SRINAGAR: The outgoing General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lieutenant General Devendra Pratap Pandey, on Thursday said that there is a glimmer of new beginning visible in the restive region since the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
“A lot of water has flown through Jhelum since 2016-17 and especially after August 2019, a glimmer of a new beginning is visible. There is hope on the horizon,” Lt Gen Pandey, who is handing over the baton to Lt Gen ADS Ujila on May 9, said during his farewell speech to a selected gathering of media personnel and civil society members. He will be taking over as Commandant of Army War College, Mhow in the next few days.
Kashmir was in turmoil in 2016-17 with a series of violent protests against the killing of Burhan Wani, a dreaded terrorist and commander of the terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen, by security forces in 2016.
In a landmark decision in August 2019, the parliament voted in favour of revocation of Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. A bill on the reorganisation of the J&K into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh – was also passed by the parliament.
While the opinions are still divided, Lt Gen Pandey pointed out that the decision had helped establish peace in the restive valley. It also allowed the winds of change to blow through the valley once described as ‘the heaven on earth’ for its ethereal beauty.
“The security parameters are good. Many violence affected areas of Srinagar and valley are now back as economic hubs. The economy is looking better despite COVID. The development efforts are visible – we understand they will take time. Education is getting back on its feet and Kashmiris are looking to be part of the opportunity boom of India,” Lt Pandey said.
“There are opportunities for all, who have the capability and the intent – Kashmiris have the capability. Time is to sow seeds of prosperity and more importantly of inclusion, happiness and harmony,” he added.
In an important statement, Lt Gen Pandey said, “We hear a number of people talking about the ‘Kashmir problem’ all the time. I believe it is not a ‘Kashmir problem’ but a ‘problem in Kashmir’. The wrong terminology maligns the land and people of Kashmir.”
“The reality of Kashmir is easily visible to someone who could see Kashmir from a distance, like me, and then from within. This is a land of beauty and abundance. Abundance where anything you sow grows in its most exquisite form – from apples to plums to apricot to saffron to nadru to almonds and all seasonal vegetables one can imagine. The fruit and vegetable markets in every village of Kashmir reflect this abundance that God has bestowed upon this land. Even people – with a good heart and otherwise,” he said.
“Jo bo diya wohi ug jata hai …. shayad pathar bhi bo do toh pathar nikal aayega. And therefore, I believe, in Kashmir, if you sow hate, you will get hate but if you sow love, peace and harmony, you will get that in return. The choice is with the people of Kashmir.
Sharing his views on what went wrong with Kashmir, Lt Gen Pandey said, “Kashmir was an abundant land and driver of its destiny till the 13th century. In a sad turn of events, Kashmiris lost control over their destiny to foreign tyrants and invaders. Seeds of fear were sown on this fertile and blessed land. Later, even the benevolent rulers like Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as Bod Shah or the Great King, could not undo the damages.” “The 17th century is the worst,” he added.
“Even after 1947, when Kashmiris smelled the fragrance of democracy, and the seeds of ambiguity were sown for 75 years –the narratives of riding two horses for personal advantages were built. In the 80s, the seeds of Azadi came to sprout only to be replaced by seeds of separatism and radicalization.
“The stories of the 90s are well known but rarely spoken of. While driving out Pandits, even many Muslims have left the Valley due to the prevailing conditions. Seeds of exploitation of women and their disempowerment turned a progressive matriarchal society away from becoming a Kashmiri society contemporary to the modern world. The seeds of hate sown sprouted in this fertile land and caused the continued misery,” he added.
“The 75 years also experienced the seeds of distrust and lack of pride in our own traditions and history. Kashmiris need to reclaim its roots that were intellectual, benevolent and spiritual to become a real progressive society. Pride in heritage and traditions needs to be regained,” Lt Gen Pandey opined.
Lt Gen Pandey said that the onus is on the Kashmiri youths now to sustain the signs of economic development.
“The generations of 90s, they are of my generation, shied away to admit their mistakes of sowing the wrong seeds. They will not accept it and they will ensure their future generation follows their path to violence and hate through the narrative of victimhood and hate,” the army veteran said.
“The youth account for 60% of the Kashmiri population. It is time for you to take charge and sow the seeds of success, love and happiness for the generations of the future. Question what you hear from my generation and what you watch on social media, not all is truth. Find your smile – nobody else can do it for you, definitely not the older generation,” he said.
“You must leave a legacy for your future generations. So choose wisely to invest in solving the ‘problems of Kashmir’ and take charge as a society for your future. You are that hope my dear young friends, and I wish you well,” Lt Gen Pandey summed up.