Strengthening Kashmir CBMs may ease Pakistan, India talks avenues
Views from Srinagar
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 firstname.lastname@example.org]