CM’s enthusiasm for Central Asia trade routes meets skepticism

CM’s enthusiasm for Central Asia trade routes meets skepticism
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Demand shows she’s out of on-ground options, say academics, political thinkers

SRINAGAR: Over the past few months, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has on several occasions called for the opening of historical routes to Central Asia and beyond, to reopen Kashmir to the world.
What is prompting the Chief Minister to repeatedly issue statements calling for the opening of routes to Central Asia?
The broader question is that when relations between India and Pakistan are in deep freeze and the ruling coalition partners, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are at loggerheads as far as dialogue with Pakistan and pro-resistance groups is concerned, has the Chief Minister found a ray of hope towards solving the Kashmir dispute?
According to government insiders, the Chief Minister is trying hard to reclaim the political ground she has ceded due to the BJP’s hardline approach in dealing with the Kashmir issue.
“The dialogue process has been unilaterally stopped by the BJP-led government in New Delhi,” a government insider said. “It is also true that the ruling BJP has not helped the PDP. Instead, it advocated using the iron-fist approach to deal with issues on the ground. This radically impacted the PDP’s politics. As such, the PDP needed something to be relevant on the ground. The slogans for opening of routes should be seen as a step in that direction.”
The insiders said the demand should be seen as an effort to “strike a chord with the people”.
“The ruling PDP has made itself relevant by talking of Kashmir resolution. Now there is realisation that talks are not happening, the self-rule is almost binned, now an element of self-rule, like opening of routes, should be made to keep the party relevant. Otherwise, people’s anger coupled with the deadlock in talks will turn the party redundant in the next elections,” they added.
From claiming that the opening of western routes will pave the way for the Kashmir resolution, the Chief Minister has gone to the extent of stating that the re-opening of traditional/historic links will enable Kashmir to script a new history so that it becomes a model for SAARC cooperation in the region.
According to Political Science professor Noor Ahmad Baba, the Chief Minister has nothing to say about her government and so she has now again started appropriating the pro-resistance stand to keep herself relevant.
“Her demand of opening western historical routes connecting Kashmir with Central Asia and the world beyond can possibly take off or not take off,” Baba said. “One thing is there, she has nothing to say to the people on Kashmir issue. Or, at least dialogue with Pakistan. So, her demand has now been reduced to opening of the western roads.”
Baba said that the ruling PDP could not fulfill its much-touted Agenda of Alliance. He said the party talked about empowering the state, getting back the power plants, strengthening the state, and above all pressing for dialogue between India and Pakistan to solve the Kashmir dispute.
“However, the ruling PDP’s partner BJP has completely reversed the directions of her pledges,” he said.
“The only thing which will keep her relevant with the people is that she has to talk about Kashmir resolution. The opening of the routes seems to be part of the strategy. It does not seem there will be some progress on that issue, but if the roads did open, the PDP will take the credit to keep its relevance. Just like they take the credit for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.”
Awami Itehad Party chief Engineer Rasheed agrees with Baba. He said that as the Chief Minister had failed to persuade New Delhi to enter into talks with Pakistan, she has nothing except to call for opening of routes with Pakistan.
“She is saying it since she has no options left to strike a chord with the people on the ground,” Rashid said. “She wants to limit the agenda of Kashmir dispute. She wants to deviate attention. There is no peace, neither on the borders nor inside. The cross-LoC traders are being harassed by the NIA. She just ignores pressing issues.”
He said by demanding the opening of the routes the Chief Minister “will not embarrass the powerful quarters”. “It will keep everybody happy because she is not demanding the real political solution.”
Professor Hameeda Nayeem also thinks that Mehbooba Mufti is diverting the attention of the people from the “real issues happening inside Kashmir”.
“She does not talk about the blood bath, black laws, demilitarisation and safety and security of Kashmiris inside the state,” Hameeda said. “What is the fun of talking roads when inside Kashmir things are burning? She is diverting the attention of the people by doing so.”
Hameeda said that the Chief Minister should prioritise things which need immediate attention like the safety and security of the people of Kashmir.
“We also demand that routes should be opened. The feel of strangulation should end. It is a demand of the pro-resistance groups as well,” she said. “But she cannot hand out lollypops and ignore the pressing issues of human survival challenged by the overarching militarisation.”