In January, trade across the Line of Control (LoC) came to a standstill after a truck driver from the Pakistan side of Kashmir was arrested on a charge of carrying 110 packets of brown sugar. About 48 trucks were stranded on the Indian side while 27 Indian trucks were held back, as Pakistan demanded that the driver be handed over so that the case could be investigated. It was argued that the driver could not be arrested given the terms of the trade and the fact that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Trade resumed over a month later. An extraordinary session of the Joint Working Group on Cross-LoC Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on March 4 discussed the streamlining of standard operating procedures and introduction of scanners, and a suggestion that all stakeholders should be present at the loading and unloading points. The introduction of banking facilities would also help the trade, which is now conducted on barter basis. The bus service between the two sides of Kashmir had resumed on humanitarian grounds to avoid inconvenience to the people, even as the standoff continued.

Cross-LoC trade, which began in 2008 through Salamabad in Uri and Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch district with two trade facilitation centres, is an important CBM, and both India and Pakistan need to learn the lessons from this episode. After an initial standoff, both sides did show a willingness to resume trade, but it is important to work out fool-proof systems to avoid any more rounds of a blame game. In the past, trade across the LoC has witnessed interference from armies from both sides, and tensions between the two countries also had their impact. For the CBM to work, there is a need to ensure the smooth flow of goods and also create an atmosphere conducive to the building of trust. If trucks and people from either side are treated with suspicion, it defeats the very purpose of a confidence building measure. Scanning the goods and initiating a joint mechanism to check them at crossing points, as has been proposed during the meeting of the JWG, would help. It should not take over a month of protracted discussions to restore normalcy. A prompt system of redress needs to be put in place so that livelihoods and cross-LoC travel are not held up while the two countries dispute threadbare the details of standard operating procedures as in this case. Neither should it be the case that an offence, if established beyond reasonable doubt, goes unpunished. Any future steps will have to incorporate measures that would prevent such incidents and tackle them without any disruption of trade or bus services.

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