The untold story: Army helps Kashmiris rebuild lives

October 14th, 2008 - 11:49 am ICT by IANS  

Jammu, Oct 14 (IANS) Sixteen-year-old Iqbal Ahmad, from a frontier town in Jammu and Kashmir, was shattered after he lost his left arm and leg in a landmine blast that also killed his father some years ago.But today Iqbal is happy and walks to his school - of course with difficulty - but no longer feels despondent. “Thank you”, he says to the Indian Army, which gave him not only the artificial limbs but also free education.

“The army took care of my family. It not only gave me free artificial limbs but is also educating me free of the cost. I owe a lot to them,” Iqbal, of Mendhar town in Poonch district of Jammu, told IANS over the telephone.

Iqbal’s is just one of the many success stories of the Indian Army’s 10-year-old Operation Sadbhavana (goodwill) in the violence-plagued state. The Indian Army has been constructing school buildings, roads and bridges and helping to ameliorate sufferings, particulary of women and children as part of the exercise.

Fighting heavily armed guerrillas since 1989, the army began the goodwill mission in 1998 to rebuild Kashmir’s socio-economic structure that had been shattered by years of terrorism and to restore confidence among the people.

“Women and children were the worst sufferers of terrorist activities. So they were the natural focus of Operation Sadbhavana,” said Col. D.K. Kachari, spokesman of the Northern Command that administers the exercise.

“The various projects of Operation Sadbhavana focus on quality education, women’s empowerment, better healthcare and community development,” he pointed out.

“The operation began with a modest budget of Rs.4 crore (Rs.40 million) and till now the army has spent Rs.300 crore (Rs.3 billion) on it,” Kachari told IANS.

According to the spokesman, the army has constructed about 60 school buildings and renovated 534 in the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions of the state.

This apart, it is running 60 Army Goodwill Schools that impart education to about 6,800 students and provide employment to 346 teachers.

“These are run on a not-for-profit basis,” the spokesman said.

The army also provides vocational training to women, has established computer training centres, installed micro-hydel projects, organises medical camps to provide free artificial limbs and primary health, and has set up many orphanages across the state.

Said Eijaz Kazmi, a journalist in Poonch: “Many people have benefited in terms of education, vocational training, employment and medical aid from Operation Sadbhavana.”

P. Namgyal, the Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP from Ladakh, was extremely appreciative of Operation Sadbhavana

“The best part of the scheme was introduction of greenhouses in (the cold desert region of) Ladakh, due to which Ladakhis are producing vegetables, which otherwise was impossible,” Namgyal, a former central minister, told IANS on the telephone.

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at binoo.j@ians.in)

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