NEW DELHI, May 3: India and Pakistan made a landmark agreement here on Tuesday to revive trade and commerce between the divided regions of Jammu and Kashmir after nearly 60 years of forced aloofness, officials said.

Commercial trucks are expected to start plying the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route from some time in the first half of July. The proposed Poonch-Rawalakot bus service to ferry Kashmiri passengers across the LoC is scheduled to kick off from June 19 this year.

Representatives of chambers of commerce of both sides of Kashmir are expected to meet in Srinagar later this month to fine-tune the modalities of trade, including an exchange of the list of goods that are to be allowed by each side.

According to a joint statement issued after two days of technical level talks headed by foreign ministry officials of both sides their effort was aimed at enhancing interaction and cooperation across the Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistani officials interpreted “enhancing interaction” to mean making trans-LoC travel easier than it has been so far for the divided Kashmiri families.

“It is a truly landmark agreement with historic implications,” a Pakistani official involved in the talks told Dawn. “We are going to right some of the wrongs inflicted on the Kashmiri people for six decades.”

JKLF chief Yasin Malik and All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq welcomed the agreement, but said the tedious paperwork involved should be first sorted out to make life easy for travellers.

“We hope and pray that this process continues unimpeded and deepens the peace dialogue,” said the Mirwaiz, camping in Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later on Tuesday. “Eventually this should become an important milestone towards the resolution of the overall Kashmir issue.”

A decision to open two points along the LoC for the divided Kashmiri families from both sides to meet in a protected facility has been referred back to the foreign secretaries for further refining and logistical inputs. The foreign secretaries are expected to meet in New Delhi in July to discuss a whole bunch of matters in the composite dialogue, including the issues thrashed out on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s joint statement summed up the issues and agreements arrived at thus:

“In pursuance of the Joint Statement of April 18, 2005 and as mandated by the Foreign Secretaries on Jan 18, 2006, India-Pakistan technical level talks on enhancing interaction and cooperation across the LoC were held in New Delhi on May 2-3, 2006. The Indian delegation was headed by Shri Dilip Sinha, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and the Pakistan delegation was led by Syed Ibne Abbas, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere. Both sides reviewed the operation of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and of the five crossing points. Both sides agreed to expedite clearances of applications.

“Both sides also agreed to start the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad truck service to facilitate cross-LoC trade in the first half of July 2006. The two sides exchanged indicative lists of goods for trade. It was agreed that the delegations from chambers of commerce from either side of the LoC will undertake visits at the earliest to discuss various aspects of the trade.

“The two sides agreed that Poonch-Rawalakot bus service would commence from June 19, 2006. The procedures, documentation and modalities will be the same as for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. Initially the bus service will operate on a fortnightly basis.

“The two sides discussed modalities for operationalising the meeting points along the LoC as agreed upon earlier.

“The two sides will report the progress in their talks to their respective foreign secretaries.”

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