Pushing ahead with their peace process, India and Pakistan on Monday finalised modalities to open up the Line of Control (LoC) for cross-Kashmir trade on Monday.
A joint statement issued by the two countries after a meeting of their joint working group said that trade would happen at designated points on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot routes.
A formal announcement to this effect, however, is expected later this week when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari in New York for the first time on September 24.
After detailed negotiations, both sides agreed on a list of 21 items each that would be traded. These include fruits, vegetables, handicrafts, saffron, wooden items and apple juice among others.
It was also decided that trucks from either side would not cross over to the other side but would stop at the border from where the goods would be transported on foot. Temporary infrastructure has already been set-up in the border areas for this purpose.
“There will be a designated authority on both sides to work out the modalities,” an official said. The Pakistani side, however, turned down India’s demand for a bus service between Kargil and Skardu.
“We have finalised the modalities... We will submit it to our principals, our bosses... Hopefully, it’ll work out,” Pakistan’s Additional Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Choudhary told reporters here after the meeting. Asked when trade would begin, he said: “Political masters will decide.”
“This is a very big step forward. Traders on both sides are very keen to go ahead with this. They want trade to begin,” a Pakistani diplomat said.
New Delhi and Islamabad and had “agreed to pursue further measures to enhance interaction and cooperation across the LoC including agreed meeting points for divided families, trade, pilgrimages and cultural interaction” after a meeting between then Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh in April 2005.
It had also been decided that trucks would be allowed to use this route to promote trade.
In July, Foreign Secretaries of the two countries had exchanged lists of commodities with zero tariff regime and to begin implementation, each side had agreed to indicate the items they were willing to receive.
Meanwhile, a delegation of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce will be visiting Srinagar on October 13 for a meeting with Valley business leaders.
Joint Secretary (Pakistan) TC A Raghavan led the Indian delegation while Choudhary led the Pakistani side.