NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the youth of Kashmir on Sunday to choose tourism and development over terrorism, shortly after inaugurating a 37.2 billion rupee ($574 million) highway tunnel in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“While on the one hand youth in Kashmir were busy pelting stones, on the other some youth were breaking stones to carve out this tunnel,” he said, referring to unrest in the state that followed a security force raid that killed militant leader Burhan Wani last July.
The violence since last summer, largely in the form of troops firing on civilian crowds with shotguns after protesters throw stones, has left 84 civilians dead and more than 12,000 civilians and security force personnel wounded.
In addition to increased security, Modi’s government has tried wooing the local population with the promise of a better future through investment, job creation and infrastructure development.
Modi said the new tunnel would not only help farmers in the region take their produce to the capital in less time and avoid weather disruptions, but would potentially double tourism in the state. A government press release said the project “has provided employment to over 2,000 unskilled and skilled youth of Jammu and Kashmir as 94 percent of the work force was from the state.”
“We have a plan to make nine such tunnels in the state,” Modi said, adding better connections would mean more jobs.
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts, and have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
Modi said on Sunday the government and people of the state would show “those people in the other side of Kashmir” – those living in the Pakistan-administered side – how they are being left behind in growth and development.
Separatist factions of Kashmir had called for a strike to oppose Modi’s visit.
About an hour after the speech, a policeman was killed and seven others were injured when militants hurled a grenade at them in Nowhetta area of Srinagar.