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Can roads bring happiness?

By Javed Matjee

Srinagar: Notwithstanding the fact that construction of roads and railway tracks can not achieve political results, the prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced an ‘economic package’ for Jammu and Kashmir at the conclusion of his recent three day visit to state. Except ‘assurance and guarantee’ to conduct ‘free and fair’ polls in the state Mr. Vajpayee had nothing political to offer to people of Kashmir. Mr. Vajpayee’s visit was ‘stormy’ in more than one ways. This was the visit when people of Kashmir were expecting some concrete political steps from the prime minister. However Mr. Vajpayee proved that New Delhi was not ready to move an inch on Kashmir, except repeating the old rubbed promises. Who will convey to Vajpayee that holding ‘free and fair’ elections was neither a political package nor any concession to Kashmir? After all clean elections have been taking place in all the states right since 1947. 

The stormy situation along the Indo-Pak border and the Line of Control (LoC) was another important feature of Mr. Vajpayee’s visit. Mr. Vajpayee asked troops to be ready for decisive war while addressing them at Kupwara, but denied possibilities of war with Pakistan at a press conference at Srinagar barely 30 hours after his Kupwara speech. Whatever had remained there was washed away by the assassination of senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone who was killed hours after Mr. Vajpayee landed in the state. The assassination virtually pushed the visit far behind and surely hit the intentions and ideas of the prime minister. 

Mr. Vajpayee could not clear his intentions on the issue of possibilities of negotiations with Hurriyat conference and other separatist fronts. The visit has once again conformed that center’s Kashmir policy is marked by utmost confusion. Mr. Vajpayee told reporters that no unlawful outfit was invited for meeting with him. The state chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah had earlier also said that those who do not accept supremacy of Indian constitution, 
cannot meet the 
prime minister. 

Mr. Vajpayee could not clear his intentions on the issue of possibilities of negotiations with Hurriyat conference and other separatist fronts. The visit has once again confirmed that center’s Kashmir policy is marked by utmost confusion. Mr. Vajpayee told reporters that no unlawful outfit was invited for meeting with him. The state chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah had earlier also said that those who do not accept supremacy of Indian constitution, cannot meet the prime minister. However Mr. Vajpayee said during his press conference that he was ready to meet the Hurriyat leaders. "Whosoever wants to talk, he should come to Delhi… this is an invitation", was Mr. Vajpayee’s reply to a question that why is center’s Kashmir policy marred with confusion. Mr. Vajpayee was in fact confirming the confusions. 

There is almost a consensus in the country that Kashmir is a political problem and needs a political solution. There have been a number of economic packages for Kashmir, real as well as imaginary, partial as well as complete even black and white too. However thirst of a political package is unfulfilled. It is in this context that most of the mainstream politicians in Kashmir have rejected the ‘economic package’ announced by the Prime Minister. Though the ruling National Conference (NC) is also not satisfied by the package, however the party is hesitant in reacting against it due to obvious reasons. It was in this context that the state chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah, who also heads the party, had a ‘beautiful’ diversion when asked by the reporters if he was satisfied with the package announced by the prime minister. "We had very useful discussions with the prime minister" was his reply to the above question. However some of the party leaders were clear enough to say that the package was an eye- wash. Two former chief ministers and veteran mainstream politicians Syed Mir Qasim and Ghulam Mohammad Shah use almost same words in reacting on the package saying that Vajpayee too failed to act politically on Kashmir like his predecessors. They questioned center’s intentions and sincerity in implementing the points mentioned in Mr. Vajpayee’s package. Even the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) also criticized the package announced by the Prime Minister, terming it as incomplete. The PDP vice president Ms. Mufti Mehbooba had met the Prime Minister Vajpayee here hours before his announcing the package and had demanded a comprehensive political and economic package for Kashmir. The separatist political union All Parties Hurriyat Conference was the first to react against the prime minister’s announcements saying economic benefits can not change political realities. The conference chairman Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat while reacting to the package said that people of Kashmir have not sacrificed 80000 lives for roads and buildings but for a noble cause. He also reacted very sharply against Mr. Vajpayee saying he was ready to meet Hurriyat leaders. "The Indian Prime Minister must know that political dialogue is not initiated this way". The Hurriyat conference had earlier expressed its willingness to meet the Indian premier or any of his close aides while rejecting the appointment of Mr. KC Pant as center’s interlocutor on Kashmir. Observers believe that changing circumstances have pushed the Hurriyat leadership to toughen its stand and assassination of Mr. Abdul Ghani Lone being the latest addition to it. 

One of the major highlights of Mr. Vajpayee’s package to Jammu and Kashmir is the 287 km. long railway line to Baramulla via Srinagar involving a cost of Rs. 36000 million. Mr. Vajpayee announced that the first rail will enter Kashmir valley on Aug. 15, 2007. Railway line to Kashmir has been a project exploited by almost all governments at center. The work on 50 km long Jammu-Udhampore railway line is "on" for the last more than 20 years. It was in 1980 that the then prime minister Late Indra Gandhi laid foundation of this track announcing that the project would be completed within five years. Since then many more Prime Ministers of the country laid many more foundations to this project, but without any progress. Costs of the project have also gone up many fold for the last more than two decades. One more highlight of the package is said to be Rs. 13350 million Leh-Manali road. The 474 km road as per the announcement made by the prime minister is to be completed by 2010. However an important feature of this project is that most of the funds would be spent in Himachal Pradesh. Moreover the project is likely to curtail economic benefits of Jammu and Kashmir. The only way connecting Ladakh region of the state passes through both Jammu and Kashmir divisions of the state. The supply line being via Jammu and Kashmir bring a number of economic interests for both the regions in the shape of tax, transport, labor etc. In addition to this most of the supplies going to Ladakh are purchased either at Jammu or Srinagar. The proposed Manali-Leh road is likely to cut the benefits and purchase of supplies in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus the package of central government helps both Jammu and Kashmir valley. The package says that the textiles ministry would spend Rs. 700 million over next 5 years for the development of wool, pashmina, sericulture and carpet industry and revival of Tweed and world famous Kashmiri kani shawl. These sectors being the back bone of industry-less Kashmir, can make hardly any development and progress with an annual assistance of Rs. 140 million that too when the sector is badly hit by trouble and turmoil. Another important feature of Prime Minister’s package is incentives, benefits and weapons for the personnel of Special Operation Group (SOG), Village Defence Committees (VDCs) and special police officers (SPOs). Since these agencies are busy in fighting militancy, their benefits have also formed part of ‘economic package’ for Kashmir. The central government will provide Rs. 250 million as incentives to the 4000 SOG personnel in the coming five years, the Prime minister said.

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