Trring! Kashmiris Get A Line To Dial Pak12 March 2010
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Srinagar: Kashmiris will be able to dial Pakistan again, 20 years after phone links were snapped for security reasons in the wake of the outbreak of militancy. Abdul Rahim, the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said today the government would initially make five lines operational. “It will start anytime. This has been agreed in principle by the two countries and the announcement would be made soon,” the minister said. The commitment to reopen the link was made by the finance minister in the budget he presented today. The resumed phone connection will be of particular use to thousands of families divided by the border. Traders will be the other group of users. People from the Pakistan-occupied side of Kashmir, however, have no restrictions on phone communication. Fifty-eight years after Partition, the Line of Control was thrown open for restricted travel on April 7, 2005. Trading relations between the two parts of Kashmir resumed on October 21, 2008, which was seen as a concession to traders on the Indian side who had forcibly tried to open a route during the Amarnath land agitation when protesters in Jammu enforced an economic blockade on the Valley. The traders, however, found the ban on outgoing calls a restraint on business. Trade and travel across the LoC were projected as the biggest confidence-building measures between the two countries but few actually benefited because of too many restrictions. If communication was only one way so far, there are no banking facilities and the trade is run entirely on a barter basis. The minister said security considerations had been weighed before arriving at the decision. A new policy on trade across the LoC is under formulation, for which a committee has been formed with representatives from trade and commerce. Opening the telephone link is a part of the effort. “Proposals have been sent to the Centre for approval and allocation of funds to create infrastructure to promote trade across LoC,” he said. “Special phone lines have been authorised for reliable communication for cross-LoC trade.” Although the minister said the lines would be open to everyone, sources revealed that initially traders would be given access. “The modalities for this are still being worked out,” said a source. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it had been a long-pending demand. “This will help boost trade,” said Abdul Hamid Punjabi, senior vice-president.