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The Express Tribune Editorial 21 February 2020

IOK: 200 days of solitude


It has been 200 long days since the Narendra Modi government in India formally ended Kashmir’s special status under the Constitution. Let us ignore for a moment the suffering that the legal change and the ensuing lockdown in the disputed region has caused. Modi and his BJP henchmen sold the decision with a package of promises, including legal and political integration with the rest of India. Kashmir would soon be able to attract significant investment. Kashmir would see a new job boom. India’s ‘resolution’ of the Kashmir question would make world powers treat it as an equal. Yet, six months on, these promises look sure to go unfulfilled. Internet access remains limited or non-existent, and restrictions on movement affect everyday life. The economy is also crashing, and no new investment is visible. Even displaced Kashmiri Pandits, a group that fully endorsed Modi’s actions, have not been able to move back to Kashmir. Domestically and internationally, they spent billions paying off the BJP and still have nothing to show.
Meanwhile, the world has slowly begun openly criticising India over the internet shutdown and the detention of local politicians. In the US, even Trump allies and Indophiles have been complaining to the President and his Secretary of State about the continuing oppressive practices employed in Kashmir. On the continent, India is childishly picking fights with Malaysia and Turkey over pro-Kashmiri people statements from the leaders of both countries. Then it took offence to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres offering his good offices to resolve the Kashmir dispute, even though the offer has been made by each of his predecessors dating back to Trygve Lie, the UN’s first secretary general. But then, it is well known that history is not the Hindutva fanatic’s strong suit. Reports from Kashmir now suggest that even pro-India Kashmiris now feel alienated because of the high-handedness of the government in New Delhi. Not only is the government running out of supporters, but it is also running out of allies in the region.
Without Kashmiri allies, there is no way India can address the fears of the local populace, let alone try to get public opinion on its side. Modi has clearly stopped trying to camouflage his authoritarian tendencies. Just this week, hundreds of cases were filed against Kashmiri internet and social media users for trying to beat restrictions. Almost 1.5 million people have cut their cell phone connections in the region — a massive blow to an important economic sector — because they had been paying bills for months for services they cannot use. Belligerence towards domestic and foreign voices calling for the restoration of communications and free movement in the region is not going to make the problem go away. Modi’s masterstroke has turned out to be a disaster, much like his other masterstrokes such as demonetisation and the Citizenship Amendment Act. This one, however, could cost India even more dearly. And we haven’t even gotten to the use of force. There was a time when it was used extensively to suppress pro-independence and pro-Pakistan voices — actions that, though abhorrent, were not completely unexpected. Since August, they have even begun ‘disappearing’ and attacking pro-India citizens who dare demand the restoration of their fundamental rights.
Every day India is diving further into fascism, and while some Indian citizens are fighting back, without increased economic pressure from the rest of the world, Modi’s propaganda machine will keep convincing his followers that sab kuch acha hai (all is well).


Renewable energy


Since we are running out of gas, it is heartening to see the government taking steps to adopt solar energy. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, who is also the chancellor of public-sector universities in the province, announced on Wednesday that 10 major universities in Punjab would be switched over to solar energy in the first phase of a scheme, saying this would save the government Rs256 million annually. The governor was speaking at the signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding under the project to equip all public-sector universities in the province with solar power. He said the cost of conversion to solar energy would be borne by private institutions. He said the use of solar energy in universities would help reduce the consumption of other forms of electricity by about 20%. He recalled that earlier the provincial government launched a pilot project at the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, and it fetched an annual saving of Rs17.08 billion.
However, the governor did not say whether the savings resulting from the switchover to solar energy would be transferred to the Higher Education Commission to shore up the sagging education budget. In the 2019-20 budget, the HEC was allocated Rs58.5 billion for recurring expenditure against an estimated expenditure of Rs103 billion, which was lower than Rs66 billion allocated in the fiscal year 2018-19. In the previous fiscal year, the HEC was allocated Rs29 billion for the development budget against the demand for Rs55 billion. It would be in the fitness of things to shift the savings made in one sphere to spheres where there is a shortage of funds.
Solar, wind and tidal energy is clean because these energy sources do not cause environmental pollution. They are also renewable. In countries like Pakistan – which have bright sunshine for most part of the year – renewable energy is a good option to reduce their hefty oil and gas import bills. Many rural areas in the country still lack access to electricity for want of funds. Renewable energy can fill this gap.


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