From Muzaffarabad to Srinagar, a momentous journey begins

October 21st, 2008 - 12:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghMuzaffarabad (Pakistan), Oct 21 (IANS) Hundreds of people lined the road as a caravan of 14 trucks began the historic journey to bridge a six decade divide to Srinagar as trade began across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.Waving and cheering, people lined up along the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road that crosses the border at Chakothi along the Jhelum river to watch the trucks roll by.

The first caravan of 14 trucks carrying rice, garlic, spices, dry fruit, onions and the famous Peshawri shoes left for Indian Kashmir while a similar trade caravan from Srinagar would reach here by evening.

Both the countries have allowed trade in 21 items that are produced or prepared locally.

“Initially, trade has been allowed for consumption within Kashmir but this may later be expanded,” said Sufi Habib, a trader who sent goods across the LoC.

The move to open the traditional trade route along the Jhelum was decided upon last month when Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met in New York.

According to the agreed formula, Pakistani trucks will travel 20 km inside Indian Kashmir from where Indian trucks will carry the goods to Srinagar and other parts. Likewise, the Indian trucks will come 20 km inside Pakistan administered Kashmir and unload goods to be carried by Pakistani trucks to different destinations.

Kashmiris here are excited at trade opportunities opening up along the 180 km route from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar.

“We hope that this route once again will bring prosperity to the people of both sides,” said Sardar Anis Ali Khan, a trader based in Muzafarabad.

Officials here said truck drivers had been issued special permits to cross the LoC. “Every time, they will be issued single entry permit by both sides,” an official at the Muzafarabad “immigration” office told IANS.

The bureaucratic details did not dim the enthusiasm for Asif Hussain, a truck driver, who said emotionally: “Though I won’t be able to go to Srinagar and meet people there, at least I’ll be able to breathe in the air of (Indian) Kashmir.”

He believes the dispute between the two countries should not affect the people of the area.

“What wrong have we done? Why are we being punished for the last 60 years?” The people of the two Kashmirs, he said, wanted to live peacefully. “Our two generations have been destroyed.”

The Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road was built in the 1780s during Hindu Dogra rule and was closed in 1947. This was the only road linking Kashmir with undivided India that used to be open throughout the year - all other roads were open only in summer.

The road was repaired and the Kamin Bridge was opened in 2005 when the Pakistani and Indian governments allowed people to cross over the border with valid documents. However, no vehicular traffic was allowed in 2005, except for emergency aid following the October 2005 earthquake.

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