SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir, April 2 (Xinhua) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday opened a new tunnel connecting Muslim majority areas of the region to Jammu city and from there to mainland India, officials said.
The all weather 9.2-km-long tunnel drilled through the mountainous Himalayan terrain on Srinagar-Jammu highway will reduce the distance on the 294 km stretch by around 41 km.
Modi flanked by region's Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti travelled through the tunnel in an open jeep after inaugurating it and throwing it open for public.
"The tunnel will not only reduce the distance between Jammu and Srinagar, but will also promote tourism in the Valley, open up employment opportunities for the youth and give a boost to development in the state," Modi said.
Local government officials say the tunnel was built to ease travel on highway and help troubled region's trade and tourism.
"The twin-tube, all-weather tunnel between Udhampur and Ramban is not only India's longest highways tunnel but also Asia's longest bi-directional highways tunnel," a statement issued by Indian government said.
The highway often gets blocked for hours due to traffic rush. In winters and rainy season the road gets closed for days together due to heavy snow and landslides.
The tunnel incurred a cost of 385 million U.S. dollars and was built in six years period.
Muslim majority areas of the region including Srinagar city observed a complete shutdown to protest Modi's visit to the region. The call was given by separatist groups opposing New Delhi's rule in the region asking Modi to address the political problem confronting Kashmir.
"Rhetoric about development or construction of tunnels and roads is futile and won't succeed to lure us. We have presented unparalleled sacrifice and nourished the movement with pious blood," reads a joint statement issued by separatist groups, urging locals to observe strike.
"We do not harbour any animosity towards the Indian Prime Minister, but it is frightening and painful that instead of taking notice of the genocide in the state, he is awarding and rewarding the assassins."
After inaugurating the tunnel, the Indian Prime Minister addressed a public rally in the town of Udhampur and urged the youth of Kashmir to choose between "terrorism and tourism."
"I want to tell the youth of Kashmir Valley what is the strength of a stone. On one side misguided youth are throwing stones and on the other side there are youth breaking stones to build Kashmir's future," Modi said in an apparent hint to the stone pelting incidents in region.
"I want to tell the people of Kashmir, you have two roads in front of you - tourism and terrorism. For last 40 years so much blood has spilled, but nothing has been achieved. If tourism would have been made the focus in the last 40 years, Kashmir would be the hub of tourists."
Indian-controlled Kashmir is a tourist destination famous for its pristine weather, mountains, gardens, religious places, ski slopes and lakes. However, the insurgency and political uncertainty have been playing spoilsport.
A separatist movement and guerilla war challenging New Delhi's rule is going on in Indian-controlled Kashmir since 1989.