Last week, news-reports and social networking sites reverberated with inputs on Kargil March organized to demand opening of Kargil-Skardu route. Largely attended, the march was a reminder of the choked state the populace has to live in, resulting from a raging conflict. Mostly calm, the boil in Kargil was witnessed in freezing temperatures. The march was suggestive of growing anger, even in parts of state, not known to get into an agitated state. It was suggestive of the rot that has set in, and is growing by the day. What was voiced in Kargil march should set the alarm beds ringing, unless naysayers choose to stay stone-deaf.
The Kargil report coincided with reports of closure of several routes within the state, which further on link the state with the world beyond. The reports brought home the stark reality, the state remains face to face with, ever since the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated to make it the Indian administered part and Pakistan administered part. Across the divide, the erstwhile state lies shattered, tattered, and haggard. The conflict ridden state has lost some of its natural outlets and with it its sheen. In its choked state, the place renowned to be paradise on earth carved by nature in northern Himalayas has lost its breath. The state which was breathing on its own with a manageable economy based on local resources has turned to be a consumerist economy with fast dwindling productive base.
Vale of Kashmir, the heart of the state, its pride suffers the most, given its geographical location. The bowl shaped valley surrounded by lofty mountains has several known outlets, linking it with other parts of the erstwhile state and thenceforth to world beyond. Jhelum valley road, the natural outlet in the north of the vale is sparsely used, given the raging conflict. It remains tightly regulated, ever since it was opened for providing a breather to divided families, as well as movement of goods. Over a decade has passed; the movement of goods stands on barter system, devoid of exchange mechanism. It is indeed an irony of fate that before 1947, JV road provided the link mostly used for communicating with the subcontinent. Robbed of its natural outlet, the valley remains dependent for communication with other part of the state and the world beyond on Banihal Cart Road. The change of nomenclature to National Highway (NH-1) has hardly helped to change its vulnerability, as the harsh winters set in. Geologically fragile, the road gives way to mountainous slides at several points. In spite of huge investments, it doesn't hold, leaving the valley stranded for essential supplies for day together, resulting in huge losses in trade.
The other operative route apart from Banihal Cart Road remains the Mughal Road in south of the valley. It needs upgradation by tunneling it in vulnerable sectors, which could have the potential of making it an all-weather road. There are other valley outlets in south and north. The Simthan pass linking the valley with Chenab Basin could again be tunneled to upgrade inter-state connectivity. It is much neglected link, suspected to be laid aside on political considerations. Sadhna Pass linking Karnah tehsil of Indian administered Kashmir to district headquarters in Kupwara is another vital outlet. The tehsil is located on LoC. The tunneling of the pass could upgrade connectivity to Karnah and beyond it to Pakistan administered Kashmir. Haji Pir pass linking Uri and Poonch is another interstate passage, a conflict-ridden clogged link. Poonch-Rawalakot route though operations needs to be upgraded for trade and travel.
The known vulnerability of Banihal Cart Road affects travel apart from trade. The option of air travel is forbidding as airline companies hike the fare beyond what could be affordable. The fare as reported touches the highest levels in India. Plight of stranded passengers in Jammu, wanting to return to valley is sickening; many run out of money and depend on charitable organizations for a meal. What has become the pain of valleyites, strangely manifested in Kargil across Zojila pass, as scores marched to make a plea for opening the Skardu route? It is indeed a collective pain of people living within the Himalayan ranges. Natural barriers no doubt make trade and travel within Himalayan ranges difficult in harsh weather conditions, however man-made barriers, borne of raging conflict have largely added to the communication choke. This virtually amounts to holding a populace hostage to inflated nationalistic egos in times where planet earth has become a global village. The anguished cry of people of Kargil demonstrates a natural urge to stay connected to neighbouring Baltistan, having much in common with people across LoC.
Kashmir valley beyond Zojila pass in the western section of Himalaya's gets linked to Kargil and Leh districts in Ladakh. Kargil-Skardu route takes it to Baltistan and beyond that to Gilgit in Karakorum Range. Valley has another outlet to Gilgit via the Razdan pass in Gurez. Karakorum, a vital mountainous range spans borders of India, Pakistan and China in several regions of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir—Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh. Gilgit-Baltistan provides links to Xingjian region in China. Ladakh region has several passes. Karakorum pass and Nubra pass link it to Chinese Turkistan and Khattan, while Kharadangala and Changla pass link it to Tibet. These mountainous ranges have historical footprints of the Silk Route—the main trade link of ancient times. It craves for revival, as the landlocked state has to bank on road links, denied to the state in conflict.
Kargil March may not be read in isolation, it carries a message likely to spread in the days ahead.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat [Reunion is subordinate to survival]