At a time, when Afghanistan is in news everywhere and Taliban’s rule has been interpreted in different ways, the geo equation experiencing a shift from ‘western’ domination, there can be multiple ways of future actions at strategic and diplomatic levels of the region’s power, particularly by China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and others. But irrespective of what is changing or going to be changed, it is people to people relations, their cultural and trade connections that must be a priority for every country. All other equations are temporary, unstable and can face change depending upon various factors, but people who are living in the region are connected with each other for thousands of years and we should believe that their mutual connection will benefit the countries and their governments.
Now particularly in context of Afghanistan and India’s concern on China-Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, India’s investment in Afghanistan, Scope of SAARC and security concern in J&K and Ladakh regions, there are much to think and it brings importance of Ladakh region once again because it is connected with China on one side and remained in dispute for LoAC clashes, Across LoC- Giglit-Baltistan on other side to which Afghanistan touches the border.
In view of this, what is of greater need to India is having trust of the people who are living in and around this region, but this trust cannot be achieved unless there would be a genuine approach to keep the region’s future prosperous, stable, peaceful and far from war and violence.
J&K witnessed change and is now being identified as J&K and Ladakh separately as two UTs of India. Two decades ago, when J&K was facing terrorism and despite the Kargil had happened between Pakistan and India, an act of courage to bring stability and peace in the region was shown by leadership of both sides and cross LoC bus and trade (start of buses across LoC in the year 2005 and later opening of two routes Poonch-Rawalkot and Uri-Muzaffarabad routes across LoC in the year 2008) was started which was supported wholeheartedly by local people and thus brought a trust.
Now, with the changed geo equations, it is once again reminded that we need to work more upon people to people connections and a need for cross LoC route Kargil-Skardu is felt because it can come with a lot of benefits.
The fact that before being a separate UT, Ladakh was part of J&K state and many of its priorities could not be looked into. Speeches and promises regarding Kargil-Skardu road opening were made but there were no official proposals sent by the then J&K governments regarding this. Now, when Ladakh is a separate UT, it seems that such proposals can get space in the government’s priorities.
Kargil-Skardu road has a historic relevance, but not limited to this. Among other possible routes that need to be opened across LoC, such as Jammu-Sialkot, Kargil-Skardu, Nowshera-Jhangar and others, Kargil-Skardu may get prioritised in view available potential and benefits.
In already opened routes of Uri-Muzaffarabad, Uri falls in Kashmir region while in Poonch- Rawalkot route, Poonch falls in Jammu region. Clearly, it is only Ladakh region that lags behind to be connected and Opening Kargil-Skardu route is a popular demand of people in this region.
People living in this region on both sides of LoC (Kargil and Skardu) speaks same language and have cultural and ethnic similarity while their language and culture have no affinity with other regions on both sides of LoC and therefore opening this route may also give a sense of oneness and unification of hearts and emotions. In security terms, this region did not show any pattern of militancy, infiltration or any such activities and is considered comparatively more peaceful than even areas of presently open routes.
Opening of this route can bring huge benefits to nearly 8000 divided families living in this area by reducing the distance between them. Distance between Kargil and Skardu is just around 170 kms and from the adjacent hill of the last village (Indian side) Hundarma, one may see villages across LoC through naked eyes as they are not on much distance. People have their immediate ancestors in each other’s villages. With these divided families of the same ethnicity, re-opening the route would help them a lot. At present people need to travel from Kargil to Skardu via Srinagar, New Delhi, Atari, Lahore and Islamabad that counts for more than 2500 km and 4-5 days, while the same would be done with travel of a few hours condition to opening of the route.
Trade on this route may serve purpose to the future vision of connecting with Central Asia to stronger regional bonds. International Tourists who visit Ladakh region may also get an option to travel via this route and may bring more revenue to the region on both sides of LoC. At present, when China has already constructed all weather road with its CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) Projects under BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), and India could not join CPEC due to policy based issues, opening of Kargil-Skardu road may create a new chapter of regional cooperation and both (CPEC and Kargil-Skardu route) can get benefitted from each other and can bring greater stability in this region.
Opening this all-weather route will be a boost in CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) and may pave the way in resolving conflicts, bringing prosperity in the region. More importantly, the true objective of bringing peace should have a base of strong bond through not only trade and strengthening the local economy but more through emotionally by connecting hearts. Kargil-Skardu route deserves all such virtue to qualify for being opened and it may help the government to get their objectives fulfilled.
The government of India should take steps to announce the desire of opening of this route and should ask the Govt. of Pakistan to come forward to act together.
Ravi Nitesh is a social activist and freelance writer. He can be reached on twitter @ravinitesh