August 2007 News

India to announce Kashmir CBMs

9 August 2007
The Daily Times
Iftikhar Gilani

New Delhi: India is set to announce new Kashmir-centred confidence building measures (CBMs), including easing travel restrictions for passengers boarding the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot bus services. Senior officials met here to discuss the implementation of recommendations made by two working groups formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year. Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta convened the meeting at the behest of the prime minister. Senior functionaries from the home, external affairs and defence ministries, along with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary C Phunsog and the director general of police, attended the meeting. Officials decided that establishing electronic connectivity between nodal officers, that is, the regional passport officer in Srinagar and the deputy commissioner in Muzaffarabad, would expedite the clearance of travel documents. Currently, these officers meet at a designated point and exchange documents once a month, whereas they could exchange documents daily over the Internet. It was also decided that children below the age of 10 and senior citizens above 60 should be exempted from the tedious verification process. An official made it clear, however, that these CBMs were subject to approval from Pakistani authorities. The modalities of starting the cross-LoC truck service along the Srinagar-Muzaffabad road agreed on by India and Pakistan were discussed at the meeting. Officials also took stock of road-widening projects and the reconstruction of the Aman Setu Bridge, discussed a suggestion that goods traded via the LoC be exempted from customs duty, and reviewed arrangements for loading, unloading and checking vehicles. Sources here said the issue of Kashmiri youths stranded in AJK and the rest of Pakistan also came up for discussion, but no agreement was reached on the matter. The Jammu and Kashmir state government and the army are currently entangled in differences on the issue of permitting such youths to surrender at the LoC. The meeting also took stock of the rehabilitation of victims of militancy, particularly widows and orphans. One of the two working groups formed by the PM had recommended last year that either 30 percent of the state governments vacancies in class IV (junior assistant or equivalent posts) be reserved for dependents or family members of victims of militancy, or they be given one-time compensation of Rs 500,000. There was no consensus on this recommendation in the latest meeting. One of the working groups had also recommended that telephone calls, over landlines and mobiles, be allowed across the LoC, new routes be opened unilaterally, and multiple entry one-year exit permits be granted to traders. These recommendations were not discussed at the meeting. We will discuss and implement recommendations adopted at the Round Table meeting step by step. We are tackling issues in order of priority, said an official. The third Round Table meeting chaired by the prime minister last April adopted the recommendations of the two working groups led by diplomat and now vice-presidential candidate Hamid Ansari and former foreign secretary MK Rasgotra respectively. The recommendations revolved around building cross-LoC contacts and initiating rehabilitation measures within Jammu and Kashmir.


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