by Lt Gen P R Shankar (Retd)
I am Azadi Khan. It is 2030. A lot has changed in the past decade. Ladakh has made great progress. Jammu has prospered. Kashmir has regressed. It has now gone through eight decades of suffering. Where are we going? I wonder. When Article 370 was abrogated all established leaders never got back into the mainstream. The militant leadership with Pakistani links were ruthlessly pursued by law. There was a huge vacuum. Masses could not be mobilized due to lack of leadership. A restive Kashmir was in an uneasy state of calm. I was studying in Bengaluru at that time.
I was parachuted into a leadership role to lead the Intifada. I was made the leader of the intifada, I decided that it should be nonviolent and be based on Gandhiji’s principles of satyagraha. We will then achieve Azadi at all costs. I convinced our backers in Pakistan that they should help me in my nonviolent Intifada. Initially they did so. However, they soon formed new radical groups once the FATF yoke was shaken off, thanks to Chinese help. However, the combination of the nonviolent struggle I spear headed and the instigated violence by Pakistan had a deadly effect on the Government of India. They kept trying to normalize the situation by one means or the other and we kept making it worse. All development initiatives came to a naught. This continued for five years with Pakistan’s support.
Pakistani support started becoming counterproductive as India grew stronger. At this juncture, Indian leadership changed. The current young leadership came with fresh ideas. I felt that there was hope for a resolution. I went to them with an out of box idea. Let us get back to basics. Give us five years of political autonomy in which only defense, external affairs and communication would be with the Central Government. The rest would be with Kashmir. People in Jammu did not agree. As a result, the state went through another split. Jammu and Kashmir were again bifurcated on a mutual agreement basis. Jammu is now fully integrated with India. We stuck to Azadi. We made a deal with the Centre. They gave us three years of self-rule akin to Azadi. After that, we were to take a call jointly to see how to take it forward. Before I proceed further it is relevant that we look at the larger Indo Pakistan picture.
Pakistan went from bad to worse in the past decade. India took its share of Indus Waters legally. Climate change took its toll. Result. Pakistan is now a fully water stressed state. Agriculture nearly collapsed. People flocked to cities for nonexistent employment. Cities became huge slums. Unchecked population growth left Pakistan dizzy. Its economy is haphazard and contracting. More of a militarized macro political economy with gross inequalities of wealth. It has a monumental debt it can never repay.
Two subsequent IMF bailouts have put it through cycles of currency depreciation, new inflation peaks, higher trade and fiscal deficits. China now owns all CPEC projects. Pakistan has number of expanding “Little Chinas”. There is a huge expat Chinese community living in fully independent Chinese enclaves. Pakistan is a dictatorship of a military nominated democracy. Political institutions have Khaki overlords. Pakistan is on a three-front deployment with only enemies all around. There is severe social and ethnic turmoil.
The Baloch, the Sindhi, the Seraiki, the Hazara, the Balti, the Pakthun, the Gilgiti, and even the Pujnabi is in distress. The people of POK want freedom from Pakistan. The writ of the Government does not go beyond Islamabad. Pakistan now has 220 million radicalized young people with failed expectations in a perpetual crisis. It is a basket case. It is an international pariah which resembles Somalia of 2019. We realized that Pakistan wants to fight for Kashmir till the last Kashmiri. It wants to take revenge on India through us and then loot us. It has been unsuccessful in both. Around 2025 we started distancing ourselves from it. All those who wanted to be part of Pakistan have been purged from our system. We have only two options. Either be part of India or Independent.
India, on the other hand, has grown from strength to strength. It has the third largest GDP. Very recently India had a major scientific breakthrough. It harnessed the abundant Thorium it has. As per estimates it is on its way to become a superpower which is energy surplus. All social indicators are moving in the right direction. Poverty eradication has been phenomenal. Smart cites are developing.
People travel in bullet trains. Most transactions are cashless. It is an information superpower. It has put in a strong bid for the next Olympics. India now has the highest number of Muslims and they are prospering. It learnt from the problems Chennai faced a decade back and started harnessing its water resources to combat climate change. Its democracy has grown stronger at grass roots. It still has huge problems but can manage them. People are increasingly looking at India for a greater role in world affairs.
Well, back to Kashmir. I took over the Intifada in 2020 with Pakistani support. Even India ended up indirectly supporting us through its misplaced desire to buy us off. We slept with Pakistan and co-habited with India. We exploited all loopholes. The flaws of democracy helped us to skim India. Human Rights Organizations were our great allies. We plunged into the Jihad call from Pakistan whole heartedly.
