It could well be just rhetoric, but for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, the fate of the state government seems hinged on a touchy issue that New Delhi has always shied from raising in public: demilitarisation. It is time the J&K Police was given the wherewithal to strengthen itself with new recruits and modern weapons, so that the army and the paramilitary can be substantially reduced in numbers in the hinterland, and remain a backbone but not the combat arm. It is also time that the state and central officials in J&K were stopped from letting the insurgency be the only excuse for poor governance.
Army officers in Kashmir privately say that the overwhelming number of troops in the state is not needed. The number of militants, even by official accounts, is about 700. Infiltration from Pakistan is vastly reduced, the financial and logistical supply lines of the militant groups having been squeezed. Anger often erupts, but there is an overall sense of ease. But a war ‘on autopilot’ continues. All Kashmiris are suspect as security forces seek out an invisible enemy. They negotiate their peace every day at checkpoints and in search operations. For an innocent civilian, one impatient answer to a soldier’s tough questions could mean detention — or worse. Far away from their homes, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits continue to pay the price of siding with India.
It is hard to see all this ending soon. As cynical as it sounds, there are far too many vested interests on both sides of the fence who love a good insurgency. Central funds are time and again unaccounted for and misspent. Quick promotions help military careers. Separatist politicians receive favours from the same institution they abuse at public rallies: the Indian state. People must share the blame too. Ordinary Kashmiris use their daily humiliations as an ‘excuse’ to pay neither electricity bills nor income-tax.
Some weeks ago, I called up a home Ministry official to seek a figure: how much money the Indian government has spent in Kashmir since 1989. The official’s answer was quick. “You are asking for the moon,” he said. There are so many civilian and military funds flowing into Kashmir that it is hard to keep track. After some digging, one estimate emerged: at least Rs 43,000 crore has been spent as development funds since 1989. But this amount is ‘invisible’.
“[A] review of Security Related Expenditure revealed incorrect reporting of expenditure, diversion and misuse of funds, lack of control over expenditure, delay in de-hiring of expensive hotels and irregularities in payment of rent, delay in completion of security works,” stated the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report for the last financial year. From the state’s security budget, an executive engineer in Jammu spent Rs 67 lakh to repair office kitchens and toilets, the Prisons Department paid electricity bills, the police department bought a guesthouse, and a police training school chief dug a bore-well. It pumped out contaminated water for months — and then shut down. Why should the security forces’ strength be reduced in Kashmir? Who will build the schools and roads? Clearly, the state government has not. For far too long, the state apparatus has been pampered by New Delhi and is hiding behind the eternal excuse of ‘insurgency’.
Of the 600 planned road projects over the past seven years, only 12 were completed on time. The literacy rate is 55 per cent — compared to 76 per cent in Himachal Pradesh. Unemployment is overwhelming. Kashmir’s embattled residents, its homeless Pandit refugees, its soldiers and the Indian taxpayer deserve more honesty.