Kashmir Rights Forum

Month: November 2022

When Danish Nabi alias Daniyal set out on a journey to follow his dreams, little did he know that he would come to be known as the ‘Ibn Battuta of Kashmir’ for exploring adventure tourism in the Valley. A 30-year-old enthusiastic traveller, Danish did not spend a single idle Sunday over the last decade as he set out on foot or on a bicycle to explore the Valley, starting from his own home district — Bandipora.

Danish turned an explorer in his early twenties, same as Ibn Batuta, and hence drew parallels with the famous explorer in the lands of Afro-Eurasia. Danish has, so far, rediscovered more than a dozen Alpine lakes of Himalayan ranges in the Bandipora district, thereby making little, yet significant, contribution to boosting adventure tourism in the Kashmir Valley after a prolonged spell of dormancy because of political strife.

He said tourism in Kashmir was previously restricted to visiting a few select and popular locations, including Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Dal Lake. However, the real Kashmir is up in the mountains, which used to draw adventure-seekers from Europe by the droves before the Valley came to be racked by militancy from the late eighties.

Every weekend, Danish sets out on a journey to the mountains on his bicycle or on foot, exploring lakes and meadows and finding previously unknown tourist destinations.

“I have religiously followed my schedule. I haven’t wasted a single Sunday. Sunday is my day. Come what may, I set out for a journey every weekend,” he said. So far he has re-discovered more than a dozen alpine lakes in the Bandipora and Gurez sectors of J&K, in the Himalayas, thus lifting prospects of adventure tourism in the Valley.

According to the J&K’s Department of Forests, there are 100 Alpine lakes in the Bandipora district but only one or two, including Sheerasar, have been visited by adventure tourists in the past few years.

Danish has re-discovered Shalpooth lake, 3 Handmarg or Handmenger lakes, Kaul Sar lake, Kiser Sar, two Patalwan lakes, a Kothapatri lake in the Gurez sector and Shera Sar, Sarbal lake, two Kundapani lakes, Chamarsar, Zadsar and Salnai Sar in Bandipora area. He has also explored Chota Amarnath and Bazar Hoi caves in Bandipora, Yemberzalwari cave in Sopore, Sheikhul Aalam cave in Budgam and Kalaroos caves in Kupwara.

Danish captures his expeditions on his GoPro camera and posts them on his YouTube channel for the benefit of other adventure tourists. The ‘Ibn Battuta of Bandipora’ has explored these lakes multiple times and found multiple trekking routes for future travellers. All the routes have been recorded and geo-tagged by him.

“I do record the trails and treks besides posting them on YouTube for future travellers,” he said. Last year Danish became the first person in India and across the globe to scale Razdaan Top (11672 feet) on a bicycle. He cited his passion for mountain cycling as the reason behind his adventure streak.

He said he chose the Gurez sector for his weekend expeditions for two reasons — firstly, Gurez lies in his home district and secondly, it has been ignored by other cyclists and needs to be explored for its immense natural beauty. He said he is in love with the mountains and explores new locations to promote adventure tourism in Kashmir, besides fulfilling his desire to scale mountain tops.

“In the recent past, tourism in the Valley was only about sightseeing. But there is beauty beyond the meadows as there is a huge potential for adventure tourism which can attract tourists from the west,” he said.

He said that during the dark days of militancy in the Valley, adventure tourism came to a standstill and the virgin locations disappeared from people’s minds.

“People sitting at home still believe that there is a war raging up on the mountains. But the fact is that peace prevails in the mountains currently,” he added.

He further added that after travelling solo to these places he decided to record his travels and post it on his YouTube channel. His posts have received an overwhelming response and more and more people have started visiting these places.

The young traveller said exploring new places has helped locals earn a livelihood. He said after his visits to several lakes in Bandipora, many traveller groups approached him for guidance and villagers found a source of livelihood by serving as guides and providing horses and meals to travellers.

Kudara residents have formally started providing traditional tea and Makki ki Roti to travellers besides accompanying them on their treks as guides and renting out their horses,” he added.

His expeditions and following have earned him many nicknames, including ‘Ibn Battuta of Kashmir’, ‘Mad Man’ and the ‘Mountain man’. Danish said he loves his nicknames. It is because of his endeavours that the Bandipora district administration in 2020 roped him in as an advisor to promote adventure tourism and a few locales, including Daetwas, Sheerasar, and Nagmarg routes were prepared by the Forest department for trekking. He said the Valley, especially Bandipora, is heaven for adventure tourists as everything that fascinates an adventure seeker is here.

“I wish people would reserve their Sundays for such travels and work for other days of the week,” he said.

