On the heels of a threat from traders in Rajouri-Poonch to suspend business across Line of Control(LoC), their counterparts from the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad sector have also said they will not join the trade activity from December 29. The trade process started with fanfare in October 2008.
Traders on both sides have accused India and Pakistan of not being serious in pushing the process ahead, saying restrictions defeat the basic idea of trading. The trade on the Poonch-Rawlakot side, which touched all-time high of Rs. 8 crore on a single day, has since gone down to Rs. 1.5 crore.
Sheeraz Ahmad Khan, spokesman of the LoC Traders Association Salamabad Uri, said the trade had on four days in the past week suffered a loss of Rs. 7 crore and “this is due to due to the unresponsive attitude of both governments. This has forced us to suspend the trade from Srinagar-Muzaffarabad.” The Deputy Commissioners of Baramulla and Poonch were informed that “we will not roll out trucks on these two routes from December 29 and there will be no trade from this side until some decision is taken to review modalities of trade.”
Mr. Khan said both New Delhi and Islamabad “have banned the items which were fetching us profit and now we are acing losses. Why should we continue?” The traders wanted consumption-based trade and not product-based business. “What people consume here more should come and the demand of the other side should also be met. But nobody listens to us.”
By a Standing Operation Procedure (SOP) signed between the two countries on August 21, 2008, modalities were fixed and a list of 21 items was approved for trade. Trade on both routes started on October 21, 2008 but, the traders say, the SOP was not being implemented. “It has been reduced to a few items,” said Mr. Khan.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) president Nazir A Dar echoed the frustration of traders. “They are disgusted as things have not been put in place as we desired,” he told The Hindu. “The trade is just being kept alive locally .”
The KCCI and other bodies had raised the issue with the government from time to time but there was no response. “They are not sincere and serious in their approach, that is why this trade has failed” Mr. Dar said, adding not even a review meeting was convened by the government.