Following a complaint from India, the Pakistani authorities earlier this week asked for suspending the trade between the two sides.
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, on Saturday said that Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) will not allow closure of cross-LoC trade.
"There are many difficulties through the Wagah border; charas and ganja comes from there but no one talks about closing it. Just because a mistake happens on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, we should not talk about closing it. We will not allow that to happen," she said while speaking at a rally held here to mark the 18th foundation day of the PDP.
On July 21, the Jammu and Kashmir police seized 66.5 kilograms of narcotics including heroine and brown sugar worth Rs. 300 crore from a truck which was part of the merchandize-laden convoy of lorries coming from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) at the LoC Trade Facilitation Centre at Salamabad near Uri in Baramulla district. The narcotics had allegedly been concealed in “fake cavities specifically fabricated for this purpose in boxes purportedly to contain mercantile goods” in one of these.
Following a complaint from India, the Pakistani authorities earlier this week asked for suspending the trade between the two sides. They also said that an inquiry has been launched into the alleged misuse of the facility.
A section of Indian media had earlier during the day on Saturday reported that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has recommended the closure of cross-LoC trade after gathering “evidence” that the trade between the two parts of divided Kashmir is being misused to fund terrorists.
The NIA which is probing the alleged terror funding in restive Jammu and Kashmir recently arrested seven Kashmiri separatist leaders and activists who have been accused of receiving funding from Pakistan and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the chief or amir of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah, which has had sanctions placed against it as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.
Reacting sharply to these reports, Mufti said the PDP which together with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rules the State would not allow the closure of cross-LoC trade and continue to work towards opening more routes across the de-facto border with PoK.
The cross-LoC trade between the two sides was restored by launching of truck services simultaneously on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlakote roads on October 21, 2008, ending a 61-year-long embargo forced by circumstances and persistent tensions along the volatile divide line. The two-side trade has since witnessed many ups and downs for varied reasons, including the tensions set off by the killing of each others’ soldiers in combats.
The restoration of the trade links between the divided land, severed by the first Kashmir war of 1947-48, had brought smiles on the faces of the ordinary citizens of Kashmir. It not only raised hopes of better business opportunities among the trading community, people on both sides of the de facto border believed that it in all probability will work towards convalescing bilateral relations of India and Pakistan. In fact, both the countries had termed it as second major confidence-building-measure after the cross-LoC bus service started on April 7, 2005.
PDP favours ‘joint legislature’ and opening of more routes between J&K and PoK
The Chief Minister said that the PDP strongly favours opening of more routes between the two sides and providing banking facilities for the cross-LoC trade through existing routes. "We are in favour of opening more routes. There should be facilities like banking there (at crossing points). There should be (full) body scanners (for trucks) so that we know what is coming in and what is going out from here," she said adding “What we in PDP have achieved since 2002 needs to be taken forward”.
The cross-LoC trade which takes place twice a week though the Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes runs mainly on a barter basis in the absence of banking facilities to transfer funds across the de facto border that has halted its growth. In April last year, the State Cabinet under Mufti authorized the State’s Industries and Commerce department to work out the modalities for establishing banking facilities for the cross-LoC trade. This came after the go-ahead from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to institutionalize the cross-LoC trade through a proper banking mechanism and doing away with the existing barter system.
A spokesman of the PDP-BJP government had said that the “important decision” would go a long way in expanding the scope and ambit of the cross-LoC trade.
The Chief Minister also spoke on the possibility of a joint legislature for divided Jammu and Kashmir. She said, “There are (25) seats reserved in our Assembly for that Kashmir. We should decide together to make nominations for those seats. We should decide that this assembly meets once in this Kashmir and once in that Kashmir every year so that we can talk about tourism, travel and opening of Sharda Peeth.”
Sharda Peeth is a revered place of Kashmiri Pandits located at about 150-kms from Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. The Kashmiri Pandits have repeatedly petitioned before the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi that they be allowed to use the cross-LoC bus to visit Sharda for paying obeisance at the ancient seat of learning.
Referring to her father and PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, she said he would often say Kashmir is besieged and should be should be set free by the opening of roads like Kargil-Skardu, Jammu-Sialkot and Leh-Xinjiang. She sought the support of the people and her party workers in helping Jammu and Kashmir to come out of its present state of uncertainty.
Mufti also suggested student exchanges between the two sides. “I appeal to people on the other side of Kashmir to come and send your children on a 15-day tour here and we will send our children there. They will see how we live here and our children will see how they live there,” she said.
Turning to the violence and unrest in Kashmir Valley, she made a fervent appeal to mainstream opposition parties including National Conference (NC) and the Congress apart from her coalition partner the BJP and the Left parties to put their heads together to find a solution. She said, “I appeal to all parties - be it National Conference, Congress, BJP, Communists or any other party- let us sit together and find a solution to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir. We are one, we are the same. (When) anyone is killed, it is a Kashmiri, be it a policeman or an innocent pedestrian.” She made a special mention of NC president Farooq Abdullah and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to request them to “come forward and help towards healing the pain of the Kashmiris”.
The Chief Minister had earlier on Friday while speaking at a two-day conference held in New Delhi said that the recent NIA raids and arrest of separatist leaders in Kashmir was a temporary measure and not a solution to address the real problem. On Saturday, she reiterated that Jammu and Kashmir was facing an ideological challenge. “You can’t imprison an idea, you cannot kill an idea,” she said.