The 62-km trans-Himalayan road along the Drass river to Sankoo was planned as a firewall for the 410-km Srinagar-Leh highway— which was vulnerable to artillery fire from across the border. Billed as Kargil’s alternate lifeline after the 1999 war, work on it was supposed to be over by the year-end.
But seven years down the line, the road — 12,000 feet above sea level — is yet to reach its destination, the Suru Valley, slicing its way through the Umbala pass.
Designed to cope with the surge in mountain traffic and avoid the enemy lines, the army had envisaged it as a diversion from the Srinagar-Leh highway. The idea was to use it as a covert “strike” base to push back the Pakistan army from key Kargil heights in the Drass sector. The Srinagar-Leh highway is the only link to the world’s highest battleground, Siachen, and other strategic areas in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir like Turtuk and Batalik. But it is visible from across the border and can be hit with accuracy at places. Heavy shelling during the Kargil war had levelled portions of the road .
The diversion, which runs almost parallel to the Line of Control, has natural immunity in terms of visibility. An optimistic count pegs the completion of work by year-end. “We hope to open the road to traffic by the end of 2006,” says Brig. D. Palit, chief engineer of HIMANK, Border Roads Organisation, in-charge of this strategic diversion to the frontline. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah had opposed construction and had instead urged the Centre to cross the LoC to rid the heights of Pakistan army. However, he had to come round to the theory of “LoC sanctity”.