Cross-LoC trade under scanner, again

  • Javaid Malik
  • Publish Date: Aug 5 2018 10:33PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 5 2018 10:33PM
Cross-LoC trade under scanner, again

The trade between the two divided parts of Jammu & Kashmir, one of the biggest confidence building measures taken by India and Pakistan, has had a shaky journey throughout but the last two years have proved tougher, writes Javaid Malik

 

The cross LoC trade has come under scanner once again as the Governor administration has asked the Jammu and Kashmir Police to verify the antecedents of the traders engaged in the trade within one month. Governor N N Vohra chaired a high level meeting in north Kashmir last week to review and identify issues related to cross LoC trade that need improvement. 

The Governor passed strict instructions that the traders who do not furnish the required documents or have doubtful antecedents should be deregistered without delay.

The cross LoC barter trade has been marred in controversies since the day India and Pakistan launched this CBM. Despite this trade having a rickety journey it’s still considered to be one of the biggest confidence building measures between the two countries. 

During the past one decade this trade has remained in news for one or the other reason. In 2017 this trade was at the verge of being called off but somehow the situation was diffused and it survived.   

In July 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Police said that it seized narcotic drugs from a truck coming from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) to this side as a part of cross LoC trade at Trade Centre Salamabad, Uri in Baramulla. The Police had said that it recovered 66.5 kilograms of contraband which appeared to be heroine from a Kashmir bound truck. “The drugs were hidden in fake cavities specifically fabricated for this purpose in boxes purportedly to contain mercantile goods.”

In March 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir police had said that it recovered an arms consignment and booked a truck driver who was transporting pistols, grenades and assorted ammunition from across. The arms, police had said, were meant for militants in south Kashmir. 

After 2017 the Jammu and Kashmir government took extra precautions to keep this trade moving. Full truck scanners were installed and surveillance was increased at the Trade Facilitation Centre in Uri. Even the traders who are engaged in this trade were put on a “watch list” by the security agencies. 

In December 2017 all traders were asked to get clearances, police verification certificates, no objection certificates and other verifications to avoid hawala transactions and illegal trade of items not mentioned in the list of 21 approved items.

“The government has made the formalities more stringent to prevent the narcotics and arms being smuggled into Kashmir under the garb of this trade,” said an official.  

When this trade was hogging the headlines in 2017, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had blamed the then coalition partners Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party for “messing up” this trade.     

In September 2017 former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir and held meetings with a cross-section of people, he also met a group of businessmen engaged in barter trade across the Line of Control with Pakistan administered Kashmir. After the meeting with the traders, Azad - also part of the meeting - came out of the hall to note down the concerns and demands of these traders, while he was writing his pen stopped working. Three traders promptly offered their pens. But neither of those pens worked. “This is an indication why this trade is not working well,” Azad had said smilingly.

The traders, however, were of the opinion that PDP wants to run the trade and BJP wants to close it down. And in between their fight traders were getting trampled. But Azad had said that both PDP and BJP were trying to appease their constituencies. “They are least bothered about the hardships being faced by you,” Azad had told the traders.

He had said that this trade faced no hiccups in the Congress led UPA regime. “Wrong polices of the BJP led government in the Centre and coalition partners treading different paths in J&K have put this most important CBM between India and Pakistan into jeopardy,” Azad had said.

The year 2017 and 2018 have proved to be testing time for the cross LoC traders as it was suspended on many occasions due to security and other reasons. The hardliners were of the opinion that this trade is a “threat to security” and it should be called off. Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had to face criticism even from her then ally BJP for advocating that more trade routes should be opened and borders should be made soft. 

After the fall of PDP-BJP government in J&K this trade has come under scanner once again as Governor N N Vohra has pulled up the security agencies and has asked them to ensure that only “genuine traders” should be allowed to be a part of this trade.     

A top police officer while talking to the Kashmir Ink said that usually police verify the antecedents of the cross LoC traders at the time of their registration. “But it’s necessary to conduct periodic checks as this trade has been misused in the past,” he added.

The officer said that security agencies cannot take things for granted and assume that everything is fine. “Police have been asked to verify the antecedents of the traders and it would be done,” he added.  

President of cross LoC trade union Hilal Turkie said, “The traders who are engaged in this trade for the past eight years their credentials have already been verified. We are not opposing the verification process which has been initiated by the government. We want traders should not be harassed at the pretext of verification. They should not be made to run from one office to another for the verification purposes,” Turkie told the Kashmir Ink.   

He said that cross LoC traders are “peace lovers” and want this trade to move on without any impediments. “Since the day cross LoC trade has started we have always cooperated with the government and would keep on doing so in future also.”

A few people who are associated with this trade were of the opinion that cross LoC trade has proved more beneficial for the traders who are sitting in Punjab and Lahore.  “In absence of banking facilities this trade is purely based on barter system. This trade is being run by the businessmen who are sitting in big cities, Kashmiri traders are just “small pawns” who are working as “commission agents.”     

Another trader said that they cannot even back off. “We have no choice other than to carry on with the trade. If we decide to quit we will end up losing all the money which we have invested in the market. We are ready to face any verification as we have nothing to hide,” he added.  

The cross LoC traders believe that they have been caught between the “devil and the deep sea” and there is no “way out” for them. “Prior to 2017 we were not asked to deposit any security money or get a bank guarantee but norms changed after the three consignments of narcotics were seized during one year,” said a trader, adding that now they have to pay Rs 5 lakh as security deposit or get the bank guarantee. “With each passing day laws are becoming stringent. This has led to new people staying away from this trade, ” he added.    

Inspector General of Police Kashmir, S P Pani, while talking to the Kashmir Ink said, “Police in the past have registered certain cases related to narcotics involved in the LoC trade. Effective measures are being taken for improving police response for detection of misuse of cross LoC trade.”