Pakistan and India to open cross-LoC trade today: Change may help resolve dispute: Mirwaiz

20 October 2008
The Dawn
Not Sepcified

Srinagar: India and Pakistan are due to start trading on Tuesday across the Line of Control in Kashmir, raising hopes that the violence-hit region could see a major drop in tensions. It will be the first time that trucks carrying trading items from both sides will cross Aman Sethu bridge at Kaman post. Eleven trucks will carry different items, including fruits, walnuts and honey to Azad Kashmir on the opening day. Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Mubeen Shah said five to six trucks were expected from the Pakistani side. He said that fruits, kidney beans (rajma), honey, spices, walnuts and almonds would be sent to Azad Kashmir while rice, spices, rock salt, dry dates and raisins would be imported from there. The trucks will travel on 120-km road from Srinagar to Kaman post while goods will be checked at Salamabad. “The step will go a long way to cooling tempers in Kashmir,” said Tahir Mohiudin, the editor of Urdu-weekly Chattan in Srinagar. The countries, who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, are to resume trade across the heavily militarised Line of Control, a key demand of separatists who this summer led some of the largest-ever anti-India demonstrations in the region. The weeks of protests began over a row to provide land to a Hindu pilgrim trust, sparking Muslim anger. “Opening the trade route to Pakistan will have a psychological impact. It will create a confidence in people that even if the Indian route is shut, they have an alternate route (for trade),” Mohiudin said. “I’m hopeful I’ll be doing business soon with people in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan,” said Abdul Hameed, who owns an electrical generator company. Business leaders from the divided zones have already met in Occupied Kashmir to discuss the opening of trade. Hameed said the blockade convinced them of the need for an alternative trade route. The first link to be opened on Tuesday will be between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The route to Muzaffarabad was the scene of a massive demonstration in early August during the blockade when 100,000 protesters marched toward the Line of Control, intending to cross over. “The blockade created fear. If it happened once, it can happen again,” said Amin-bin Khaliq, adding he suffered big financial losses over the summer as he couldn’t export dry fruit in time. A bus service was launched between the two sides in 2005, the first fruit of a peace process begun the previous year by the two countries. “India is a good market but if we’re able to sell our goods in (Azad) Kashmir it will be a huge bonus,” said Khaliq. “The time has come when we should move forward towards economic as well as political freedom,” said All Parties Hurriyat Conference chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, adding the route could turn out to be a “first step towards a political resolution” of the Kashmir issue.