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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital

A national seminar focussed on developmental dynamics and future trajectories of the two sensitive northe most union territories, and a vast majority of speakers from military background, ‘baat kuchh jami nahin janab’!

But that’s how it was at a National Seminar on “J&K And Ladakh: Developmental Dynamics and Future Trajectories” held in hybrid mode (mix of offline and online) at the ICSSR Complex in Panjab University Chandigarh on Thursday.

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd.) (centre) in conversation with some participants

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Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

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Just two of the key speakers, out of a dozen odd, were from non-military backgrounds – senior corporate executive and writer Ashish Kaul, and academician, author and former Indian diplomat Phunchok Stobdan – both of whom joined via the online mode, with its inherent signal distortions and disruptions. No Politician, no administrator, no one from industry and none from grassroots level developmental organisations!

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That apart, the seminar brought out some interesting thoughts and ideas for the policy makers and planners to ponder while charting out a new course for the two union territories, created by bifurcating the erstwhile state of Jammu And Kashmir after the abrogation in 2019 of Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Constitution which provided it a special status.

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While there was unanimity among the speakers that Jammu and Kashmir was slowly but surely drifting towards a semblance of normalcy after the special status to the erstwhile state was dropped, there was also a word of caution for the government and the administration that true normalcy in every sense of the term could only be achieved by winning the hearts and minds of an aggrieved local population.

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Observing that there are no two opinions regarding restoration of power to the peoples’ elected representatives, most speakers in the seminar felt that the process of elections should be held in a manner as not to repeat the mistakes of the past and allow the region to slip back into anarchy.

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Delivering his keynote address, noted defence and security analyst and former corps commander and military secretary of Indian Army, Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd.) highlighted the need for a comprehensive people-centric approach, addressing the political, social, economic and especially psychological concerns of the local populations in both Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

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He particularly called for the country to adopt and implement a professional digital strategy by taking on board communications experts to effectively counter the anti-India fake/false cross border propaganda and narratives.

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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(Left To Right) Lt Gen KJ Singh (Retd.), Maj Gen Raj Mehta (Retd.) and Navy Capt Alok Bansal (Retd.)

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In a technical session, chaired by former Weste Army commander Lt. Gen KJ Singh (Retd.), Navy Captain Alok Bansal (Retd.), Director of India Foundation, espoused a radical approach, calling for a mode new capital for Jammu and Kashmir by doing away with the legacy of separate summer and winter capitals.

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He also emphasised the need for deconcentration of economic activities and development from traditional centres like Srinagar, Jammu and Leh and to disperse such activities to lesser known but viable centres across the regions by developing them as counter magnets.

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These could be Kishtwar and Bhaderwah in Jammu Division, Poonch and Rajouri along the Mughal Road and some areas along the upcoming railway lines, Likewise, in Ladakh some centres other than Leh need to be developed so that the fruits of development and progress get distributed evenly, he added.

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Stressing on the importance of retaining ‘occupied territories’ like Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan and Aksai-Chin in China in our mental space, he said the general populace needs to be educated about these territories to sharpen the country’s focus on efforts aimed at integrating them back with India. He also suggested that these occupied territories be included in the delimitation exercise in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh so that the populations of these territories are represented in the legislature on our side.

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Expressing the need to now focus on the larger picture of restoring the famed age old Kashmiri culture of peace, harmony, brotherhood and scholarly pursuits, Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta (Retd.) said “we have to carry along the local population which still feels aggrieved. We have to win their hearts and minds through our sensitive approach and actions.”

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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Lt. Gen. DS Hooda (Retd.) (Centre)

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In his plenary address, former Northe Army commander Lt. Gen. DS Hooda (Retd.) stressed that lasting solutions cannot be found without addressing the fundamental issues because of which this spectre of violence has been continuing in Jammu & Kashmir for more than three long decades.

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Observing that if there is an external dimension to the problem, which has and is being tackled effective, Lt. Gen. Hooda pointed out that we cannot forget that there is an internal dimension too of the festering angst among the local population.

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Claiming that 70% of the local population is below 35 years of age, he emphasised that this section has lived its entire life in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. This population has to be won over with sensitivity. “We have to now move beyond conflict management to conflict resolution,” he added.

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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In another plenary address, noted academician, diplomat, author and foreign policy expert Phunchok Stobdan made a strong pitch for the central government and the local administration of the Union territory of Ladakh to first understand the history and ancient culture of this so far largely neglected territory to be able to focus on its holistic and sustainable development.

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He informed that out of the 59,000-plus sq kms area of the present day Ladakh, only about 19,000 sq kms is inhabited and 60% of it (about 25,000 sq kms) is not even being governed and “being left to the Gods” with none of the 37 odd departments of the government having any sort of presence there.

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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The former Indian ambassador to the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan said though whatever area of Ladakh is now part of India is barren land (large swaths of its wool and mineral rich lands being in the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China), it holds huge potential for harnessing its river water resources which are currently freely flowing into Pakistan. Its vast potential for generating solar and wind power is also largely going untapped.

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Processing of horticulture produce, especially Seabuckthorn, a wonder berry growing in the wild in parts of Ladakh with vast usage in the beverages, medicines and cosmetics industries and more, can also help transform the economy of the union territory, he said.

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In a pointed remark on the long border standoff with China with deployment of large armies from both sides in Easte Ladakh, he said China is smartly reaping economic gains from its deployment by furthering its developmental agenda, including the controversial Belt and Road (or One Belt One Road) Initiative being opposed by us. India, on the other hand, in the absence of a coherent politico-military strategy, has been left bleeding its taxpayers’ money with a matching defensive posture.

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The national seminar was jointly organised by the Department of Defence and National Security Studies and Institute of Social Science Education & Research, Panjab University Chandigarh in collaboration with ‘Gyan Setu’ Think Tank and Jammu Kashmir Study Centre.

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Time To Win Hearts, Hold Elections, Develop Mode New Capital, Lifeinchd

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Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (North West Regional Centre) Chandigarh sponsored the event, which was attended by faculty, research scholars and students of the University. Serving and retired military officials were also in attendance.

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