The opening of tunnel is a good step to ensure the regional connectivity which Kashmir has been deprived of since last 70 years, but it should also lead towards opening of a fruitful dialogue for sustaining peace in the region, writes Asem Mohiuddin
Srinagar: On Sunday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 9.26 kilometer long tunnel connecting two regions of Jammu and Kashmir and also Kashmir Valley with rest of the India. The tunnel will not only reduce distance of 32 kilometres between Jammu and Srinagar, it will also save journey time of more than two hours. Started five years ago, the work on this project was completed in a record time of five and half years and was built at the cost of Rs 3,720 crores. This tunnel comprises two tubes that run parallel to each other — the main traffic tunnel of diameter 13 m, and a separate safety or escape tunnel of diameter 6 m alongside. The two tubes — each approximately 9 km long — are connected by 29 cross passages at regular intervals along the entire length of the tunnel. These passages add up to about 1 km of tunnel length, and the main and escape tubes, plus the cross passages make up about 19 km of tunnel length.
Flanked by J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and Governor Narendra Nath Vohra, Prime Minister, Modi examined the tunnel and encouraged the officers who made this engineering marvel possible in the short span of time and this tunnel is one of the longest tunnels in south Asia. After inauguration, the PM spoke about his priorities in J&K, however, there was no mention of any process of stalled dialogue between Government of India and separatists even Pakistan. After the completion of state elections, people had pinned hopes that Modi will take initiatives to resume dialogue for which J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti has been advocating. Even during inauguration Mehbooba Mufti praised the Prime Minister for bold decisions. “The State has gone through a tough phase of uncertainty and gloom need to be reached out to get Jammu and Kashmir out of the present phase of difficulties and desolation. Prime Minister exhibits the unparalleled determination of taking bold decisions, to help them in taking Jammu & Kashmir out of these uncertain situations and build a prosperous future for them,’’ she said adding that lot has happened in J&K due to the support of the Central Government but a lot still remains to be done.
And when PM Modi spoke his focus instead of political initiatives was development, jobs and tourism. He blamed terror for all the miseries of Kashmiri people. In his address there was no mention about any political process.
“There were two roads before the youth of Kashmir today. One is of tourism, the other is of terrorism. Many people have lost their lives during the last 40 years, but it has not benefitted anybody.”
Addressing to Kashmir, Modi said that if blood has been shed, it has been spilled on the soil of Kashmir. “And if a life has been lost, it is a mother in Kashmir or in India who has lost her son. This game of shedding blood has not benefitted anybody in Kashmir.”’ Modi said that time has come when people have to choose between terror and tourism.
“However, if they had focused on tourism during all these years, the entire world would have been at the feet of Kashmir,” Modi said that the thousands of crores spent on building the tunnel may have been the Government of India’s money, but the sweat that was shed belonged to the youth of Kashmir. “Over 2,500 youths from Kashmir broke stones and built this tunnel day and night for 1,000 days, creating countless job opportunities which are beyond anybody’s imagination,” he said.
After the last year’s unrest that left more than 90 civilians dead and thousands injured especially with pellets, the people were hoping that Centre will now take steps to break the ice. But, it didn’t happen and people in Valley seem to have got annoyed and are looking indifferent towards the approach of Modi, especially when militancy is again on rise and more and more local youths are joining militant ranks especially in the south Kashmir.
The ministers accompanying Modi also highlighted the projects that centre is initiating in the state. However, when PM Modi was inaugurating the tunnel, the Kashmir Valley was observing complete shutdown. The call for shutdown was extended by the separatist leadership who termed the construction of tunnels and road projects futile till political issues are not resolved that has given rise to bloodshed and killings on daily basis. Though Modi also reiterated the slogan of former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee – Kashmiryaat, Jhamooriyat and Insaniyat but on ground the words of PM has never been translated into action even Centre has so far shown no inclination towards ending the stalemate on the political front. By again and again speaking on development, it is clear that PM and Centre government is looking the issue of Kashmir through the prism of development besides tackling everything with an iron hand. After the last year’s unrest that left more than 90 civilians dead and thousands injured especially with pellets, the people were hoping that Centre will now take steps to break the ice. But, it didn’t happen and people in Valley seem to have got annoyed and are looking indifferent towards the approach of Modi, especially when militancy is again on rise and more and more local youths are joining militant ranks especially in the south Kashmir. So besides, development time has come when centre needs to take some initiatives otherwise coming months would be more difficult. The reports of intelligence agencies pertaining to fragile peace in valley are already disturbing. The Centre has also not given any importance to the recommendations of the delegations that visited Kashmir during unrest has further left people worried. So far all the appeals of mainstream politicians especially J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti too has been ignored by the PM which is not good omen for the mainstream polity of the state. Though separatist’s leaders have termed the opening of tunnel a good step, however, they have asked Modi to act like a statesman and reminded him that Kashmir issue has a historical importance that could only be resolved though political step not through construction of tunnels or building road networks and termed it a useless efforts that will backfire.
“Construction of roads or inauguration of tunnels is of lesser importance; however, it is hard to come to the expectations and accept hard realities. Kashmir issue is a serious and a sensitive political issue (and) as such, extraordinary and exemplary courage is needed to resolve it,” a spokesman of Hurriyat (G) said in a statement. “Today’s shutdown is an eye opener and serves a message that Kashmir issue can’t be solved or shelved through cosmetic approach.”
The spokesman said that Narendra Modi should take brave steps and act as a statesman which will pave way for overall development in India and peace in the subcontinent and will prove helpful for South Asia and India too will get rid of many complex problems (it’s) facing at home.
“World has changed into a global village and improving connectivity through roads and tunnels is a good idea, but these no more serve any purpose to political and human issues.”
Even now mainstream politicians including former J&K chief minister, Farooq Abdullah has started telling that tunnels are no alternative to Kashmir issue.
“We have always maintained that economic packages and infrastructural projects cannot be alternatives to dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad and New Delhi and the stakeholders in Kashmir. Unfortunately the current dispensation in the State has bartered its voice to remain in power and is watching as a mute spectator as its ally in New Delhi is creating a political vacuum in Kashmir that could have unimaginable consequences in the future,” said Farooq Abdullah.
Now the time has come when Government of India should focus and concentrate on the real issues that is potentially disturbing the peace in state and affecting the political system of country. At international forum, the country is also battling to justify the prevailing tensions in valley especially after the killing of Burhan Muzaffer Wani, top militant commander killed last year in south Kashmir.
The opening of tunnels is a good step to ensure the regional connectivity which Kashmir has been deprived of since last 70 years, but it should also lead towards opening of a fruitful dialogue otherwise with growing graph of indigenous militancy and subsequent attacks on the security forces, the peace could never be achieved. In the past economic packages have never resolved issues, but political Confidence Building Measures had brought peace in the Valley. In absence of dialogue, situation can anytime take ugly turn and can potentially engulf the sub continent in its ugliness.
The article appeared in print edition of April 5-11, 2017.