January 2007 News

Valley's Parties Talk Of Bridge To PoK Via SEZs, Trade, Tourism

9 January 2007
The Hindustan Times

New Delhi: In A Valley frozen by winter and terminal political impasse, there is suddenly some warm talk of a thaw that can be brought about by possible economic cooperation. Special Economic Zones to drive entrepreneurship on either side of Kashmir and a possible consultative mechanism on water, trade, tourism and culture - these are some of the ideas thrown up during some loud thinking by political parties in Jammu & Kashmir in the run-up to the Indo-Pak foreign minister talks next week. The state Congress, led by chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, has indicated that it is not averse to a mechanism for exchange of ideas and consultation on water resource utilisation, tourism, and culture and trade. The PDP, a partner in the ruling coalition, is also for exploring the possibility in these areas. The National Conference, says Omar Abdullah, would like SEZs on both sides of Kashmir on the lines of those in Switzerland or the Channel Islands. 'The state will never have a large a manufacturing base due to locational disadvantages. The way out seems to be business process outsourcing (BPO) and banking, which may require us to have laws and regulations that are different from the rest of the country,' Omar Abdullah told The Indian Express on phone from Srinagar. Omar, who met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee along with his father and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah in New Delhi yesterday, feels such special packages could be considered since the approach seemed to be one of flexibility. 'One could even look at a political model on the lines of Switzerland, with substantial regional autonomy,' he said. 'But Switzerland is one country, Jammu and Kashmir is a whole different ball game.' Some of these suggestions are for the negotiating table when it comes to Kashmir, especially in the light of President Musharraf's four-point formula, including troop withdrawal, self-rule, no changes to the borders and joint-management. Azad thinks Musharraf's proposals should be taken in a manner that benefits all - India, Pakistan, Jammu & Kashmir and Pak-occupied Kashmir. 'We could begin by looking at water, tourism, culture and trade,' he said.


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