India: PM Criticized For Not Talking Peace During Kashmir Trip

Amin Ahmad
2015.11.09
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151109-IN-modi-1000.jpg Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public rally in Srinagar, Nov. 7, 2015.
AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a U.S. $12 billion aid package during a weekend visit to Indian-administered Kashmir, but locals say he would have made a bigger impact had he talked about opening a dialogue with regional separatists or inviting Pakistan for Kashmiri peace talks.

“What is the point in announcing an economic package for a region, which is reeling from  violence due to over six decades of unresolved conflict,” Srinagar resident and college teacher Hilal Ahmad Bhat told BenarNews.

“In the wake of the escalation in cross-border violence and civilian killings in Kashmir, I expected Modi to invite separatists for talks and also offer a dialogue with neighboring Pakistan, so that a consensus could be built to resolve the long-running conflict …,” he added.

Separatist leaders and hundreds of their supporters were rounded up and arrested in the days leading up to Modi’s visit to Kashmir, a region disputed by India and Pakistan since 1947 and where a separatist insurgency has endured since the late 1980s.

Protests broke out in several areas after the prime minister left, and a 22-year-old man was killed when police fired tear gas into a stone-throwing crowd in Srinagar, the Indian Express reported.

Earlier this year, the Indian and Pakistani governments seemed on track to open high-level talks aimed at settling the differences between their countries, but those prospects collapsed in August.

Kashmir must be ‘resolved politically’

In a speech in Srinagar on Saturday, Modi announced the huge economic package (the dollar equivalent of nearly 800 billion rupees) for Kashmir. He said the money would go toward helping the region recover from devastating floods last year, as well as help develop its economy and bring jobs to a high number of unemployed youths, according to news reports.

“My heart wants this money to be spent to change your fortunes, to give strength to your youth, to build a modern Kashmir,” Agence France-Presse quoted the PM as saying.

But he did not broach regional politics in his speech, according to the Associated Press.

Noor Mohammad Baba, a local commentator, criticized Modi for that omission.

“We must understand that Kashmir is a political issue that needs to be resolved politically,” Baba, a professor of political science at Kashmir University, told BenarNews.

“Economic packages, no matter how big, cannot help restore sustainable peace in Kashmir. The package announced recently can be useful in rebuilding infrastructure like roads, bridges hospitals or schools, but a sustainable development is impossible unless concrete measures are taken to restore peace and address the conflict,” he added.

Too little to end joblessness

Educated young Kashmiris like Nisara Ahmad Pirzada are supposed to benefit from the huge cash infusion from the Indian government, but he dismissed it as “inadequate to do away with the unemployment problem.”

“There are [hundreds of thousands] of unemployed youths in the state, and, to address the problem, the government must set up industries to enable such candidates earn livelihood for themselves. Also, restoration of peace is a must for anything to prosper, but Mr. Modi unfortunately made no mention of taking any initiatives to restore peace in Kashmir,” Pirzada, a graduate with a degree in chemistry, told BenarNews.

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