Kashmir, once again, stands at the crossroads. It is now for the people to decide whether they want another generation lost to Pakistan-backed radical Islamist terror or if they want to flourish with the rest of India

by Gaurav C Sawant

The Dubai government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the administration of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to invest in large-scale infrastructural development projects including industrial parks, IT towers, multipurpose towers, logistical centres, a super specialty hospital and a medical college.

There will also now be direct flights between Srinagar and Sharjah, which is expected to give a huge boost to business and tourism. The Narendra Modi-led government is also investing Rs 1,500 crore in the Srinagar airport and Rs 600 crore in the Jammu airport.

Meanwhile, there is panic in Pakistan over Dubai investing in Jammu and Kashmir. Commentators in Pakistan see this as a major defeat for Pakistan’s diplomacy and narrative on the situation in J&K. Former Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Ambassador Abdul Basit, was quoted by Pakistani media as saying it was a big success for India.

Top government ministers, including home minister Amit Shah, are going to visit Jammu and Kashmir to focus on development and security.

However, on the other hand is the targeting of vulnerable minorities in Kashmir by Pakistan-backed radical Islamist terrorists. This includes Hindus, Sikhs and some nationalist Muslims.

Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency, at a recent event in Srinagar raised some pertinent points. He asked the people of the Valley to introspect on their silence in 1990 when Hindus were thrown out of Kashmir and their silence now in October 2021.

Displaced Kashmiri families still recall the horror of mosque loudspeakers being used to chant slogans such as `Raliv, Galiv ya Chaliv’ (Convert, die or leave Kashmir) in 1990. The sting was in the tail of the slogan ‘If you leave, then leave your women behind’.

Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, who has served extensively in Jammu and Kashmir from the rank of a second lieutenant to a three-star General, said that Kashmiri Pandits or Hindus were the mainstay of education in Kashmir, from primary school teachers to college professors. When the Hindus left, the education system in the Valley was adversely impacted and it impacted the education of Kashmiri Muslims.

Pakistan-backed radical terrorists also burnt down schools in the Valley. Their aim was to create a generation that was uneducated and radicalised. Incidentally, former Pakistan senator Afrasiab Khatak made a similar point in the context of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

At a literature festival in Islamabad in September 2019, Senator Khatak talked of the Taliban being an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) project to deconstruct the Afghan way of life. The Taliban destroyed local culture in Afghanistan and targeted minorities.

He said that when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in September 1996, they changed the name of Radio Kabul to Voice of Shariah. The Taliban destroyed the statues of Gautam Buddha and banned the 5,000-year-old Navroz festival, he added. The Taliban have also systematically targeted minorities in Afghanistan. Their aim, according to Senator Khatak, was to destroy the Afghan Muslim or Pashtun Muslim way of life and highlight only the Muslim character.

There is an eerie similarity between the ISI project through the Taliban in Afghanistan and through terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed and multiple others in India over the past three decades.

In 1990, Kashmiri Pandits or Hindus were killed and evicted from Kashmir. Kashmiriyat and the Sufi way of life were systematically targeted and radicalisation through Islamic seminaries was encouraged. Schools and education have repeatedly been targeted by terrorists in J&K.

The 1990s saw the opening up of the Indian economy and citizens reaped the benefits of liberalisation. But Jammu and Kashmir suffered because of radical Islamist terror. Only a few benefited instead of everyone.

Again, after August 5, 2019, terrorists burnt down trees laden with apples and shot dead truckers in the Valley. According to Lt Gen Dhillion, terrorists targeted the economy and livelihood of the people in Kashmir. The same is happening once again in October 2021.

Investment and tourism are all set to flow in and thrive. But terrorists are targeting minorities and those who believe in peace and development. This includes a Sikh school principal, a Hindu teacher, a Hindu Golgappa seller, a Hindu chemist and a Muslim taxi stand union office-bearer.

While Pakistan-occupied Kashmir has seen virtually no development, India’s J&K is set to soar. It is now for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide. Do they want another generation lost to Pakistan’s state-sponsored radical Islamist terror or do they want to reap the benefits and flourish with the rest of India?

Jammu and Ladakh are already on a trajectory of growth. Kashmir is at the crossroads.