Changing The Economic Stakes In Kashmir14 April 2011
New Delhi: While you were busy watching Anna Hazare on television last week, terrorists fired the first salvo of this year’s round of conflict in Jammu & Kashmir. They killed Maulana Showkat Shah, the leader of the Jamiat-Ahl-e-Hadees. The targeted assassination is very likely calculated to trigger off a process that first creates grievances to get people onto the streets, then uses the resulting increase in the visible presence of security forces to perpetuate the mindset of a population under occupation. The business of manufacturing grievances, operated by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, involves both FDI and FII. Provocateurs and hardcore separatists act as the focus of violent unrest, mobilising young people using old methods and new. Motivated or excitable sections of the media add tickers, employing terms like “intifada” and “Jasmine” (or heaven-forbid, “Gandhian”), to describe the proceedings. The separatist game plan is to prevent the state, especially its Kashmir region, from returning to what we all like to call “normalcy”.Counter-insurgency operations over the last few years have reduced the number of militants in Kashmir to a few hundreds. While there is only a small increase in the number of infiltration attempts across the Line of Control, training camps continue to operate on Pakistani soil, and several thousand militants are reported to be preparing to cross over onto the Indian side. Fortunately, few will succeed. A measure of competence of the Indian army’s counter-infiltration operations is the four-fold increase this year in the ‘market-rate’ for local guides to facilitate infiltration attempts. The Pakistani military-jihadi complex, however, does not actually have to send in large numbers of infiltrators into Kashmir. Merely holding out the threat of infiltration compels India to maintain higher troops levels in the state in general and along the LoC in particular. This permits Pakistan to sanctimoniously complain about the militarisation of Kashmir. More importantly, it makes ordinary Kashmiris feel the constant tension of living amid soldiers and their guns. So separatists can easily convert rumours and genuine but quotidian grievances into “causes”, triggering street protests and eliciting a response from the security forces. It’s a numbers game, but a political economy has developed that remunerates marginal protestors for joining in support of hardcore elements. Many young, urban, Kashmiri Muslim males have more incentives to join the agitation than not to. To halt this cycle, it is necessary to both raise the costs of protesting and the benefits of not protesting. While the political and security machinery -wiser from handling last year’s stone-pelting experience - can well reduce the attractions of a summer job as a street-protester, the state has been less successful in creating alternative occupations. Money is not a problem. There is a Rs28,000 crore Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan and this year, an additional Rs8,000 crore in development funds have been announced. Intentions are not a problem either. In March, C Rangarajan, the prime minister’s economic advisor, submitted a well-researched report on creating employment: large sums of money have been proposed to create a large number of jobs. Yet this was the third time in six years that Dr Rangarajan was submitting a report on the same subject. Where lies the problem? The main reason New Delhi’s outlays fail to generate outcomes is because there is a lack of capacity in the state and local administrations. Even if it didn’t make its way to the wrong pockets, it is difficult to spend that much money simply because the Jammu & Kashmir doesn’t have sufficient numbers of competent officials who can implement programmes. It takes years to raise these numbers in the best of circumstances. The problem is, young people have to be kept off the streets right now. Kashmir needs a guerilla development plan, using unconventional tactics to quickly create an economy that engages its youthful population. According to the Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011 report Jammu and Kashmir stood 9th (out of the 20 states studied) in terms of economic freedom, moving up from 15th position in 2005. It scores better than even Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka. So a plan that exploits and enlarges economic freedom might do the trick. But it needs the Omar Abdullah government to engage in an entirely different mode of thinking. It should create zones in urban areas where entrepreneurs can move in and start business in a matter of days. Instead of waiting for training institutes to be built, it should facilitate skills training in small batches. It should avoid handouts, and inject resources into microfinance institutions for them to lend more and to younger people. Such a plan stands a good chance of strengthening social capital and cultivating a sense of individual responsibility. Because you can start small, it is possible to get such a plan off the ground immediately. Because you can scale, it is possible to cover the whole state within Omar Abdullah’s term in office. This spring’s narrative can be different if Geelani’s “Grievance Factory” is made to suffer a labour shortage.