A tale of two Kashmirs

The growing street protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) have highlighted the deep and growing discontent prevailing in the region, stemming from nearly 75 years of misrule by the Pakistani establishment.

Indeed, Pakistan’s occupation of one-third of Kashmir is a puzzle. While PoK holds immense strategic importance for Pakistan, its economic viability is questionable due to its lack of industrialisation and rugged topography, which requires substantial subsidies to sustain it.

In contrast, India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, a region dotted with fertile valleys and high mountains with unparalleled natural splendour. PoK, particularly the Gilgit-Baltistan region, may boast of breathtaking scenery, but its average elevation is over 15,000 feet, making it a harsh and infertile land.

Over the past decade, India’s robust economic growth has catalysed increased resource allocation to its part of Kashmir. In contrast, Pakistan’s economy has declined catastrophically, making POK heavily dependent on remittances from abroad. It has become a dilapidated and desolate place. In the 2022-23 budget, India earmarked $23 billion for Kashmir, while Pakistan could only muster one billion dollars. New Delhi’s fiscal expenditure is lower than Islamabad’s fiscal expenditure to such an extent that comparisons between the two regions are no longer possible. Projections for 2023-24 indicate that Kashmir’s GDP will grow by 10 percent, even higher than India’s national average. Indian Kashmir has four airports compared to POK’s two, and air traffic to the east is twelve times greater. Indian Kashmir also has almost ten times as many hospital beds, and its inflation rate is 8 percent, as opposed to POK’s 37 percent. For two generations, Kashmiris living in Pakistan-occupied territory have received only patronising help and increasing misery. The two main disparities between the provinces are road connectivity, which facilitates the movement of goods and services, and human capital, which is boosted by education and vocational training.

India has been steadily building roads in Kashmir. Udhampur in Jammu is the third-largest district in terms of road construction in India in the last five years. The gap between the two enclaves is now too deep to be bridged.

Moreover, PoK feels cheated as some of its most valuable parts are controlled by proxies through the army and the Punjabi elite.

There is also growing resentment against Chinese involvement, especially in power projects, which are perceived as confiscating vital Kashmiri assets. Corruption has tainted Pakistan’s attempts to industrialise PoK.

The Mirpur industrial area debacle in the late 90s, where most of the industrial plots never came up due to corruption and lack of electricity, is a prime example of this. Similarly, the Neelum Jhelum hydropower project saw massive cost overruns and most of the power generated is supplied to non-Kashmiri grids, while power cuts are regular in PoK.

With the advent of technology, the citizens of occupied Kashmir have got a new perspective on prosperity in the valley. The huge disparity in job availability and poverty compared to the prosperity of Jammu and Kashmir, one of India’s wealthiest provinces per capita, is creating more resentment.

This is an opportune moment for India to showcase its Kashmir success. This summer, India organised an F4 race in Srinagar against the majestic backdrop of Dal Lake. As the cars passed by rapidly, dust rose in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. They realised this was a race they had lost. When the dust settles, Islamabad may face an insurgency in Kashmir it would have never imagined. India must play its Kashmir card smartly.