Kashmir encountered its worst floods in the last 60 years, in which the exact toll of disaster still remains to be accounted for. Though the relief operations are still going on, there does not seem to be any coordinated effort on the part of the state government or that at the Centre for easing the magnitude of the disaster that engulfed Indian administered Kashmir and the Pakistan administered Kashmir. Though the mainstream Indian media have reportedly been glorifying the efforts of army and other para military troops in Kashmir but they have completely discredited the efforts of local Kashmiri volunteers whose rules were more instrumental in providing rescue and relief operations to the flood victims in the inundated areas. Besides, very less or no analysis has been done on the direct causal link between this catastrophic disaster and the Kashmir dispute.
The Indo-Pak relations were again caught in the simmering rhetoric of irrefutable magnitude with domestic politics also making its way into the fray. The existential rivalry between India and Pakistan yet again forestalled a peace initiative on 18th August, 2014. India called off talks with Pakistan on its High Commissioner’s engagement with Kashmiri separatists ahead of Foreign Secretary level talks. India defied it as meddling in the internal affairs of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan. While Syed Ali Shah Geelani a hardline separatist of Hurriyat also slammed India’s decision of calling off talks with Pakistan, he went ahead and met with the Pakistan High Commissioner.
It was also reported by the Indian media that a day after India called off talks with Pakistan, Hurriyat leader met with Pakistan High Commissioner and also Pakistan indulged in unprovoked ceasefire violations at the LOC. The formidable inter-state and intra-state axes of non-cooperation as regards the Kashmir dispute came to fore with separatists and the states doing their own diplomacy with no substantive result. This again brought the Kashmir dispute into sharp focus and reinforces the fact that Kashmir is and will always remain the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan. The political symbolism attached to Kashmir further put the process of negotiations between the two at a halt putting other potential areas of cooperation between them on the backburner. However, after the worst flood hit the J&K and parts of POK on 7th September, 2014 in nearly 6 decades, the Foreign Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj quickly sent out a diplomatic message of further negotiating with Pakistan. Nevertheless even Narendra Modi offered assistance to Pakistan for the worst humanitarian disaster that took place in the sub-continent to which Pakistan also responded positively. The Indian media was also quick enough to catch on to the jargon and called it “Flood Diplomacy”.
However, no one really bothered to find out what led to these floods, why it happened and whether it was unprecedented. Is it connected with the Kashmir Dispute that has ravaged the sub-continent for more than 60 years? Did anyone really care about the flood victims except for this fake façade of diplomacy?
The warning bells with respect to the floods in Kashmir had already started ringing as early as 2010 when different departments and agencies including Flood Control Department of Jammu were also forewarned as they issued a dire warning of intense flooding. The central government headed by Manmohan Singh at the time had also sanctioned money in favour of the state to prepare for the imminent catastrophe. However, our state government, city planners and policy makers yet again failed us as this money still remains unaccounted for the worst floods that hit the state of Jammu and Kashmir in over 6 decades, while all the warnings were ignored and the state literally slept over this issue as it does over other issues. This clearly reinforces people’s grievances with the Indian state and by extension that of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and their urge for an independent statehood. And now when the worst floods have hit the state, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah calls it an unprecedented catastrophe which did not occur in the last 60 years. He seems to have justified his ineptness and inaction over this issue by calling it unprecedented.
While I agree that the issue law and order is a crucial area that the State of Jammu and Kashmir has to deal, it is equally important to acknowledge that this is not the only issue that the state is confronted with. There are other important things that can be equally catastrophic than Pakistan infiltrating into the Indian territories and launching terrorist attacks on Indian soil; something is clearly overrated. This has been further exemplified by the mainstream media as well, which absolutely does not make any sense in the wake of such humanitarian disasters. Politicising such a humanitarian disaster sees no end and this is highly unfortunate with everything relatable to terrorism, as well as internal and national security concerns. When such a disaster takes place in a conflict zone politics and such disasters cannot practically be delineated, but what could possibly be done is to at least have a coordinated mechanism in place where governments and non-governmental organization along with the local civil society groups are able to work together in a way that would help rebuild Kashmir in the shortest possible time.
Even though the rains are a natural phenomenon and one cannot control the nature’s fury in that sense, but the magnitude of disaster could have been easily minimized by proper city/urban planning and development. Many old canals in the Srinagar city have been transformed into roads, and wetlands have been drained for illegal constructions. By virtue of being the heaviest militarized zone in the world, the plateau lands that were left were also allotted to the armed security forces who also could not escape the brunt of nature and nearly 10 cantonment areas were completely inundated. In such a scenario where else would the surplus water go? A river body is like a conduit with only limited capacity and when that is over reached, that leads to breaches and silting in the river that happened with Jhelum and therefore there was massive inundation and depressingly so in the urban settlements.
What is more alarming to reckon with is that this catastrophe will occur again in the next 55-60 years while the history bears testimony to it. Such floods in other words are expected to hit Kashmir periodically after every 55-60 years. But the floods that took place in 1959 submerged the Rajbagh area but did not cause any damage to property and human lives. This was because there was a regular desilting of flood and outflow channels. But in the last one decade in Kashmir there have been constructions blocking these channels on the pretext that these channels have become dysfunctional.
This cycle is going to continue and I think 50-60 years is sufficient time to rebuild an entire society with proper development and urban planning, so that neither the environment nor development suffers. But what this requires is at least a 100 years of uninterrupted good governance which Kashmir never got. This is what we call sustainable development, which seemingly Modi’s development model also does not ascribe to and in that sense crony capitalism rules the roost where only few people profit at the behest of many others. So more research needs to be on the economic and social regulatory laws to see how one affects the other as an overall part of the government regulation and how a balance between the two can be struck for an overall sustainable development. With the escalating rhetoric on abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the situation will seemingly get even worse than before.
With this in mind, the remaining channels and wetlands will most likely get choked in the name of development leading to such environmental disasters which seem 85% man-made and being a knock off effect of the Kashmir dispute. However, every cloud has a silver lining. The Supreme Court brushed aside Centre’s stand in a petition that the judiciary should not intervene on the Jammu and Kashmir flood issue and asked it to provide immediate relief to the victims and also to consider setting up a Unified Agency to coordinate rescue and relief work. And it remains to be seen how the government at the Centre respond to this situation now to minimize the stress and damage that this has caused to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
By virtue of being the highest militarized zone in the world, Siachen Glacier has also not been left alone. It seems to be a complete zero sum game as between India and Pakistan where environment is bound to suffer if it is not demilitarized. But demilitarization would not happen it seems in the near future because of India and Pakistan’s obsession with the Siachen Glacier. Though it seems it does not really have a strategic value, but it has national security significance for India because China is implicated too in the dispute as Pakistan ceded a part of its territory called Aksai Chin to China in 1963; this put India on its guard at Siachen because of its proximity with China. Militarizing a glacier to such an extent would definitely cause its erosion much sooner than we can even imagine. This is another warning bell for the period of next 55-60 years. This coupled with climate change and global warming may add fuel to the fire. Tourism, deforestation and the pilgrimages will continue to degrade our environment if there are not proper regulatory laws put in place and if already in place, implemented in the earnest so that both development and environment go in tandem without overstepping on the other and thereby preventing such catastrophic humanitarian disasters.