Cross-LoC Traders Suspend Trade14 December 2011
Islamabad: The cross LOC traders in Pakistan Administered Kashmir have suspended trade with other part of Kashmir, making a passionate appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to take effective cognizance of what they call as highhandedness of some elements of Customs department who they said were hell bent on damaging the intra-Kashmir trade. “Since the opening of cross LOC trade some elements of Pakistan Custom anti-smuggling squad and Custom intelligence have been creating hurdles and hindrances causing severe damage to this only Kashmir-centric CBM”, the Press and Policy Committee of LOC Traders Joint Action Committee members said while addressing a press conference at a local hotel in Islamabad. Keeping these facts into consideration, they said the traders’ body has unanimously agreed to suspend the cross LOC trade till their problems are resolved. They said that under the given circumstance trade was not practically possible. “The Government of Pakistan should announce in writing whether the barter trade between the two sides of LOC is smuggling or has any legal sanctity. If barter trade is being declared smuggling by the Custom officials then there is no fun to continue this CBM as it will be against the basic sprit of the CBM signed by India and Pakistan”, they pleaded. Highlighting the importance of the trade, Advocate Pervaiz Ahmed Shah and Khurshid Ahmed Mir said that opening of LOC after six decades of extensive hostility between Pakistan and India was the first Kashmir-centric confidence building measure (CBM). “It was a dream and its implementation on ground was a great challenge”, they said adding that traders’ community across the divide transformed this dream into reality bearing huge losses at the beginning. “The opening of LOC is not only a vital Kashmir-centric CBM to bridge the gap and minimize trust deficit but has political and socio-economical dimensions also,” they said adding that the trade and travel provided opportunities to thousands of Kashmiris to meet their kiths and kin, near and dear ones after six decades despite the fact that they were living just yards away but LOC stood like a Berlin Wall. They said that opening of LOC also broke years-long status-quo and the so-called sanctity of the LOC, “It has nullified the Indian claim of de facto border and is considered as means to an end in the resolution of long standing issues between the two neighbouring countries.” They said “Teri Mandi Meri Mandi Rawalpindi Rawalpindi” has been popular slogan and demand of Kashmiri people since 1947 that historic Rawalpindi-Srinagar road shall be opened for traffic because it is the only natural route connecting Kashmir to Pakistan. They regrettably noted that this pioneering CBM was under serious threat saying some elements of Pakistan Custom were putting hurdles in the way of traders thereby imposing undue taxes. “The goods traded from LOC are seized and the traders are forced to pay huge amount of bribe during the transportation of goods from LOC to Rawalpandi which is a serious concern.” Referring to the CBM signed between the two countries they said that it clearly states that the cross LOC trade is barter trade between the two divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir with zero tariffs. “Even then the traders pay Rs 7000 at the time of crossing the terminals at Chakothi and Titrinote”, they said adding that their counterparts on the other-side of the LOC have to pay one percent tax to Government of India during the transportation of goods to other states. They said that the traders body has tried its level best to convince the authorities regarding the legal and political dynamics of the trade but all their efforts were in vain. “They are in a habit of seizing the trucks and imposing heavy custom duty and fine on the stakeholders which is up to 500,000 per truck”, they alleged. “It is very unfortunate that the traders are dubbed as smugglers and sometimes fine and custom duty charged is more than the actual cost of goods traded from LOC”, they maintained. They said that the problems were brought into the notice of PAK Prime Minister, Chief Secretary and Ministry of Commerce Government of Pakistan but every attempt was a cry in wilderness. Traders who have suffered heavy losses have knocked every door, staged rallies, press conferences and even sit-in and hunger strike at Muzzafarabd to get this issue resolved and in the last week of November parked their trucks in front of PAK Legislative Assembly as a mark of protest but the grievances were not addressed. “The FBR and its sister organization Custom intelligence are making their hay while sun shines. They continue to grease their palms while imposing “Jagga Tax” and Batta of Rs 15000 to 40000 per truck. This way the corrupt elements of Custom Anti-Smuggling Squad and Custom intelligence are making millions of rupee a week which is more than the amount of custom duty if charged legally,” the traders said. While brushing away the impression that the trade was affecting the economy of the country, they said that they were ready to suspend the trade once and for all if it was in any way against the interests of the people of Kashmir and Pakistan. They made it clear that they were not against government or any institution but they wanted that the impediments should be removed as per the law of the land to make the trade go through smoothly. They urged the Government of Pakistan to take cognizance of the negligence which has brought the important CBM under severe stress. “If the Government of Pakistan still wants to impose any kind of tax then the example of Indian side of LOC should be the guideline where 1% tax is imposed at Madavpur Crossing”, they said. They said that government should also notify the trade policy according to the Indo-Pak CBM and should issue the directive to the FBR for releasing seven trucks apprehended illegally and with out any justification.