All efforts to develop the Valley were thwarted by one method or the other. There was great anticipation and determination. We were sure we will “achieve Azadi at others expense”. The initial years were euphoric. However, I once went to my college in Bengaluru to meet friends. I saw change. Everyone was better off even though they were not being developed or subsidized by the Government. I heard of new technologies being deployed in Leh and Ladakh to improve people’s lives. Lot of my friends had visited that area as tourists.
When I checked, I found that even Jammu had made alternate tourist destinations. Tourists were going to Leh and Jammu area as never before but not to Kashmir. What started as shooting down a truck driver cascaded. There were strikes by drivers outside. Goods stopped coming into the area. The apple industry and the dry fruit industry collapsed. Prices of goods and essentials coming into the Valley skyrocketed. All artisans went off to Jammu which became the Handicraft center. When all this was happening, some subsidies were withdrawn to get us at par with the rest of India. Outsiders stopped coming. No investments no jobs.
Our local households were impoverished without money or employment. We were isolated. The Gulf economies were down due to oil prices at new lows. When we turned to Pakistan, we saw only a begging bowl and ruthless greed. No one else was bothered about a 70 x 50 km Valley. Our youth, which did not know how to work had to learn how to work. So, youth started working for a living to feed our families and babies and mothers and old people. The Central Government started an assured work scheme for Kashmiris who were prepared to work outside the state. Some even went to Bihar to get work under this scheme. People who went out and worked hard were the better off in our society. Soon people started migrating into other parts of India for better prospects.
Then came the flood. One day the skies opened. The Jhelum swelled. The whole Valley was flooded once again. As usual the Army came to help us. As usual, some of our youth responded by stone pelting those who came to their aid. They even threw stones at helicopters. This time the Army filmed all these events and telecasted our actions live to the world. We came across as an ungrateful lot who bite the hand that feeds.
In view of the hostility of the population, the Army halted all Aid and Disaster Relief Operations. We were in panic. The Security personnel refused to carry out aid operations till such time Kashmiris were part of the relief operations. We were not to be pampered any more. Media started saying that Army personnel too had human rights. From that day world opinion changed. I was called to BB Cantt and told that unless the Intifada leaders and rank and file participated in relief operations nothing would be done.
Pakistanis had already shown us a begging bowl full of holes. All these years, the capacities which could not be built due to our actions were coming to haunt us when we needed them. We then formed disaster relief teams based on Villages and Mohallas with security forces. Aid and relief operations restarted. I realize that it takes more than slogans and demonstrations to give real Azadi to people. I wondered as to why a Tamilian or a Naga soldier was helping us when we were stoning and preventing him from doing so? My world view started changing.
Anyway, I soon took over the Administration of the Valley State under the new self-rule scheme. The first thing I found out – corruption was deep rooted. Everyone in the state administration had a hand in the till. They were not outsiders but own Kashmiris who were looting us. I went to the Army to ask for “Sadbhavana” projects. GOC 15 Corps told me that the scheme was closed. Army would be responsible only for defense of the LOC. I went to the Centre. I was told that they would look after Defense, External affairs and Communication.
They pointed out that the borders were secure, Communications were fine and the external affairs from Pakistan were taken care of. The rest was my baby – Self Rule akin to Azadi. I could raise funds through taxes. But whom could I tax? There was no revenue even to pay government salaries. I went to the industry. No one was interested in setting up factories there. I offered land. They said ‘NO thank you”. On the other hand, Jammu and Leh regions had a booming industrial corridor. Some software majors had set up AI parks there.
Young educated girls were earning thrice our youth. New universities had come up. New colonies were shining. Leh was a special tourist destination totally dependent on the Upshi-Manali route. We were not even earning some transit revenue. In comparison, Srinagar looked drab. Education was down. Youth graduating from our colleges could not be employed even in our mosques. Medical facilities were dwindling. Diseases were rampant. Where we to go? I recently went to a village on the death of a relative. An old lady at the funeral spat on me and asked me “Is this Azadi?”. That day I realized that we were wrong all along.
Azadi is freedom from disease. Azadi is freedom from hunger. Azadi is being well educated. Azadi is equal rights to women. Azadi is being part of a developing society like India and not a pestilence ridden country called Pakistan. Kashmir cannot be Azad on its own. It simply lacks any capacity. Our Azadi lies in being part of India. We are going to sign an instrument to make Kashmir an irrevocable part of India with a proviso – amalgamate POK into Kashmir and give Azadi to all Kashmiris.