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April 20, 2019

Suspension of inter-Kashmir trade causes huge losses

Top Story

April 20, 2019

LAHORE: A unilateral and abrupt suspension of inter-Kashmir trade by India for an indefinite period has caused huge losses to traders who consider these curbs as an attempt to deprive them of livelihood opportunities.

The commencement of trade between both sides had been seen as a peace initiative taken about 10 years back. This barter trade mainly comprises perishable items via Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes, providing alternative options for the producers as well as traders to sell commodities to diverse markets.

Trade between both regions of Kashmir has helped in minimizing losses of Kashmiris living on the other side of the LoC on account of round-the-year trade under the arrangements of inter-Kashmir trade. For Kashmiri traders and producers, such arrangements are contrary to selling their produce through the Srinagar-Jammu Highway, which proved an unreliable route and is often closed in winter months due to inclement weather.

The problems of Kashmiri traders selling commodities in India have been multiplied in recent weeks due to imposition of ban on goods movement via Srinagar-Jammu Highway for two days a week on the security pretext, following a deadly attack on Indian paramilitary forces. India suspended trade through LoC from April 19, 2019 without mentioning any real reason, which frustrated stakeholders involved in the Kashmir trade. As many as 21 items are allowed to import and export through Uri-Muzaffarabad route in the Kashmir Valley and Poonch-Rawalakot route in Jammu Division connecting with Azad Kashmir.

The sudden closure of trade between the two regions of Kashmir means huge losses to traders, said Tanveer Ahmad Wani, president, LoC Traders Association, working in Indian-held Kashmir. Talking to this scribe, he lamented that traders are not given prior information about suspension of trade, saying the abrupt closure of trade would inflict huge losses to them. Tons of perishable goods are loaded on trucks on both sides of the border. However, now it has become a liability for them with almost no option of resale.

Tanveer was of the view that the LoC trade should be made transparent and hassle-free but not at the cost of trading activities. The transparency and speedy trading activities will help bolster commerce and trade between two regions of Kashmir. However, it should be done to expand the scope of trade and not for curbing such activities.

Muhammad Hamza, chief coordinator, LoC Traders Association, Rawalpindi, said an uninterrupted and smooth cross-LoC trade mechanism is indispensable for strengthening economic activities between the two regions of Kashmir. He observed that political will can help in exploiting immense potential of bilateral trade in Kashmir for truly transforming the Line of Control into a line of commerce. He demanded immediate resumption of trade activities.

Mushtaq Minhas, information minister, Azad Kashmir, said trade and economic activities proved basis for friendly relations. In the context of relations between India and Pakistan, trade and travel initiatives are considered indispensable for enhancing people-to-people contacts. However, it is regrettable that India has banned inter-Kashmir trade, which is tantamount to virtually making this region land locked and a prison for the inhabitants. The closure of trade routes has deprived traders of their basic right to sell produce at their will. Strangling Kashmiris by imposing trade blockade will badly hit their business, which is mainly comprised of perishable items, he said, adding that such unwanted situation would inflict losses on traders to the tune of billions.

The Azad Kashmir minister said the lasting peace in the region could only be possible through reinforcing trade and commerce between the two regions. Hence, India should allow resumption of trade across LoC for creating a win-win situation for all.

Ershad Mehmud, executive director, Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), termed suspension of trade between the two regions of Kashmir a sad development. He said India should remove bottlenecks in trade activities once and for all and provide smooth trade opportunities to businessmen.

Suspending inter-Kashmir trade is against the spirit of strengthening people-to-people contacts in this divided region. Such a transformation in this war-torn part of the world can act as a driver for peace between India and Pakistan. Curbs on formal trade will further dampen efforts of economic integration of South Asia. Economic relationships are considered foundation for establishment of friendly ties among regional countries.

Ershad said trade and economic contacts tend to reduce risk-factor as they act as hedge against any misadventure. The revival of centuries-old trade link through LoC gave hope to Kashmiris for strengthening their businesses as it used to be an all weather contact with rest of the world. Even pro-India politicians of Indian-administered J&K considered it as a way to revive silk route for establishing contacts with regional countries and beyond.

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