India, Pakistan Resume Kashmir Trade After 60-year Freeze

21 October 2008
Agence France-Presse

Kaman Post (LoC): India and Pakistan began trading between their respective parts of Kashmir for the first time in six decades Tuesday, raising hopes of a drop in tension in the disputed Himalayan region. A convoy of 13 trucks carrying mostly apples set off on the historic trip to Pakistani Kashmir from the Indian zone of the divided state with 14 trucks packed with Pakistani fruit, onions and spices making the journey in the opposite direction. 'It is a historic day which will surely help the economy of both parts of Kashmir,' said Indian Kashmir's Governor N.N. Vohra as he flagged off the convoy from Salamabad, 12 kilometres (seven miles) from the Line of Control. 'I hope it will herald peace in the region,' he said of what officials on both sides are aiming to turn into a twice-weekly trading event. Speaking on the other side of the heavily militarised border, Pakistani Kashmir's Prime Minister Atiqur Rehman said he hoped the event would 'help make headway towards resolving the Kashmir issue'. School children and people on the Pakistan side raised banners bearing the slogans 'Kashmir will become Pakistan,' and 'Long Live Kashmir freedom movement'. Kashmir was split into two zones in the bloody aftermath of independence of the subcontinent from Britain 60 years ago. Both India and Pakistan claim the region in full. The largely symbolic crossing shortly after midday was the first time vehicles were allowed to cross Aman Setu or Peace Bridge on the Line of Control since India and Pakistan fought a war over the region in 1947. 'Vehicles from both the sides have crossed over making history,' senior Indian industries official Pawan Kotwal said at Kaman Post, just near the Peace Bridge, as reporters from both sides waved at each other. A Muslim insurgency broke out in Indian Kashmir in 1989 although militant violence has fallen sharply since the nuclear-armed states began a peace process in 2004 aimed at settling all issues including the future of Kashmir. But in the past few months, the Kashmir valley has witnessed the biggest pro-independence demonstrations since the revolt in 1989, triggering a violent crackdown by Indian security forces. Security was tight for the trade opening with even the fruit subject to security checks. 'The items were scanned in x-ray machines,' police officer Faisal Qayoom said. The opening of the trade route has been a key demand of Kashmiri separatists. In recent months they led weeks of protests sparked by a decision provide land in the Indian-controlled part of the region to a Hindu pilgrim trust. Although the Indian government backed down, Hindu hardliners staged a punishing blockade of the only road linking the Kashmir valley with the rest of India. Developments that calm tensions will be good news for Indian authorities, who announced at the weekend they would press ahead with polls in Indian Kashmir later this year despite the recent upheavals. Kashmiri truckers from both sides said they were delighted about the resumption of trade. 'I'm very happy to be part of this historic moment,' said Ghulam Hassan Baba, a driver from Srinagar. 'Never in my dreams I had imagined that one day I would drive my truck and go to the other side,' said Mazhar Hussain, the driver of the first Pakistani truck said before crossing the de facto border. Hussain, whose lorry carried a huge Pakistani flag, wept on arriving in Indian Kashmir. 'This is the day I have lived for,' he said, as tears rolled down his cheeks after people embraced him and posed for photographs with him. There was also huge excitement among the people who had lined up to welcome the truckers. Separatists, however, say India still needs to acknowledge Kashmir is disputed, and be prepared to address the issue of the future of the region.