IPRI Speech February 8, 2021

Thank you for asking me to participate in this event. I apologize for the camera on my
computer not working and the other technical difficulties with my sound.

When you first asked me to participate in this program, I hesitated because I felt all of
us must focus on the political solution, and both human and civil rights, rather than
anything else, and especially not development which has become such a bad word for
most locals. But then I thought about all those years working on sustainable
development throughout the Valley, and how dealing with the authorities and
security forces represented just another dimension of disempowerment and
humiliation for everybody trying to do something. Anything! And in that sense, it
fits most other topics we have been covering lately. Moreover, there is also the need to talk more about the real facts on the ground while India has made “development” and good governance in Kashmir part of its
extensive disinformation campaign in the rest of the world. Just recently, I saw a
glossy brochure the Indian Ministry of External Affairs is planning to disseminate
to member states of the UN. It is a fictional depiction of a Shangri La type of
Kashmir which in actuality has probably not looked as neglected as it does now
since the worst years of the Dogra regime. This is quite different from when I was
there when we had some breaks in between the horror and when people were still
dreaming of some sort of a future. Now they have simply given up, and it
sometimes feels like the Valley of the Walking Dead.
For me development has never meant large industries, big hotels, huge infrastructure
building, or employment of youth that requires displacement from the rural areas, unless
in search of opportunities that might match their higher education if they were privileged
enough to obtain it. This is of course what India is now telling the world it will bring
about. Much of what I can talk about is as always personal experiences while working
on small scale community-based development funded by the UNDP for that very
purpose. This included horticulture, Agri Forestry, and rural tourism development. And
since the funds were disbursed by the State Government, I had my share of battles with
MLAs and Ministers of every political hue and of course bureaucrats who are anything
but facilitators. When I was there, J & K twice made it to the very top as the most
corrupt state in India.
My first project, one out of six, took me to North Kashmir, where I lived for a year in the
upper reaches of Rafiabad which is halfway between Uri and Handwara. No internet,
mobile phone connection except on some hill tops, and of course no roads. Healthcare
nonexistent with the closest small hospital two hours away in Baramulla. I stayed with a
family of ten and no sanitation and electricity except perhaps for one hour here and
there and most certainly not every day. I worked with 60 villages throughout the belt,
most of which had never been electrified, and where life had not really changed much
for hundreds of years. What had changed, though, was the villagers’ awareness of
government entitlements, often promised by local politicians during election campaigns.
Much of it never came except in rare cases, and then often just before one elected
politician was replaced by another without never having implemented anything
promised. Development initiatives never seemed to get out of the Detailed Project
Report preparation stage in Kashmir. It took bureaucrats years to prepare one at the
request of a local MLA or Minister, only to have it shelved after being asked to prepare
another by the next leader. If it had been sanctioned it went into a black hole of project
funding, later to be disbursed as salaries or some such to those in the department that
had been put in charge.
I also prepared detailed project reports. But I was not only responsible for getting the
projects funded but also to have everything implemented and documented in utilization
reports to be filed with the UNDP. And that after struggling for months to have the
funding released by state government officials. This took endless journeys from district
collectors, to directors of the departments, to their accounting staffs, to the infamous
Commissioner Secretaries, who were rarely Kashmiri Muslims and literally hated me for
working so comfortably with communities they so clearly despised. All of it could take
more than a year and sometimes more with the Durbar Move delaying everything for an
additional six months while all files were travelling back and forth on the Srinagar
Jammu highway between the summer and winter capitals. That is of course another
relic from the Dogra years and their wish to spend the cold winters somewhere else
besides the freezing Valley.
These are all standard operating procedures for Kashmiris working on anything
involving the government and of course anything requiring a permit or a mere signature
for anything. While much of this is probably common in much of the region, what adds
to the extreme frustration in Kashmir is the involvement of security forces and
intelligence agencies every step of the way. While on my way to launch a project
brochure in the upper reaches of Rafiabad, I was arrested on the Srinagar Baramulla
highway and put under subsequent house arrest, one of many to come. This with the
excuse that some “chatter’ had been intercepted that I was going to be killed by
terrorists later that day. I was being arrested for my own protection, they said. Since I
immediately informed the local media, the police then claimed they had actually stopped
me from leading an election boycott rally on behalf of so called anti-national elements. I
was not. This was followed by two weeks of closely watched house arrest and daily
interrogations by the CID. My project was then completely stopped when the newly
elected MLA of Rafiabad was trying to get access to the project funding to be spent on a
part of Rafiabad that had voted overwhelmingly for him. Similarly, a bit later in Lolab and
accompanied by a senior tourism official to scout out some areas for potential tourism
development near Kalaruss, I was intercepted by the Indian army, my camera was
confiscated, and I was ordered to leave the area immediately. Earlier in Rafiabad an
entire foreign trekking group I had brought as part of my project had been arrested by
the army, claiming they were in a restricted area which they were not. I had to move hell
and high water to get my guides released from custody. I found out later that both was
reported as my having tried to cross the LoC to meet my Pakistani handler, a General
Mustafa whose name was made up! If it weren’t so sad it would almost be funny.
Why am I telling all of this in such detail? Because this of course happens to Kashmiris
day in and day out while dealing with every level of government, regardless of whether it
is just a Sarpanch or block level worker or anybody else all the way up to district and
state officials. And nothing gets ever done. Add to it the endless curfews during which
