Forget what you’ve heard about Jammu & Kashmir, India's state with perpetual border disputes. Forget the proxy war from the 90s, when Pakistan pumped militants across the border to fight India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, who were themselves fighting a separatist militancy. Forget this past summer’s eye-popping new reality where children as young as 10 were killed by the same paramilitary forces of the 90s. Forget the cries for independence. What J&K needs is long-term infrastructure and industry development.
One need only peruse the local papers in Jammu & Kashmir to see how desperately this state needs investment. The front-page of Greater Kashmir, one of Srinagar’s daily rags, is usually a maze of political party acronyms and their sub-factions. Greater Kashmir’s business section this week included a story about a minister assuring locals in one of the state’s eastern districts that officers were stocking sufficient food grain rations for winter. Locals countered with requests for road construction and helicopter service for what they modestly call “hilly areas.” The “hills” in Doda district reach an altitude of 4800 meters.
The conflict in the state currently follows an unfortunate rhythm: demonstration- curfew- strike. The demands made during these demonstrations are economic development, quality of life issues like power shortages or, in the case of last summer, the state’s abysmal unemployment rate. When resulting strikes and curfews go into effect, food and medical supplies don’t reach the rural or “hilly” areas. Last summer saw education take a state-wide three-month hit.
The predominant industries of tourism and handicraft manufacture can hardly be called sustainable. In his special report to the United States Institute of Peace, Wajahat Habibullah named watershed development, timber industry, fruit processing and power generation as key areas for investment in the region. With a little diplomatic finesse, airtime could be taken away from bad blood between India and Pakistan and the focus shifted to development, leaving J&K on the road to dignity and a significantly improved quality of life.