After suspending the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in J&K for being used to funnel “illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency, the officials now say that at least 10 militants, who had crossed over to Pakistan have “set up businesses across the border with the active aid of ISI” and were involved in providing funds to militants and separatists in the state. This charge has made it further difficult for the stalled trade to resume. The extraordinary move has already impacted around 300 traders, and over 1,200 people who are directly and indirectly associated with the trade on this side. The officials are saying that the direct involvement of militants in the cross LoC trade and their contribution to fund militancy in the state was one of the reasons to suspend cross LoC trade. The government has also identified these militants.
Cross-LoC trade was started in 2008 by setting up two Trade Facilitation Centres located at Uris Salamabad in Baramulla, and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch. The trade which was one of the major Confidence Building Measures on Kashmir took place four days a week. It was based on barter system and zero duty basis. The trade was also meant to bring people living across the Line of Control closer to each other. The CBM was made possible after years of negotiations between India and Pakistan during the terms of former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. But the trade has barely grown over the years, continuing to be largely symbolic in nature.
The trade has been hampered by the unwillingness of India and Pakistan to provide the means for a smooth and hassle-free business. No tangible steps were taken to provide banking and communication facilities to the businessmen or remove hurdles in the free movement of traders. Besides, nothing was done to increase the number of tradable items from the existing 21 items. Compounding the problem is that there isnt also the necessary legal infrastructure in place for traders to settle their disputes. At a time, when the dialogue process between India and Pakistan has been indefinitely halted and shows little signs of resumption, the LoC trade survived as the only examplar of a major agreement on Kashmir in the past two decades. And its suspension now has threatened to divest the two-decade long Indo-Pak engagement of its fewer positives. What is needed is for the two countries to get together to salvage the CBM. Not only should the trade be resumed at right earnest but for it to reach its full potential, the two countries will have to provide facilities and incentives to the traders. The point is that the LoC trade needs to go beyond its symbolic value and actually contribute to J&Ks economic growth. And as for the allegations that the trade is misused to fund militancy in Kashmir, a more stringent handling and checking of the vehicles would have taken care of the problem.
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