India, Pak to open bank branches, increase fixed lines2 November 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Ahead of the Commerce Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, scheduled this month, the two Governments have, in a major Confidence Building Measure (CBM), agreed to increase frequency of cross-LoC trade and weekly bus on both Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakote routes, open bank branches in each otherís territory to do away with barter system of trade, increase fixed telephone lines for communication link between people of two parts of the State and introduce Ďtrade permitsí for businessmen to facilitate their travel across the Line of Control (LoC). Official sources told the Excelsior that the Governments of India and Pakistan have given their nod to increase frequency of trade and weekly bus between two parts of divided State on the two routes of Uri-Muzaffarabad in Kashmir and Poonch-Rawlakote in Jammu. The trade, which is presently confined to two days on both cross-LoC routes, is being increased to four days a week. For the purpose, both Governments had directed the authorities engaged with cross-LoC trade to raise necessary infrastructure and increase other facilities for raising number of days of the trade on the two routes of Kashmir and Jammu regions. While both sides have unanimously agreed to increase days of weekly bus service on Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakote routes to two, the days would formally be increased when number of people intending to cross-LoC goes up considerably. The increase in days of cross-LoC bus could take time as presently number of passengers crossing LoC in the weekly bus was not too high in the absence of permits. The two sides have also agreed to expeditiously clear the requests for sanction of permits to facilitate cross-LoC travel by the aspirants on both sides. This would result into increase in cross-LoC travel by the people of both sides of the State. Earlier, the bus between two cross-LoC routes used to ply every fortnightly but later it was converted into weekly. Sources said the barter system of trade, which gave rise to hawala transactions in some cases, was likely to be done away with shortly as the two sides have agreed to open one branch each of their banks on both the routes to switch over to payments to the traders of each otherís territory through cheques. Sources said the opening of banks of the two countries in each otherís territory could take sometime as modalities for such a process are being worked out. However, the two Governments have, in principle, agreed to switch over to banking system of trade instead of barter system and conveyed the same to the State Governments. As traders from this part of divided State canít speak to their counterparts on other side due to bar on ISD calls to Pakistan from this side, the Government has decided to increase number of fixed telephone lines from five to 10 on both routes to facilitate more communication channels for the traders of this side, who were presently dependent only on e-mail services to place their orders. The quarterly meetings between traders of two parts of divided State are also being increased. Presently, the traders were getting a chance of four meetings in a year, which were likely to be raised to at least six a year, sources said. In addition, the Governments on both sides have agreed to provide four days Ďtrading permití to bonafide businessmen, dealing with trade in two parts of the divided State, to allow them to visit other sides of the LoC, meet the traders individually, study the market and rates and place their orders. The Ďtrading permitsí were expected to be introduced shortly, sources said. The ISD calls to Pakistan from entire Jammu and Kashmir have been barred due to security reasons as authorities felt that the militants and other anti-national elements could misuse the service. However, the PoK traders can make calls to this side as there was no ban on ISD calls on other side of the LoC. Number of tradable items is also being increased from 21 to 35, for the time being. Subsequently, more items could also be added to the list of imports and exports on both the routes. At present, only 21 items have been approved for the trade. However, some of them have been banned by either side on different pretexts reducing the trade to seven or eight items from both sides. List of the new items was likely to be notified shortly, sources said.