There are lessons to be learnt from the floods that have devastated Jammu and Kashmir. This is a national disaster but after rendering relief and rehabilitation, the object must not be to restore but to build anew and better wherever opportunity offers. This will not be an easy task but must be imaginatively attempted. Those affected are understandably angry over delayed rescue and relief with the loss of communications and connectivity aggravating anxieties. But the unprecedented magnitude of the storm and floods could not have been anticipated and the state government, army, air force and the National Disaster Management Authority acted promptly and effectively in the circumstances with full Central backing.
Unfortunately, as always, the issue has been politicised for electoral gain. There are theories galore of what should or might have been done. These armchair critics are removed from ground realities. The separatists have joined the act and air force helicopters flying dangerous missions and winching up stranded citizens have been targeted by stone-pelters.
Pakistan has been badly affected and Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to offer assistance to disaster victims across the Line of Control. His Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif reciprocated with a similar offer to aid the J and K. These gestures need to be capitalised on the basis of the understanding that common distress can make people think of common futures that could help avert or mitigate cross border disasters.
One area of co-operation could be on issues of monitoring and countering climate change which has increasingly caused aberrant weather. This apart, it is noteworthy that the main damage occurred in the Chenab and Jhelum valleys over which India has limited regulatory control. It is in this regard that the Indus Treaty calls for a relook by optimising storages and other measures by invoking Article VII, titled “Future Co-operation”. Whereas India is now limited to no more than 1.70 million acre feet of storage on the Chenab system, it currently has none but only some run-of-the-river pondage. But the upper Chenab, which lies entirely within India, has a storage capacity four or five times larger than currently permitted that could both hold back flood waters and also generate far more electricity and irrigation produced by such joint storage works on a mutually beneficial cost-benefit sharing basis.
Hopefully, circumstances will drive both sides to sensible co-operation of this kind which would in turn help resolve the Kashmir problem in the bargain. The BJP-Parivar in-house Fool’s Chorus that is ready to chant nonsense at the drop of a hat, was loud in denouncing J and K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s plea that the door for talks with Pakistan should be kept open after calling off the foreign secretary(FS) -level talks. He was denounced as a traitor. But external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said a week later that there are only commas and no full-stops in Indo-Pakistan relations.
Key player
Unfortunately, the MEA, and the key player there – the foreign secretary – has been cut out of the loop in dealing with major aspects of foreign policy. She was not consulted but only informed by the PMO to break off the FS-level talks. Thereafter, it was the National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit oval who was sent to Beijing last week to discuss the preliminaries and agenda for the forthcoming summit level talks between President Xi Jinping and Modi in Delhi. This is a recipe for disaster.
Even as the BJP-Parivar continues its vitriolic and divisive campaign of minority-baiting and Love Jihad, Delhi had the privilege of hearing a very moving address of “Truth-Telling in a Time of War”, under the auspices of the Ramnath Goenka Foundation, by Marianna Pearl, widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street journalist who was brutally killed by the Taliban in Karachi some months after 9/11.
She said her husband’s and her own credo was that “beyond the news there are individuals, beyond the politics is a human society, and beyond our difference there is common ground. That common ground is what terrorists are trying to destroy”. She said terrorists operate by creating a narrative, using labels extensively. “Wars and conflicts can’t live without a narrative, a justification that breeds on frustration, ignorance and fear”. Journalists must deal with this by creating a counter-narrative, “resisting the appeal of sensationalism and the temptation to over-simplify complex matters or please those in power”. She said she stood for values and pleaded that journalists “think beyond labels”.

B G Verghese