There is a growing demand to convert Indo-Pak's biggest ever confidence building measure (CBM) -the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) - into actual trade on ground.
In the first ever three-day conference of traders from both sides of the LoC at Srinagar, the trading community has expressed disappointment over the progress of trade since the time it first started in 2008.
"It's a blind trade system. We are not allowed to go to the other side. We are not given multi-visit permissions. There is no communication facility and no banking facility. Security agencies can blacklist a trader here over a general phone call made from Pakistan occupied Kashmir," said Mubeen Shah, chief of the joint chamber of commerce and industries (JCCI) - an apex body of 22 members from both sides of the LoC.
From 600 traders registered in 2008, the number of valley-based traders has sharply come down to 70.
"Security forces constantly harass us. The trade is dependent on the whims of bureaucrats from Pakistan and India. We want the CBM to be translated into actual trade," said Shah.
Shah's demand for having more number of tradable items and improved facilities was backed by 13 visiting traders from PoK.
"The list of trading items has come down from 21 to 15… The traders are the real stakeholders. They should be allowed to take decisions and higher authorities could then implement them," said Zulfikar Abbasi, a trade from Mirpur.
The traders' statements demanding consultation with stakeholders have come at a time when a high-level meeting of Joint Working Group of India and Pakistan is scheduled for July 19 to discuss the LoC trade.
"There should be no limitation on the number of tradable items…We think cross-LoC trade can play a big part in solving the Kashmir problem. This trade can make Kashmir on both sides of the border economically independent," said Shah.
Former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider, who also spoke at the conference, said, "It is an important occasion wherein traders from both sides can chalk out a strategy on how to promote trade further. There are difficulties that need to be addressed."
Kashmir's industries minister Surjeet Singh Salathia said the state government was only a recommendatory body in the cross-LoC trade affair. "We have recommended strongly to the government of India about providing banking and communication facilities," claimed Salathia.
The state government had also recommended an increase in the list of items from 22 to 27.
Allaying fears of any Hawala transactions a trader Abbasi said, "There was no question of sending money in the name of trade for subversive activities in Kashmir. Traders are just exchanging goods for goods. How can there be an illegal money transaction?"
The cross-LoC traders meeting has been organised by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. At present, the cross-LoC trade happens at two places in the state namely Muzaffarabad-Uri and Poonch-Rawlakote.