The constitution of a three-member ‘Committee of Experts’ by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to restore and preserve the world famous Dal Lake is a welcome step. The committee, headed by E Sreedharan, former chief of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, would ascertain and suggest measures to protect the water body from further degradation and retrieve it to its original glory. According to report published by Live Law.in the bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur took stock of the current situation of Dal Lake and the attitude of the local officials in handling the same and found that nothing much has changed despite the court passing a string of directions since year 2002 and State having spent Rs 400 crore to check issues plaguing Dal Lake. The committee is comprising E Sreedharan, Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, IAS (Retired), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, Govt. of Kerala and renowned environmentalist M. C. Mehta, who is a native of Jammu and Kashmir, said the report. While Sreedharan would be the chairperson, Dr Nivedita would be the coordinator of this committee. The bench also set out the terms of reference of this committee which includes ascertaining the status of the Dal Lake; ascertaining all measures required to be undertaken for its restoration, maintenance and preservation as well as all ancillary issues including securing the banks of the Dal Lake; re-settlement, relocation and rehabilitation of persons residing or carrying on business on its banks or in the Dal Lake (say in Houseboats etc.,). The committee has also been empowered to rope in any national or even international expert to facilitate in the task of reviving Dal Lake.
The Dal is virtually in its last throes of death. Various governments in the past and present have time and again claimed to work for restoration of the glory of the lake. Hundreds of crores of rupees are reported to have been spent on cleaning the lake but its deterioration could not be arrested. It is generally believed that the officials responsible for taking care of the Dal have siphoned of most of the funds listed for it. The departments concerned with the maintenance of the lake and keeping it clean are doing just the opposite. There is absolutely no accountability. There is a free for all prevalent everywhere. There is no co-ordination among various departments of the government. The only one thing where co-ordination and cooperation seems supreme is passing of underhand transactions. Dal, for histories, has remained the face of Kashmir and symbol of its beauty. It now likes look an ugliest mark on Kashmir’s face. Both, common people as well state officials have equally vandalized and brutalized this water body. Others simply watched as mute spectators. From 26 sq Km of original are, it has now squeezed to around 10 sq km. It is not time to single out the people responsible for the destruction of the Dal. But it is time to take measures to protect whatever little has been left of the Dal. The rot is not restricted to the Dal only. River Jehlum, once known for its pristine and fresh water, is also dying a fast death. It is not going overboard to say that Jehlum has virtually turned in to a sewerage drain.Every drain of human waste flows into the river. Its stinking water is cause of many diseases among the people living on banks of the river. Late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed had taken some effective measures to restore the beauty of the Dal and Jehlum. Beautification of River Jehlum was his dream project. In his first stint as chief minister, several portions of Jehlum bank were cleaned off encroachment and illegal constructions and were developed beautifully. Initially, Mahbooba Mufti, showed enough interest in Dal development and she used to take stock of work done on the Dal on weekly basis. People come and go. They are remembered for their actions. The ire and anger notwithstanding, people still remember Jagmohan as a man of ‘development’ in his first tenure. The incumbent governor can make a persona of himself by taking a major development programme for restoring the Dal Lake to its pristine glory.
Handle with care
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has said the migrant Kashmiri Pandits would be settled in separate townships of their choice and setting up such habitations is a “not a matter of choice but out of necessity”. In an interview with an English national daily, he said that the government has identified the places. “We are working on those places. There are several that are there, In Pulwama and in other places. We won’t just settle them anywhere but in nice places of their choice.We will give it to them for free.” He said, “I am just trying to provide them (Pandits) an alternate accommodation so that they have a home, a school and security.
Separate township is not a matter of choice but out of necessity. We have to give them a nice place to stay, of their choice.” Bringing migrant Kashmiri Pandits back to the valley is a welcome step. It would not only help restore Kashmir’s heterogeneous culture but would also help mitigate the problems of Pandits. The migrant Pandits not only suffered at economic front through their migration but their social fabric also got weakened. Successive government’s at the centre and state, since, 1996, devised and discussed various plans to bring migrant Pandits back to the valley. Huge financial packages, in terms of relief and repairing and reconstruction of their houses, were announced to lure Pandits back to the valley. However, it did little work, though, the situation on ground and security environment has substantially improved.
