Cross LoC trade should be substantive not symbolic, say Kashmiris

September 26th, 2008 - 2:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghSrinagar, Sep 26 (IANS) The decision to begin trade across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan has been widely welcomed in the valley, but with the proviso that it should be substantive and not merely symbolic. The move comes after an announcement from New York, following a meeting between Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that business across the LoC would begin on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawlakote routes from Oct 21.

Former chief minister and patron of the People’s Democratic Party Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was fulsome in his praise. “It would be a historic day for the people of both parts of Kashmir. It is the result of the sacrifices made by the local people.”

He added, however, that the trade should be meaningful and not just symbolic.

Omar Abdullah, president of the largest mainstream party National Conference, said he welcomed the decision but “trade must not remain confined to a few items”.

In his view, the announcement would be a step forward in making the LoC irrelevant finally.

State secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) M.Y. Tarigami called the decision “an opportunity that needed to be capitalised to consolidate peace in the state”.

Senior Congress leader Abdul Gani Vakil said the decision proved the seriousness of both India and Pakistan towards the resolution of the Kashmir problem.

“Cross LoC trade was one of the major demands of the separatists which has now been met. They should now leave the path of confrontation and join the mainstream.”

Separatist leaders qualified their welcome in different ways.

According to hardline leader Syed Ali Geelani, the decision to start cross LoC trade was one of the demands of the separatists but it must be allowed without any restrictions.

“We will never accept trade as a symbolic gesture to dilute the Kashmir problem,” Geelani said here.

Muhammad Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front termed the decision “a good beginning”.

“But customs and trans-shipment of goods should be done away with. Then only will the announcement serve any purpose,” he said, stressing that India and Pakistan needed to understand that Kashmiris could no longer be ignored while deciding the future of their land.

Sajad Gani Lone, the chairperson of the People’s Conference, said cross LOC trade “was a step towards breaking the status quo on Kashmir”.

Common people also added a rider - it would serve little purpose unless it included free movement of goods and people.

“First we were told fruit had not been included in the trade list. Then it was clarified that fruit would also move across the LoC. We will have to wait and watch till things become clear,” said Ghulam Rasool Bhat, president of the north Kashmir fruit growers association.

But the benefits would be enormous, he said.

“The fruit industry is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. If fruit trade is made viable through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, local fruit growers and traders would benefit immensely.”

Local retailer Mehraj-ud-Din remembered the stories his father told him: “He used to go to Rawalpindi in a bus that would leave Lal Chowk in the morning and return in the evening.

“He would sell tobacco in the city those days and his tobacco from Peshawar was a craze in Kashmir. If trade happens like that again, it is a great step.

“But if the LoC trade is just a political gimmick, then it would help nobody,” he asserted.

“If things happen like that again, I am sure some of our tensions would vanish,” said Abdul Samad Sheikh, 71.

The demand for opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road for trade reached high pitch last month when thousands of locals marched towards the LoC.

This followed the blockade of the Jammu-Srinagar highway by protesters in Jammu agitating against the government’s move to backtrack on its decision to divert land for the Amarnath pilgrims.

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