“If people can set out for such treks on Sundays, it will reduce their stress levels and help them stay in shape mentally and physically,” he added. He said, “My friends and relatives think I travel every day but the fact is that I travel only on weekends and work on other days of the week.”

Danish is a government employee posted at the mini-secretariat in Bandipora. He added that he idolises Dr Shariq Masood, a noted doctor at SKIMS and an avid traveller like himself, and urged everyone to follow in his footsteps.

He said the doctor has never practised on a Sunday over the last two decades as he reserves it for his travels. “He could have earned thousands on Sundays but refused as he likes to keep that day for himself,” Danish added. “Doctors usually recommend walks and physical exercises to their patients but they work even on Sundays,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir has been expecting fresh boost to tourism and industrial investments from abroad with participation of a high-level delegation of the Union Territory officers in London conclave from December 8-12.
The industrial investments are around Rs 60,000 crore in Jammu and Kashmir after the launch of new Industrial Investments Policy while number of the tourists visiting the Union Territory including the Kashmir valley has also touched all-time high.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the Institute of Directors (IoD), a top level international body, will be involved in five days tourism and industrial promotional programme at London. The Jammu and Kashmir delegation will be led by Chief Secretary Dr Arun Kumar Mehta and comprised Principal Secretary Industry and Commerce Prashant Goyal and Tourism Secretary Sarmad Hafeez.
“It is a major international platform where Jammu and Kashmir will promote tourism and industrial development opportunities in the Union Territory,” the sources said, adding that the visit is expected to be very successful going by the response already being received from abroad.
Number of tourists visiting Jammu and Kashmir including the Valley has touched new highs, which has also found mention in the speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. And, the numbers continue to go up.
Besides domestic tourists, Jammu and Kashmir has also received tourists from abroad.
Jammu and Kashmir got encouraging response from Dubai in industrial investments after visit of the Lieutenant Governor to the Gulf. Several top Industrialists have assured investments in the Union Territory and signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the administration.
The groundbreaking ceremony of Rs 38,080 crore worth private investment proposals in Jammu and Kashmir was performed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 24 this year. However, total proposals for investments received by J&K Government were close to Rs 60,000 crore.
But the Government has exhausted Land Bank by allotting land to the investors whose groundbreaking ceremony has already been performed by the Prime Minister.
The Government has now acquired new land for creation of Land Bank after completion of all formalities.
The private investment proposals, which are pending before the Government, will be cleared after development of Land Bank.
The Government has also approved setting up of 22 Medi-Cities in Jammu and Kashmir at the cost of Rs 4400 crore.
“The Medi-Cities will include private hospitals, Medical Colleges etc,” the sources said, adding that with this the MBBS seats in Jammu and Kashmir will go up by 900.
Sources said the Government is anticipating private investments in Jammu and Kashmir to further go up once the pending proposals are cleared.
Some proposals for development of private Industrial Estates have also been received by the Industries Department from Samba and Kathua districts while many more are in the pipeline. Response to develop ‘Private Land Banks’ for industrial development has been very encouraging,” sources said.
Officials expressed confidence that with development of ‘Private Land Bank’, the Government will be in a position to accommodate more private investments in Jammu and Kashmir as there were reports that investments might touch Rs 75,000 crore shortly as many corporate houses are in touch with the administration for investing in different sectors in the Union Territory.

Amsterdam [Netherlands], November 4 (ANI):

Pakistan continues to be responsible for the terrorism and radicalization in Jammu and Kashmir, experts and the Kashmiri diaspora said during European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) Conference at Vrije Universiteit University in Amsterdam.

In the two-day conference on ‘Terrorism and Radicalization in Jammu and Kashmir and the wider region,’ various experts and Kashmiri diaspora said that Pakistan in the name of jihad had continued its activities in Jammu and Kashmir which prompted radicalization and terrorism in the Union territories, according to the press statement released by the EFSAS.

On the first day of the conference, Myra MacDonald, author of books on contemporary South Asian security and Former Reuters bureau chief for India, initially outlined that cultural narratives surrounding Jammu and Kashmir prior to the partition of British India in 1947 were frequently focused on Jammu and Kashmir as a physical space rather than emphasizing the idiosyncratic cultural identity of the region.

