Moving on the Kargil-Skardu road

The third round table conference on Jammu and Kashmir took place in Delhi on Tuesday. Ushering in peace within Kashmir remained the focus of the deliberations but we also need to look at the bigger picture. And this is where the Kargil-Skardu road comes in. Speaking at a function in Kargil in June 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced that parts of Ladakh-Gilgit and Baltistan are under the control of foreign troops and that the government is considering the opening of the Kargil-Skardu road. While the local population in Kargil and Baltistan across the LoC is enthusiastic about such a route, the proposal itself seems to have been put on the back-burner.

Why is this road important? Much has been written about the divided families of the Kashmir Valley. The opening of the Uri-Muzafarabad road made everyone realise there are other divided families too in the Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch districts, for instance. The second road between Poonch and Rawlakot is now addressing the issue; in fact, this bus service is more popular than the first one. What has gone unnoticed are the divided families in Ladakh and the Northern Areas. The LoC not only divided the Pahris and Kashmiris, it divided the Baltis, especially the Shia families of the Kargil and Skardu regions. Consider the time taken and the economic costs involved for a person from Kargil to visit Skardu a distance of approximately 130 km. What should take a maximum of five to six hours takes four to five days today.

An eminent writer from the Northern Areas recently pointed out that the Kashmir conflict is more to do with the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims in the Valley. He wanted to know why the people and divided families in the Northern Areas and Kargil should suffer for a conflict that has nothing to do with them. With Pakistan shrewdly delinking the regions of Gilgit and Skardu from 'Azad Kashmir' and making them a part of the Northern Areas, the people of these regions have even less to do with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. This argument can be extended further. Historically, the people of not just Kargil and Skardu but the entire region of Ladakh and the Northern Areas from Leh to Gilgit, were in touch with each other economically, politically and culturally. Trade and movement of people from Tibet to Central Asia through Leh, Kargil, Skardu and Gilgit took place continuously until 1947.

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