The damage that Pakistan has done to India by closing its ancient road roots to Central Asia and Middle East Asia has been immeasurable. By this one action, it has stopped India’s outreach to other parts of the world; and even to countries which are geographically quite close to it, like Afghanistan or Tajikistan.
The most damage has been done to India’s Punjab which was traditionally the gateway into India…through the Khyber… Radcliffe Line’s blockade at Wagah and Husainiwaala have closed the Punjab into a God-forsaken corner of India, a state that had once occupied central status as a hub of trade. But that is a lament for another day.
For now, let us ponder on how much we have lost – the Grand Trunk route could have been a gateway to Iran/Persia, a gateway to Istanbul and on to Europe. If trains had been allowed westwards from Attari, we could by now have had a train to Europe via Iran and Turkey. Amritsar to Tehran in Iran is 2800 kms by road, which is approximately the same distance from Amritsar to Rameshwaram…or Porbandar to Guwahati. The amount of distances we are used to travel in India, this would have been a cakewalk. Tehran to Istanbul is another 2800 kms…it is not a pipe-dream, it was quite the possibility if not for this road blackade by Pakistan.
How far do you think Amritsar is from Kabul? It is just 774 kms, lesser distance than Amritsar to Jaipur… and Pakistan with its intransigence has been this big wall between two ancient brotherly lands.
But Wagah-Attari is not the only option. India had a land-route out to Afghanistan, a route that had been used in ancient India by the Chinese travellers to learn Buddhism, and by the Huns to attack and plunder. That route was from the area we now know as Afghanistan (then known as Bactria) directly through Gilgit Baltistan into Kashmir valley and then yonder into rest of India.
That route from Gilgit was closed to India by Pakistan’s Kabaili raid on J&K in 1948 and its occupation of that territory.
This brings us to the larger question of the Silk Route and China’s CPEC. Do a random Google search of the term ‘Silk Route’. You will see that Silk Route was an ancient trade route to India, with some of its roads passing on to China, and others to Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Middle East Asia..you will see that the ‘hub’ of the silk route was India… not China. (You can google the definition of the engineering term – hub/fulcrum – too, to understand what I mean). Is it not then a big big surprise that India has allowed China to reclaim the Silk Routes of trade and to re-build them to its advantage. This one claim to the ancient trade routes shall be a game changer…
So, the Silk Route FROM India needs to open, if India is to reclaim its ancient place of world leadership (of course, while needing many other initiatives). If China seeks to spread its hegemony over revival of ancient routes, surely, we too have a right to do that…
So, India is left with two options. Either to wait for Pakistan to allow access through Attari-Wagah border; or to re-assert its rightfully legal control over the territories of Gilgit Baltistan. The second option seems a more workable solution, it is the route that India needs to open, if India is to access Central Asia and beyond… a road from Jammu, to Kashmir, Laddakh, Gilgit and beyond into Afghanistan.. Pakistan by blocking India’s access through Wagah-Attari has left India with no other choice, one reckons…
I am not a war monger; but I know enough of history to know that this route will need to open again, if not sooner than later… till then, India is locked in a pincer grip of a Pakistani road blockade… but maps change all the time.. this map of Line of Control is dynamic too… hope it changes soon to India’s advantage. As a nation, we have had enough of blockades.