She further said that modern Jammu and Kashmir emerged as a result of the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar and has played a key role in the national imageries of both Pakistan and India. Pakistan, MacDonald discussed, has been founded on the notion of Pakistan being the sole homeland for Indian Muslims, with this religious narrative serving as the base for Pakistan’s claim to Jammu and Kashmir. India’s claim, in contrast, is based on the signed instrument of accession and secularism, providing the Indian claim with a less ideological narrative when compared to Pakistan, but with a sound legal foundation. This ideological fixation, she suggested, has resulted in the Pakistani Army dominating domestic politics and preventing democratization in the long run, forming a form of political-ideological prison.

She also stressed the early stages of the insurgency in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and said that this was marked by human rights violations by both Pakistan-backed outfits and Indian security forces, with the insurgency enjoying little backing in the population, the statement reads.

MacDonald narrated that the highest possibilities for conflict resolution were witnessed under Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf in the 2000s. Singh and his predecessor, Prime Minister Vajpayee, had started promising talks with Pakistani envoys that included an agreement on the legal transfer of territory, the LOC becoming an international border, and the permission for cross-border flows of people and goods. Maximum autonomy would be given to respectively held areas and frequent discussions would be held between Pakistani, Indian, and Kashmiri representatives. The negotiations ultimately failed due to Musharraf’s removal, the lack of public support in Pakistan for the agreement, and the 2008 Mumbai attacks carried out by Pakistani-sponsored Terrorist organizations. The attacks, she stressed, were so impactful because they targeted ordinary Indians rather than security infrastructure.

Since then, MacDonald concluded, Jammu and Kashmir have become even more fragmented. The revocation of Article 370 in India in 2019 has effectively rendered the division of the state a fait accompli, meaning that any conflict resolution can no longer focus on Jammu and Kashmir in its original borders. Resolutions could focus on establishing the LOC as an international border, formalizing the end of Jammu and Kashmir, the statement added.

The last speaker for the day, Daud Khattak, Managing Editor of Mashaal Radio, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, discussed the ongoing terrorism and proliferation of extremist outfits in South Asia. He discussed how the contemporary issues of radicalization and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir could be traced back to the use of proxies and the support for Kashmiri insurgents in the name of jihad by Pakistan. While Pakistani meddling in Jammu and Kashmir continues till the present day, the deep state has shifted its proxies from the tribal areas to Punjab, Khattak argued. Thus, the militancy started in the 1990s is composed of non-Kashmiri jihadists, such as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, including Afghans and people who had previously fought in Afghanistan, such as members of the Haqqani tribe.

He further said that after the 9/11 incident, terrorist groups active in Kashmir increased their presence in the Pashtun tribal areas, ultimately also leading to the emergence of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. While Internal instability and international pressure seem to have limited the scope of Pakistani support for terror groups at the moment, its continuous assistance is visible through the protectionism they have extended to terrorist commanders. Despite being arrested and charged, Hafiz Saeed is still moving within Pakistan. Similarly, Masood Azhar is also hiding in the country despite contrary information in the media, Khattak added. He argued that other regional dynamics such as the building of the CPEC, the ongoing Baloch insurgency, the presence of organized crime groups and relations with Iran and the Central Asian States might bring further changes in Pakistan. Yet, when it comes to the Pakistani policy vis-a-vis terrorism and Kashmir, Khattak concluded by warning that ‘the dragon is fragile and sleepy but away from dead, and could wake up anytime, according to the statement.

On the second day of the conference, the panel include Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).

Inspired by the university setting and the potential of students to shape the future, Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, Exiled Chairman of the United Kashmir Peoples National Party and Secretary General of Jammu Kashmir International People`s Alliance, spoke highly of the benefits of democracy. Kashmiri was adamant about the necessity of democracy to recognize people as inherently valuable despite any conflicting ideological or identity-related markers. Seeing the use of terrorism in his own home state of Jammu and Kashmir as both a foreign and domestic policy by the State of Pakistan, Kashmiri recounted the Pakistani military recruiting students to disseminate State propaganda and recruit other students to join so-called ‘Jihad’ in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus, Kashmiri claimed that it is the duty of the students to investigate and protest against injustice. The distortion of history by populist politicians and war-mongers is insensitive to those it harms and as such requires direct action.

He called for Pakistan to stop facilitating terrorism both within and beyond its borders, for it to recognize each citizen as human beings regardless of their ideological differences and for the international community to hold States like Pakistan accountable for their actions.

The final speaker, Junaid Qureshi, highlighted the privilege that comes with living in Europe. Qureshi, who is the director of EFSAS and is himself a Kashmiri, queried if the Jammu and Kashmir issue would still be as contentious as it is today had it taken place in closer proximity to Europe, like the war in Ukraine. A key element of Qureshi’s speech was his push for narrative change within the region which outlined the responsibility of individuals to accumulate knowledge and determine the truth for themselves. Emblematic of this is the radicalization process within the region, although the solution for this is collective as opposed to individualistic. Despite the issues of the region, Qureshi is emphatic that future peace is possible – as evidenced by the past century of conflict within the EU and now peaceful present. Ultimately, Qureshi struck a note of hope for the future if the necessary mechanisms of accountability and truth-verifying processes can be established.

