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Delhi for easier cross-LoC travel

New Delhi, March 7: India has proposed easing restrictions on Kashmiris keen to travel across the Line of Control in a move that could aid cross-border trade and help divided families meet more easily.

New Delhi suggested to Islamabad that both the nations issue multiple-entry visas to Kashmiris on either side of the border, ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on Friday.

Kashmiris on either side of the LoC are only issued single-entry visas at present — by both India and Pakistan. The suggestion to relax norms for Kashmiris was made by India at a March 4 meet on cross-LoC trade and travel here.

India also repeated an old demand that Pakistan is yet to agree to — on starting a bus service between Kargil in Ladakh and Skardu in Pakistan’s Gilgit Baltistan region — at the India-Pakistan joint working group meeting, Akbaruddin said.

India and Pakistan share cross-LoC trade of around $85 million — less than half a per cent of the total India-Pakistan bilateral trade of $1.9 billion.

But the proposal to ease travel and trade is a crucial confidence-building measure for India — both with Pakistan and with its own Kashmiri population. The proposal coincides — purely by chance — with the Uttar Pradesh police’s move to charge Kashmiri students at a Meerut university with sedition because they cheered for Pakistan in a match against India. The Uttar Pradesh police have now withdrawn the charges after criticism.

Akbaruddin said New Delhi had rejected Islamabad’s demand that India release a Pakistan truck driver arrested for smuggling narcotics into India — a spat that temporarily stalled all cross-LoC trade between the neighbours.