Regaining The Paradise
   Date :11-Jun-2023

Regaining The Paradise
J&K has woken up to a new dawn after removal of Article 370 
Nestled in breathtaking meadows, surrounded by snow-capped mountains,the tiny Sarbal boasts of being the ‘Last Village of  Kashmir’. After the reorganisation of the erst while Jammu & Kashmir State, Sarbal now acts as the gate way to Ladakh. Sitting at the foothills of Zozila Pass,the little village of just150-200 population is basking in a new sunshine -- of education. The village now has a school forits kids.Teachers from nearby towns are imparting primary lessons to the children. The aim is simple, no one should miss out on basic education. Three hours away from Sarbal, in down town Srinagar, the Polo View Street near the famous Lal Chowk is attracting a crowd for its ‘foreign look’. Developed under the Srinagar Smart City Initiative,the stretch has undergone a dramatic transformation. It is now a premium pedestrian market with finely paved road, aesthetic appeal, and renovated building facades. The ‘foreign street’ is pulling throngs of visitors and locals alike, bringing back the buzz to the erstwhile market. Far away, deep into the once-volatile interior towns, life is charting the normal course.

There are no tensions. Stone-pelting is a distant memory for the locals as well as the security forces. Youth is engaged in academic activities and earning live lihood even as tourist in flux is touching new heights each season. For the record, the first half of 2023 registered 26 lakh tourist footprints in the Union Territory, with the Valley accounting for a major share. Adding to the bloom in tourism is the pouring in of new investment sunder the New Industrial Policy.The policy,introducedtwoyearsaftertheabrogationof Article 370, is vastly instrumental increating new employment avenues, especially for youths. Native stakeholders in the tourism, art and horticulture industries are waking up to newer potentials asreal integration of the Valley with the mainland has gathered pace and the smokescreen erected by selfish political and separatist elementsin Jammu & Kashmiriswithering away. Kashmir is steadily and firmly regaining its pristine image of being a Paradise, a Jewel in the Crown of Mother India. The locals are reaping silent benefits of the removal of Article 370. It might not figure in their generalsentiment asthey term the issue as “purely political” but on the ground the historic decision taken by the Centre on August 5, 2019 has ushered in a positive metamorphosis.
THE BIG CHANGE The Centre’s multi-pronged plans for development of the newest Union Territory are on track and are visible in the rapid construction of world-class road infrastructure.TheJammu-SrinagarHighway,dottedwithlong and spacioustunnels, is cutting downthe travel distance between the two regions by hours. It is a much-needed initiative, for, the first imperative to actual development of theValley is literal integration of Kashmir with Jammu, two regions that come with their own, distinct identities. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the Armed Forces, and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) have been instrumental in readying a solid infrastructure,includingtheall-weatherZozila Pass tunnel till Ladakh that is set to be a gamechangerin multiple manners. It will not only take care of year-long trade and tourism activities but will also provide seamlessconnectivitytothesecurityapparatus guarding the restive border with China. Four years after the historic removal of Special Status have brought in winds of change in Jammu & Kashmir. It is still too early to call it a 360 degree transformation but the anxiety and hesitation among the locals about their future has clearly subsided. The UT has woken up to a new dawn -- of development and a bright future. It is definitely coming out of the heavy influence of ‘a few families’whohadheld sway overthe erstwhile State. The crackdown on the political-separatists nexus has broken the back of anti-India forces. With no backing left from their political mastersfor carrying outstone-pelting,the brainwashed youth, too, have given up attacks on the securityforces. Education opportunities and job prospects are clearly weaning youth a way from the Pakistan-backed radical elements. After the abrogation of Article 370, the UT needed some drastic measures to rein in the parties opposed to the decision. The Centre decided to bite the bullet with house arrest of the leaders of two mainstream parties, National Conference and People’s Democratic Party, and it has paid dividends.It was a much-neededandextremely bold step to come down hard on the political forces in the Valley. There is now a dominant feeling among the locals that they were cheated in the name of Special Status all these years. Forthem, the reality is also visible in hard numbers. Under the New Industrial Policy 2021, investments worth about Rs 2,200 crore have come to J&K till financial year 2022- 23,creating employment opportunities for nearly 10,000 youth.The UT is anticipating investment of further Rs66,000 crore. The region also received its first Foreign Direct Investment with Dubai’s Emaar Group building a mega mall in Srinagar.
THE CHALLENGE AHEAD Yet, these are still early days before integration of J&K into the Indian union is complete in actual sense. The G20 meeting in Srinagar last month did provide a great optic.It gave a foundation for building further confidence building measures in the region, but it has to be backed by an independent administrative machinery. The Central administration under the Lt Governor is definitely handling the affairs in an efficient manner, opening doors for developmental progress. However, the future course would need decentralisation of the process with more powersto the local administration.Tourism remainsthe backbone of Kashmir and it is only logical that the local stakeholders are given freedom to operate under easily accessible administration.It entails cutting down on redtapism and doing away with archaic development procedures. Taking care of such teething problems would senda positive message to the native communities whose liveli hood is earned only through tourism-related activities.It also has to be backed with alternate income measures during the lean season which is the most vulnerable phase exploited by the separatist and radical forces. Another major step whose time has come is opening up of the political processin the region.The Centralrule has played its part in changing the socio-political situation in the UT, but it cannot remain in place for a longer duration. The restart of the political process will also bringthetrickiesttestfortheCentre.Politics has aninherentassociation with separatist feeling in the Valley. Despite the change inground situationwhere youthhasrealised the hollowness of lofty dreams shown by some parties, there will be attempts to foment unrest in the society on religious grounds. It can be handled only with a systematic push of developmental projects, quality educationalinstitutes,andtopmedical care thatautomatically cuts religious fanaticism in the society.
SECURITY DYNAMICS Also, the integration of J&K with other parts of the country hasto come underthe vigilant eye of the Armed Forces. There is no point denying the fact that the Army is an integral part of security in Jammu & Kashmir. The presence of forcesis a necessity that just cannot be compromised for political optics. Though there is a drastic decrease in terror attacks in the UT, a long journey has to be traversed before the element of terrorism is completely wiped out from Kashmir. That the Army, too, considers it as a newer challenge is evident from therecent comment by Northern Command chief Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi who acknowledged, “The last two years have brought to the fore newer challenges in thewake of the abrogationof Article370,theGalwan conflict and multiple waves of Covid-19.” It was for the first time since the removal of Special Status that the Army referred to it as one of the newer challenges in Jammu and Kashmir. The statement perfectly reflects the challenges posed by political decisions, both in short and long terms. First hint of the “newer challenge” wasfelt just ahead of the G20 meeting when a terrorist attack killed five Indian Army soldiersin Poonch region.The attack came in wake of discussions on a plan to withdraw Rashtriya Rifles(RR) from the Valley to let the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) take charge of the region. Subsequently, the Government took the wise step and cancelled the plan. The developments again underline that fact that Kashmir needs a robust security blanket for many more years. It would be a self-goal by the political community to compromise on the security of J&K for the sake of geopolitical optics. The regaining of the Paradise has entered a critical phase. All it needs is patient handling and dollops of confidence building measures.