On both days the events were followed by vibrant Question and Answer sessions with the students, who were avid to learn more about the issues the region of South Asia faces and how they themselves could get involved in finding fresh tangible solutions to those weary years of conflict.

Two Day EFSAS Conference at Vrije Universiteit (VU) University in Amsterdam started on November 1 and ended on the very next day.

Source: ANI

Kashmir has remained in the global spotlight for seven decades. Most of that narrative has been bloody, controversial and run by Pakistan. With the guns doing most of the talking, Kashmiris themselves had little to say all this while.

Local Kashmiri politicians, despite being intertwined with mainstream Indian politics, have only contributed to the marginalisation of Kashmir through their shady brand of politics – pretending to be loyal to India while parroting the Pakistani line. A book, ‘The Two Kashmirs’, released recently says that despite the shadow of terrorism, Indian Kashmir is way ahead in progress and Indian Kashmiris much better as compared to people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

India Narrative catches up with author Sheikh Khalid Jehangir to discuss Kashmiri politics, Kashmiri people and the state of Kashmir over the years. Jehangir is also the secretary general of the Delhi-based think tank – International Centre for Peace Studies (ICPS) and has been an international journalist.

Excerpts from the interview:

IN: What motivated you to write this book comparing Indian Kashmir with PoK?

SKJ: I wrote the book because I want to share Pakistan’s debilitating role in Indian Kashmir and what Islamabad did to us-the Kashmiri Muslims. Pakistan has tried to end our prosperity, our education and what we are.

But I have to first tell you about my life in Kashmir.

I was born in Srinagar and saw a complete circle take place in the lives of Kashmiris in the Valley. The cycle of living a normal life, followed by strife and now a changing Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370.

Born in 1976, I had my schooling at Burn Hall School in a very normal J&K where Hindus, Kashmiri Pandits and the wives of army officers were our teachers. Our classmates were Hindus, Sikhs, Punjabis and we used to celebrate Diwali, Eid and Christmas. Our morning prayer was the national anthem and the principal of our school was a Roman Catholic. This was that peaceful Kashmir when I had my schooling.

In 1991, our school principal Father Dominic announced in the assembly that three blasts had taken place. I remember him announcing that this would be the last Jana Gana Mana.

Kashmir was in the throes of a massive change.

Students were beginning to carry guns and grenades. By the time I joined college, full-fledged militancy had taken root.

I was the vice president of the SP College students’ union. One day I organised a seminar on Gandhi and politics in 1994. Militants, probably from Hizbul Mujahideen, fired shots outside the college. We were not scared as other groups of militants were supporting us. Srinagar was overflowing with guns. A totally different kind of atmosphere began to develop in Kashmir.

Foreign militants started coming in. Besides terrorism, they were also interested in local girls, and that is how information about them leaked out.

While in college I also began to visit Geneva to attend the UN human rights conferences as the student ambassador for India. Once Sartaz Aziz, the Pakistani minister offered me money to speak against India at the UN but I refused.

IN: Tell us more about what Pakistan has done to Kashmir?

SKJ: Pakistan sees Kashmir’s integration with India as a threat to PoK. The Pakistani army and ISI are not interested in the welfare of the Kashmiri people. They are interested only in our lands.

Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir is to keep the two-nation theory alive among their people in PoK. All that Pakistan has been telling people in PoK is that Muslims cannot live in India and they are third-grade citizens in India.

Kashmiri Muslims are different from Muslims in the rest of India and Pakistan. We are far ahead of other Muslim communities in the continent as we are more liberal and practice Sufi Islam.

IN: Has life improved in Kashmir after the removal of Article 370?

SKJ: Our Prime Minister says the abrogation was a historic process. But Pakistani politicians and the mainstream Kashmiri politicians say it is a failure.

The leaders of the mainstream political parties in Kashmir are trying to undermine the government of India’s development plans. They do not want benefits to come to the Kashmiri people. They are not supporting the development plans in Kashmir.

Our own Kashmiri leaders from 1947 till now have opposed India. All mainstream Kashmiri politicians want to defeat India in Kashmir. The dynastic politicians take favours from India but parrot Pakistani propaganda. However, these issues are not understood by the powers in Delhi.

