Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The one to watch

Small congratulations are due to the Independent for at least reporting the bare bones of this news. It is telling us that "the fragile peace in India's disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir was broken yesterday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators protesting against electricity power shortages, killing a 25-year old man and injuring two others".

Senior opposition politicians and separatist groups are being more forthright. For instance chairman of the so-called Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Geelani has said that the "height of state terrorism" was that even the innocent people are being killed for seeking basic amenities like electricity and water supply.

Geelani claims that a complete ban has been imposed on political activities by "freedom fighters", adding that government has given all authorities to the police and valley has become a police state.

While all eyes are on Iran, and its nuclear potential, this in fact is more serious stuff. Strife over Kashmir has led to at least three wars between India and Pakistan. Relations are still not good, as armies comprising the best part of two million troops face each other over their joint border, and a proxy war is being fought out in Afghanistan.

Increased tension between two nuclear-armed regional powers is the last thing we need right now – or ever, yet the casus belli of Kashmir has been consistently ignored by western powers which have been pouring aid into the region.

Yet such is the neglect by India, as the occupying power – with a history of bad faith in Kashmir – that it cannot even ensure continuity of electrical power as the snows fall and the winter closes in.

Of course, if British "aid diplomacy" was all it was cracked up to be, UK representatives would be intervening with effect, helping to cool the situation. But this is another foreign policy area we have dumped in the lap of the EU, which has spent millions in aid in Kashmir, including over a million euros on "sustainable livelihood development" and "improving quality education and learning environment". But not ever has it sought to ensure that the basic infrastructure is sound.

Nevertheless, the Asian Development Bank has supposedly pumped $250 million into the Jammu and Kashmir Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project, yet the country is running out of electricity.

What we have here, therefore, is a toxic mix of political indifference, distorted priorities, corruption, bad faith and the usual degree of incompetence. With luck, an explosive situation will be calmed, but in terms of the region, many commentators believe it is a matter of "when" rather than "if" before serious hostilities erupt.

Should they do so, we are none of us immune from the consequences. That much is recognised (see page 32) by the EU, but Britain, which has a special responsibility as the ex-colonial power, is not at all visible. We may pay a heavy price for this.