By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Nelson Guda, a world-wandering photographer, artist and writer (with a doctorate in biology), sent me a note early this week from Kashmir, the beautiful and turbulent patch of territory caught for decades in a border dispute between India and Pakistan. Tensions were heightened when a revered Muslim shrine was destroyed in a fire on Monday. (The cause is still in dispute.) Guda is there for his Enemies Project, in which he is photographing people on opposite sides of conflicts around the world. I invited him to send a Dot Earth “Postcard,” which is posted below with more background and news links:
I am in Kashmir, the disputed paradise on the border of India, Pakistan and China, as part of a project in which I am photographing people from opposite sides of violent conflicts around the world. On Monday, Dastgir Sahib, the most revered Sufi shrine in Kashmir, caught fire and was destroyed. [News coverage; Twitter traffic.] I went to photograph a separatist leader the morning after and was surprised by the number of police and army on the streets. There are normally many army and police here — every major intersection has a few with machine guns. On this morning we crossed an intersection with several dozen baton- and machinegun-carrying police and trucks. There is a lot of nervousness and anger.
Life in Srinagar, Kashmir, was disrupted this week after a blaze destroyed a Muslim shrine.
The Kashmir conflict has been hot and violent over much of the last two decades, but it had cooled off in recent years and tourism picked up. So even though there are army and police everywhere, the city of Srinagar is packed with mostly Indian tourists this time of year. Still, many people tell me that this is just a lull, and that feelings about independence still run strong.
I came to Kashmir as ignorant about the situation here as most Americans probably are. Kashmir is a large area that was divided between India and Pakistan. Ethnically it is predominantly Sufi Muslim — a sect of Islam that promotes unity among world religions. The main part of Kashmir is controlled by India, which is largely Hindu. I had always thought that the Kashmiri conflict was about religious differences, but I’ve found that isn’t the case. The conflict here is about control of the land, and one of the things that most irks Kashmiris is that they don’t have any control over their own natural resources.
Kashmir is an incredibly lush valley nestled in the lower hills of the Himalayas that forms the headwaters of the Indus River — a massive river that is one of the main water sources for Pakistan and the heart of their primary agricultural valley. The valley is carpeted with rice paddies, strung with fruit and nut orchards and ringed with mountains. Almost every Kashmiri I have met refers to it as a paradise. But this paradise depends on water and the water resources here have been in the news every day since I arrived. The Indian government has put large hydroelectric projects on the Indus in Kashmir, and the vast majority of electricity created by these dams is routed south out of the state of Jammu-Kashmir. Kashmir frequently has blackouts due to not enough electricity even though the power is generated in their own state. In fact, there is no power right now.
Water is also a major issue here. Srinagar sits on a large and beautiful lake, and 40 kilometers away is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the South Asia. I never heard about this in the United States, but it is clear that dispute over water is a big part of the roiling conflict here.
The Kashmiris’ main issue is that they want to govern their own land. For Pakistan and India, this is a conflict about environmental resources that has massive implications for food and energy security in the future. Right now the situation here is calm. The people are incredibly friendly and the city is flooded with Indian tourists. The editor of the Kashmir Times told me that the calm is superficial. People here are tired and need the economic activity that comes with tourism, so nobody wants to threaten that revenue. Still, Professor Abdul Gani Bhat, one of the separatist leaders I met here, believes that Kashmir is an internationally dangerous flashpoint in this increasingly important and nuclear-armed region.
The morning after the fire, Lal Chowk, the main square in Srinagar, was mostly deserted as the country went on strike to protest the destruction of the Dastgir Sahib shrine. From my hotel room the quiet has been a bit of a welcome change from the cacophony that usually washes out of the square, but it is probably deceptive. The country is mourning, and this fire touches on their emotions about the unresolved political situation here.
I am in good hands — the people we know are very well connected, and there is no anger at the West. Still, the situation in Kashmir is very, very complex. It is much more than we hear about in the western news. I’ve only just touched on some of the many things that are driving this conflict.
Source -DOT Earth