ICP: A gateway to hope
From white drums put up on the dividing line to demarcate the territory of two nations separated at a bloody birth in 1947 to today's plush, gigantic integrated check post (ICP), the India-Pakistan border at this Amritsar town has run through the history of the subcontinent in both profound and hugely symbolic ways.punjab Updated: Apr 08, 2012 16:01 IST
From white drums put up on the dividing line to demarcate the territory of two nations separated at a bloody birth in 1947 to today's plush, gigantic integrated check post (ICP), the India-Pakistan border at this Amritsar town has run through the history of the subcontinent in both profound and hugely symbolic ways.
But today there are urgently practical considerations as well, and officials on both sides of the Attari border would hope that the ICP acts as a facilitator of goods' and people's movement along with a symbol of hope.
When the British left, the border - running through two Punjabs - saw lakhs of refugees, many desperate to escape the unspeakable violence Partition unleashed, cross over to a new country and a new beginning.
The ICP - which is being seen as India's gateway to central Asia and connects Pakistan through new gates built on the left of existing historical gates of the earlier check post - promises state-of-the-art facilities for India-Pakistan trade and people crossing over.
Though the potential on these fronts is great, the success of the ICP story will depend largely on the trade policies the two governments adopt and the future relations between the nations, which have a history of deep mistrust.
With India deciding to set up 13 ICPs on its various borders, the one at Attari in Punjab's Amritsar district will be the first one to be unveiled on April 13 by union home minister P Chidambaram. Senior officials from Pakistan including commerce minister Makhdoom Fahim and Pakistan's Punjab chief minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif are expected to take part in the ceremony.
There are, however, already murmurs of discontent from the Indian trading community as Pakistan has permitted import of only 137 items from India through Attari.
India has no such restrictions on Pakistani imports. There is a feeling among Indian traders that for the border to be a real game-changer, it must be free from all such restrictions.
Gunbir Singh, member, Confederation of Indian Industry council on public policies, said though the newly built ICP had "fantastic infrastructure", it was "shocking" that Pakistan has allowed India to export just 137 items from this route.
The making of the ICP
In 2006, in a bold initiative, India and Pakistan gave the green signal to cross border truck movement, with trucks allowed to go till storage godowns of the neighbouring country.
As a result, hundreds of trucks carrying vegetables, onions, potatoes and other commodities started rolling into Pakistan.
Thereafter, talks started between India and Pakistan to build an ICP at the Wagah border (Attari) to further facilitate such movement.
The dilapidated infrastructure at the border was also a hindrance to passenger movement.
It was then decided that the newly built ICP of India and Pakistan would be connected through a new gate at the Indian side of the border.
While the ICP built by India is spread across 121 acres, the corresponding structure on the Pakistani side covers just nine acres.
However, as both India and Pakistan ICPs will be connected through new gates, trade and passenger movement will shift to the new gate.
"Now we have sheds for jathas (pilgrims) who travel between the two nations," said deputy commissioner, customs, Attari border, RK Duggal. "Also, people can wait at the ICP. Earlier there was no waiting area."
As trade movement and passenger traffic shifts to the ICP, the old gates at the Wagah border are likely to be utilised only for the famous retreat ceremony.
The spectator gallery is expected to be expanded from the current seating capacity of 7,000-8,000 to about 12,000.