Challiana: A corridor of peace and reunion

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Since its independence in 1947, South Asia has remained a volatile and conflict-prone region due to the rivalry between India and Pakistan over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The warring neighbors fought their first war in 1947-48 over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir but remained abortive in annexing the entire region with either country. The rivalry later persuaded the two neighbors to acquire nuclear weapons, leading to the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998.
The nuclear equation has brought fundamental transformation in military doctrines and war strategies, introducing the concept of limited and proxy wars and leaving no room for an all-out war to resolve the Kashmir dispute through military operations. Besides nuclear weapons, other factors have also contributed to the Indo-Pak asymmetry. Among these are geopolitical realignments, economic growth, and India’s political stability, which are considered prominent.
Contrarily, severe financial mismanagement, persistent political instability, chronic terrorism, religious fundamentalism, politico-regional differences, and poor governance have brought Pakistan to the brink of state failure.
Nonetheless, among all these adverse circumstances, Pakistan has consistently demonstrated its desire for peace and tranquillity, which the Kartarpur corridor is a testament to. The Kartarpur corridor was first proposed in early 1999, but the foundation stone was laid out in November 2018. The 4.7-kilometer visa-free corridor enables Sikh pilgrims from the Indian side to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal to perform religious rituals and meet the divided family members and friends from the Pakistani side. Both India and Pakistan hailed the opening.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “Pakistan believes that the road to the region’s prosperity and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the decision by the two countries to go ahead with the corridor to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, saying “that the project could help in easing tensions between the two countries.”
People of Jammu and Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) are living in misery and deplorable conditions. The Indian occupation divided thousands of Kashmiri families across LOC, which is compounded by persistent tensions and gunfire. Challiana is a crossing point in the Neelum district separating Challiana village of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir.
The border point is a narrow strip divided by the Neelum River, with flags and military checkposts visible across both sides. Despite the tremendous closeness, the local people divided by the LoC cannot cross the river to meet and greet their family members and friends. Images of hand waving and shouting messages could be easily seen on social media, depicting their eagerness for a reunion.
Challiana crossing point can become a corridor of peace and reunion for the people of Kashmir if sincere efforts could be made from the Indian and Pakistani sides. If billions of rupees could be invested in constructing the Kartarpur corridor to provide relief to the Sikh community, why a similar corridor in Kashmir is absent in bilateral discussions?
As Challiana village is located at zero point on the LoC, a visa-free corridor fully dedicated to the people of Kashmir could be constructed with the lowest investment and security threats. The corridor compound could not only provide a venue for people to meet and greet their loved ones who are separated due to the LoC. Equally, it can boost regional trade and trust between the two states.
The corridor’s state-of-the-art amenities will house hundreds of Kashmiris for extended hours or days to stay with their separated family members and friends to cherish memories. People visiting the Challiana corridor shall register with local authorities for security checks and facilities arrangements.
The visitors’ lists should be exchanged with the authorities on both sides to avoid potential mistrust and terrorist activities. The reciprocal actions on both sides can improve the trust levels and confidence of security forces and local authorities, consequently persuading them to facilitate the visitors.
In addition, the Challiana corridor can become a source of public diplomacy and track two confidence-building measures. A functional auditorium could be constructed for various activities to engage media, civil society, religious figures, and academia to find ways for peaceful conflict management leading to permanent peace.
Such activities will bolster inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony and provide space for coexistence. In addition, military forces can utilize this infrastructure to set hotlines and exchange information to minimize illegal border crossings and terrorism, leading to the softening of LoC crossings. In conclusion, the Challiana Peace Corridor can revitalize the fall of the Berlin Wall between India and Pakistan, easing lives and ending the misery of ordinary Kashmiris.

 

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