Bridg­ing the Line of Con­trol

Enterprise - - Issue -

With ref­er­ence to the restora­tion of cross Line of Con­trol (LoC) trade as a re­sult of pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, two routes, Srinagar-Muzaf­farabad and PoonchRawalakot, were opened be­tween the di­vided state of Jammu and Kash­mir.

Be­sides restor­ing bro­ken ties among di­vided fam­i­lies, the move was also aimed at cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment suit­able for more such steps lead­ing to an am­i­ca­ble set­tle­ment of the Jammu and Kash­mir dis­pute be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. De­fy­ing all odds and im­ped­i­ments, the ini­tia­tive sur­vived and has made mod­est progress. The ini­tia­tive earned un­prece­dented back­ing from all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing civil so­ci­ety and me­dia.

How­ever, re­cent in­ci­dents have high­lighted the ob­sta­cles to the suc­cess­ful growth of cross LoC trade, which re­mained sus­pended for about 4 weeks ear­lier this year. Over 374 traders in Uri-Muzaf­farabad and 164 from Poonch-Rawlakot boy­cotted the cross-trade. The ma­jor rea­sons were that the cross LoC traders de­manded ex­emp­tion of traded im­port and ex­port items from pre­scribed duty and tax­a­tion laws like VAT. At present 21 items au­tho­rized for trade across LoC are duty free un­der the state law but not un­der cen­tral law. Ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent, Salam­abad-Chakoti Traders Union, Asif Lone, VAT should not be im­posed on cross-LoC trade. Traders also pre­sented sev­eral other de­mands in­clud­ing an in­crease in the num­ber of trad­ing com­modi­ties, as al­ready there are 16 out of de­mand items in­cluded in the list.

The traders’ union also de­manded that the num­ber of days spec­i­fied for trade be in­creased from 2 to four, keep­ing in view the in­creased num­ber of traders and trade ac­tiv­ity. The union mem­bers said that traders were fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their coun­ter­parts as there was no reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion link in place. Lack of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and bank­ing fa­cil­i­ties are re­garded as the main stum­bling blocks in the way of on­go­ing trade. Cur­rently, only Azad Jammu and Kash­mir (AJK) traders can make di­rect phone calls to their coun­ter­parts in Jammu and Srinagar. Ab­sence of a proper bank­ing sys­tem and re­stric­tions on us­ing In­dian or Pak­istani cur­rency are also con­sid­ered ma­jor im­ped­i­ments to the trade ini­tia­tive which at the mo­ment is be­ing con­ducted on the ba­sis of the out­dated barter sys­tem.

De­spite all hur­dles, the re­sump­tion of cross LoC trade has shown re­mark­able progress. Amid mount­ing ten­sions, trade rev­enue crossed Rs. 200 mil­lion. The over­all so­cio-eco­nomic im­pact of trade is sig­nif­i­cant for the lo­cal pop­u­la­tions as well as those di­rectly en­gaged the trade. This has pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for fam­i­lies to re­con­nect and gen­er­ate self-em­ploy­ment. Trade unions and cham­bers of com­merce have be­come func­tional. The im­pact of eco­nomic po­ten­tial on the so­cial ties be­tween the two coun­tries can be wit­nessed by the un­usual ac­tiv­ity at the LoC cross­ing point where of­fi­cials from both sides are found hug­ging each other over trade re­sump­tion and lo­cal traders from Poonch (J&K) and Rawalakot (AJK) are seen ex­chang­ing sweets and pleas­antries in the charged en­vi­ron­ment.

It has long been sug­gested that crossLoC trade should move be­yond the 21 goods and di­ver­si­fied to in­clude ser­vice sec­tors like tourism, forestry, wa­ter­ways, power gen­er­a­tion, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, ed­u­ca­tion, anti-poverty pro­grammes and dis­as­ter man­age­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, trade should be open on all week­days from morn­ing to evening. Re­stric­tions should not be placed on the num­ber of freight trucks cross­ing the LoC and banned items should be re­placed with new items im­me­di­ately. Ow­ing to the lim­ited mar­ket, traders should be al­lowed to use AJK as a trade cor­ri­dor to ex­port their goods to Pak­istan and be­yond.

To fa­cil­i­tate di­a­logue, traders should be al­lowed to have weekly meet­ings to find im­me­di­ate so­lu­tions at the Trade Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre (TFO). They should also be al­lowed to travel via the weekly bus ser­vice to do busi­ness and mul­ti­ple en­try trade passes should be valid for a min­i­mum of six months.

To stream­line trade is­sues, the Jammu and Kash­mir Joint Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­tries (J&KJCCI) can play a vi­tal role by help­ing au­thor­i­ties in reg­is­ter­ing traders and con­duct­ing nec­es­sary ver­i­fi­ca­tion at dif­fer­ent lev­els to dis­cour­age proxy traders. Ef­fec­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion and ac­tive in­volve­ment of the Joint Cham­ber must also be en­sured.

To some ex­tent, cross-LoC trade has pro­vided a pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tive to the vi­o­lence-stricken youth who can now be­come part­ners in trade and busi­ness. How­ever, trade does not sub­sti­tute po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue and it is important that changes in the pol­icy frame­work are made to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate the on­go­ing trade and flour­ish it into a suc­cess story

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