People do not realise that Kashmiri Muslims are deeply integrated with India. This is perceived as a threat by Pakistan. We are in fact more integrated with India than are other Muslims.

There are families like ours which are stoutly nationalist. My grandfather was the zaildar to the maharaja of Kashmir while my father was in his army. He later joined the defence ministry.

IN: One can understand that you got information about development in Indian Kashmir, but how did you obtain information on PoK’s development indices?

SKJ: My team at ICPS was able to procure good research papers on PoK from across the border. People in PoK gave us credible information and then we cross-checked the data provided to us.

IN: While writing the book and comparing development in Indian Kashmir with PoK, did you come across any surprising revelations?

SKJ: There is a big difference in the quality of life in the two Kashmirs in terms of health, education, travel and housing.

Muzaffarabad, which is the capital of PoK does not have an airport. To be able to travel out of PoK, Pakistanis have to travel to Islamabad by road from where they take a flight to other cities in Pakistan. Here, the Srinagar airport is an international airport with nearly 100 flights every day to various Indian cities.

There is no central university in Muzaffarabad. Even their health facilities are poor. All of Muzaffarabad has less hospitals as compared to one district on our side of Kashmir.

Dr Afifa Qazi is an alumnus of the Government Medical College, Srinagar and has made a significant contribution to mental health services in the UK.

Dr. Qazi graduated from the Govt Medical College, Srinagar in 1995 and moved to the UK where she pursued a career in Psychiatry. She is currently working as the Chief Medical Officer for a large mental health organization in Kent and Medway, UK. She has made significant, and high-impact contributions to mental health services in the UK. Over the years, Dr. Qazi has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including the Academic Health Science Network Health Innovation Award for her work in dementia (2014), and the HSJ award (2016), the most esteemed accolade of healthcare service excellence in the UK.

Dr. Qazi developed an innovative and highly successful model of community care for dementia which reduces hospital admissions and the length of stay for people suffering from that disorder. Her work has received recognition from the Department of Health in the UK, and internationally from healthcare organizations in other countries, e.g. Japan, which sent a team to the UK to study her methods and replicate them in their services.

She is a sought-after speaker at national and International conferences in Psychiatry and has numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious academic journals to her credit.

Dr. Qazi is working on setting up a partnership with her fellow professionals in Kashmir to share good practices, and offer her support to continuing professional development and innovation in healthcare service delivery.

About 14,000 dropouts rejoined their schools during the just concluded fourth phase of Back-to-Village (B2V) programme in Jammu and Kashmir, officials said on Tuesday.

The information was given at a meeting chaired by chief secretary Arun Kumar Mehta who was here to review the achievements of the programme held from October 27 to November 3, a government official aid.

Readmission of 13,977 school dropouts into schools, with quality education assured, stands out as the biggest achievement of the programme, official said.

The programme has been successful in providing self employment opportunities to 21,329 individuals, according to the officials.

A total of 277 cooperative societies were also registered in fields such as poultry, housing, transport, and health, they said.

In the agriculture sector, they said 14,567 soil health cards and 5,914 Kisan Credit Cards were issued during ‘Jan Abhiyan.’ They said thet 24,179 labourers, including migrant workers, were enrolled during the programme with generation of 4,063 e-Shram cards.

The scheme was 88 per cent complete so far in the Union Territory, the officials said.

In the health sector, they said that 95,959 PMJAY-SEHAT golden cards were issued granting health insurance to 49,526 families – covering 93 per cent of the target in his sector.

The revenue department, according to authorities, was successful in issuing 6.6 lakh land passbooks during the programme.

During B2V4, 8.46 lakh people were introduced to ‘Apki Zamin Apki Nigrani’ portal enabling them to access revenue records from the comfort of their homes, the officials said.

Additionally, to foster connection with the youth, 23 musical talent shows from all over J&K were hosted on YouTube during the programme, the officials said. Fifteen role models have also been identified to inspire youth through a contemporary digital format, they said.

The social welfare department digitised 5,159 Disability Cards (UDID) and seeded 30,231 Anganwadi beneficiaries and 11,313 ‘Ladli Beti’ beneficiaries with Aadhaar, they said, adding that 211 ‘divyang’ Camps were also organised by the department.

In addition, more than 1.55 lakh e-challans were issued by the mining department with a QR code equipped payment system for sale and purchase of minerals, the officials said.

The chief secretary asked officers to visit their panchayat at least once every quarter to assess the change on ground and act as Panchayat Prabhari for the area during the next one year.

Mehta asked for implementation of e-Contractor registration system, an online billing system, and promotion of digital payment systems across all works departments.