New tun­nel opens in trou­bled In­dian Kash­mir to ease travel

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY AIJAZ HUS­SAIN

SRINAGAR, IN­DIA | In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Sun­day opened an seven-mile-long tun­nel through the Hi­malayan ter­rain to help ease travel on a high­way link­ing the trou­bled Kash­mir Val­ley with the rest of In­dia.

Mr. Modi drove in an open jeep through the all-weather route, which is ex­pected to help trade and tourism in the re­gion. The high­way is blocked some­times for hours and even days due to heavy snow, mon­soon rains and land­slides.

It took en­gi­neers six years to build the tun­nel, which cost 25 bil­lion ru­pees ($382 mil­lion).

How­ever, sep­a­ratist lead­ers fight­ing for the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence from In­dia or its merger with neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan shut busi­nesses and pub­lic trans­port in the re­gion on Sun­day and said the construction of tun­nels and roads would not suc­ceed in ap­peas­ing them.

Kash­mir is a “po­lit­i­cal is­sue and not a prob­lem re­lated to gov­er­nance, eco­nomic pack­ages, in­cen­tives or law and or­der,” they said in a joint state­ment is­sued on Fri­day.

They said Mr. Modi was vis­it­ing the state at a time when the sit­u­a­tion was “ex­tremely gloomy.”

Mr. Modi ad­dressed a rally of thou­sands of peo­ple in the town of Ud­ham­pur and urged the youth of Kash­mir to choose be­tween “ter­ror­ism and tourism.”

He said decades of in­sur­gency had caused blood­shed and hit tourism, a main­stay of the re­gion. The In­dian por­tion of Kash­mir is pop­u­lar with tourists for its lakes, moun­tains, ski slopes, gar­dens and re­li­gious sites.

Mr. Modi promised to boost the re­gion’s tourism in­fra­struc­ture, say­ing that the new tun­nel would en­sure that tourists were not stranded be­cause of bad weather.

Ji­ten­dra Singh, a min­is­ter in Mr. Modi’s gov­ern­ment from the re­gion, said the con­nec­tiv­ity through the tun­nel would cut down travel time.

“It is an al­ter­na­tive to the high­way, which gets closed dur­ing snow and rain. It will boost trade and in­crease rev­enue in the state,” Mr. Singh said.

Most peo­ple in the In­dian-con­trolled por­tion of Kash­mir fa­vor its in­de­pen­dence or a merger with Pak­istan, which also ad­min­is­ters a part of the ter­ri­tory across a heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized de facto bor­der through the moun­tains. Since 1989, at least 70,000 peo­ple have been killed in an armed up­ris­ing and en­su­ing In­dian mil­i­tary crack­down.

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