Cross-loc Trade in Kash­mir

Southasia - - Contents - By Anees Jil­lani Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

Can you un­der­take trad­ing with a per­son whom you have never met and whom you do not even know about and with whom you are not al­lowed to com­mu­ni­cate by tele­phone? I don’t know about you but I would find it dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble to do so. As if this is not enough, what if you don’t know what ex­actly he wants and you are not per­mit­ted to pay each other for the goods but in­stead en­gage in a barter agree­ment.

This is ex­actly how the gov­ern­ments of In­dia and Pak­istan ex­pect the Kash­miris to trade. The peo­ple of Kash­mir must have done some­thing hor­ri­ble in their past lives to de­serve the kind of treat­ment that is con­stantly meted out to them since 1947 by both coun­tries. In­dia ini­tially agreed to hold a plebiscite to find out the wishes of the peo­ple in Kash­mir but then backed out and now even re­fuses to hear the word; the only thing it wants is either Pak­istan hand­in­gover the por­tion which it calls ‘azad’ or at most ac­cept­ing the LoC as the per­ma­nent border.

Pak­istan, on the other hand, started by sep­a­rat­ing the North­ern Ar­eas from Kash­mir whose con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus re­mains un­de­fined and which it re­fuses to ac­cept as part of Kash­mir. It talks about the rights of the peo­ple in In­di­an­held Kash­mir but vo­cif­er­ously in­ter­feres in Azad Kash­mir pol­i­tics and pe­ri­od­i­cally sup­ports in­sur­gency in the former. Some­one has to be very des­per­ate to in­vest in a re­gion fac­ing all these prob­lems.

In­dia and Pak­istan have hardly talked about Kash­mir ex­cept for a few back-chan­nel ex­changes, which have no le­gal sig­nif­i­cance. But the sad part is that the peo­ple of Kash­mir never fig­ure in any of these talks; the is­sue has be­come a ter­ri­to­rial one with the peo­ple be­ing treated like a com­mod­ity.

The two sides did not agree to trade across the LoC out of love for the peo­ple of Kash­mir. In 2008, the peo­ple of the Sri­na­gar Valley started a move­ment against Amar­nath land trans­fers, which was seen by the Mus­lims as an at­tempt to change the re­li­gious com­po­si­tion of the Valley. The Hindu dom­i­nated Jammu, also part of Kash­mir, but ad­ja­cent to the In­dian plains, sup­ported it. The whole is­sue caused im­mense po­lit­i­cal ten­sion be­tween the two re­gions and saw the traders di­vide along po­lit­i­cal lines. Ten­sion be­tween traders was so in­tense that trade was com­pletely dis­rupted be­tween the Jammu and Kash­mir re­gions. In the process, slo­gans such as ‘Kash­mir ki mandi, Rawalpindi’ emerged.

In­dia pan­icked. The LoC had al­ready softened af­ter the Oc­to­ber 2005 earth­quake and the sub­se­quent start­ing of bus ser­vices be­tween Uri and Muzaf­farabad in April 2005 and be­tween Poonch and Rawalakot in Jan­uary 2006, was in full swing. The two sides in May 2008 took the ini­tial steps to ini­ti­ate cross-LoC trade dur­ing In­dian For­eign Min­is­ter, Pranab Mukher­jee’s visit to Islamabad. Dur­ing the side­lines of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion in New York in Septem­ber 2008, the ini­tia­tive was ap­proved by PM Man­mo­han Singh and Pres­i­dent Zar­dari. Singh had an in­ter­est in start­ing the trade as firstly it could help in di­vert­ing the Kash­miris at­ten­tion from the Amar­nath ag­i­ta­tion; and se­condly the de­ci­sion came on the eve of State elec­tions. Pres­i­dent Zar­dari, on the other hand, was try­ing to de­crease the im­por­tance of the mil­i­tary in Pak­istan; and im­prove­ment in any man­ner of Indo-Pak re­la­tions is seen by many as the best route to ac­com­plish it.

Duty-free cross-LoC trade for 21 items started on Oc­to­ber 21, 2008 in haste from two routes: Muzaf­farabad-Uri and Poonch-Rawalakot. So far it has not helped in al­le­vi­at­ing the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple.

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