In Kashmir, India PM Modi says ‘development is the solution’

Kashmiris react with disbelief to Modi’s speech, saying India is failing to solve the region’s serious political issue.

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said development is the “only solution” to Indian-administered Kashmir’s problems, as separatist leaders called for a strike to protest against his day-long visit to the region.

Modi opted for a soft tone on Saturday as he addressed a group of officials, politicians and media in a highly-guarded venue in the restive region’s main city of Srinagar.

“I want everybody to invest energy only in the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

“All problems, all differences have only one solution … development, development and development.”

Authorities imposed a curfew in most parts of Srinagar – including the closure of schools and colleges – ahead of Modi’s visit.

The measures came as separatist leaders called for a rally in Srinagar’s commercial hub and a complete shutdown to protest against the prime minister’s visit.

Kashmir, which remains a long-pending dispute between India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a surge in violence.

In recent years, anti-India street protests attended by many young people have become frequent, as have gun battles between fighters and security forces – particularly in the southern parts of the region. 

Modi said there is no substitute for “peace and stability”, urging the youth to return to the “mainstream”. 

“The mainstream is their parents and family; the mainstream is their contribution to the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. 

“Every stone thrown by the misguided youth destabilises the Kashmir”.

On Friday, India and Pakistan said eight civilians and a soldier were killed in cross-border shelling.

End the deadlock

On Wednesday, in a departure from their tough stance, the BJP-led (Bhartiya Janta Party) government announced a unilateral ceasefire and ordered security forces in Kashmir not to launch any operation during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

While backing the ceasefire, Modi repeated a line used during his Independence Day speech last year, saying that “the problems in the region cannot be solved with bullets and abuses but by embracing Kashmiris”.

But analysts in the region were not convinced.

“These speeches have been heard by people in the past too,” Noor Ahmad Baba, a Kashmir-based political scientist based, told Al Jazeera.

Calling development “secondary”, Baba said Modi “ignored the political aspect of the issue”.

“Something more needs to be done,” he added.

‘The gun is not the solution’

Rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding that the Indian-administered part of Kashmir is united either with Pakistan or be free as an independent country.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the Muslim-majority Kashmiris who openly support the cause of rebels against India.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the two-decade conflict.

During his visit, Modi also marked the beginning of work on the construction of a 14km-long tunnel between the cities of Srinagar, Kargil and Leh, as well as a semi-ring road project in Srinagar.

He also laid the foundation for the controversial 330-MV Kishenganga hydroelectric power project, which continues to be a point of contention between India and Pakistan.

But for Muhammad Ashraf, a 39-year-old Kashmiri resident, such “temporary measures” failed to address the region’s “serious political problem”.

“Even India has realised now that the gun is not a solution, but they cannot also solve the dispute with development,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It is better to hold a dialogue with Pakistan. The ceasefire, if successful, will end in a month, then again there will be killings.”

Source: Al Jazeera