The Indian government on Thursday suspended the cross-LoC (Line of Control) trade between the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and the part of Kashmir it occupies, in a move that evoked strong reactions from traders who feared the decision could force them into destitution.
According to a notification issued by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, the trade was suspended from both Chakothi-Uri and Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh crossing points of the LoC because of the alleged "misuse of these routes by unnamed elements in Pakistan".
“The Government of India has received reports that cross-LoC trade routes in Jammu and Kashmir are being misused by Pakistan-based elements. This misuse involves inflows of illegal weapons, narcotics and currency,” read the notification, a copy of which was also available with Dawn.
“The LoC trade mechanism is, therefore, being suspended pending the putting into place of a stricter regulatory regime. This is to ensure that only bonafide trade takes place for the benefit of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, through this mechanism,” it added.
The unilateral decision spread fear among traders who have invested billions of rupees in the barter trade launched pompously in October 2008 as the second Kashmir-specific confidence building measure (CBM) between India and Pakistan after cross-LoC travel.
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AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider took to Twitter to react to the Indian move.
“India had long been finding excuses to wind up this CBM because it strengthened the bonds between divided Kashmiris, which it cannot digest,” the AJK premier said.
“Secondly,” he added, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a message to the extremist Indian voters that he will go to any lengths to punish the Kashmiris who are fighting Indian occupation fearlessly.”
While condemning India’s decision as one taken under a “preposterous assumption”, traders also sought the intervention of the international community for its reversal.
“The LoC travel and trade were initiated by India and Pakistan on the persuasion of the international community. Now when India has suspended this activity on flimsy grounds, the international community should step in once again,” said Azaj Ahmed Meer, an office-bearer of the traders in Chakothi.
He said at least 1,200 traders and hundreds of other workers were associated with the activity on both sides of the LoC “who will now be economically devastated if the decision is not reversed”.
Advocate Pervez Ahmad, a migrant from Kashmir valley who traded from Chakothi, pointed out that the valley was a landlocked area with the Srinagar-Jammu and Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highways the only routes connecting it with the outside world.
Earlier, India had stopped Kashmiris from using the Srinagar-Jammu highway for two days a week and now it has blocked the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route for them by suspending the trade, he said.
He, too, expressed concerns over the suspension of barter trade, which he said was bound to worsen the economic woes of Kashmiris.
“It obviously means that India wants to create a famine-like situation in the valley to force the Kashmiris into giving up their legitimate struggle,” he said, asking Islamabad and the international community to take stock of the situation on an urgent basis.
Sardar Ansar Ahmed, a trader in Tetrinote, also condemned the Indian government’s decision and demanded its immediate reversal.
Dismissing the Indian allegations, he pointed out that a strict regime was already in place on both sides of the LoC to ensure that no contraband item made its way to the opposite side.
Ahmed, too, remarked that traders had invested billions of rupees into the barter trade and its suspension would reduce them to destitution.
He claimed that similar views were expressed by their counterparts on the other side of the divide during telephonic conversations.
It may be mentioned here that while trade was held between Tetrinote and Chakan da Bagh on Thursday, it has remained suspended between Chakothi and Uri since March 9 due to damage to Kaman Bridge towards the Indian-occupied side.
India had sought two weeks for repairs but it has not accomplished the task to this day, due to which travel from this side is also suspended ever since.
Meer said today’s unilateral decision by the Indian government had confirmed that repair work had been deliberately avoided.