LoC trade survives post-Pulwama flare-up

The declining volume of trade over the years remained a major concern for traders

By Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar
  • Published 7.03.19, 2:55 AM
  • Updated 7.03.19, 9:29 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
People walk past India-bound cargo trucks in the border town of Chakoti at the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. AP

India and Pakistan continued their barter trade at a border crossing in Kashmir on Wednesday, signalling that one of their biggest confidence-building measures that resumed a day earlier had survived the worst face-off between the neighbours in decades.

The declining volume of trade over the years, however, remained a major concern for traders.

Riyaz Ahmad Malik, the sub-divisional magistrate of Uri, a border town on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road where the exchange of goods takes place, said the trade resumed on Tuesday and continued unimpeded on Wednesday.

The cross-Line of Control trade takes place four days a week through barter between Tuesdays and Fridays.

Malik, however, said the Karvan e Aman, the peace bus that ferries passengers between the two Kashmirs was suspended this week.

“Last Monday, we had 13 people from our side going to the other side but no bus plied this Monday,” Malik told The Telegraph.

The cross-LoC bus plies only once a week on Monday.

Tensions had escalated between the two countries after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a CRPF convoy in Pulwama on February 14, leaving 40 troopers dead.

Twelve days later, on February 26, Indian Air Force fighter jets pounded a militant camp across the border, triggering retaliatory air strikes by Pakistan the next day.

Restricted travel between the two Kashmirs had started in 2005 on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and the Poonch-Rawlakote road in Jammu.

In 2008, cross-LoC trade ties resumed between the two sides for the first time since Partition.

The initiatives are seen as the two biggest confidence-building steps India and Pakistan had announced for the two Kashmirs, although few have benefited from the measures as both countries have shown little interest in widening their reach because of persistent hostilities.

Hilal Ahmad Turkey, president of the cross-LoC traders’ union in Kashmir, said trade between the two sides on the Valley route had continued on February 26, the day the hostilities had peaked, but was stopped the next day.

“The administration and traders on the two sides decided to stop the trade for around a week from Wednesday, lest the trucks are caught in the exchange of fire. In Poonch (Jammu), the trade stopped for only a day (February 26) and has been going on unhindered since,” he said.

“I don’t think there was any direction (from the central government) to stop the trade. Whatever was done was done at the local level,” he added, indicating that the two sides largely allow the exchange of goods despite hostilities.

“Thirty-four trucks carrying goods entered our side while 35 trucks left for the other side on Tuesday. Thirty-five trucks each crossed the border crossing today (Wednesday) from either side.”

Turkey, however, said the continuing hostilities and unresolved “GST issues” had shrunk the number of traders on this side on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road from 647 a few years back to 229 now.

“Exports (on the Kashmir route) came down from Rs 407 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 259 crore (in the first 10 months of the current financial year) while imports shrunk from Rs 320 crore (in the last fiscal) to Rs 217 crore (in the 10 months of the current fiscal,” he said.

The export and import figure for 2015-16 on this route was Rs 532 crore and Rs 383 crore, respectively.

Turkey said the continuing hostilities in recent years had shrunk the number of working days, contributing to the decline in trade.

Exports mostly include embroidery items, red chilly, herbs, spices and banana, while the Indian side imports almonds, pistachio, dry dates, herbs and mangoes among other items.