Strength­en­ing Kash­mir CBMs may ease Pak­istan, In­dia talks av­enues

Views from Srinagar

Pakistan Observer - - KASHMIR - [The writer is Srinagar based jour­nal­ist,Email:

SHUJAAT BUKHARI N the on­go­ing ses­sion of Jammu and Kash mir As­sem­bly, Chief Min­is­ter Me­hbooba Mufti made a sig­nif­i­cant state­ment say­ing that her gov­ern­ment had taken up the is­sue of open­ing more points to con­nect the two parts of erst­while state across the Line of Con­trol (LoC). She men­tioned Suchet­garh-Sialkote, KargilSkardu, Now­sher­aMir­pur, GurezAs­toor-Gil­git and Ch­ham­bJourian as some of those cross­ing points, which could see both coun­tries open­ing doors for trade and peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tact. She said the dis­cus­sion in this re­gard was on “and I am hope­ful that, if not all at a time, one or two at a time will be opened so that we can send Bas­mati from Jammu to there”. A few days later, In­dus­tries Min­is­ter, Chan­dra Prakash Ganga in­formed the House that Kash­miri ap­ple could soon find a place in the list of trad­able items and that full-body scan­ners were also go­ing to be a re­al­ity. These state­ments came at a time when there is a stale­mate be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan vis-à-vis their ini­tia­tives (away from the stated po­si­tions and the rhetoric) on Jammu and Kash­mir.In fact the state gov­ern­ment led by Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) that es­pouses the cause of Self Rule has in the past cou­ple of months put lot of at­ten­tion to­wards its agenda of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. On the ground, PDP might be draw­ing flak for join­ing hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but Me­hbooba has been push­ing on the cross-LoC Con­fi­dence Build­ing Mea­sures with­out any fan­fare. The move to ask Gov­ern­ment of In­dia for in­clud­ing more cross­ing points has been made two months back and was only made

Ipub­lic by her in the state Leg­is­la­ture. The gov­ern­ment has also made strong rec­om­men­da­tions for in­tro­duc­ing bank­ing fa­cil­i­ties for the trade. The most sig­nif­i­cant step Me­hbooba took was to rec­om­mend Nepal as a le­gal­ized route for those Kash­miri youth, who had crossed over to the other side for arms train­ing, and who now want to re­turn home and live a peace­ful life. Hun­dreds of fam­i­lies have re­turned in past few years but they are fac­ing a host of prob­lems since they used Nepal as a route that is not le­gal and does not en­ti­tle the fam­i­lies for ba­sic ameni­ties of life once they re­turn. Most of the youth who have re­turned have mar­ried in Muzaf­farabad and other places and have wives and chil­dren who do not fall un­der any le­gal cat­e­gory. Giv­ing Nepal route the le­gal sta­tus could ease their prob­lems.

Bus Ser­vice We may not have much hope with the CBMs ini­ti­ated af­ter 2005. But the fact re­mains that they have sur­vived the va­garies of con­flict as also the un­end­ing hos­til­i­ties be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. The bus ser­vice that runs once a week on Sri­na­garMuzaf­farabd and Poonch-Rawlakot routes has brought huge re­lief to di­vided fam­i­lies on both sides. The process of get­ting the per­mits to travel on these bus ser­vices may be cum­ber­some but the stakes peo­ple in both parts have at­tached with this ser­vice is unimag­in­able. That is why over 25,000 peo­ple have ben­e­fit­ted from the ser­vice since 2005.

It is be­cause of these stakes that the bus ser­vice sur­vived, though sus­pended for weeks to­gether af­ter the Mumbai at­tack of 2008 that com­pletely de­railed the In­dia-Pak­istan peace process, the be­head­ing of In­dian Army sol­diers in Poonch in 2013 and num­ber of in­ci­dents that had po­ten­tial to take the sit­u­a­tion back to square one. With the state gov­ern­ment pitch­ing for more routes, the util­ity of this im­por­tant CBM will get strength­ened. Not only should more cross­ing points be in­tro­duced but the ones opened af­ter 2005 earth­quake such as Teet­wal should be­come per­ma­nent like other two points.

