Kashmiris have been treating their brothers and sisters from the Chenab and Pir Panjal Valleys very well since the last three decades, if not for the last seven. Why shouldn’t we? After all a good chunk of them had fled from the Srinagar Valley to escape the marauding forces of Dogras, the Sikhs and even Afghans.
My travel for stories has taken me to remote areas of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and Kishwar, Reasi, Gulabgarh, Ramnagar, and in areas like Basohli, Basantgarh and a host of other places.
A good population is Kashmiri speaking and they adopt our culture, food, festivals, Urs, dressing and way of living. They love the noon chai (salted tea) with kulcha and sattu, phulka, spicy meat cuisines, payas and observe festivals like we do.
Because of no road-link since decades, (thank God for the Mughal road and an iffy Srinagar-Sinthan-Chenab valley link) they could not connect with the people of the Valley regularly. But that has started to change. Thanks to the Mughal road, Srinagar is only 4 hours drive away from Rajouri and Poonch. And if the Srinagar-Kishtwar link gets the much-awaited tunnel at Vailoo, the Chenab valley will get closer too.
These two important road connections apart, there are at least six other possible motor links. For example, the Doda-Deesa-Kapran link, the Saujyian-Tangmarg route, the Reasi-Kulgam road through Danew and upwards, the Uri-Poonch connect through Hajipir, and a few more through Yusmarg and Toshemaidan to Pir Panjal.
There are more roads to, and from Kashmir, but political uncertainty has blocked those. If governments of the day start pursuing them, Kashmir can be THE DESTINATION.
Those roads when permitted will open Kashmir to the world. But given the harsh realities of the subcontinent and now the China dimension, those crucial links will apparently take more time. Eventually the world being a global village, the rival trioka of China, India and Pakistan won’t sustain the economic pulls and pressures.
The walls will have to come down. The economic benefits notwithstanding, the new road-links bring the people closer especially when the culture and languages are not alien.
Ever since the Mughal road got through, small time businesses are looking for opportunities in Srinagar and south Kashmir and vice versa in Rajouri and Poonch. Trade ties have picked up, apples and vegetables are cheaper now in Pir Panjal and bovines, livestock, milk products are in abundance on this side.
Coming back to the topic of roadlinks and connections, lately marriages have also been consummated between the two valleys.
When the road to Chenab will be up and running through the Vailoo tunnel, similar developments are expected.
Now to another important point.
Kashmir has played a great host to the people of the two hill Valleys. Good. Over the last two decades, Kashmir has absorbed and embraced their people. Many have bought land and houses in Srinagar’s posh localities and served across the length and breadth of Kashmir as officials and traders and never faced a bias or being ‘othered’.
The Valley has a huge bosom. It is sad, and bleeding and yet has a big heart to own, accommodate and shower love to people who are actually its own even though separated by cruel history and destiny. The Valley is mother of its lost children, too.
Kashmir has always made us proud. People from Chenab and Pir Panjal are welcome. They have every right to build nests, work and leisure here. But time has come they too own Kashmir and love its people. They should not be indifferent and express and assure locals that they stand with and by them.
Mufti Islah is a senior journalist working with CNN News18. This write-up originally appeared as a Facebook post and has been used with the permission of the author.