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Reviving the Central Asian Links
 

The University of Kashmir recently organised an International Conference on Central Asia with the theme of “Central Asia in Retrospect and Prospect”. The Conference which was first of its kind held in Kashmir was attended by a large number of delegates from all the Central Asian Countries as well as from some other countries including Pakistan, Iran, Holland, Japan, Germany, Russia, and USA. A large number of delegates from different universities of the country as well as some foreign diplomats based in Delhi were also present. These scholars and experts discussed a variety of topics pertaining to history, politics, geo-strategy, geo-economics, and social development of the Central Asian Region. In the inaugural session almost all the prominent speakers highlighted the links which Kashmir has had with Central Asia till the partition of the sub-continent. The Chancellor of the University, General Sinha spoke about the seven year long sojourn of King Zain-ul-Abidin, popularly known as Budshah, the great king, at Samarqand in the court of Tamerlane. It was this link which was responsible for introduction of a number of handicrafts of Central Asian origin in Kashmir. Pro-Chancellor, Mr.Azad recalled with nostalgia his two visits to Central Asian Countries in mid-eighties and early nineties. According to him Kashmir and all the Central Asian Countries have a lot in common. The way of life, food habits, handicrafts, music and musical instruments are the same. The only difference is of the language. He mentioned that during his visits he felt as if he was in Kashmir. He felt that in view of the extraordinary resemblance which Kashmir had with Central Asian Countries, one could call it “Kashmiristan”! On this occasion the Ambassador of Kazakhstan Mr.Kairat Umarov presented to the University of Kashmir a portrait of Mirza Haider Dughlat of Kazakhstan who ruled over Kashmir for eleven years. The Ambassador had also visited the grave of Mirza Dughlat in Srinagar and mentioned to me that it was in a dilapidated condition. Mirza Haider Dughlat had entered Kashmir first time in 1532 through Zojila at the head of a 5,000 strong force. Even though he reached Srinagar, yet he had to sue for peace and return through the same route due to tough resistance given by Kashmiris. After taking service with Humayun, Mirza Dughlat invaded Kashmir again in 1540 through Tosamaidan route. Helped by Kashmiri nobles like Sayyids and Magreys and people who were tired of Chak domination, he won an easy victory and occupied Srinagar in October, 1540. Placing Nazuk Shah on the throne, he carried on the administration in his name for a period of eleven years. Mirza Dughlat who was more matured now ruled the valley on liberal lines. He gave peace and orderly government to the country. He opened schools and built several mosques in Srinagar with hammams, ensuring warm water to faithful for ablutions even during cold winter. He introduced new types of doors and windows in public buildings and improved architectural designs. Because of his direct encouragement many of the industries originally introduced by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin were revived. His cook Nagz Beg revived the shawl manufacture. The trade with Central Asia and Persia assumed huge proportions and in a very short time people regained the economic prosperity which they had lost after the death of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin. He also meted out justice in an impartial manner. Mirza Dughlat was a versatile man, brave, adventurous, and a patron of learning and art. He had a number of accomplished musicians at his court. He was a prolific writer and wrote several books, the most important, and absorbing being Tarkh-i-Rasidi which he completed in Kashmir. But all his good qualities were offset by his persecution of Shias and Sufi sects against whom he let loose a reign of terror. In addition he patronised Mughal Officers and appointed them on key positions. This made him very unpopular with Kashmiris and weakened his hold. Ultimately this policy cost him both his position as well as his life. He was killed while trying to subdue Chak rebels in Khanpur fort near Rajouri and lies buried in the graveyard of Sultans of Kashmir in Srinagar. Apart from these historical connections, Kashmir had continuous trade with various Central Asian countries. Both Leh and Srinagar were important hubs on the ancient Silk Route. The holding of this Conference is an important milestone on the road for revival of these ancient historical links between Kashmir and Central Asia. The Ambassador of Kazakhstan mentioned to me that a Memorandum of Understanding was being signed between the Universities of Kashmir and Kazakhstan. Already a number of Kashmiri youth are studying Medicine in Kazakhstan and some other Central Asian countries. The possibility of trade and tourism between Kashmir and Central Asia is tremendous. The Kashmir’s most famous saint Mir Syed Ali Hamadani popularly known as Shah-i-Hamadan is buried in Tajikistan. A large number of Kashmiris would love to visit his Shrine for paying homage to him. Similarly, people of Kazakhstan would be happy to visit the burial place of Mirza Dughlat popularly known to them as Dughlati. In ancient times the travel between Kashmir and Central Asian centres like Samarqand, Bukhara, Yarqand, Kashgar and so on would take months on the backs of Bactrian camels and horses. If the road between Kargil and Skardu is made through for civilian traffic, the journey can be accomplished in a matter of few days. However, the dream of a road journey may take sometime to materialise due to the shaky détente between the two mistrusting and quarrelsome neighbours. The most ideal way to revive the Central Asian link would be by Air. Srinagar Airport has already been declared as an International Airport and the infrastructure is being upgraded to make it functional. The flying time to most of the Central Asian Capitals would be two to four hours from Srinagar. It would be a historical move if direct flights are started from Srinagar to Tashkent, Almaty, Dushanbe, Samarqand, and Ashgabat. Not only will we be able to attract Central Asian travellers to Kashmir but a large number of Europeans and other foreign tourists presently visiting these countries in large numbers may be motivated to extend their trips to Kashmir. One of the important factors contributing to the present situation in Kashmir has been its isolation from these historical neighbours of Central Asia. Kashmir’s very strong and deep traditions and its unique culture has developed due to its total physical isolation in the ancient times when it was impossible to cross the high and difficult mountain ranges. However, the same isolation at the present time when the communications have become very easy and quick and the World has become a global village, is making Kashmiris claustrophobic. They feel both physically and psychologically to be in a prison with only one entry and exit point. The revival of links to Central Asia both for tourism as well as trade would to large extent remove this feeling of total isolation. The sooner it is done, the better it would be for peace in this entire South Asian as well as Central Asian Region which is now being called the “Greater Central Asia” by the American Foreign Policy makers. The first step in this regard has already been taken by the University of Kashmir by holding a high profile Conference of scholars and experts. A natural corollary to this event would be holding of a follow up Seminar on the “Revival of Central Asian Links” in which people directly connected with Tourism, Culture, Trade from various Central Asian countries could be invited for participation. The Centre for Central Asian Studies could involve the State Tourism Department, the Cultural Academy, and the Chamber of Commerce for organising the said event. Let us hope the lead given by the University maintains its momentum and a new beginning is made in the revival of our ancient links.

 
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