Within the mesmerising beauty of the Kashmir Valley lie layers of deception. For decades, the Valley has been used and abused.
It has amassed fortunes for many: Pakistani generals, Hurriyat separatists, political dynasts and local bureaucrats.
The only people who haven't benefited from Kashmir are Kashmiris.
Parliament on Wednesday debated the violence in the Valley but fell short of unpeeling the layers of cause and effect of this great betrayal.
Breaking his long silence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that young Kashmiris who should be holding books and laptops in their hands were instead given stones to hurl.
Just as India has azadi, the prime minister added, so does Kashmir. He used the word azadi, which resonates strongly in the Valley, as a metaphor: Kashmiris are as free as other Indians.
It was a call to all Kashmiris to join the Indian mainstream and reject the false narrative of those who wish to damage the plural and pacifist Sufi culture in which Kashmir has for centuries been immersed.
When I first visited Kashmir in the summer of 1978, the Valley was still a paradise on earth.
We stayed in a houseboat on Dal Lake and went on gentle rides in shikaras rowed by silent but smiling local Kashmiris.
The lake today has shrivelled to nearly half its size. The shikaras are often empty, their owners surly.
Development has passed Kashmir by.
In 2004, I interviewed then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at his home. The roads were as narrow as they are today, the security as omniscient.
An unsmiling Mehbooba joined us for lunch in the Mufti's modest living room. The uneasy 2002-08 PDP-Congress alliance government was already under strain. Ghulam Nabi Azad would soon take over as rotating chief minister.
But neither the Mufti nor Azad did much for Kashmir's infrastructure, development or jobs.
Militancy was on the rise. In 2010 under Omar Abdullah's chief ministership, the Valley came to a boil. Over 110 people died in stone-pelting fury.
Four principal players have ensured that the Valley stays backward and violence-prone: the Pakistan army, Hurriyat separatists, political dynasts and local officials.
The Hurriyat was created by the Pakistan ISI in the early 1990s to be the voice of the Kashmiri people. It was of course a fraud.
The Pakistani ISI pays the Hurriyat separatists in cash every month. The Hurriyat separatists use Kashmir as commerce.
They have rapidly become wealthy landowners, moving into large bungalows and making a lucrative career out of damaging the centuries-old plural character of Kashmir.
|Over 55 young Kashmiris have died in the recent violence. (Reuters)|
Pakistan has no interest in Kashmir beyond fulfilling two objectives.
First, to wage a proxy war against New Delhi with Kashmir as a pretext to slow down India's rise as a global power.
Second, to use the "dispute" over Kashmir to prise billions of dollars from the United States.
If Pakistan cared about the Kashmiri people, it would have made Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) a heaven rather than the hell it is.
POK has few airports or railway stations. Its people have no freedoms or voice.
The Hurriyat separatists use Kashmir as an ATM.
Paid agents of Pakistan, they have enriched themselves while causing misery and suffering to fellow Kashmiris.
Their children study in universities in the US and Europe while they instigate impoverished Kashmiri boys to wage jihad in the Valley.
Over 55 young Kashmiris have died in the recent violence. Hurriyat separatists stay far away in the safety of their opulent bungalows. Kashmir to them is about commerce, not ideology.
The third culprit in this quadrilateral of deceit are the political dynasts who have controlled Kashmir's governance for nearly 70 years.
The Abdullahs for three generations and the Muftis for two have played poker with the people of Kashmir.
Sheikh Abdullah had a tempestuous relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru.
Farooq Abdullah enjoyed a quieter one with Rajiv Gandhi, though the rigged 1987 J&K Assembly election is a taint on both.
Omar Abdullah and the two generations of Muftis, the late Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba, have more recently flirted with the Congress and the BJP, in the state and at the Centre.
All through this period, Kashmir has remained as backward as ever, kept afloat by an annual grant of nearly Rs 25,000 crore from New Delhi.
That amounts to Rs 1 lakh a year for each of J&K's 25 lakh families (assuming five members per family in the state's population of 125 lakh).
The fourth angle in Kashmir's quadrilateral of deceit is the cabal of local officials. They are often corrupt. Misgovernance is rampant.
Violence instigated by separatists ensures little or no accountability in the local bureaucracy.
On a visit to the Valley, I asked a senior executive of a mobile telecom firm why the private sector doesn't invest in the Valley.
BPOs, IT services companies and infrastructure firms, he said, have tried but the local administration is corrupt and incompetent. And there is the ever-present threat of violence.
Beyond parliamentary debates, farsighted governance is needed to pull the Kashmir Valley out of its self-perpetuating cycle of violence.
The BJP must build a counter-narrative in the Valley by focusing relentlessly on development.
Without lifting Kashmir out of its economic isolation and integrating it fully into a rapidly modernising India, insaniyat will remain a noble but hollow concept.
The Hurriyat and Pakistan have a single-point agenda: instigate terrorism in the Valley.
Insaniyat is the last thing on their fevered minds.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)