Kashmir trade unlikely next month

8 September 2008
The News International
Qudssia Akhlaque

Islamabad: The proposed intra-Kashmir trade is unlikely to start by next month as India has still not come back on Pakistans offer for an early meeting in Islamabad to discuss and finalise its modalities. The offer was made by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to the Indian Commissioner Satyabrata Pal on September 4, when the latter called on him and proposed that the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad trade route be opened from October 1. The foreign secretary was receptive to the idea and offered to host a Pakistan-India Technical Working Group meeting in Islamabad as soon as possible to discuss the modalities for making it operational. Furthermore, he conveyed the AJK Chamber of Commerces readiness to send a delegation to Srinagar at the earliest possible. Pakistans proposal is in pursuit of the agreement-in-principle already reached at foreign secretary level talks on July 21, 2008, held in New Delhi, the Foreign Office spokesperson said after the meeting. A couple of days later Pakistan also handed over a list of about 20 trade items to India. Initially, Pakistan had suggested that both sides prepare a composite list of import and export items for the two-way trade but India insisted on separate lists. Officials here maintain the Pakistan side of the LoC lacks the infrastructure and facilities required to kick start the trade right away and some preparation time would be required. They hinted that Pakistan could invest on building infrastructure only once the modalities had been worked out between the two sides and finalized. There is no word yet from India on the proposed meeting, diplomatic sources told The News Monday.There is a view that the Indian proposal for starting cross LoC trade from October 1 was more of a slogan to extract political mileage. That it may have been a tactical move aimed at appeasing the Kashmiris in the Indian Held Kashmir in the wake of violent crackdown by Indian security forces there. The Pakistan-India Technical Group on LoC Confidence Building Measures last met in Islamabad on July 18 just ahead of the foreign secretary-level talks that marked the 5th round of the composite dialogue. Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, director-general South Asia Division at the Foreign Office led the Pakistan side while the Indian delegation was headed by Joint secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs, TCA Raghavan. The Technical Working Group comprising senior officials of the ministries of Interior, Defence, Communications, Commerce, Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, prepared recommendations for the foreign secretaries to facilitate movement across the Line of Control that divides the disputed Kashmir region. The focus was on consolidating the existing CBMs, including the Kashmir bus services and meeting points besides launching of cross LoC trade and truck services. It was the third meeting of the Working Group on LoC-specific CBMs since October 2005. The second meeting was held in New Delhi in May 2006.In February 2005, in a landmark decision, Pakistan and India agreed to start in April 2005 the first ever bus service between the two capitals (Muzaffarabad, Srinagar) of divided Kashmir to facilitate contact between the divided Kashmiri families on either side of LoC. Subsequently in October 2005 Pakistan and India agreed to open foot crossings at five points across the LoC. However, currently only three meeting points on LoC are operational.