Kargil: An Enduring Conflict
By Javed Naqi
17 November, 2011
Since time immemorial conflict between states has been a regular phenomenon causing untold suffering and enormous loss of human life, fragmentation of societies and devastation of economies. This subsequently led to some of these countries closing their land borders with their neighbors and hence restricting cross border trade and people to people contact. Conflict in the Asian subcontinent had similar implications on the population and land. The borders are closed rendering people and families divided, and restricting movement and trade. However many failed to recognize a grave implication of this conflict. This is particularly in the case of a tiny border district within the territory controlled by India. The author argues that the aftermath of conflict in this region is a threat to human security.
Kargil, prior to the creation of India and Pakistan served as an important trade and transit centre in the Pan-Asian trade network. Mohammad Ashraf points out, ‘this border area was never really cut off even during most brutal winter’. He adds, ‘Kargil-Skardu has been an all weather route of great importance, which further connects with Gilgit and thence to Central Asia’. It is only after the emergence of borders that the areas on this side of the border got totally blocked during winter. Thus, the people of Kargil are virtually imprisoned in a frozen prison. The only link which connects Kargil to the outer world is via Zojila pass, which becomes inaccessible at least for six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and hence begins a period of isolation for the people of Kargil. This isolation results in great losses in terms of education, health, rural infrastructure and most importantly sustainability. It badly impacts the young people’s education and growth. As far as the health sector is concerned, in case of emergencies, people of this isolated district remain helpless. During summers, the people and the government become more involved in stocking basic amenities for the winters. Thus, energy and time are invested into it and other major development issues in different sectors get ignored. The people of the region have little choice but to consume stocked stale food items. Under such situation year after year human life in this part of the world is always at stake.
For years, the people of Kargil have been demanding the opening of the Kargil-Skardu road and construction of a tunnel through the Zojila pass but so far there hasn’t been any significant development on both the demands. It should be noted as in case of Kargil, the Indo-Pak conflict and the subsequent closing of the borders has completely confined people in their permanent habitats especially in winter, which was not the case before the conflict. Hence the very definition of conflict transformation in this case is different i.e. connectivity. This has not been taken into cognizance by the conflict parties- India and Pakistan. Even after four years since the Zojila tunnel project was approved yet not much has been done. The state has adopted a dilly-dally approach towards the construction of the Zojila tunnel. On the other hand, Kargil-Skardo road merely makes to the CBM document with no breakthrough every time.
The immediate alternative to gain confidence of people, to establish their faith in the peace process and to end the winter siege is expediting the construction of Zojila tunnel. This is because the other alternative Kargil-Skardu road has two hostile parties (India and Pakistan) and any development on the same needs a joint consensus from both the countries, which in the current scenario of mutual distrust seems very bleak. On the contrary, the Zojila tunnel doesn’t call for any two party endorsements and can happen through the involvement of a unitary actor as the entire Zojila tunnel construction work completely falls under the mandate of India. In this perspective the tunnel option looks more viable and by doing so the Indian state can start the peace process itself. It is hoped the work on Zojila tunnel is taken up very seriously so that the people of Kargil no longer continue to be a second citizen of the globalized world.
(The author, a native of Kargil, is founder of Kindling Accessibility Initiatives in Ladakh and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)