A keen study reveals that growing employment opportunities and financial security in outside states comes in the way of many migrant Pandits, more particularly younger ones, in returning to the valley. Many members of the older generation, who had the yearning for returning to their homes, have either passed away or have compromised with the growing new situations. That has made the issue (return of Pandits) merely a political slogan. The demands for separate homeland by a miniscule section of Kashmiri Pandits represented by Panun Kashmir has added all the more political colour to the issue. Bringing Pandits back to the valley is a dream project of BJP-led government at the centre. But the way the issue is being played up and debated raises more questions than answering the one. For the politics being associated with the issue by vested interests, the return of Pandits is likely to assume serious proportions, which needs to be handled with extra care.
Setting up of separate cities and townships for Pandits is not something that could bring the required results. It would rather defeat the very purpose of bringing Pandits back. It would deepen the societal wedge between them and majority community than bringing them together. The government appears to be ignoring this fallout. According to official data, 24202 families migrated out of the valley after the armed conflict broke out. Presently a total number of 38,119 families comprising 1, 42,042 Kashmiri migrants stand registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry. But the media reports suggest figures quite exaggerated. This makes the whole issue doubtful. The state and central government are already working on a project for granting state subject status to non-state residents, more particularly West Pakistan refugees settled in Jammu. That is most unlikely proposition to be acceptable to the people of the state. Many sections view the move as changing the demographic character of the state.
Last time the government made similar attempts that ultimately culminated in six-moth long public unrest. The state government is again treading the same path.
Government, both, at the centre and state, need to understand the intricacies and sensitivity involved in the issue. Instead of dividing people on communal lines, the effort should be made to unite them culturally and socially. That could be done only if majority community in the valley would be taken into confidence, and Pandits settled among and alongside their Muslim neighbours. Rehabilitating them in separate colonies would only destroy further the social fabric and peace in the valley.
Taliban-America peace deal
The inevitable has happened. The mighty America is on way out in Afghanistan. After 18 years of military occupation during which the United States spent trillions of dollars to subjugate Afghans, America had finally to surrender before the Taliban, who it had dislodged from power in 2001 in the aftermath of disastrous 9/11 attacks in New York. After initial defeat at the hands of America-led NATO forces, it took Taliban almost two years to regroup and reorder its cadres to fight the foreign forces on its land. Having earlier defeated the equally might power the USSR, Afghans were confident that they were capable enough to drive out the foreign forces from its land. And the big news came on Monday when United States of America, China, Russia and Pakistan have come together to hammer out a peace deal with the Taliban. Quite at the same time another major development happened in Doha where a group of prominent Afghans, including some government officials acting in a personal capacity, managed to sit through a long — and by all accounts respectful — two-day meeting with the Taliban. Although it was unofficial, they managed to agree with the Taliban a roadmap as to how they might get towards a peace deal. The most important development that happened in Doha is the agreement that soft targets — the schools, women and children who should not normally be part of a conflict– would be off-limits for now. It’s the first time Afghans have made an agreement of this nature. And it comes after weeks of the tougher, preparatory stuff: the direct talks between the Taliban and the United States about the terms and pace of a troop withdrawal. Coming together of the big four—America, Russia, China and Pakistan—to devise Afghanistan peace road map must be viewed in the backdrop of closing in September 1—the deadline to conclude talks with Taliban. That reveals the desperation of America to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Since American President Donald Trump is seeking re-election in coming American elections, he wants to sell Afghanistan peace deal as major victory of his government as he has little other to boast about before the American electorate. In the process Trump is ignoring the concerns of his allies like India and the present government in Kabul led by Ashraf Gani. It is most likely that the presidential elections in Afghanistan which are due in September would be postponed as America would not like to offend Taliban by supporting these elections without making any deal with Taliban.
