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:
#PTI MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar (@RVankwani) arrives #Muzaffarabad for onward visit to #Sharda temple in #NeelumValley on Tuesday, in a move that will pave way for opening up of the area for religious #tourism initially for #Pakistan based #Hindu community.@Masood__Khan@farooq_pm— Tariq Naqash (@TariqNaqash) June 24, 2019
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:
For those of you who can't read the text of the embed above, here it is:
The possibility of Sharda being discussed at the following meeting is possible, though I am trying to verify it from the British foreign office:
I am led to believe that #Sharda was also a part of this conversation. COAS Bajwa meets UK army chief, bilateral military ties discussed https://t.co/uoHIkeWTA6 via @dailytimespak— Tanveer Ahmed (@sahaafi) July 1, 2019
Finally, here are some thoughts shared by the incomparable AJK journalist Arif Urfi:
Elsewhere, this is really positive:
Thank you for promoting humanity in the best way possible. https://t.co/2EzoIUeOUQ— Tanveer Ahmed (@sahaafi) June 27, 2019
Whilst our attention is on Sharda, something else is happening under our noses:
— Tanveer Ahmed (@sahaafi) June 27, 2019
|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:
In April 2019, India responded to @UN_SPExperts with no comment on 76 allegations of right to life violations in #Kashmir, reiterating its rejection of 2018 OHCHR report -- which was not the basis of the experts’ query @UNHumanRights #HRC41 Response here: https://t.co/qA0bU8HATQ pic.twitter.com/EXEIB045qe— Haley Duschinski (@AnthroHaley) June 26, 2019