Nirupama Subramanian

First official trade since 1947

ISLAMABAD: More than a dozen trucks bearing rice, maize, dry fruit and leather footwear will roll across the Line of Control from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Tuesday, inaugurating the first official trade between the two sides of the divided Jammu & Kashmir State since 1947.

PoK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan will flag off the trucks at Chakothi on the LoC at 11 a.m. local time, amid much optimism about the implications of this path-breaking development for the future of Kashmir.

Zulfikar Abbasi, president of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Hindu that 14 trucks, contracted by about 20 traders, were taking rice, maize and maize products, dry dates, and the much sought-after Peshawari chappals from PoK.

Eleven trucks are expected from the Indian side, mostly carrying fruit.

There is some confusion about the opening of the second trade route connecting Poonch on the Indian side to Rawalakot in PoK. Indian officials said trade on that route would be inaugurated simultaneously, whereas Mr. Abbasi said it would take place on Wednesday.

The trucks from either side are supposed to cross the LoC and unload their freight at specially built “facilitation centres.” The goods will then be carried forward to Srinagar and Muzaffarabad by local trucks.

Mr. Abbasi, who recently led a trade delegation from PoK to Srinagar for a meeting with businessmen there, said the two sides had agreed that for now trade would be conducted through “a mixture of barter and dual currency.”

Explaining the system, he said traders on either side will exchange their goods and remit any differentials after sales to the other side through normal banking channels.

Businessmen from both sides have formed a joint chamber to press for their demands. Mr. Abbasi said it would be able to make its voice heard better in the “fight against four governments” – the governments of Pakistan, India and the State governments in J&K and PoK.

The businessmen have already demanded that they be given multiple-entry permits and the freedom to cross the LoC using these permits in their own vehicles.

Their other demands include the expansion of the list of tradable items. Mr. Abbasi said businessmen on both sides had “reservations” about the present list of 21 items.

At present, cross-LoC trade will take place on two days of the week, but Mr. Abbasi spoke of being flooded with enquiries from PoK traders and said he could foresee a time when it would take place daily.