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Jammu and Kashmir: Governance is the key

Smruti S. Pattanaik is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 07, 2010

    A report titled “Kashmir: Path to peace” released in London in May 2010 has largely escaped media attention in India and Pakistan. The report is based on an opinion poll conducted in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state and ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’ - a part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The sample size of the population interviewed is 2374 and 1400 respectively for J&K and ‘AJK’. The report throws some interesting statistics in terms of the future of the state as well as the internal dimension of the problem. Three factors in this survey are instructive. First the governance aspect, second India-Pakistan relations and the Kashmir issue, and the third pertains to the dynamics of the Line of Control (LoC) and cross LoC confidence building measures in Kashmir.

    On governance issues, the people surveyed consider unemployment a major problem, followed by corruption, poor economic development and human rights abuses. The Kashmir conflict itself is considered not a problem in relative terms. For example, only 24 per cent in ‘AJK’ and 36 per cent in J&K felt that the conflict is a problem. Compared to this, 66 per cent in AJK and 87 per cent in J&K think unemployment is the biggest problem. According to the Department of Economics and Statistics of the Government of J&K, the unemployment rate among educated people in the state increased from 8.2 per cent in 1999-2000 to 9.0 per cent in 2004-05. However, the unemployment rate among the youth improved from 17.1 per cent in 1999-2000 to 14.7 per cent in 2004-05. The Education survey of 2008 reveals that the literacy rate is 64.18 per cent. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his recent visit, has assured that the government will look into the problem of unemployment and create more opportunities.

    The problem of human rights abuse is also recognized by the government. In December 2009, the Indian Army withdrew one of its divisions from Rajouri. The Border Security Force has been completely withdrawn from Srinagar and security there is largely managed by the Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir police. The Government of Kashmir has raised 10 battalions of J&K armed police to take care of security. The government is also trying to address the communication problem. It has invested in building roads, for instance, the Moghul road to connect Poonch and Rajouri with Srinagar while the long awaited railway line between Qazibad and Baramulla has been inaugurated. Corruption is another issue that has been a major cause of resentment.

    To deal with internal matters, the Indian government had appointed five working groups on Kashmir, which have already submitted their reports. These groups are: Strengthening Relations across LoC, Confidence Building Measures Across Segments of Society in the State, Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir, Ensuring Good Governance and autonomy issues in the context of Centre-State relations.

    The Chatham House report reveals an interesting dimension on the attitude of the people to the central government as well as the state government and their impact on peace. More people in Jammu and Kashmir believe that elections at the national and state levels have improved the chance of peace compared to the views of the people of ‘AJK’. While India has endeavoured to keep the peace process alive and has been discussing the issue of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, it has simultaneously kept its door open for the separatists. Two rounds of talks have already taken place as part of the Prime Minister’s peace initiative.

    India-Pakistan relations have been referred to as an important aspect to the resolution of the conflict. Currently the two governments have renewed contact and already meetings between the foreign secretaries and home ministers have taken place. The foreign ministers of the two countries are scheduled to meet on July 15 to address the trust deficit. India-Pakistan relations is intrinsic to peace in South Asia. Therefore it is not surprising that 30 per cent in ‘AJK’ and 55 per cent in J&K felt that India-Pakistan talks increase their personal safety and overall 48 per cent feel that the talks had improved the chance for peace.

    Cross-LoC trade and people to people contact initiated by India and Pakistan remained immune to the tension that was generated post-Mumbai. This suggests that this process has gathered its own momentum and the two governments would not like to interrupt the process. 19 per cent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir want the LoC to be permanent compared to 1 per cent in the ‘AJK’. However, a majority, 58 per cent of the population, are prepared to accept LoC as a permanent border only if it could be liberalized for people and/or trade to move across it freely. 22 per cent in AJK and 29 per cent in J&K are in favour of the current LoC. The support of the people to the process is clear. Various militant groups including the separatists have been supportive of the opening of the LoC. Prime Minister Singh in his speech reiterated his resolve to concretize this desire of the people by stating, “We want to look at all possible measures to strengthen links between people on both sides of the Line of Control.”

    Though the Chatham House report did not include the Gilgit and Baltistan region, a survey done by the IDSA suggested that the people of Kargil want the Kargil-Skardu route to be opened for reconnecting the region with the Gilgit and Baltistan region with which they have socio-cultural linkages. In fact, Prime Minister Singh in his speech in the Sher-e-Kashmir University announced that India would try and get this route operationalised. Bilaterally, making cross border travel easy and increasing the basket of tradable goods would go a long way. It needs to be remembered that cross border trade is not ordinary trade but has political significance and is linked to the larger Kashmir issue.

    Addressing the internal aspects would be an important pre-requisite to peace. In this, governance holds the key as the report has revealed that unemployment and corruption are major issues. Between India or Pakistan, 28 percent of the people residing in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India said that they would join India compared to 2 percent in J&K who supported the idea – the highest being 6 per cent in Srinagar and 7 per cent in Badgam. Interestingly, only one per cent of the people of ‘AJK’ said they would join India. The highest support for India came from Kargil, which sampled 80 per cent. Contrary to popular perception, 44 per cent of ‘AJK’ wants independence compared to 43 per cent in J&K. In the overall calculation, 21 per cent of the population wants to join India whereas 15 per cent wants to join Pakistan.

    Commissioned by Libyan President Col. Qadhafi’s son, Dr. Saif al Islam al Qadhafi, this report raises a few pertinent questions: Was this generated by simple research interest or has a larger agenda driven this exercise given Col. Qadhafi’s advocacy of an independent Kashmir in the UN in September 2009. Second, what was the reason for keeping Gilgit and Baltistan out of this survey? It is well known that the people of this region are politically marginalized and the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self governance Ordinance, 2009 announced by the government of Pakistan falls short of expectation of the people. Given economic backwardness and denial of political rights for decades for this region, as depicted in Baroness Emma Nicholson’s report of 2007, the region’s inclusion would have thrown very different answers on internal problems, India-Pakistan relations, and the political future of Kashmir.