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India, Pak resume Kashmir trade

india Updated: Oct 21, 2008 21:13 IST

AFP
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India and Pakistan began trading between their respective parts of Kashmir for the first time in six decades on Tuesday, raising hopes of a drop in tension in the disputed Himalayan region.

A convoy of 13 trucks carrying mostly apples set off on a historic trip to Pakistani Kashmir from the Indian-zone of the divided state, with 14 trucks with Pakistani goods making the journey in the opposite direction.

"It is a historic day which will surely help the economy of both parts of Kashmir," said Indian Kashmir's Governor N.N. Vohra, as he flagged off the convoy from Salamabad, 12 kilometres (seven miles) from the heavily militarised Line of Control.

"I hope it will herald peace in the region," he said.

Villagers here cheered and waved at the truck drivers as they steered their vehicles out of a warehouse, as traditional drum-beaters entertained the crowd.

The crossing is the first time that vehicles will be allowed to cross Aman Setu or Peace Bridge on the LoC since arch rivals India and Pakistan fought a war over the region in 1947.

Militant violence has fallen sharply since the nuclear-armed states began a peace process in 2004 aimed at settling all outstanding issues including the future of Kashmir, which they both claim in full.

But in the past few months, the Kashmir valley has witnessed the biggest pro-independence demonstrations since a revolt erupted in 1989, triggering a violent crackdown by Indian security forces.

Security was tight for the trade opening, with even the fruit subject to stringent security checks.

"The items were scanned in x-ray machines here before allowing the truckers to take them across," police officer Faisal Qayoom told AFP.

The opening of the trade route has been a key demand of Kashmiri separatists.

In recent months they led weeks of protests that were sparked by a decision provide land in the Indian-controlled part of the region to a Hindu pilgrim trust.

Although the Indian government backed down, Hindu hardliners then enforced a punishing blockade of the only road linking the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

Developments that calm tensions will be good news for Indian authorities, who announced plans at the weekend to press ahead with polls in Indian Kashmir later this year despite the recent upheavals in the state.

Kashmiri truckers said they were delighted about the resumption of trade.

"I am very happy to be part of this historic moment," said Ghulam Hassan Baba, a driver from Srinagar.

"It is a big leap forward," said Mubeen Shah, head of the traders' federation in Indian Kashmir.

Separatists, however, say India still needs to acknowledge that Kashmir is disputed.

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