Traders along the Line of Control in Kashmir, while expressing the hope that the resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue will ensure better conditions for them, put forward several demands at a conference on LoC trade in the national Capital. Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu, MP and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti and government officials participated in the interaction.
According to the traders, inadequate communication facilities — the lack of direct telephony and poor road infrastructure were the major problems. They called for better banking facilities to replace the current barter system and an increased number of items that can be traded beyond the current of 21.
“We hope that the newly announced comprehensive dialogue will open new avenues for people in Jammu and Kashmir,” said one trader at the meeting, adding “Even basics like body scanners for the trucks coming through have been promised for years, [but] have never been delivered.”
“Jammu and Kashmir is the worst hit by tensions between India and Pakistan,” said Ms. Mufti, adding that the State “has the potential to be a link to Central Asia, if trade was normalised.”
However, Finance Minister Drabu indicated that while the trade between Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir must be improved, the opening of trade was more a CBM (confidence building measure). “The LoC trade was a political measure and it served a purpose. It changed the entire perception of the Kashmir issue. It was not about trade as much as a political engagement,” Dr. Drabu said.
The interaction between the traders, PDP leaders and officials came at a consultation on improving LoC trade, hosted by the Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals.
The consultation came days after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad where India and Pakistan announced a restoration of the dialogue to pre-26/11 levels, renaming the composite dialogue as the comprehensive dialogue, with a few modifications.
Despite the restrictions, with only 100 trucks allowed to cross the checkpost everyday, LoC trade turnover has improved since it was started in October 2008. and today totals more than Rs. 3000 crore.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Joint commission on commerce and industry, the LoC trade had provided local residents with 56,000 work days, and more than Rs. 2.5 crore in wages.
One of the women traders registered for LoC trade said lack of safety discouraged more women from joining.
Many of the items traded like woollens were produced by women’s groups in Jammu and Kashmir, but the scope for expanding businesses are few, said businesswomen Ghazala Amin.