Pakistan and India agree on modalities for LoC trade
* Committee declines to give timetable for opening Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Poonch-Rawalakot trade routes
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: Trade across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir moved a step closer as Indian and Pakistani officials completed talks on a framework on Monday.
A brief statement issued after a daylong meeting of the Joint Working Group on Cross-LoC Confidence Building Measures in the Indian capital did not say when trade routes would be opened. But a top Indian official said last week that India would allow trade between the two parts of Kashmir to begin in October.
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari would make a final decision on the framework and the schedule in a meeting in New York later this week, official said.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary TCA Raghavan led the Indian delegation, and Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs Additional Secretary for South Asia Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry led the Pakistan delegation. Commerce, customs and home ministry officials attended the meeting.
“We have finalised the modalities at the meeting. We decided to submit details of the modalities to our respective political leadership for the final decision and announcement,” said Chaudhry after the meeting.
The two sides also finalised the list of items to be traded on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot routes.
“We now have a common list carved out from the lists that we had exchanged. It is an improved list and contains many more products,” he said, but refused to elaborate.
Asked when the trade will begin, he said the ‘political masters will decide’ on that.
Chaudhry denied Pakistan was resisting trading fresh fruit. “I strongly deny this impression. Fruits form a bulk of tradable items from Kashmir. There is no meaning of trade without fruits,” he added.
Chaudhry said cross-LoC trade was different from the normal trade taking place between India and Pakistan through Wagah-Attari border in Punjab.
“This is not regular import and export trade. There is a zero-tariff regime and this trade is aimed at restoring contacts between divided parts of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a measure to raise comfort levels of Kashmiri people and restore their relations,” he said.
Sources privy to the development said the trade is likely to begin next month. During the meeting, the two sides fine-tuned logistical issues including the items to be traded, customs matters and security aspects, they said.
In July, foreign secretaries of the two countries had exchanged lists of commodities for trade and each side had agreed to indicate the items they were willing to receive.
A delegation of chambers of commerce from Muzaffarabad is expected to visit Srinagar and Jammu next month to discuss aspects of the trade, the sources said.
The meeting of traders from the two sides is essential, as they have to engage in trade, they said.
Chaudhry also said no other confidence-building measures were discussed at the meeting.
Currently, India and Pakistan allow only a passenger bus service twice a month across the LoC.