In a visit to the subcontinent in March 2000, the US President Bill Clinton called the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world”. The statement came after India and Pakistan had fought a limited but tense war in the hills of Kargil. It was clear that Kashmir was sitting on the trigger of a nuclear war.
But there is another subject whose repercussions are even wider and broader in scope, and despite already being struck by it, we haven’t acknowledged it as such.
The hierarchal notion of ‘securitisation’ in theory and practice has laid much focus on military security, leaving fewer resources for other forms of security – including environment. The notion of sitting in the lap of nuclear weapons certainly brings the kingdom of heaven to the world’s attention. The militarisation on both sides of the ceasefire line elucidates the priority of a certain kind of security as well.
With the ensuing political conflict having become intractable, there appears to be little room today to deliberate ways in which to mitigate the consequences of ecological disasters. Instead, the state machinery has placed military barracks and police pockets in ecologically sensitive places – amidst forests, river banks, meadows, with deep ecological repercussions. The local administration has also failed to check major causes leading to environmental disasters.
There has been a profound shrinkage of water bodies in urban and rural centres, and a spate of floods after only a few hours of rain has become unsurprising. The wetlands have also become degraded and unable to retain any water.
Environmental disaster in the Kashmir valley could wipe a significant section of the population out. In the context of looming threats and changing climatic patterns, we must highlight emerging discourses in the field of security that have remained contested.
The idea of security has been criticised for being ethnocentric and for its narrow application vis-à-vis the national security apparatus. Instead, it must be broadened to include environmental concerns as well, as Barry Buzan argued in his seminal 1983 book, People, States and Fear. In international relations, security has revolved chiefly around the logic of war, pushing states to arms-building. The same is true for India and Pakistan, who have built a range of armaments in a zero-sum pattern, with several wars fought mainly over the territory of Kashmir.
Further, there is a need to analyse the impact of human intervention on the overall ecology of Jammu and Kashmir. A number of factors have contributed to environmental degradation in the state, including militarisation, but which has received little attention. According to the defence ministry, 70,000 hectares of land is under the army’s control in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the state doesn’t know the effect of their presence in ecologically sensitive areas in their neighbourhoods.
Sad state of flood channels
In the past, flood channels have provided safe passage for water brimming over the Jhelum river. However – and even after the 2014 floods – builders have encroached upon the channels and the riverbank, as well as the wetlands. The act of encroaching such vital passages is in itself an invitation to disaster, and the blame lies as much with the encroachers as with those responsible for penalising them but who haven’t.
Further, the irrigation department of Jammu and Kashmir has made little effort to preserve numerous ponds attached to streams and rivers around the state. These smaller water bodies used to absorb excess water in the aftermath of heavy rains. Today, these ponds have been transformed to dryland and the irrigation department is not undertaking efforts to restore them. As a result, heavy rains almost invariably result in flooding.
The annual Amarnath pilgrimage also has an adverse impact on the state’s ecology. Every year, around two lakh pilgrims come to Kashmir to visit the holy cave situated deep in Pahalgam, following a route that passes through an ecologically fragile zone consisting of glaciers and green pastures.
The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, which arranges for the pilgrimage, sets up hundreds of langar posts that serve food and water to devotees. These posts produce garbage in the form of plastic plates, cups, bottles and waste food, and don’t dispose of them properly. Instead, one finds plastic material lying around the road and in running water in the area.
Officials from Kashmir’s tourism department have said on record that the yatra results in environmental degradation, affecting local flora and fauna. So there is a need to regulate the yatra and use strict measures to mitigate environmental hazards.
All of this should serve as a wake-up call to the state and civil society. Jammu and Kashmir is threatened not just by guns and stones but also by its deteriorating environment. In this context, laying too much emphasis on just one form of security will deprive Kashmiris of a better, more harmonious future.
Muneeb Yousuf is a research scholar at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.