IT is a rare bright spot in the otherwise dismal state of bilateral relations, particularly when it comes to the disputed Kashmir region. Small-scale, barter-based trade across the LoC will not transform the economic prospects of the region, but it is essential to keeping ties across the LoC alive and helps sustain a constituency for peace. So the blockade of trade by India following allegations of Pakistani consignments across the LoC containing narcotics was a blow. However, better sense appears to have prevailed relatively quickly as New Delhi, at the urging of the chief minister of IHK and traders in the region, has decided to reopen a trade route shut on July 21 by Aug 8. While India has yet to provide proof of the allegations of narcotics smuggling and a reduction in the number of trucks that will be allowed across the LoC has been negotiated, the timing is propitious — a week before independence celebrations in both countries. Footage of the two sides meeting on a bridge in the disputed Kashmir region for talks was a welcome sight.
The resumption of trade is also a welcome reminder of how effective intra-Kashmir confidence-building measures can be. The trade scheme that will resume was launched in 2008 and has quickly become very popular in the region because it has promoted economic interdependence in what ought to be one market. Indeed, in the few talks that have been held between the two countries since then, intra-Kashmir CBMs have always been flagged as the most likely area in which further progress can be achieved relatively quickly. There is no sign yet that India and Pakistan are seeking to resume dialogue, but the Kashmir trade ought to be protected. The Indian allegations of narcotics smuggling have highlighted a problem that ought to be addressed. Trade should not be suspended merely on the basis of allegations and a system should be put in place to address problems on both sides as they arise.
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2017