Young voices on Kashmir

Challenges for the new AJ&K government

2021 has been a significant year in terms of politics for AJ&K due to the general elections and the consequent political transition. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party by securing thirty three seats in recent AJ&K Assembly Elections 2021.

Campaigns by the leadership of different parties for the AJ&K Elections 2021 were confined merely to issuing fiery statements against each other rather than presenting a plan to deal with the vast issues faced by the subjects of the State. However, the newly elected Government now has to face a host of problems that need to be addressed on an emergency basis. The biggest challenge that the upcoming government will have to face is unemployment that has spiked up to 14 percent. This percentage is higher than elsewhere in Pakistan. A majority of the population is in youth age bracket having few opportunities available for earning a livelihood inside AJ&K and is forced to move out. The Government is right now the biggest employer in AJ&K which spends almost seventy percent of its budget on just its expenses. The incoming government needs to address the issue of unemployment sincerely by creating job opportunities and working on the capacity building of Youth.

AJ&K is going through a systematic collapse of state institutions because of bad governance and corruption. Political leaders have encouraged corruption at various levels by undermining the accountability processes. The issue of corruption has started attracting attention of a common man and opinion makers alike as they see a number of officers utilizing their public offices and official positions for their private benefits. There is no doubt in saying that the corruption has hampered AJ&K from attaining significant development and has led to breeding social ailments like unemployment, poverty and crime. The newly elected Government should launch an offensive anti-corruption drive and make Ehtesab Bureau AJ&K an efficient anti-graft body.

AJ&K is prone to deadly floods, landslides and environmental degradation due to climate change. Current and future projections made by the concerned departments give evidence of the rapid climate changes happening in AJ&K. The average maximum temperature has risen causing extreme weather events such as flash floods, cloud bursts and delay in normal rains. Climate changes have adversely impacted the glaciers and biodiversity in the region which has caused severe damage to the ecosystem. Urbanization has also led to deforestation at a huge level due to inadequacy of planning and building control departments. There is a need to establish dedicated centers to monitor the impacts of the changing climate and to develop and implement new policies to save the ecosystem of the region.

AJ&K is endowed with tremendous natural beauty; as well as archaeological and religious sites which make it attractive to the local and international tourists. The vast tourism potential of AJ&K has remained untapped for a long time. This potential was unleashed by social media activists and tourism travel companies that attracted a massive influx of tourists despite the non-availability of a proper infrastructure. AJ&K’s first ever Tourism Policy was launched in 2019 which envisages a broader version of sustainable tourism but the real challenge for the next government is to implement it in a true spirit. By encouraging public-private partnerships, branding of tourist destinations and development of infrastructure; the Government can be successful in utilizing the true potential of the region and promoting sustainable tourism in AJ&K. Tourism sector is a major contributor in creating employment opportunities particularly for women, youth and indigenous people worldwide, and can lead to the reduction of poverty in this region also.

The people of AJ&K suffer from power outrages lasting up to 8 to 10 hours a day despite the fact that region is producing more than 2300 Megawatts of electricity through hydro projects. Unscheduled load shedding is adversely affecting masses even when the demand is very low. Development of the new hydel power projects and management of electricity crisis will be inevitable for the newly elected government.

The elected Local Government System is essential for fiscal decentralization and political transformation. It promotes democratic process at the grass root level and ensures service delivery to the general public. Unfortunately, the Local Government System has remained dysfunctional in the State of AJ&K since 1996. This has given birth to a new set of informal structures that have enhanced social divisions and a feeling of deprivation among the general public. There was a significant development in AJ&K during the era of 1979-1994 when the local bodies were functional. The failure to implement the local bodies system has weakened democratic structure, slowing down the induction of new and young leaders in the political system. Almost all previous governments in the last 25 years have made commitments in their election manifestos regarding it but none have ever taken concrete steps to implement this system. The upcoming Government of AJ&K should immediately hold party based local government elections as they had promised in their 2021 election manifesto.

Another issue that is of prime concern for the people of AJ&K is the poor internet service. The 3G/4G spectrum auction was held in 2014 in Pakistan but the plan of action for auction of spectrums in AJ&K has been delayed again and again. The poor internet connectivity in the region has caused inconvenience to around 4.39 million mobile subscribers especially to the students during Covid-19 pandemic. It is now the responsibility of the newly elected government to ensure the provision of a high speed internet service in the region because social connectivity in the modern era is like any other essential utility service.

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