Thursday, 27 June 2019

Daily Diary (DD) - Day 178 of 2019


The past 4 days have been among the most interesting since 2005. It was always inevitable that there would be convergence or rather a venue of crossroads between the British, Indian, Pakistani and the internal narratives of Jammu & Kashmir. 

It is these internal narratives that have motivated and mobilised activists to put all personal interest at stake to promote public interest over the decades, despite structurally 'enjoying' subaltern status since 1947. 

The venue is Sharda.

Ramesh Kumar of PTI and on presumed deputation from the Pakistani prime minister, headed a 5 member delegation of Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) to AJK (Muzaffarabad and Sharda) on Monday afternoon (24/06/19 - Day 175 of 2019). His visit was kept out of public reach and the news of the delegation's arrival didn't even break the social media barrier till almost 10pm that day:

I just happened to be in the AJK Department of Tourism's Secretary's office that afternoon. At first instance, it was felt important to arrange a meeting of AJK civil society with Dr. Ramesh and the rest of his delegation. 

This couldn't happen on that very day in Muzaffarabad, partly because the AJK PM has a knack of only meeting me when in opposition. He had invited the delegation to dinner in the evening and I wasn't 'privileged' enough to be among the 'guests'.

Through multiple levels of communication, it was agreed that a meeting be scheduled between the visiting delegation of PHC headed by Dr. Ramesh and civil society in Sharda at 1pm on the following day. 

Here's a summary of the meeting on Tuesday (25/06/19) at Army Camp Sharda, which eventually took place at around 4pm, though we didn't notify them of our arrival until about 2.45pm:


Here are a series of embeds which cover the 3 day visit of the 5 member PHC delegation to AJK: 

A summary of proceedings by Ravinder Pandita - Head of 'Save Sharda Committee' (Regd.) and most actively persistent in opening Sharda from across the LOC:

Silent footage of the PHC delegation's visit to Sharda on Tuesday (Day 176 of 2019), remotely secured by prominent AJK journalist Amirudeen Mughal:

Leading AJK Archaeologist Dr. Rukhsana Khan's notes on the visit:

For those of you who can't read the text of the embed above, here it is:

Expert urges ‘broader and inclusive approach’ for opening Sharda Peeth

Assistant Professor University of Azad Jammu and Kasmir, Dr. Rukhsana Khan has said that Prime Minster of Pakistan Imran Khan has conferred a huge task of cross-LoC heritage tourism initiative to PTI MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani who recently visited Sharda to check the feasibility of the initiative. The initiative includes opening Sharda Peeth and other spiritual sites for Kashmiri origin Hindu Pandits and Muslims on both sides of LoC who want to visit shrines and their Holy places on either side of LoC, Dr. Khan told this correspondent after meeting with Dr. Vankwani and his delegation in before their departure for Sharda. According to Dr Khan, she was approached by the delegation of Pakistan Hindu Council and Evacuee Trust Property Board Government of Pakistan to take her input on various aspects of Sharda Peeth and other archaeological sites in AJK.

Delegation headed by Dr. Vankwani, who is also Patron in Chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, wanted to know the historical background, state of preservation, and aspects effecting the opening of Sharda and associated sites for heritage tourism. It is pertinent to mention here that Dr. Khan has extensively worked on heritage in conflict areas in Kashmir and its utilization for peace building. Moreover, Dr. Khan emphasized that earlier initiatives of trade and travel across the LoC have been suspended, and in these circumstances the prospects for cross LoC heritage tourism will remain fragile until the earlier peace initiatives are resumed and further strengthened. She said Sharda Peeth opening initiative must include broader and inclusive approach. PM AJK, and other stake holders must be taken on board and all communities, Pundits and Muslims across the LoC must be allowed to visit their respective revered sites in such heritage tourism initiatives.

End of embedded text...

The possibility of Sharda being discussed at the following meeting is possible, though I am trying to verify it from the British foreign office:

Finally, here are some thoughts shared by the incomparable AJK journalist Arif Urfi:


Elsewhere, this is really positive:


Whilst our attention is on Sharda, something else is happening under our noses:

Translated thus:

Source: Whatsapp Group Apna Poonchi Parivaar

AJK Government's lethal planning for tree felling (deforestation) in Neelam Valley

The AJK government has issued a tender to extract wood from 1 million square feet of forest in the Neelam Valley. Through lethal planning, at least 100,000 exquisite and expensive trees are being felled, which can only be described as a despicable act by the current government. In Neelam Valley, the status of tree felling is already in a shambles whereby the local people have been using the wood from trees for fuel (for cooking) or for construction. Meanwhile, the Department of Forestry has been relentlessly occupied in delivering these trees to their masters everywhere from Muzaffarabad to Karachi (in Pakistan).

Neelam Valley's Deodar - a very rare and valuable species of wood - is found here which is highly expensive (in the international market). Prior to this, a department by the name of AKLAS (Azad Kashmir Logs and Saw Mills Association) had been (officially) responsible for extracting this wood but it was abolished (as a department) last year. It so happens that this government department's former employees - despite promises and assurances - have not been issued with pensions. 

Some people object (to environmental activism) by posing the question as to where will the government generate its budget and cover its deficit? It should be said in this regard that just the annual revenue from Mangla dam is 450 arb (billion rupees) whilst at this moment Neelam-Jhelum (hydro project) is also running at full capacity.

Acting as an enemy of the forests of Neelam Valley is nothing new for the AJK government but is in fact a tradition (policy) maintained since decades. Whether its the civil bureaucracy of Pakistan or the (wood) mafia at large - all their houses are adorned with wood extracted from trees in the forests of Neelam - they are being used in the housing schemes of Bahria and DHA (Defence Housing Authority) in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Last year I was in shock when a friend informed me that in Upper Neelam, 5,000 trees had been felled in just one night and when some journalists tried to raise their voice on this issue, they were forcibly silenced.

The forests of Neelam Valley have already been almost laid bare. The department of forestry is a powerful and influential institution, to the extent that the department's range officer is at times more powerful than a secretary of the AJK government. Despite that, there is no real effort being made to re-plant trees throughout the valley. On one hand, tree felling is hurting local industry and on the other hand the environment is at high risk. Wildlife is becoming extinct and landsliding has also become a more imminent danger.

At a local level, it is just the wood industry that has some functional status while the government gives scant attention to it. Indeed, instead of promoting this industry, the government extracts wood in abundance and then sells it at an inferior price in Pakistan. Some of it is even presented as gifts to their masters there. These activities are threatening the sole functioning industry within the State of AJK. The act of mass tree felling, has in the past few years not only diminished the availability of water in the region, the temperature is also gradually rising, which in turn is affecting the growth of local crops. 

The forests of Neelam Valley do not merely belong to the Neelam Valley, they act as a guarantor of the future of downstream areas including the rest of AJK, Punjab and Sindh (in Pakistan). This lethal planning of deforestation must be prevented at all costs, otherwise in just a few years time the forests will remain just in name (and not substance).        


The following is important for the record:


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Daily Diary (DD) - Day 193 of 2020

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