Americans want to exit Afghanistan quickly. It is for this reason that the US engaged Taliban despite continuous attack by them on the present government. US special envoy on Afghanistan, ZalmayKhalilzad, after conclusion of Doha talks with the Taliban, briefed both Russian and Chinese officials. Taliban has every reason to see it as its victory against America. The defeat in Afghanistan has been starring at American face for several years as the Taliban has captured more than 60 percent area of the country. The American-sponsored Ashraf Gani-led government has been squeezed to the four walls of Kabul and the US was desperate to find a safe way out of Afghanistan. Donald Trump initially tried to terrorize and pressurize Pakistan through intimidating measures to fights his war in Afghanistan, and in the process stopped all the military aid the country was supposed to get as its share for being a partner in America’s war on terrorism. Trump directly accused Pakistan of harbouring and sponsoring the Taliban terrorists. America even threatened Pakistan of military action if it did not comply with the US orders. But the rise of Imran Khan to power saw a new and confident Pakistan refusing to toe the American line saying that Pakistan would no
Revival of back channel diplomacy
It is quite premature to say which way the Indo-Pak relations would go in the days to come but some positive signs are emerging on the sub-continental horizon. The war of words at government level in New Delhi and Islamabad has, at least stopped, and no threats or warnings are issued against each other. Last week, even more positive thing has happened on Indo-Pak front. The track-II diplomacy between the two countries has been revived. Last Friday, a delegation of experts from India visited Islamabad and held a meeting with the members of Pakistani counter-parts. The delegations from the two countries included foreign officers and former envoys besides experts from other fields. The meeting is viewed as a major development towards easing tension and normalizing relations. The talks continued for two days. The second phase of talks will take place in New Delhi sometime soon. Given the level of hostility and antagonism between the two countries, one cannot expect results overnight.
It is a long and assiduous process to bring the two countries on table. However, the beginning has to make somewhere. Nothing could have been more appropriate for this than the Friday-Islamabad talks. This is the first direct or indirect contact between Islamabad and New Delhi after February 14 suicide attack in which over 40 CRPF men were killed in Pulwama. It is most likely that the two countries would open airspace for each other in near future. Pakistan recently opened its airspace for former Indian foreign minister SushmaSwraj to attend the SCO meet in Bishkek. They also opened it for Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bishkek but he avoided to use the space and took a alternate route bypassing Pakistan. India and Pakistan shut their air space for each other on February 27 after Indian force carried out a strike in Balakote in Pakistan’s northern KhaibarPakhtoon province. Pakistan air force retaliated with similar action on February 29, and captured a pilot besides destroying a jet fighter. That brought the two countries on the brink of nuclear war. However, the international intervention, more particularly from Saudi Arabia, China and America, stopped the two countries from going for war. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party BJP made it a major poll issue and got a resounding support from the people of India in the elections. His re-election has made many people doubtful about any thaw in the relations with Pakistan.
The revival of track-II diplomacy is seen as major departure from the years of hostile relations. It is time that both Islamabad and New Delhi step forward and make it a base for building relations anew. It is quite sad to note that a small but vocal constituency led by mad-media has high-jacked the agenda of the government and they formulate the foreign policy in TV studios. This is a reflection on the thinking and wisdom of the people in office that they get affected by this jingo-brigade. Saner voices in this point of time need to be heard and understood sans preconceived notions. The domestic squabbles and internal political exigencies have relegated the once vaunted India-Pakistan peace process to the proverbial square one. If the drift in Indo-Pak relations is not arrested it would appear that in the not too distant future the process may well be denuded of the proverbial fig leaf that has afforded it a semblance of respectability. Government of India might have a genuine case when they say that talks could be held only after Pakistan stopped ‘exporting terrorism’. But India is not the only country which faces terrorism. Pakistan has faced the wrath of terrorism more than India. Pakistan has publicly accused India of supporting and sponsoring terrorists in Pakistan. A former officer of Indian navy is in custody of Pakistan, who, the Pakistani authorities say, was on a terror mission in Pakistan. The allegations and counter-allegations would go on indefinitely unless some reasonable steps are taken to get people out of the caged mentality. The first step, in this regard, is to restart the dialogue process. That is the only way forward.