Line of Commerce!

Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan past week echoed what the cross-LoC-traders are saying for last more than two years now. Attique’s comments could perhaps not have come at a better time, for the centre is currently busy in preparing its budget for the next fiscal. The concerns echoed by the PaK premier could well be taken care of in the upcoming Union budget, if only the Government of India is ready to show some seriousness about making the trans-Kashmir trade a meaningful exercise.
Although the cross-LoC trade was started in October 2008, the indifference on part of both the governments – India as well as Pakistan – has not just inhibited its growth but also largely rendered this exercise meaningless. If the trade has survived— occasional hiccups and interruptions notwithstanding— credit must go to the traders whose enthusiasm and eagerness have ensured this exercise continues.  Had the trade been facilitated wholeheartedly by the two countries, apart from bringing some great economic benefits to the divided parts of Kashmir, it might have helped smooth the occasional diplomatic coarseness in Indo-Pak relations. The trade which was touted as the biggest confidence building measure for Kashmir, unfortunately is still beset with many grave and substantial problems that hobble its growth. There is yet no banking and extended communication facility across the LoC available to the traders. In absence of any exchange mechanism, the trade has become at the most a barter system. The persistent demands by the Kashmir and Jammu Chambers of Commerce and Industry, to allow its members to have a meeting with their counterparts across the LoC to workout modalities for carrying forward this trade, have not found favour with the two governments. It is quite awkward that the traders who send their goods from this part of Kashmir neither know the real buyer of their products, nor the actual demand. Same holds true for their counterparts across the line. It is sad that the trade has been restricted only to 21 items and two days a week. No multi-entry trade passes have been issued to traders on both sides despite their demand.  Trade, it must be emphasized, may be conducted in such situations, but it can never flourish where there is uncertainty.
The resumption of trade links across the LoC could certainly have proved a landmark step towards the economic development of the both parts of the state if only steps would have been taken to remove the glitches inhibiting the trade. In this background the suggestions that came up at the launch of a publication “Jammu and Kashmir: Trade across the LoC” by an international peace-building organization, Conciliation Resources (CR) last week, need a serious thought by both the governments. PaK premier was hitting nail on his head when suggesting opening up of more trade routes, besides that the trucks and busses from Muzaffarabad and Rawalakot should directly travel to Srinagar and Jammu and vice versa. Atique was right in saying that such a trade gives life to the notion that the ceasefire line (LoC) can be a line of commerce rather than a line of conflict. Since the opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad was touted as the biggest confidence building measure which directly “benefited” Kashmiris, it is the responsibility of the Central Government to see to it that adequate infrastructure in this part of Kashmir is put in place so as to facilitate flawless and smooth trade across the LoC. In this connection the Centre in its upcoming budget can make some allocations for building infrastructure for LoC trade. One can expect a one-time special grant from the Centre to the State for building better roads, markets and storage facilities. We should not forget that if the trade is made a success it could significantly contribute to the economy of Kashmir. And that will have its political dividends.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Feb 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Feb 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 16 Feb 2011 00:00:00 IST

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