New era in Kashmir as trade convoy leaves for Muzaffarabad

October 21st, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghSalamabad Uri (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct 21 (IANS) To the sound of drumbeats and loud cheers, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra Tuesday flagged off the first trade convoy that will cross the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the two Kashmirs and herald a new era of goodwill. The trade facilitation centre in this north Kashmir town, from where business will begin between the two parts of Kashmir, was buzzing with activity Tuesday as hundreds of locals dressed in their brightest turned up to witness the historic occasion — the first time in six decades that trade between the two sides was opening up on the 180 km road from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad.

The more enthusiastic among them carried drums and other musical instruments to welcome the traders who had come with their consignments, ready to be despatched to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan administered Kashmir.

Dozens of schoolchildren lined the road from the trade centre to welcome the first trucks to roll in from Muzaffarabad.

Emotions ran high as the children sang “Rab ne Yeh din deklayu. Pardesiya to hun gar ayoo (God has made this possible for us. Oh you who lived in wilderness and exile, you are welcome home once again)”.

“Inshallah (God willing) everybody will be happy in the coming days that this great event has happened today. I haven’t been able to sleep the entire night as I waited for the first light to see the beginning of a new dawn in valley’s trade history,” said Mehboob Ahmad, a truck driver who with 13 others was getting ready to go to Chakothi in Pakistan administered Kashmir.

“Both India and Pakistan must stick to this great CBM (confidence building measure) so that the walls of hatred between the two countries are brought down and a new chapter is written in the history of Kashmir.

“Trade and commerce can ultimately resolve all political issues. Trade through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road must continue unfettered for borders to become irrelevant,” added Gulam Rasool Bhat, president of the north Kashmir fruit growers association, who came to see his goods being sent to Muzaffarabad.

Addressing the gathering attended by not just government officials but also women, children and men in the area, Governor Vohra said: “Cross LoC trade was one of the recommendations of the working groups set up by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

“This trade was recommended in addition to the cross LoC travel that has already been going on. The step is part of the process for improvement of relations between the two countries and between the people living on the two sides of the LoC.”

Sending off the convoy of 14 load carriers carrying goodies like carpets, apples, walnuts, almonds, black mushrooms, papier mache items - part of the 21 item trade list cleared for the first phase - the governor said plans had been made for phase-two of the cross LoC trade that would definitely pick up in the days to come.

The 15 km long road from Salamabad to Kaman Bridge on the LOC has been blacktopped recently to facilitate smooth passage of vehicles carrying goods to and fro. The Kaman Bridge has also been strengthened for load carrying vehicles.

All load carriers crossing the LoC are allowed to carry only one-and-a-half tonnes of goods keeping in view the load bearing capacity of the bridge.

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.

Trade also began on the Poonch-Rawlakote sector Tuesday.

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