MIRPUR (AJK)-Appreciating the upcoming arrival of the fruits of the gigantic CPEC project of speedy socioeconomic progress and prosperity in Pakistan, pioneer female Kashmiri Archaeologist Prof Dr Rukhsana Khan has said “at this juncture of regional connectivity initiatives, Archaeological / Heritage, resources could play significant role in creating opportunities for socio-economic uplift. “The AJK possesses tremendous cultural resources which offer both tangible and intangible means to achieve a sustainable peace and development.”

Prof Dr Rukhsana Khan, Assistant Professor at University of Azad Jammu Kashmir, expressed these views in her detailed research paper at the first Kashmir Conference on Archaeology, hosted by the AJK Department of Tourism, Archaeology and Information.

Dr Rukhsana Khan, who holds distinction of doing extensive research on Archaeological heritage of AJK, underlined exploration of archaeological heritage in AJK, particularly in Neelum valley and its utilization for peace and development as an emerging opportunity in the context of regional connectivity. “As my Phd. thesis also emphasises that utilization of these resources as a tool for socioeconomic development through heritage tourism across divides in Kashmir,” she asserted.

She stated that cultural heritage and archaeological discoveries across AJK indicate earlier settlements in the area, beginning from around the 4th Millennium BCE, to the 18th CE. Several sites in Muzaffarabad, Neelum Valley, Mirpur and Kotli exposed earlier human evidences. The inscribed details on Chaterpari Mirpur include Central Asian horses with riders, dancing demons and zoo-morphic signs. The cup marks, boulders along rock cut basin show that site remained as a centre of rituals in remote past. The antiquity of the area has been verified through discoveries of megalith grave along cup marked boulders and standing burials, belongs to 4th millennium BCE.

The archaeologist informed that Kashmir was once known as Sharda Peeth or Sarada Pith, a great centre of learning and Kashmir as Sharda Desh. On the confluences of River Neelum and Madhumati Stream, the ruins of this ancient archaeological site is scattered over a miles long stretch which remained centre of attraction for scholars of various beliefs, Pilgrims and monks. Buddhism was largely replaced by Hinduism during 4th -5th century CE and subsequently, Buddhist shrines converted into Hindu Temples.”

We have parallel archaeological sites of stone architecture; Deera Temple Rawalakot, Mandhol Temple Poonch, Bhurand Temple complex, Kotli; which also confirm the affinity of southern and northern parts of AJK. Sharda script evolved in Kashmir and widely used in south Asia, discovery of the rock inscription in the higher mountains of Neelum valley confirms the existence of a developed ancient script, linking this area with rest of the region. The inscriptions also reinforce the cultural connections amongst civilizations in Trans-Himalayan region. This indication synthesizes and places the Neelum valley in regionalization era since, area remained one of the important crossroads of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asian countries through connecting routes of Silk road.

Mughal ruled Kashmir for over hundred years and introduced the unique Mughal Architectural styles in Kashmir. The Mughal Architecture is reflected in forts, Gardens, private buildings, Sarai’s (resting places) and stepped wells (Bawolie) in Mirpur and Kotli district. Beside this we have Gurdwara, Hindu, and Sikh, Dogra forts remains which can be seen district Kotli, Mirpur, Poonch, Bagh, Muzaffarabad, Poonch and other places along Jhelum & Poonch Rivers.

While underlines archaeological resources as an emerging opportunity, Rukhsan Khan said that Kashmir remained centre of attraction for pilgrims and monks who entered through number of routes and connecting passes of great Silk Road, left their marks in the form of rock inscriptions and other culture material.

She further expressed that in the wake of cultural activisms; and peace initiatives by Pakistan such as Kartarpur Corridor Opening, the AJK has the opportunity to exploit its heritage resources to second the Pakistan’s overall objective of sustainable peace and socioeconomic uplift. The existing rich Civilisational linkages between Neelum Valley, Muzaffarabad and Kashmir Valley, on the one hand and Central Asia on the other, offer great potential to attract tourists from both sides.

The interpretation of these discoveries by this speaker as an emerging opportunity necessitate the need for manage, preserve, and utilize these resources for socioeconomic development in the context of revival of Silk Road and regional connectivity”, the seasoned archaeologist concluded.