all comes to a standstill, the internet and phone interruptions, the winters when not
much of anything is done because of the weather and absence of all officials in charge,
and now of course and worst of all the place having become a huge ghetto where
nobody dares to venture out for fear of uttering one wrong word that may lead to instant
arrests or disappearances.
Then the new DDC elections that just happened which in my view will only empower an
entirely new cadre of the incompetent and corrupt, but this time directly selected by
Delhi and often backed by the army. They will now oversee most block level funding
and more than likely only approve works for their kin or those who supported them
during the election process. None of these will have any political powers and thus will
not be able to represent the sentiments of the people in any way. This is in sharp
contrast to former elected state politicians who at times at least acted as a buffer
between the security forces and the people. And that is in no way defending how much
they betrayed the people politically. But now there is literally nobody to go to with real
This winter has been the coldest and snowiest in decades in Kashmir. It has also been
the one with reportedly the worst governance ever while people were trying to deal with
the fallout of the extreme weather conditions. There was nobody to contact in an
emergency in remoter areas except perhaps the army, which is of course what is being
hoped by India. Then desperation will be hailed as people appreciating the Sadbhavna
program and reaching out to the benevolent forces!
Last but not least here is part of my response to lies by the Indian Ambassador in the
US published in the NYT right after the illegal annexation of Kashmir when he claimed it
was done for “good governance, to speed up development, and take J & K out of the
dark ages….” And things of course went only from bad to worse instead!
(1)The J & K Right to Information Act was much stronger than the Indian law now in
force which has been watered down again and again since 2014; in fact, RTI was used
in Kashmir more than anywhere else and there was an influential civil society RTI
Movement educating locals about this right;
(2) Women could very much participate in Panchayat elections, and if needed I can
provide a list of names of some who won in 2011, including one Kashmiri Hindu panch
at Tangmarg;
(3) The inheritance provisions contained in Art 35 A and prohibiting women who married
an outsider from claiming their inheritance were struck down by the J & K High Court
years ago and were already no longer valid;
(4)Economically J & K had always been much better off than most states in India,
including and especially Gujarat;
(5) All important socio economic indicators have always been much better in Kashmir,
including nutrition, health and education and especially for women and children;
(6); J & K never experienced the kind of poverty levels India experiences because of
Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms. They were revolutionary at the time and made it
possible for every Kashmiri to own land (land to the tiller) and prohibited large
landholdings to remain in the hands of the rich and privileged; no Kashmiri will ever be
homeless unlike the poor in India. Mind you, I am no fan of Sheikh Abdullah and I
think this is the only good thing he ever did for Kashmiris.
(7) Funds appropriated by India for “the development of Kashmir” have always been
utilized primarily for paying the salaries of government employees, the number of which
is ridiculously high. Among other things, Delhi always felt providing and funding
government employment would create loyalties to the Indian state and never
discouraged it!
(8) According to his statement, there will be an additional 50,000 state government jobs
added to an already hopelessly bloated bureaucracy!!! This will drain “development
funds” even further.”
(9) The communications blackout was not lifted at all as he claimed then. Landlines
were restored in many areas, but the saturation of landlines has been poor for a long
time. Many people disconnected their lines and switched to mobile telephony long ago;
now of course all internet has finally been restored as a result of the Biden
Administration coming in and many expressing outrage over the farmers’ protests and
the internet cuts near Delhi. At least this is what most of us believe.
(10) There were always thousands of low caste migrant workers from India in Kashmir.
All of them said they were paid higher daily wages and treated better than in India. Add
to that hordes of beggars from India having created a begging mafia in the Valley and
not wanting to leave! Now of course they may all qualify to become permanent settlers!
(11) There were several “investment conferences” in the past like the one planned for
this coming summer. Nothing ever came out of it, despite companies being able to
lease land for 99 years the terms of which were renewable (The Taj and other hotels
built properties that way in Kashmir); the main problems for investors is the
overwhelming presence of security forces, no all-weather road communication and the
dismal power situation which is not only a function of poor management, discriminatory
policies, most of the power generated being added to the Northern Power Grid of India,
but also the water levels getting lower and lower during winters because of climate
change. Also nobody will ever want to invest in a place where one will be considered
part of an occupation! Development will thus be mostly the building of colonies for
outsiders, including the dreaded Sainik Colonies
(12) The armed rebellion has nothing at all to do with economic/ job issues. In fact, most
of the “New Age Militants” since 2016 have been from well-to-do families, and some left
jobs as teachers/ lecturers to fight for the cause. Armed rebels join primarily because
they have been abused by security forces and/ or because they demand secession from
India. Not because they have nothing to do!

From reports on the ground, I do not see any of the dismal governance I have described
improving any time soon, if ever. If nothing else, it has gotten worse with people having
given up on having any of their problems addressed and no longer even trying to reach
out. Now in addition to local administrators who do not care or are incompetent,
Kashmir will have more nonlocal bureaucrats coming in and especially in top positions.
They will neither understand any of the local needs nor care about the people whom
they would like to see permanently caged without ever voicing any demands. No
brochure handed out by Indian diplomats will ever reflect local realities. It is up to
us to continuously point them out. The disinformation campaign is alive and well.
And one last point: I had the privilege to visit AJK last August and must say the
difference between the regions could not be more pronounced. Ever since that
I have become quite militant with anybody claiming that Azad Kashmir is occupied.
It is most definitely not. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.