Batting for revival of the Indo-Pak reconciliation process to bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today said if hostilities between the two neighbours can become news, why cannot cultural bonhomie.
“I wonder if hostilities can become news between the two neighbours, why can’t such cultural bonhomie,” she told reporters here. Mehbooba joined thousands of devotees from the two countries at the shrine of Baba Chamliyal near the International Border (IB) in Ramgarh sector of Samba district on the occasion of the annual Mela of the mystic saint.
MP Jugal Kishore Sharma, state Industries Minister Chander Parkash Ganga and state Tourism Minister Priya Sethi accompanied the Chief Minister. Mehbooba said given its socio-religious significance, Chamliyal could become the hub of a new movement for reconciliation in the region.
“I hope our good intentions are reciprocated by our neighbour,” she said, emphasising on people-to-people contact between the two countries “to remove mistrust and create a congenial atmosphere for dialogue and reconciliation”. PDP leader said like “siblings locked in an endless rivalry”, India and Pakistan have bickered for well over six decades.
“Transforming that rivalry into a mature, productive relationship will be difficult but the consequences of continued animosity will be much worse,” said Mehbooba, adding that there is always a possibility of friendship between the two countries as both the cultures share “a fondness for each other”. She said if there is any “silver lining in the grey clouds of competition”, it is the fact that normalising relations would be a boon for business in both countries.
“It may sound simplistic but building relationships is the key to peace and economic prosperity in the subcontinent in the foreseeable future,” she said, adding that some “measurable amount of friendship” will become unavoidable “very soon”. She said both the countries stand to gain if bilateral trade, economic and societal relations between the two improve and they are able to resolve their problems gradually. “This can be possible if they are innovative in their thinking and break out of the stranglehold of one-sided, emotionally charged narrative of history,” she said.
She added that to begin with there can be friendly exchanges in various fields such as art, environment, culture, youth affairs, sports, information and media. The Chief Minister offered chadar at the shrine. Stressing on the need to revive the Indo-Pak reconciliation process, Mehbooba said it is imperative towards bringing about peace in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond.
“We are working with the government of India for opening Suchetgarh-Sialkote, Kargil-Skardu, Nowshera-Mirpur and some other roads to encourage people-to-people contact,” she said, adding that Suchetgarh has the potential of becoming “J&K’s Wagah” as was envisioned by her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
She said in the long run, Suchetgarh can become a trading point like Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh with the neighbouring country, adding that the village has been taken up for development as a border tourism destination under the Swadesh Darshan project funded by the Union Tourism Ministry.
The various components of the Rs 5-crore project include restoration of old Octroi Post, construction of a multi-purpose hall, development of waterbody and landscaping of lawns to enhance the ambience of the place, she added.
Baba Chamliyal, after whom the village is named, lived about 320 years ago and is revered by the people of all faiths. The shrine is barely one and a half kilometers from the Zero Line. Upto 1971, Pakistani nationals were allowed to come to this side of the border to pay obeisance at the shrine and offer Chaddar. However, after 1971 India-Pakistan war, the practice was stopped.
Since then only a delegation of Pakistani Rangers comes and offers a Chaddar and in return carry Shakkar and Sharbat from the shrine on Indian side for devotees in Pakistan. The festival is also celebrated by devotees for three days at Saidanwali village on the Pakistani side of the zero line.
Baba Chamliyal Mela has become very popular since November 2003 following ceasefire and parallel peace initiatives by both India and Pakistan. Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah briefed the Chief Minister about the measures being taken by the Tourism Department to promote border tourism in Jammu region. Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Dr Pawan Kotwal, IGP Jammu, Danesh Rana, DIG Jammu-Kathua range, Ashkoor Wani and DIG BSF, B.S.Kasana were also present on the occasion.