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Territorial-Economic Squeeze Will Be Kashmir’s Worst Nightmare

Muslim boys on a street in Kashmir (Picture: Adam Jones, Flickr)

The trembling shadows of buried bodies in Jammu and Kashmir want an answer from the living so that they can finally sleep like the dead. We are gone, but for how long will you live like ghosts? And the ghosts want to ask the shadows one question: weren’t some of you responsible for making life a living hell for those who wanted to pursue their education, profession, culture, and well-being in the state?

The only answer that will satisfy both is that some people of Kashmir, promiscuous Jammu and Kashmir state governments, religious orthodoxy, corrupt elements in security forces, and the spineless governments at the Centre, allowed Pakistan space to ultimately destroy the very concept of a home for Kashmiri Pandits, and wreck the potential of Kashmiri Muslims as an assimilated and vibrant part of India.

But the hard truth is that if the people of the Valley really wanted peace, they would never have supported leaders or believed: that they are not normal people living in an ancient region, which just like other areas in India, learned to live with multiple cultures irrespective of the past and the present. Unfortunately, through the years, they added momentum to their ‘special status.’ As a result, today, the Centre has acknowledged that the Kashmir problem is nearly unsolvable.

Due to decades of governance vacuüm, the Kashmir Valley is nearing a point of no return due to hawala Islamists, corrupt border guards and police, pitiless local politicians whose day job is betrayal, rampaging floods, living in an open jail, brutalized youth, a constantly depressed society, and the central government that looks at Kashmir as a buffer zone between India and Pakistan.

Each passing day, more people in the Kashmir Valley are choosing not to stop, take a deep breath, keep aside their genuine grievances and let go of revenge, hatred, history, God-given rights, indoctrination, financial desperation, and the desire to severe body and spirit from India.

The ruling PDP-BJP’s development route as part of a political solution is a long and risky road, though in the right direction, and may bring calm but not peace. Sponsored jihadists won’t allow it. So, before desperate decisions become a harsh and permanent reality in the Valley, the people of Kashmir should consider a hypothetical scenario — and see for themselves that the cost of achievable peace through negotiation will be far less than the worst that could happen.

One of the worst steps would be a territorial and economic squeeze of the Kashmir Valley by a majority government in Delhi — without suspending the local government. Consider, for a moment, that from December 31, 2018, the Indian parliament takes a foolish, expensive but an exploratory and ruthless plunge to check terrorism and its cost, till a political solution is found when a steadfast and visionary government is in power in Srinagar and Delhi.

Kashmir already has a special status under the Indian union, but India raises the stakes. It builds and starts operating a sealed border between Kashmir and Jammu and Ladakh regions. It is already working rapidly to seal Kashmir’s border with Pakistan. India reduces army and para-military forces on the streets by three-fourths but ensures formidable defence and intelligence infrastructure at borders with China, Pakistan, Jammu, Ladakh, and in Siachin.

Just like during elections, the central government initiates a policy of two-year rotation for local police, at least, for the middle and top management. The Centre dilutes AFSPA, confiscates all illegal arms and ammunition from the Valley, fortifies bases and defence areas, and most of the army moves back to its barracks and gives people ‘azaadi’ from seeing army’s faces all day long.

Kashmir can hold elections, people can grow apples, shikaras can glide all they want on Dal Lake, and the local government gets more space for governance. For all purposes, Kashmir becomes even more of a landlocked no man’s land as India issues permit cards for citizens of Kashmir to travel and undertake any activity in any other part of India and vice versa.

At the same time, the central government combines a tough border with a heavy premium on budgetary support to see whether financial discipline will change mindsets, and strike at the root of terror funding.

No more free-flowing trade, military protection, federal-funded public services and organisations, federal budgetary support for public looting, access to markets in and outside India, admission to children, jobs in Indian states, help for organ transplants, and humanitarian aid in case of natural disasters. And India ensures it has access to glacial waters and power through military protection. It also carries out major development work in Jammu and Ladakh to protect these regions from Kashmir’s squeeze and isolation.

Every new rupee earned in salary and business revenue in the Valley gets subjected to a new tax, the Kashmiri Pandit Tax, for rehabilitation, and to make a point.

Perhaps this will remind Kashmiri Muslims of their role in the political neurosis in Kashmir, and their centrality in reconciliation. Only then they will realise that it’s they and not their parties that should be left to demand a lasting solution — not so much from the Centre but from the state government. They have to take the first step in creating a political, economic, and strategic leverage with the Centre and not always the other way around.

Meanwhile, Kashmir becomes a beautiful valley with the hardest border there ever was. It gets the azaadi it desired. But will it really be azaad? That’s not what’s going to happen.

Kashmir will start facing serious problems from day one due to this strategic squeeze. On January 1, 2019, prices of every product and service, public or private, will come under pressure. Tourism, infrastructure, agriculture, handicrafts, and horticulture sectors will take a hit due to slump in demand. Inflation, and underperforming labour, manufacturing, and service industries, and drying up of capital will ruin the already tattered local families’ future — as the Centre tightens the noose of interdependence.

The people of Kashmir know that a last-resort draconian attempt of a strategic and ruthless territorial and economic squeeze by any Centre will simply destroy state finances for the near-term. As it is, it’s the taxpayers of India, foreign aid and the central government’s heavy capital expenditure support through central grants, which allows people to carry on, and state officials to splurge public money.

A counter-productive fallout of the squeeze will be that Kashmir will become even more a playground for political profiteers. The Valley’s four neighbouring countries — Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan — all with very scenic routes for travelling ISIS mercenaries — will try to gain influence and exploit local politicians. This will become even more of reality if the government does not ban international travel. If it does, Kashmir’s squeeze will be asphyxiating.

Deep corruption will further eat away the region’s financial fabric. In one of the most blatant examples of corruption, the state government, since 1984, has been found guilty of deducting, and under-reporting, part of employees’ General Provident Fund contributions, and using them for daily functioning!

A territorial and economic clampdown is a brutal scenario not fit for the Indian democracy. Do the people of Kashmir want such a plot to play out? Obviously not, and nor would any Delhi government act on it. But if Kashmir’s rejection of negotiation continues, this proposition could become a proposal in the garb of a political vision or due to compulsion. And then Kashmir will burn, from the inside.