LoC trade: Pakistan for meeting with India “at the earliest”

4 September 2008
The Hindu

Islamabad: Pakistan has suggested a meeting with India in Islamabad to discuss the operationalisation of trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir “at the earliest” in response to New Delhi’s offer to throw open the gates for the long-pending proposal on October 1. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir made the suggestion at a meeting between him and Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal on Thursday. The meeting, which took place at the request of the Indian High Commission, was held at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry here. Officials familiar with the meeting said Mr. Pal conveyed to Mr. Bashir that India was ready to start trade at the LoC from October 1, and infrastructure, such as customs sheds and parking facilities for freight trucks, was already in place on the Indian side. The Indian envoy expressed the hope that Pakistan would be ready by the same date. In recent days, New Delhi has said it will push Pakistan to expedite the opening of the LoC for trade between the two sides of divided Kashmir as part of its efforts to defuse the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Bashir’s response was that as there were still “some issues to be sorted out,” the two sides should meet to discuss these. Among these issues, the officials said, one related to the list of items that could be traded. Pakistan has proposed a limited list of nine items. It views with suspicion a longer list proposed by India as containing non-Kashmiri items. A Foreign Ministry statement said Pakistan’s proposal to hold a meeting was “in pursuit of the agreement-in-principle already reached at Foreign Secretary-level talks” of July 21 in New Delhi. Mr. Bashir also conveyed “the readiness” of the Chamber of Commerce in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to send a delegation to Srinagar at the “earliest” possible opportunity. Earlier on Thursday, Syed Salahuddin, leader of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and of the United Jihad Council, an umbrella association of Kashmir-associated militant groups, said Pakistan’s peace process with India was “a meaningless exercise” that had not produced any result. He was addressing a rally in Muzaffarabad, his second public appearance within days. Earlier this week, he addressed a press conference in Lahore. At the rally, he demanded that Pakistan break “all relations” with India until such time New Delhi lifted curfew in the Valley and the blockade of the Valley. He condemned “Indian atrocities” there and demanded that New Delhi acknowledge the disputed status of the region. He vowed to continue the jihad until Kashmir was freed from India. Mr. Salahuddin demanded the opening of routes between the two parts of Kashmir for trade and free movement of people. Journalists present at the meeting said the militant commander of the group, which is banned in Pakistan, was driven through the streets of Muzaffarabad in an open jeep, escorted by armed guards. Leaders from other banned groups including Abu Saad Shabbir, a leader from Lashkar-e-Taiba, also addressed the rally, pledging that the jihad in Kashmir would continue.