Line of Control, Uri sector: On Tuesday, several trucks carrying goods such as rice, turmeric and chillies crossed the Kaman Aman Setu (bridge), marking the historic resumption of trade between the two sides of divided Kashmir in more than 61 years.
The opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawalakot routes for trade, dubbed the LoC (Line of Control) trade, which is duty-free and in either currency, raised high hopes of peace between India and Pakistan, which have fought each other in three major wars for regional supremacy.
On the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route, 13 trucks carrying apples, walnuts and handicraft were flagged off from Salamabad, about 18km from Kaman Post in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Similar facilities were set up in Chakoti in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as well.
Building bridges: The first truck from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, carrying rice, turmeric and red chillies, crosses the Jhelum river at the Line of Control in Kashmir’s Uri sector on Tuesday. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“I am happy to be coming home,” says Mazar Naqvi, the driver of the first truck that rolled into India, who was welcomed with slogans Aar par tijarat zindabaad (long live trade between both sides).
“If 10 people from here go, another 10 will come (from there). Bonds will become stronger,” says Ghulam Rasool Bhat, president of the Kashmir Fruit Growers Association.
Initially, the cross-LoC trade will be allowed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until a review, which will take place after three months.
At the moment, the roads and bridges on the route to Muzaffarabad from the Indian side are in a bad condition and only trucks with a capacity of 1-1.5 tonnes will be allowed. “It will take at least three months for proper infrastructure to be put in place and trade to get going smoothly,” says Mubeen Shah, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Haseeb Drabu, chairman of J&K Bank Ltd, who has been asked by the Union government to put in place financial infrastructure for this trade, says: “There are two parts to this trade—symbolism and substance. More than anything, this is a symbol of moving forward towards a resolution of the Kashmir issue. It is a huge confidence-building measure. But trade itself is not going to be substantial, since the back-end infrastructure, including finance, transport, legal and legislative framework are not in place.”
Ghulam Rasool Wagay, general secretary of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, is, however, upbeat, “This is the pleasantest day in my life. Earlier we had to go to Mumbai, Kolkata or Visakhapatnam to export our goods. Now we will send goods to Karachi through Muzaffarabad since it is nearer. This will also open up the Central Asian and Gulf markets for us.”
“I feel tears well up when I think that I will be going to Muzaffarabad. I look at the mountains on the other side and think why can’t we be one,” says Imitiaz Hussain Bhat, who will be driving a cargo of apples to PoK from the Indian side.
Meanwhile, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was largely instrumental in the move to open up trade, on Tuesday demanded that more trade routes be opened. “We would like all trade routes to be opened up, including Leh-Manasarovar. This will turn Kashmir into a free economic zone and restore it to its old position as a trading economy,” says PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.
“This idea of a shared economic sovereignty shrinks the idea of political sovereignty,” Drabu says.