Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service reaching a dead end?
8 July 2006
The Daily Times
New Delhi: The stalled peace process between India and Pakistan appears to have hit another bump in the road, with at least one proposed confidence- building-measure the promotion of intra-Kashmir trade - threatening to fall by the wayside. Despite both sides having formally agreed back in May to make operational by July 17 the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service, sources say it now appears that the deal may not see the light of day anytime soon. The major obstacle, they say, is that neither New Delhi nor Islamabad has set dates for the exchange of their respective trade delegations to each others territory to finalise the list of zero-tariff goods to be allowed on the trade route and to strike trade deals which would give an estimate of the number of trucks needed to run between the two Kashmirs. In addition, both sides also appear hesitant to make good on their pledge to restore telephone links and banking facilities in their respective areas, measures which were agreed upon prior to the to truck service deal and which remain essential for the flourishing of intra-Kashmir trade. However, the authorities in Indian-held Kashmir are clear about whom to blame for the delay. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad holds the Azad Jammu & Kashmir authorities responsible, pointing out that they have failed to give travel clearance to a list of 70 traders from IHK to visit their counterparts in Muzaffarabad. We were given an impression that a group of traders will first come from PoK and then our traders will be invited. We have, however, not yet got the names of the trade delegation, Azad said. By contrast, sources said, preparations for the truck service were in full swing on the Indian side, with customs and immigration terminals and a depot for heavy trucks being constructed on 2.5 hectares of land adjacent to the Jhelum River. Azad, who recently visited the site, has also called for X-ray facilities, a weighing bridge and basic health and communication facilities to be included in the construction project. If it ever becomes operational, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service will begin its route on the Jhelum Valley Road (JVR), connecting Srinagar with Muzaffarabad through Uri. The JVR, Kashmirs oldest road connecting it to the outside world, was closed during Partition and only reopened in April 2005.