Kashmir is Far ahead of PoK in Quality of Life, Says Author Sheikh Khalid Jehangir

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.

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