Synopsis : Kashmir is like a paradise where the dark shadow of curse has descended making people there suffer daily. It is a political and military stand off between two adversaries that seems to be at an impasse since 1947 .No one knows when this curse will be lifted and people will regain their paradise.
A Mughal emperor said that “if there is a paradise, it is here, it is here, it is here” He was talking about Kashmir that indeed was a paradise hundreds of years ago .
Imagine a cool place surrounded by snow capped lofty hills of the Himalayas and a lake so clear that you could see the bottom, where the shikaras plied with beautiful flowers, fruits and exquisite handicraft made by the nimble hands of beautiful women of Kashmir who came to your houseboats on the Dahl lake and looked at you with their emerald green eyes and all their simplicity and smiled in their innocence that melted your heart at once. This was SriNagar before the curse of Kashmir descended on them.
Imagine the scent of deodar trees and the pine needles in the air where the air is so pure and cold that it hurts the lungs but invigorates you. Imagine a people mired in poverty but with the heart of gold .
That is the Kashmir the Emperors of India talked about when they said it is paradise inhabited by truly wonderful people who were not only beautiful, they were generous and very friendly who welcomed all to their paradise.
Kashmir sits at the top of a great country called India where the paradise is in trouble ever since the Pakistani troops invaded parts of it and occupied it forcibly that brought the curse of poverty, warfare and bloodletting to a people so gentle that it devastated them.
It was the year of 1947 when the Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir said that his princely state of Kashmir will join India but the new country of Pakistan had other ideas and claimed the entire Kashmir just because there were some Moslems there and attacked Kashmir with large number of troops.
Mountbatten who was still the governor general of India during the partition refused to send in the army to defend Kashmir and drive out the invaders although he had the power to do so. This emboldened the Pakistanis and they advanced toward SriNagar the capital.The Indian army stopped them but the damage was already done.
The Indian defense minister was Sardar Patel who said that the Indian army was ready to defend its territory and he should be authorized by the prime minister to do so but Nehru dithered and quickly signed a cease fire agreement sponsored by the newly founded United Nations that sealed the status quo called the line of control where the UN troops still patrol after 50 years of independence. So this tragedy was created by Nehru and his fear of a war with the neighbor. Mountbatten did not help in the matter for his own reasons but now all are dead and the cancer has spread to such an extent that the life for the Kashmiris who were peace loving and gentle people has become living hell.
If you go to Kashmir and visit SriNagar, you will find that the flower that was called Kashmir is wilting under the on slaught of heavy police and military presence everywhere making normal life difficult. North of SriNagar it gets worse near the line of control where the Indian troops concentrate and face the insurgents across the line of control and fire whenever the terrorists fire at them. There are constant exchanges of gunfire and people get killed on both sides although it must be said that the insurgents suffer the most as the Indian army is well equipped and trained and very well supplied.
The tourism that was the mainstay of the economy has come to an end and all the jobs that depended on tourism has vanished making a poor people poorer.
The barbed wires and land mines litter the defacto border that is like a heap of dry leaves that are ready to catch fire and burn the whole forest down. The situation is tense and extremely volatile but its effect on the population has been nothing less than catastrophic. People can’t move around frequently like they used to. They cannot get on with the normal lives like they used to. They do not know what is in the future and how the problem of Kashmir will be solved that was created by a fearful leader like Nehru who was advised not to sign the cease fire agreement and chase out the invaders militarily but he signed.
India has fought three wars with Pakistan since 1947 and the 4th one is in the offing. It is not a matter of if but when so both sides are arming themselves to their teeth with all kinds of weapons and the Moslem terrorists from Pakistan are running amok on the other side where they have established training camps and from where they plan their attacks on India.
Recently India surprised the terrorists on the other side with a sudden surgical strike and killed scores of them and destroyed their training camps but it does not solve the problem because the Pakistan government actively supports, trains, arms and funds these terrorists to cause mayhem in India. The attack on the Indian parliament and Mumbai a few years ago brought the two sides very close to war again but cooler heads prevailed so the troops were pulled back at the last hour. But will the cooler heads prevail again if such a confrontation looms somewhere? No one knows.
Now look at the rest of India and see how it is making progress in agriculture, in industries, in the infrastructure development building new roads, bridges, airports, school, hospitals, bringing electricity to all corners of the country, making the country digitally wired , expanding railway lines and improving the government services . The GDP is growing at a fantastic rate and India is making phenomenal progress in every sector one can think of lifting millions out of poverty by giving them better opportunities while Pakistan lags behind except in their fervor of the hate campaign against India that has become their national agenda.
I was struck by the scene at a railway station one night somewhere waiting for my train when I saw a freight train pass by loaded with new military hardware like trucks, tanks, artillery etc. It took a long time for the train to pass through as it was at least one kilometer in length. India makes these hardware and the factories work 24, 7 to churn them out for only one purpose- to use them when the time comes to defend India.
Imagine the resources that are tied up in the manufacture of all these hardware that could be used somewhere else and help develop the country if there were no threats from outside?
Imagine if there was peace in Kashmir ? Imagine if Kashmir once again became the paradise it once was that could bring prosperity to its people? The tourism could flourish again creating jobs for everybody. The Kashmiri handicraft like pashmina shawls and carpets that are world famous for their design and quality could once again be made and the trade revived that would bring smile on their sad but beautiful faces.
The Indian government has not stopped building roads and railway lines to join Kashmir with the rest of the country even if the mountainous terrain poses serious challenges to the engineers. Many hydro electric dams have been built on a massive scale that generate power that are being distributed to remote villages for the first time.
Kashmir is a jewel that shines even if covered with the dirty rags of violence and uncertain future because the people of Kashmir are irrepressible and smile even through their misery and poverty.
No threat of war and insurgency can dampen their spirit to reclaim their lost place in the paradise. All they are asking is peace. Is that too much to ask?
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