Even before the Mughal Road is completed, thousands take the route to cross Pir Panchal. Reopening it has triggered changes in the region that will be felt in Srinagar soon. The historic battleground of Poonch-Rajouri is fast becoming J&K’s new political amphitheater. Kashmir Life examines the impact.

New Political Amphitheater[Photo:Bilal Bahadur]

Peer Ki Gali pass on Mughal Road – Photo: Shams Irfan

By the middle of May this year, almost every second person in Poonch and Rajouri was concerned over the continued closure of the Mughal Road – an upcoming highway connecting Shopian with the Pir Panchal region slated to be through formally in March 2013.

Passenger carriers, private cars and small trucks had started plying on the under construction highway much earlier and continued till early December when the season’s first snowfall closed Pir Ki Galli, the highest mountain pass separating Bafliaz from Shopian.

“For the last few years, it is the main summer movement route to Kashmir for [cattle]herds and cars and that is why there was concern,” said Mehmood Farooq who is affiliated with transport business in Surnakote. “It is open now and the vehicles using the road, especially because of the Wangat Urs, are in hundreds. Even the big buses are plying because the road is much better now.”

A congregation of some 250 writers, poets, lawmakers, reporters and businessmen and former officials at Poonch was the first major event in the region after the road came up. The delegates traveled via the Mughal Road for the Kashmiri conference organized annually by Adbi Markaz Kamraz.

For many the event was historic and emotional because it was the first formal effort of Kashmiri civil society to rediscover Kashmir on the other side of the mountains. “Our caravan was received so emotionally that we thought as if we were late in creating the history,” said Shujaat Bukhari, the journalist who is the Markaz’s main mover and shaker. “It was history as the participants debated the main theme of the conference Kasheer Chhene Kahai Ghare (Kashmir is not just eleven families) for four hours” The theme is actually a Kashmiri adage in response to continued efforts of dividing and subdividing Kashmir and restricting it to the valley floor bed. Many think, the official rise of the concept of ‘Kashmiriyat’ was part of the same divisive process.

The literary conference, that some people think should have waited till the formal opening of the road, would make “passages” easy at a place living on a caste fault line, and has already proved a huge initiator of events. While a debate over Sachar Committee Report on minorities is currently taking place in Rajouri, a major exercise is underway to organise a congress on the Gujjar language.

Gradually, the dependence of Rajouri and Poonch on the Mughal Road is increasing and has started making a difference. “We get fresh vegetables at almost half the rates now,” said Fareed Ahmad, a resident of Poonch. “We would get apples at around Rs 80 a kilogram and now we get it at less than Rs 20.”

Last year, residents say, people started consuming so much of apple that for a few months “it was part of the breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

People on either side of the Pir Panchal range have been forging matrimonial alliance since ages. In fact, most of the localities in Pir Panchal belt have Kashmiri speaking, Kangri-using, salt-tea drinking populations flaunting surnames common in the Vale. The new motorable road has increased the magnitude of such alliances. “I am told some Kashmiri businessmen have started renting shops and spaces on the other side because markets are integrating,” a north Kashmir based political activist said. “The going is getting great.”

From Jammu, the provincial administrative headquarter, the region is far away – Poonch at 240 kms and Rajouri 154 kms. Jammu has also been the nearest major market. For the twin border districts, Kashmir has remained far away and difficult to reach. If not approached from the mountains, it is a two-day travel, first to Jammu and then another 300 kms to Srinagar. ‘The Mughal Road has brought the ‘remote’ Vale much closer’.

Connecting Poonch with Srinagar through Bafliaz and Shopian has been a dream of the people on both sides of the mountain range, and a real need too. The state cabinet first approved execution of this road project on March 8, 1985 (cabinet decision 148), years after the process was initiated in 1977 by executing certain works in piecemeal. 

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