Key to Safta success lies in cross-LoC trade

Published on Nov 21, 2006 06:24 PM IST

The beginning of Indo-Pak trade relations will crumble walls of mistrust, inspiring other SAFTA nations, reports Arun Joshi.

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None | ByArun Joshi, Jammu

The cross–LoC trade in Jammu and Kashmir holds key to success of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement for that would represent biggest strategic confidence that India and Pakistan can have in each other. That can be inspiring for other nations in the region.

There is a wide consensus among political and business leaders in Jammu Kashmir on this issue. 

In this state, where even a minor Indo-Pak development has its line of critics, this subject evokes a rare unanimity.  But the take off date of trade is nowhere in sight.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only region wherefrom the start of the trade between India and Pakistan can bring down the walls of mistrust and inspire confidence for other member nations of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation. 

This thesis is based on the history of hostility of the two nations because of the region. Transformation of the region from a place of hostility to free travel and trade will be a source of attention  and cooperation  for  SAARC nations.

Since 1993 Dhaka agreement SAFTA has not made a forward movement. The cross-LoC trade can show the way forward. “The day trucks will start rolling on the cross LoC routes, SAFTA will automatically embark on  journey of success,” says Dr  Mubeen Shah, President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

All other countries in the region are apprehensive because of the roller coaster type of relationship between India and Pakistan. This is a view shared by one and all here.

"When India and Pakistan will start something in Jammu and Kashmir, it will be a Himalayan confidence building measure between Delhi and Islamabad," he said.

He said both the sides can immensely benefit through trade on the routes traversing through the state. "We have big cement plants and we can supply  cement to Pakistan, which is having overall shortage of cement. There is a ready market for that. Similarly our handicrafts have ready market in Muzzfarabad and other places. These can also open market of our handicraft, product and fruits to Central Asia," Dr Shah observed.

He wanted that the cross-LoC trade roads, once those open should withstand the vagaries of  diplomatic ups and  downs  in the same manner as  Indus Water Treaty has withstood all this in the past over 46 years.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has attributed this holding back of the trans-LoC trade to “petty-mindedness of small officials. But nothing has been done to unlock that attitude. “ We are ready,” Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad  declared.

The Indian side has its terminals ready at Kaman Post - the last point of LoC on the Indian side on Srinagar-Muzzaffarabad road, and the Poonch-Rawlakote road has been constructed to bear the load of the goods–laden trucks. It has also cleared list of Pakistani businessmen’s visit. Pakistan has not done that so far.

The trans–border trade has the support of all political groups in Jammu and Kashmir barring few hardliners who believe that Kashmir solution should come first, trade later.

It is now more than  one-and-a-half year that the trade has failed to take off  from either side on Jammu and Kashmir divided by the LoC - originally ceasefire line of 1949 later delineated as Line of Control with minor changes after July 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan.

Historically, National Conference has been a strong votary of the opening of the cross border routes, easy travel. The party since the times of its founder and first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is  for  bringing down all the trade and travel barriers.

PDP  too  in its self rule  vision paper has laid  great stress on the free economic activity  on the two sides of the LoC. In fact, it has called for economic integration of the state  divided between India and Pakistan and advocates that it can lay a base for the Kashmir solution.

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