace the harmful kerosene lamps that emit harmful fumes.

Poor means of communication
Today without adequate communication means the socio-economic and educational development is impossible. It has been augmented by the technological advancement in communication and the advent of internet was a landmark. Living and day to day operation is not possible without internet. In this age of internet, the region lacks proper basic communication means. Internet is out of question, the state of mobile and telephone services are miserable. The absence of private service providers makes the situation the worst. BSNL is the only one which is in operation and out of service most of the time. The low transmitting power radio station tunes for few hours in the evening and the DD station still waits for upgradation since its inception. As a result the rich cultural heritage of region remains obscure in the eyes of the outer world. The issue of communication needs a greater focus and radical improvement.

Poor Health Facilities
The district lacks the state of art medical facilities and health specialists. Most of the time, the locals have to travel to the valley and other states for health tests and major operations. There is an acute shortage of proper health infrastructure in villages. The people remain hapless in case of health emergency during the winter when the region is cut off from the rest of the country. Under these circumstances the survival of the local always remains at threat.



Poor Quality Education and Illiteracy
Youths are the agents of change. They can help bring change if only they are provided with quality education and mentor guidance. The youths of the region have great potential to be the changemakers but unfortunately they lack the platform to groom and perform. There are no career and educational counselling centres in the district to mentor the local youths. The quantity of institutes established in the sector of education has increased but there is no accountability shown on the quality. This results in increased school dropouts, migration of students to other states and illiteracy. It is high time to bring paradigm shift in the education sector to save the future.

Inadequate representation in policy and decision making
One of the prime factors of socio-economic backwardness of the region is lack of local representation in any decision making platform in the state as well as at centre. The people of Kargil are always ignored on this front and hence they don’t have any say in policy and decision making.

Poor Tourism and Sports infrastructure
Kargil has a huge potential for winter sports and winter tourism. Unfortunately both these sectors are in shambles due to sheer negligence. The district lacks proper and adequate infrastructure to accommodate the visitors. We don’t see any efforts to promote and publicize Kargil tourism through print and electronic media. Kargilites are great winter sports lovers and players from the region have played and represented India at international level. Due to favourable conditions the region can host international events but it falls back on promotion and upgradation of winter sports at par with international standards. The state of affair is dismal to the extent that more recently skating players in Kargil had to contribute money to prepare an ice skating ring in Kargil town at the bank of Suru river.

The list of issues and concerns of the population is long and cannot be scribbled down on few pieces of paper. These issues need response on war footing to support the sustainability of the people in this frozen land. The socio-economic development of the region demands for radical development strategy, a strategy built on new technologies taking into consideration the natural constraints and available resources of the region. Efforts should be made to replicate successful model of development from those parts of the world with similar conditions.

(The author, a native of Kargil is Assistant Professor in Higher Education and can be mailed at javednaqi@gmail.com)