Like the ‘must-do’ item on a tourist’s itinerary, Kashmir is a must visit destination for every prime minister. And, true to script, the hardliners will call for a shutdown to greet the visiting dignitary and his entourage as they have done when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went calling on Monday. His call to those who will agree to shun violence to join talks with the government reduces the Kashmir issue to a uni-dimensional security issue. It is not. And this is where successive state and Central governments have erred in their approach to resolving the problem. There are many issues, mainly that of poverty and development, which have fallen through the cracks in the obsession with geopolitics and security.
Ever since Omar Abdullah took over as chief minister, he has been speaking of amendments to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, something the opposition People’s Democratic Party calls a ‘tool of repression’. The recent Nadihal expose in which three young men were killed by the army in what is alleged to be a fake encounter shows that the human rights aspect remains a very sore point. But if we were to look at Kashmir as just another Indian state, the figures are worrying. Its per capita income is just Rs 17,174 as against a national average of Rs 26,000. Its literacy figures are 55.5 per cent against a national average of 65 per cent. High unemployment drives people either out of the state or into the arms of militants. It is no one’s contention, given the bitter history of the state, that development is a panacea for all its troubles. The holy grail of Pakistan hardly holds out any attraction any more for Kashmir’s present generation. What turns them against the state is lack of opportunities and a stake in globalising India. This is something that an architect of reform like the prime minister and a Gen-Next chief minister like Mr Abdullah can surely address.
The much-touted zero tolerance for human rights violations must be enforced and seen to be done. It is time for the state and Central governments to deal with security as only one aspect of the Kashmir problem. There is a much better chance of bringing about normalcy if the festering problems of quality of life are addressed on a war-footing. The fantastic showing by Kashmiri students in the recent civil services examinations shows that all these years of trauma and suffering have not diminished aspirations, especially among the younger generation. These are potential building blocks for peace that the UPA in its second innings can use to its advantage.