The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in Islamabad on June 23 and 24 to discuss issues relating to Jammu & Kashmir, peace and security including Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and promotion of friendly exchanges.
While the Foreign Secretaries have always dealt with issues relating to J&K and peace and security, cultural exchanges has been added to their agenda this time round as Pakistan does not have a cultural secretary. Given the agenda, the Kashmir issue will in all likelihood remain the focus of the two-day engagement between the two Foreign Secretaries.
They last met in Thimphu in February to kick-start this dialogue process after it was suspended by India in December 2008 following the Mumbai terror attack and an abortive attempt to resurrect it last year by the two Prime Ministers in the Bhutanese capital itself.
Cross Line of Control (LoC) trade and travel is expected to be taken up in this meeting as part of the review of the CBMs that are in place between the two Kashmirs. In particular, cross LoC traders are hoping that some of their key issues like monetization of trade and movement restrictions are addressed to accelerate the process that is seen as a welcome development by Kashmiris on both sides.
Earlier this year, India had sent a proposal to monetize trade - currently undertaken on a barter system basis - as per which the J&K bank on the Indian side would partner with an assigned bank in Pakistan. Pakistan, according to traders, is yet to take a final view on the issue though consultations have been undertaken by the `Government of Azad J&K' with the Joint Chamber of Commerce. The ongoing election in the province has delayed a final decision.
Meanwhile, cross LoC trade has been suspended on the Poonch-Rawlakot section since March due to India's decision to impose Value Added Tax on imports from `AJK'. Indian traders in Lakhanpur went on strike - suspending trade till VAT is revoked - and the traders on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar side have also joined the strike amid reports of traders on both sides calling for resumption of trade to get their dues that have apparently mounted to Rs. 21 crore.
Keywords: Indo-Pak relations