Most im­por­tant push to see these CBMs de­liv­er­ing de­sired re­sults can come in case the pro­ce­dure for ac­quir­ing the per­mits is sim­pli­fied. It also must be ex­tended to gen­eral pub­lic and not con­fined to di­vided fam­i­lies. Till the time the fi­nal res­o­lu­tion of Kash­mir be­comes a re­al­ity, the con­cept of soften­ing the bor­ders is a great healer in the con­flict. It moves beyond state sovereignty, ter­ri­tory and bor­ders, fo­cus­ing on peo­ple, econ­omy and trade thus bring­ing a sense of be­long­ing to those who feel par­ti­tioned.

Much more than bus ser­vice the cross LoC trade has sur­prised those who watch it keenly. In ab­sence of a proper mech­a­nism and con­tin­ued con­spir­a­cies against it, the trade too has sur­vived.

This is ac­tu­ally the demon­stra­tion of will of the peo­ple on both sides to forge the unity. Like the bus ser­vice, the con­di­tions for pro­duc­tive trade have al­ways re­mained elu­sive given the ev­ertense re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Still the trade, hav­ing a huge sym­bolic and emo­tive value, has sur­vived. Not only do the shad­ows of hos­til­i­ties con­tinue to hover over it, con­spir­a­cies in­clud­ing small tiffs be­tween traders to us­ing this route for smug­gling nar­cotics have emerged as a big­ger threat. If trade was sus­pended on both sides on many oc­ca­sions due to shelling and fir­ing be­tween armies, it was also put on hold for many weeks in 2014 and 2015 when con­sign­ments of nar­cotics were re­cov­ered from trucks com­ing from Pak­istan-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir.

The driv­ers of the con­sign­ment con­tinue to be be­hind bars in Bara­mulla jail.The lat­est threat to trade came from the traders in Amritsar and Lahore who did not hold back in call­ing this trade “il­le­gal and hawala” though the fact is that it is be­ing su­per­vised by two sov­er­eign coun­tries.

Those traders might have their gen­uine con­cerns as they see this as a par­al­lel trade im­pact­ing their busi­ness but this needs to be looked beyond that as it started as a CBM to con­sol­i­date peace in the re­gion. To­day the trade is fac­ing hic­cups with bank­ing.

Though GoI has of­fered to in­tro­duce bank­ing, Pak­istan has not been pos­i­tive in tak­ing that for­ward. Cross-LoC trade, al­though agreed upon by In­dia and Pak­istan in 2004, only be­came a re­al­ity in 2008 in the wake of weeks of protests and strikes dur­ing the Amar­nath land row. As the trade bod­ies in Jammu an­nounced an eco­nomic block­ade, the traders in Kash­mir chose an emo­tional re­course by de­mand­ing the re-open­ing of tra­di­tional trade route via Muzaf­farabad. Sub­se­quently a joint call of “Muzaf­farabad Chalo” was given and many peo­ple, in­clud­ing se­nior sep­a­ratist leader Sheikh Aziz, were killed in po­lice fir­ing when a pro­ces­sion was stopped near Sheeri on Sri­na­garMuzaf­farabad road. New Delhi’s po­si­tion be­came pre­car­i­ous and to ad­dress the brew­ing re­sent­ment they uni­lat­er­ally moved to give fi­nal shape to the cross LoC trade.

Even as the traders con­tin­ued, on un­of­fi­cial level, to thrash out dif­fer­ences and re­move bot­tle­necks and set up the Joint Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try (JCCI), gov­ern­ments failed to rec­og­nize it. JCCI is a spec­tac­u­lar achieve­ment of bon­homie on both sides as it has mem­bers from Jammu, Kash­mir, Muzaf­farabad, Mirpur and Gil­git-Baltistan cham­bers. It is cur­rently headed by Y V Sharma, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Jammu Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try whose vot­ers are spread across the length and breadth of the erst­while state of Jammu and Kash­mir.

What is needed to­day is to strengthen these ex­ist­ing CBMs. If she suc­ceeds in re­open­ing more routes par­tic­u­larly Kargil-Skardu and As­tor-Gil­git axis, Me­hbooba Mufti will be re­al­iz­ing her fa­ther’s dream of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Such steps may not bring a com­plete change on ground but it would surely help build an at­mos­phere of un­der­stand­ing be­tween two Kash­mirs which is must to psy­cho­log­i­cally re­con­nect the peo­ple on both sides and give eco­nomics a space in peace build­ing. —Cour­tesy: Ris­ing Kash­mir shu­jaat7867@gmail.com]

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