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5th July '2013
Integration by tunnelling

Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently inaugurated India’s longest railway tunnel connecting Bannihal with Qazigund. It was termed as an important step in integrating Kashmir with the rest of India. It has been given out that a rail link between the Indian mainland and the Kashmir valley will fully integrate the two entities and practically endorse the Indian Parliament’s resolution about Kashmir being an integral part of India. Incidentally both India and Pakistan talk most of the time about the land of Kashmir and its integration with their respective countries. While Indians claim it to be their crown, the Pakistanis have been terming it their jugular vein! Unfortunately, the suffering inhabitants of this land of recurring tragedies are often forgotten. In fact, they are considered an expendable commodity in the ideological war between these two nuclear armed countries. In physical terms, Kashmir has always had the easiest linkage with the outside world through the Jhelum Valley Road. The Bannihal Cart Road came into being very recently during the Dogra rule. The events of 1947 cut off the Jhelum Valley Road, the natural centuries old link of Kashmir to the mainland of the sub-continent. The only link with the outside that remained was through the Bannihal Cart Road which was subsequently developed into a major two lane highway.

In spite of the best efforts of the Border Roads Organisation, it has been sometimes a herculean task to keep this virtual lifeline to the valley functioning, especially during severe winters. The road tunnel in Bannihal constructed over half a century back by German engineers has not posed any problem. The road very rarely gets blocked in this stretch and that too in the event of a very heavy snowfall. The real problem is between Bannihal and Batote especially between Ramban and Ramsu. The entire mountain stretch is of rotten loose rock, scree and clay. This is the main bottleneck. The rail link to mainland India would be successful only when Bannihal is linked to Katra. That goal is expected to be reached in 2020 if everything goes as per schedule? In spite of the most modern technology tunnelling all the mountains, it is doubtful if the link will remain open 365 days! It would be a fight against the nature. The most ideal link will always remain through the Jhelum Valley Road. In fact, in technical terms it would have been better to have an 8-lane motorway both to the valley and within the valley from one end to the other. If the Chinese builders could achieve such a feat in a more difficult mountain terrain in the other part of Kashmir by constructing the famous Karakoram Highway, why could it not be done on this side?

Well, with all the world class technical aids and experts, India may finally achieve full physical integration of the Valley of Kashmir with its mainland someday but will that solve the problem? The million dollar question is how to integrate the people of Kashmir with the inhabitants of the mainland India? In spite of a lapse of 65 years or so Kashmiris have not integrated emotionally, socially, sentimentally or spiritually with India. In 1947 they were confused and in spite of the assurances from their tallest leader and the promises of India’s top leadership, they were sceptical about joining India. The unusual circumstances put them in the lap of India. However, the events of the last half century or so instead of integrating them have drawn them further away and at the present moment they are extremely alienated. The happenings of last two decades full of brutal violence demonstrated the ugliest face of India to Kashmiris. Both the secularism and democracy touted as the most cherished attributes of the Indian Republic have proved hollow in regard to Kashmir. The impression of a typical Indian in the minds of Kashmiris is that of an armed Indian soldier they see all around on one side and a trishul wielding violent Hindutva volunteer on the other. Rabindra Nath Tagore’s India where the mind would be free and the head could be held high is discernible nowhere. Instead, it is the India of Narendra Modi, Advani and Togodia!

In the immediate aftermath of the inauguration of the “Integration Tunnel”, Kashmiris witnessed the killing of two youth in Bandipora. Earlier also there were similar killings. The killings occurred immediately after the attack on the army convoy just before the VVIP visit. It appears that the young Kashmiri boys are being used for target practice with newly acquired Israeli night-vision devices! The present visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too gave a different message totally in contrast to his first message of “Zero Tolerance”. He virtually threatened to wipe out all signs of militancy. Probably he has given up his efforts to bring in Kashmiri youth into the Indian mainstream and has joined the Hindutva bandwagon of integrating Kashmir with or without Kashmiris? The news of “Educated Militancy” is very ominous for India and may represent early signs of a new uprising more deadly, more violent and more determined? It is more so because of the impending withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan which is forecast by many analysts to have an impact on Kashmir situation. One can only hope that good sense prevails and instead of only physical integration of the land, there are sincere and honest efforts to win over people democratically to solve the decades old festering problem of Kashmir politically!

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