By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Ironically, just when it seemed that Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was taking the right steps to win over Kashmiris in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the week ended with quite a few questioning the governmentâ€™s intentions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir last week (October 28-29), accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee, Health & Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and New & Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah. Singh inaugurated the 12-km-long Anantnag-Qazigund rail link in south Kashmir. Besides, he reviewed the development efforts being taken by state government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Singh also held discussions with major political parties in the state.
Briefing media, after concluding his two-day visit, Singh described it as â€œproductive and fruitful.â€ During their talks, he and Abdullah â€œtook stock of the development efforts in various sectors and discussed ways and means of expediting the implementation of various central projects,â€ Singh said. In his discussions with other political leaders and various sections of civil society, Singh made an â€œappealâ€ for dialogue, which he hopes â€œwill be reciprocated in the spirit in which it was made.â€ â€œWe have to carry all stakeholders with us to achieve a permanent and peaceful reconciliation in Jammu & Kashmir so that we can concentrate on an ambitious development agenda that will lead to a full economic revival and reconstruction and create lot more jobs for the young people of Jammu and Kashmir,â€ he said.
Singh stated that he was returning to Delhi â€œfully satisfiedâ€ with his visit. â€œI believe that a new chapter is opening in the peace process in the state and we are turning a corner. We will extend full support to the efforts of the state government to fulfill the high expectations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir,â€ he said. During his address, at the inauguration of the rail-link, Singh pointed out that his government has taken a number of steps for the stateâ€™s development. These include, Singh said, the â€œbold step of reviving the movement of goods and people across the Line of Control on the Srinagar â€“ Muzaffarabad road and on the Poonch â€“ Rawalakot road.â€ Accepting that a lot more needed to be done, he said: â€œWe have to speed up the pace of development in the state. We have to reverse the brain drain that has denuded the state of many of its teachers, doctors, engineers and intellectuals. We have to create the conditions for them to return and to be the instruments of change and development. We want to strengthen the hands of the state government so that they can implement an ambitious development agenda.â€
Singh outlined the central governmentâ€™s to involve the stateâ€™s youth under the â€œSkill Development to Employmentâ€ program, directed towards training them as tourist escorts, developing Information Technology sector in J&K and setting up two central universities in the state- one in Jammu and one in Kashmir.
â€œThe era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end. The public sentiment is for peace and for a peaceful resolution of all problems,â€ Singh pointed out. He laid stress that his government is â€œcommitted to having unconditional dialogue with whoever abjures violence.â€ On talks India has held with Pakistan, Singh said: â€œWe had the most fruitful and productive discussions ever with the Government of Pakistan during the period 2004-07 when militancy and violence began to decline.â€ â€œFor the first time in 60 years, people were able to travel by road across the LoC. Divided families were re-united at the border. Trade between the two sides of Kashmir began. In fact, our overall trade with Pakistan increased three times during 2004-07. The number of visas that we issued to Pakistanis doubled during the same period. An additional rail link was re-established. These are not small achievements given the history of our troubled relationship with Pakistan. Inside the valley, as militancy declined, trade, business and tourism began to pick up. We were moving in the right direction,â€ Singh said.
When there was a â€œfeeling among the people that a durable and final peace was around the corner,â€ Singh said: â€œAll the progress that we achieved has been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism. The terrorists want permanent enmity to prevail between the two countries. The terrorists have misused the name of a peaceful and benevolent religion.â€ Before concluding his address, Singh appealed to the Pakistan government that the â€œhand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forwardâ€ in â€œinterest of people of India and Pakistan.â€
Undeniably, Singhâ€™s Kashmir-visit suggests that his government is leaving no stone unturned for peace and development of the state. But the Kashmiris started questioning the same moves as the center decided a day later to stop pre-paid mobiles in J&K from November 1. An official release from the home ministry stated that the decision was taken because of â€œserious security concernsâ€ which had risen as â€œproper verificationâ€ was not being done while providing pre-paid mobile connections (October 30).
Criticizing and questioning the sudden decision taken by the center, the Kashmiris asked as to why should they all suffer for â€œwrong doingsâ€ of a few militants. â€œAre all users of pre-paid mobile services being viewed as terrorists?â€ asked a Kashmiri student. Mehboob Beigh, a legislator of National Conference (NC), which heads the state government, said: â€œIt is unwise to do this at a time when the PM has stressed on creating an atmosphere for peace.â€ Opposition leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti described the situation as â€œunfortunateâ€ and sought the PMâ€™s personal intervention to restore the service. The move negates the statements made by PM in his Kashmir visit, she said. On the one hand, she said, the â€œunion government was claiming that the situation has improved in the state and on the other residents of this state have been denied facilities like mobile services in the name of security threats.â€
â€œWhat kind of a message is being conveyed to industrialists and prospective investors across the country? That Kashmir is a state where terrorism is as high as before the mobile services were launched in the state in 2003?â€ asked a businessman. In the opinion of some, it would not have much of an impact, as people are likely to lobby and convert the existing pre-paid connections into post-paid ones.